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Increasing Sunday Mass attendance by 10 percent

English Spanish Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ Profile
The Second General Synod of the Archdiocese of Miami concluded on October 26 with a massive event that stood out for its good spirit and efficient organization. But the most important aspect is forthcoming: Implementing its guidelines.

The synod challenges Catholics to reach a 10 percent increase in Sunday attendance for the 2016 Lenten Season. The parishes that efficiently nourish the spiritual life of their members will achieve this goal.

In order for parishioners to feel comfortable at a liturgical celebration, the first requirement is appropriate building acoustics and sound system. St. Paul said that faith comes from hearing (cf. Rom. 10:17). Hearing should be comfortable.

If we compare Sunday Mass to a banquet, the Liturgy of the Word is the first course. The ones responsible for that first part of worship should act appropriately but without becoming actors. Nothing should be faked. Everything should flow from a deep faith and a holy life. That doesn’t mean that vocal technique is not helpful. Readers should be trained to proclaim the readings with good projection and better diction. They should prepare the readings to be able to read them with meaning and good intonation, but without falling into theatrical recitation.

The priest is responsible for the main celebration, as well as the deacon, if he’s available. They proclaim, not just read, the Gospel of the day and preach the homily. A draft may be used for this but with the exception of very formal occasions, it is best not to read the homily. Reading is one thing, preaching is another. The liturgical texts of the day provide the theme. The homily should be brief and have substance. Beginning with a solid doctrinal base, it should go into practical applications for people’s present reality. A good homily requires a lot of advanced preparation and review. The preacher should speak in a variety of tones and illustrate the teaching with imagery and examples. He should lead people to focus on the Lord, and not bring attention to himself in a televangelistic way.

Good music also attracts parishioners. The sacred music ministry is important for Mass. The music should sound good, and it should be sacred, moving people to devotion, rather than reminding them of a disco.

The second part, and the main one of the celebration, is the Eucharistic Liturgy. Priests should make a great effort in saying the prayers as they appear in the missal. Additions, subtractions and mutations usually distract those who are praying. The Ordinary of the Mass has a variety of Introductory Rites, Prefaces and Eucharistic Prayers. Priests should take advantage of the diversity but they should also respect such venerable texts.

After Communion, there should be moments for silent prayer and thanksgiving, which may be supported by background music for meditation. Announcements should be few, brief, and mostly about events from the different ministries, not about finances.

However, there are times when the faithful should be reminded of their financial obligations — if they seem to forget that manna doesn’t fall from heaven anymore. If necessary, they should be taught practical points, such as appropriate dress for worship. They are not attending a gala, but neither are they attending an informal event. Reverence should be instilled. When dealing with God, it is alright to be familiar but not disrespectful.

Finally, Mass attendance will increase by more than 10 percent if clergy and laity celebrate it with devotion.
Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
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Comments from readers

Charles - 01/12/2014 02:20 PM
I think I would like to respond to this article. Much has to be done in order to win back the hearts of those who left our Church. In order to increase Mass attendance, like Keith said, its not an easy one. What can I suggest? First, I would start off by having priests being encouraged to transition all Masses to the Tridentine Liturgy in time and take the bold risk of gaining and losing people. Why? The Mass is much more reverent when the congregation is involved and in prayer and is the primary source of prayer. We have no time to waste. Second, that priests need to reflect their sermons on defending human life and start saying in the pulpit of the reality of the final judgment, purgatory, heaven and hell and the reality of the need of penance. How many of us do not hear about praying for the souls in purgatory at Masses? Third, I would recommend that priests aggressively talk about the culture and that is fallen; we live in a 'dictatorship of relativism' and that priests should explain that it is necessary to understand the differences between moral absolutism and what is relativism, subjectivism, egalitarianism, the Enlightenment and other ways of thought that hurt our souls and how we can change the way we live. Also, that its necessary to tell Catholics that we need to change the society and get involved; the marketplace, technology, business and government; for example writing to politicians, do not eat out or shop on Sundays, questioning technological inventions and whether they hurt or benefit society, etc. I think if priests could say these things, no doubt that will get us In the congregation to bring more souls back. That will bring me to my final suggestion. I seriously recommend that the Eucharist be treated with the utmost respect; that the Eucharist is a Sacred Host and that all Catholics must receive the Eucharist on the tongue and by priests only. This may be all actions internally, but if our Lord can see that Masses are to be most reverent, I think He will return the lost sheep back to us.
Keith Koenig - 01/12/2014 08:32 AM
Increasing Mass attendance by 10% is a SMART goal, but not an easy one.
If we keep doing what we have been doing, we will keep getting what we have been getting.
The Church needs effective marketing - a term not often used - to attract those fallen away or inactive Catholics, along with the many searching for God. Jesus was the best all time marketer and story teller. He used the marketing media of the time - speaking live in the local square - to get His message to the people.
We need to use the marketing media of our time, TV and digital media, and we need to use them effectively to tell Jesus's message.
Yes this will cost money, but which parish in the ADM would not contribute to an effective plan to grow church attendance by 10% or more?
This is evangelization in 2014.
Antonio Fernandez - 01/08/2014 11:35 AM
Please allow me to answer to a previous reader that asked: Why would a parish be overloaded with priest that have English as a 2nd language? There is a very simp,e answer, because we don't have the necessary vocations in our midst. The problem is not with a priest with English as a second language because there are many priests and professionals in this Country that although English is their second language they are quite proficient in expressing themselves in English quite well, and at the same time they render a valuable service in reaching the faithful of many other languages that are also part of our Church. We should be very thankful and apreciative to those priests and religious men and women that have left their original countries and are now serving us in the Church of the United States.
Robert G Cabello - St Gregory Parish - 01/07/2014 09:59 AM
Father Barrios identifies many good Points needed to increase attendance at Liturgical Celebrations (The Mass). However equally important in seeking attendance increases is the Sermon (The Message) we receive during the celebration. I am very lucky in that My Pastor is a very good Homilist
(My Opinion) and sends us out with an original,practical and applicable Gospel message,which can carry you spiritually through the week. If we are looking for a permanent increase in attendance, we must implement a mutual strategy where the Clergy creatively provides and parishioners personally accept the Gospel Message and consequently bring it into our various communities.
William VanderWyden - 01/07/2014 08:09 AM
Thank you for your comments about Mass attendance. I feel that we need to educate Catholics about the treasure of the Mass. If everyone understood the Mass--the Word and the Eucharist--folks would never stop coming. I have been to Mass in countless churches around the world. Sure, the externals are important and must be uplifting rather than distracting, but the Eucharist is what attracts me--that's all that matters in the end. Folks need to understand what it is they are missing should they ever miss an opportunity to participate in the liturgy. Daily Mass is essential to my existence, and Sunday uplifts me as well since the Community gathers to make the Lord present. We have a hidden treasure that most Catholics don't appreciate!
Barbara Howard - 01/07/2014 03:55 AM
Our priest does an excellent job of thanking everyone who listens to God's call to attend Mass. He's the first priest I've ever had offer that at Mass. Also, I would recommend that priests be more effectively trained on teaching. There is no doubt that they are very educated, but for many, teaching does not come naturally. Matthew Kelly has been conducting research on re-energizing the church. Check out Dynamic Catholic.
George Tabor - 01/06/2014 01:33 PM
Another essential element in the Mass is understanding what is being said during the Mass especially the readings, the Gospel and the homily. Our parish has priest that speak English with heavy accents making it very difficult to understand what is being said. On top of that, the sound system is in and out. Sometimes it works well and sometimes it doesn't. Why would a parish be overloaded with priest that have English as a 2nd language?

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