A priest’s dream: People who don’t bolt after Communion
Every Catholic has experienced it. Church pews, mostly filled during Mass, become a lot more roomy after Communion.
That’s because many Catholics are more worried about getting to their next appointment – a ball game or a party or escaping the parking lot exodus – that they fail to stay to the end of Mass to receive the final blessing from the priest and his very specific message to take into the world what they experienced through the Mass readings, the homily and the Eucharist.
Father Paul Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, Missouri, told hundreds of catechists at the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference Jan. 9 that what he humorously calls the “dismissal after Communion” unfortunately is a common experience across the country.
“Many people leave Mass early,” Father Turner said. “They dismiss themselves right after they receive Communion. No one has given them permission to go. No one has sent them forth. Instead, they simply leave the building.”
Father Turner said it is difficult to understand what is at the root of the early exit.
‘Got what they came for’
“At the very basic level, it shows that these individuals got what they came for and see no reason to stay any longer,” he said. “They have come to receive Communion, not to sing a Communion hymn in praise of God, not to accompany other members of the community as they receive Communion, not to spend time in silence giving thanks to God, not to listen to the prayer after Communion to put into words the faith and hope they feel, not to hear the announcements for ways they can meet with others this week, and not to be sent forth into the world to bear witness to Christ together.”
Father Turner, former president of the North American Academy of Liturgy, said Catholics are supposed to leave Mass together “as a sign of our common purpose.”
“Throughout the Mass, we sing hymns together, we make responses together, we observe silence together, we sit together, we kneel together, we stand together,” he said. “We’re also supposed to be dismissed together as the body of Christ. We can’t force people to stay.”
Tongue in cheek, Father Turner said he wondered if adding a special “dismissal after Communion” prayer would help.
“Maybe, before the distribution of Communion, the deacon, standing behind the altar, should announce something like this: ‘Would those of you who have to leave Mass early today please step forward,’” Father Turner said, drawing laughter from the audience. “Then he waits until they all line up in front, coats on their shoulders, car key and purses in hand.
“The deacon would then continue: ‘We understand that you have other duties that keep you from remaining with us to sing praise, to give thanks to God thanks for the Communion we receive, to offer a final prayer, to hear announcements about opportunities for service, and to obtain God’s blessing through the words of the priest.
“‘After you receive Communion, we assure you of our prayers that next week tranquility will so return to your lives that you may join us all for the conclusion of the Mass and the final dismissal. Now, receive your Communion, and go without peace.’”
Father Turner said the final dismissal is a critically important part of the Mass as well as “the beginning of our apostolic service.”
“We have a weighty responsibility, the same one Jesus gave the first disciples,” he said. “Go into the world and tell the good news. It’s a little scary. We don’t know what that tradition may cost us. Perhaps even our very lives. But we don’t have to go alone. We go with one another. The fruits of our labor do not rest on our efforts alone. They rely on the Holy Spirit, and with God’s help we bear witness to the world.”
Nearly 1,300 catechists, school religion teachers, pastors and parish lay leaders from across the Gulf Coast attended the three-day conference, hosted by the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Office of Religious Education and co-sponsored by other dioceses in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama and the Florida panhandle.
The Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference formerly was called the Johannes Hofinger Conference. Alice Hughes, director of Office of Religious Education, said the name was changed this year as a way of being more inclusive to the surrounding dioceses, with the potential of returning the conference to a “national status.”