The Church teaches us that the laity have a vital role in the saving mission of the Church. While the clergy are often considered to be at the forefront of this mission, bishops, priests, and religious make up only 0.1 percent of the world Catholic population. The remaining 99.9 percent are the laity, who are given a special vocation: to make the Church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that she can become the salt of the earth.
Today, the laity have an opportunity to live out this mission in a particular wayby to inviting friends and family back to Mass. The COVID-19 pandemic has upset the rhythm of Sunday worship for Catholics across the world. Certainly there are wise and prudent reasons why some Catholics haven’t returned to Mass. For example, people who are sick are urged to stay home, and those who have compromised immune systems or who care for the sick or elderly need to protect themselves and their loved ones from exposure to the virus. We need to have great patience and respect for our brothers and sisters who continue to make sacrifices in order to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
However, if we are honest, we recognize that some of the faithful who are not at-risk have nonetheless formed new habits in their faith. They have gotten used to watching Mass from the comfort of their living rooms, or they have simply stopped going (or watching) altogether. For many people, this has become the new normal. As joyful missionary disciples, we have the opportunity to invite them back into the fullness of the faith.
It is understandable that we may feel hesitant to invite our friends and family back to Mass as COVID-19 cases are on the rise; however, evidence suggests that parishes following public health guidelines do not present a greater risk of spreading the novel coronavirus than other similar activities. If individuals are comfortable widening their social circles, frequenting restaurants, hair salons, or non-essential stores, but have cited COVID-19 as a reason for not attending Mass, it may be worth nudging them to come back.
With the general dispensation still in place, we have the opportunity to invite our loved ones back to Mass while focusing less on the “obligation” or “grave duty” that we usually have to attend. Rather, let’s draw them in with the mind-blowing reality of what Mass is. We know that God comes to us and makes himself available to us because he wants our hearts. God wants to meet us in our uncertainties, our fears, and our disappointments. He wants to comfort us and help us carry the crosses we are facing.
Watching Mass online is good, but it’s nothing compared to entering into Jesus’ presence. Christ didn’t choose to come to us virtually, through a computer or TV screen. He comes to us in the flesh. Spiritual communion is nothing compared to the fulfillment of those desires in actual Holy Communion. Personal prayer at home is great, but pales in comparison to entering into Jesus’ greatest prayer that redeemed us and brought salvation to the whole world. It is true that 2020 has been a very difficult year. The Eucharist is the antidote, our lifeline to God, and the liturgy is a spiritual oasis offering us refreshment for a thirsty soul. In a world that is filled with noise and tension, attending Mass is an opportunity to rest in God and receive all that he wants to give us.
It can be tricky to invite someone into practicing the faith without coming across as self-righteous. A good preparatory step is to ask the Holy Spirit to create an opportunity for the conversation, giving you the words and blessing your efforts. Sometimes, a straightforward invitation is best: “Would you like to come to Mass with me next week?” Perhaps you can encourage your parish to print invitation cards with a welcoming message, friendly imagery and a Mass schedule all geared toward inviting people back. You may also consider using social media to share an uplifting testimony about the difference Mass makes in your life and include an invitation for people to join you. In an era where fake news abounds, a little dose of the Good News might open hearts and entice some to come back.
Perhaps most importantly, it will certainly be helpful to share all the things your parish is doing to keep people safe. Some people may not realize the extent to which parishes have implemented safety protocols in order to protect the faithful from the spread of the coronavirus. This added assurance will go a long way, giving your loved ones the boost of comfort and confidence they may need to return to Mass.
As disciples on mission, we have the opportunity to evangelize in a unique way in this unprecedented time in our history. Let us be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and allow him to use us as his instruments. May God bless our efforts to lead people to his glorious kingdom!