Last week I had a coaching call with one of my vision plan parishes where we were talking about preparing for Easter. It feels far away y’all, but it’s not really. At the end of the call one of the members of the team asked, “What about Ash Wednesday? What are some things we can do to prepare?”
There are a few things the parish can do, but even more important things the average parishioner can do. Here are a few the parish can do:
- Place your Ash Wednesday Mass times on the website very clearly and early. About 3 or 4 weeks ahead isn’t too far ahead. Make sure they’re on the homepage, the Directions page, and anywhere else Mass times are listed. Double check this with your bulletin and any announcements to ensure you don’t have any typos.
- Be prepared to tell everyone who calls the day before and the day of the times. Some parishes do this by having a message that plays before the call even rings through to the receptionist. If you do that, be sure to record your regular message again first thing Thursday morning (the day after Ash Wednesday).
- Prepare a Lenten Bag to hand out to everyone who comes to Mass on Ash Wednesday. You could include a reflection booklet, a postcard with all Lenten activities on it, and an invitation to join you at Mass for the entire season including Easter.
However, there are even more significant things that parishioners can do. As Catholics we can get stuck in a rut. We can’t help it because we love tradition so much! Even those of us in churchwork can get caught up in always sitting in the same seat, wanting Mass to be quiet so we can focus, and even parking in the same, convenient area.
These are small things, but they make a big difference to someone who isn’t a regular and already feels like an outsider when they come to Mass. Imagine coming to Mass for the first time a little early, finding a pew where you believe you won’t stand out as new, and then being given a very ugly look by someone who says, “That’s my pew.” Or bringing your very wiggly toddlers with you and receiving only scowls from the people around you every time they make a small noise, normal to tiny humans. Or even arriving just a few minutes before Mass begins (or right after) because you didn’t know where to park and having to climb over people to get into the pew because only middle seats are left.
None of these say, “You are welcome here, we’re so glad you came.”
They all say, “You’re intruding in my space and you don’t belong.”
Whenever I bring this up, the leaders I’m working with either say that none of this happens at their parish or that people don’t need reminding about it. The truth is that our people do need reminding. We all do. Even I, the writer of this article, can sometimes walk into Mass 15 minutes early and see someone sitting in the seat I normally sit in. The one I chose because I can see both the priest at the altar and the tabernacle during the consecration. (We have some pillars that can make seeing the altar tricky at my church.) And I think, “of all the pews in the entire church, why did you choose mine?”
I share that because we all have our moments, even those of us who are really trying to be welcoming. We need reminding that the Mass is not about us and our individual experiences. Also that the work of hospitality and evangelization is the responsibility of all of us. So let’s talk about it in the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday!