By Dr. Judy Bullock
The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, the formal name for the celebration of Christmas, is by far the most attended Mass in the entire year.
Numbers of attendees on Christmas overwhelmingly surpass the runner up — Easter Sunday. In most parishes, preparations are underway for the upcoming celebration of the Christmas liturgies. In addition to the transition in the décor from the Advent Season to the Christmas Season that takes place on Christmas Eve, every possible available space will be filled with additional chairs. Sometimes even spaces normally delegated for athletic activities serve as a secondary worship space to accommodate the vast increase in worshippers.
In addition to extra seating, what should our response be to these crowds for the Christmas Masses?
On this wondrous feast we celebrate God’s gift of his son Jesus becoming human for our salvation. Clearly the infancy accounts in Scripture announce that Jesus is born, not just for the people from Nazareth, or for the Jews, for the wealthy or the poor, for the men or the women, but for the entire world.
On these days of celebration of the Incarnation we are asked to be especially attentive to those who seldom join the community at Mass.
The image of the innkeeper turning the holy family away saying, “No room in the inn,” is not, for us, about space but about attitude.
Hospitality is not just the responsibility of those wearing a name badge at the doors of our churches. Not only are our doors open but our minds and our hearts must be open, too. How we receive these crowds speaks volumes about Christian hospitality.
The most disturbing response can be to view these large crowds pejoratively: too crowded, too noisy, too disruptive, no room for the “regular” parishioners. This attitude creates at best, an atmosphere of tolerance, at worst, disapproval or disdain, rather than one of joyful and hospitable welcome.
How do we create an
atmosphere of welcome?
Although the non-parishioners may far outnumber the parishioners, those of us worshipping in our own parishes on this great feast serve as ambassadors of Christian hospitality on this day. In addition to offering as many seats as our churches can safely provide, our hospitality extends far beyond a place to sit.
Keep in mind that those who come to Mass on Christmas have made the effort on this day to make it a priority. Our attitude of genuine pleasure at having so many with us on Christmas is displayed by the ready smile we give to all, the willingness to share our spaces and to join our voices in song and praise. These have the power to lift the spirits of everyone.
Best practice requires as much familiarity as we can manage: carols and hymns that everyone knows and hold dear at this time of year; musical settings that are widely used; responsorial forms for the Glory to God and the Communion Song so that participation is optimum; and worship aids in sufficient numbers so that everyone can respond to the dialogues of the Mass, pray the common prayers and sing the musical parts of the Mass.
As Pope Francis has encouraged, we want to make people so welcome that they want to come back. In this way we say, we are glad you came to celebrate Christmas with us. You are always welcome here. We hope you will come back soon.
Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.