Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter
December 19, 2023 // Diocese

Christmas Mass an Opportunity for Reconnection with Faith

Lisa Kochanowski
Assistant Editor/Reporter

For priests, holiday Masses are like the Super Bowl for football teams or the Oscars for entertainers – a time when people come out in droves to celebrate. It’s a time when non-regular spectators join the celebration of moments they’ve missed during the year.

In the Church, parishioners world-wide use Christmas Mass as a chance to reconnect with their faith journey, enjoying the beautifully decorated altars and festive music exalting from the rafters. Few things leave a stronger impression on children than the chance to look at the manger scene filled with animals, shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.

Father Osman Ramos of St. Joseph Catholic Church in LaGrange said he sees a significant increase in attendance, especially at the 5 p.m. Mass on Christmas Eve. “We usually have a lot of young people that consider themselves Catholics but don’t practice their faith regularly,” Father Ramos said. “We have 30 percent more people, maybe.”

At St. Charles Borromeo in Fort Wayne, Father Tom Shoemaker sees a similar increase at Christmas Masses. “While it is very difficult to count heads, it is easy to count the number of hosts that are put out for consecration at Masses,” he said. “Last Christmas at St. Charles, we served holy Communion to 30 percent more people than a typical Sunday.”

According to Father Shoemaker, “through the bulletin, through pulpit announcements, and through various ministries, we try to make a big push for parishioners to invite friends and neighbors to Christmas Mass. I point out that this is the perfect chance to evangelize. Christmas is a time when people are at least giving some thought to the faith. For someone who doesn’t regularly attend a church, a family making a simple invitation, ‘Would you like to join us for a Christmas Mass?’ could lead to an important encounter with God.”

Having unfamiliar faces in the crowd allows priests and parish communities an opportunity to connect with those who might have left the Church or Catholics from out of town. This unique circumstance can also require a slight change of approach to the homily.

“One of my favorite methods to connect with those people is to include a story of my personal experience with the Lord,” Father Ramos said. “I try to put myself in their shoes. I love sharing how I found the sense to my life in Jesus and how plenty happy I am. I want the same for them.” 

Monsignor Bill Schooler of St. Pius X Parish in Granger said he makes sure the Christmas Mass homilies aren’t too lengthy, “and we do our best to preach about the mystery of the Incarnation in ways that people can easily connect with,” he added.

“I think about a few things. One is to make sure there is a message that is attractive and beautiful that can catch their attention,” said Father Ryan Pietrocarlo, Pastor of St. Adalbert and St. Casimir parishes in South Bend. “Luckily, Christmas and Easter, two times when more people come to Mass, offer beautiful messages of the Incarnation and the Resurrection that can reach the human heart and remind us how much God loves us. I try to convey that these events are not just historical events, but they are realities that reach the human heart today and are relevant for your life. Then, I make an invitation – an invitation to think about how these events impact your life today and an invitation to follow Christ more closely, by having a prayer life and going to Mass. I don’t want to be judgmental in any way, but [I want to] convey that the faith is beautiful and means something to your life.”

Priests from across the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend said Christmas Masses offer many ways for those who have fallen away from their faith to reconnect to God.

“On the one hand, I think that they come to Church those days because it’s just a part of a tradition that they have in their families and lives,” Father Ramos said, “but on the other hand, I’m pretty sure that there is a little seed of faith in their hearts, and Jesus takes advantage of this to draw them to Himself. And then, of course, the very special joy that Christmas has in itself – like lights, decor, mangers, carols, and memories – help to reconnect these people with their faith, and they know they find all of that in a church during Mass.” 

Father Pietrocarlo said these Masses offer “another point of contact for them with Christ, and I hope for a positive experience. Fallen away Catholics usually have some negative experience … they associate with the faith, so their presence at Mass provides the opportunity for them to have a positive experience.” He added: “That is very important to me, that they have a positive experience and hopefully one that is beautiful and moves their heart. I hope that they have an encounter with Jesus in some way when they come to a holiday Mass, if it be Christmas, Easter, or another day, or if it is through the music, the homily, a Scripture reading, a prayer, a stained-glass window, or by being greeted kindly by a parishioner. All of these are opportunities for someone to encounter Jesus and begin walking back to Him.” 

Some parishes use this increased attendance as an opportunity to offer ways in which parishioners and visitors can build up their spiritual lives beyond the Christmas season.

“Everyone who comes to Mass will be offered a free connection with [the prayer and meditation app] Hallow, which the parish purchased,” Monsignor Schooler said. “The bulletin offers many different ways to connect with the parish. In particular this year, we have purchased many copies of ‘Habits for Holiness,’ by Father Mark-Mary Ames. Everyone is invited to sign up for a free book, along with an invitation to join a small group to discuss the book. We hope that people will take advantage of this opportunity to be part of small groups throughout the year,” shared Monsignor Schooler.

At St. Charles Borromeo, Father Shoemaker said the priest celebrating the Mass offers a welcome to the guests of the parish. “Oftentimes, we also offer words of welcome at the end of Mass. In addition, I offer a hospitality announcement, letting people of other faith traditions know that they are welcome to kneel when the others do, or to be seated, and that they are welcome, if they would like, to come forward with their arms crossed for a solemn blessing at Communion time. I think it is important to acknowledge that not everyone in the crowd is Catholic and to be sure that non-Catholics know they are welcome and feel comfortable if they are not familiar with the liturgy,” Father Shoemaker said.

Answering a calling from God to visit the altar on Christmas can be the first step back to an active faith life or the first step of someone considering joining the Catholic Church.

“I think the role of the priest and all the ministers are really essential,” Father Ramos said about ways of affecting visitors. “Our kindness and warmness play an important role in this season. On my part, I must be vigilant with three things: my sincere and reverent attitude during Mass, to prepare a good homily, and to pray for those people in the silence of my heart during Mass.”

At St. Pius X, Monsignor Schooler said, “We hope that visitors will leave having celebrated Christmas with a Mass that includes beautiful music and a knowledge that they are always welcome here.”

“Our hope and dream is that visitors who come for Christmas will find an encounter with God and that they will also find a friendly encounter with the people here,” Father Shoemaker said. “For the person who has not been regularly practicing the faith, it is God who touches a heart and calls. However, we want to do anything we can to assist. Our great dream is that Christmas Masses for all of us will be a life-changing encounter with the Lord.”

Father Pietrocarlo said Christmas Mass “can be the first encounter and can plant the seed of faith. It can be the first moment to have people think about coming back to an active faith life. I think after this moment, it is very important that a parish makes known that these people are welcome here, that they can come to Mass, attend a ministry, speak with a priest. Just knowing that the door is always open to them is key. But also, I think if they are invited by the people they went to a holiday Mass with, that helps to have them come back. They can begin to think, ‘I had this beautiful experience at this holiday Mass, but it does not need to be the only time, this can be a regular part of my life.’”

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