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How do we encourage each other to participate in the Church?
In our parish meetings, we should be asking ourselves some very important questions: What has happened to the RCIA people we received into the Church over the past few years? Are they actively engaged in our parish life? Indeed, are they still with us? Over the course of their journey into the Catholic Church, the RCIA people received a lot of special attention and care. Now that they are fellow Catholics, does anyone care?
The celebration of the Eucharist is the summit and source of our Catholic lives. Full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy isn’t something that’s simply nice – it’s essential. During their entrance process, the catechumens and candidates learned more about the Mass than many of us who were baptized as infants. Has that made a difference? Are they more actively engaged in our parish life than others?
During my 44 years as a priest, I have been privileged to know a large number of RCIA candidates who have entered our faith family and then have gone on to be actively and vitally engaged in Catholic parish life. What a blessing they have been for us all. “Converts make the best Catholics” is a statement you have heard more than once, I am sure. But what about those converts who are no longer active in our Church? We are all diminished by their absence. So why did they drop away?
And that leads us to another question: Why have Catholics who were baptized as infants and who either attended religious education classes or Catholic parochial schools also dropped away? The answers are varied and the solutions are not simple.
The quality of our parish’s liturgies needs to be examined. True, Mass is not an entertainment show, but it should engage people. People who watch the Super Bowl or any other sports event are being entertained. They are passive participants, not active participants. People who attend Mass are not there to watch the priest, observe the sacred rites and listen to the music. If that’s why they are at Mass, then they are selling the Mass short. Full, conscious and deliberate participation calls for us, with the priest, to join into Christ as he prays and offers his sacrifice to the Father. From the Preface to Holy Communion, the words of the eucharistic prayer are our words addressed to the Father.
Participation and engagement are what we need to foster in all aspects of our parish life. Every parish organization, it seems to me, should be asking “What can we do to bring others into what we are doing? How can we engage them in the life of our parish family?”