Infrequent Worshipers and the new Mass texts

What to do in a Mass with a sizable numbers of “infrequent worshipers” — i.e. those who either have missed the fact that prayer texts have changed since they last went to Mass, or who simply have not had enough practice to settle into the new language? I was at a funeral yesterday, a double funeral in fact of a mother and daughter, and in the packed church it was quite obvious that there were two linguistic groups, about evenly matched: those still  routinely praying the older English texts, and those who have by now settled into the new ones. Not that this was the most important facet of this particular funeral mass, but it made me wonder: Is it worth, at certain Masses — e.g., funerals that will draw in people who worship infrequently — to point out the new texts, and the mass cards, once again?


  1. We did call mourner’s attention to the worship aids for the revised Mass early on, but no longer do so. However, I’ve asked all our cantors (whose ministry is from the choir loft, but on a microphone) to speak the parts of the Mass for the congregation into the microphone so as to make it clear what the response is. Our problem before and after the new translation is that most of the mourners at our funerals are not Catholic and normally do not know our congregational responses although they will attempt to sing hymns they know. So we’ve always had the cantor be the lead voice for the spoken responses. My last funeral Mass a week ago had about 150 people in attendance and only three Catholics in the congregation. So the cantor and the ministers at the altar needed to tow the line and loudly! We’ve been debating about making our own generic “worship aid” for funerals and weddings (another liturgy with predominantly non-Catholics) so they know how to respond correctly if they wish. We’d pass these out as the mourners entered the Church.

  2. We do this as a matter of course. At the beginning of each wedding/funeral/sacramental liturgy, I step up to the cantor podium and say the following” In order to assist you with our worship here this day, there are cards in the pews with the spoken/sung responses (hold up card). Out of respect, please silence all electronic devices. Our hymn is…..” Some do and some don’t….

  3. Maybe an ecclesiastified version of the auto phone message: “Please listen carefully as our options have changed.”

  4. It’s more noticeable at funerals and weddings, but we need to be aware that occasional Mass goers are there on Sundays as well. I had a cluster of them near me yesterday (our music space is up front) and I heard a number of “also with you” in collision with “with your spirit” – earlier this summer I had people come up after Mass and ask me why we were doing different words for the Mass (since the organist would clearly have been behind this whole thing). They were not, needless to say, satisfied with the 45 sec. thumbnail of the story that I gave them. Perhaps we need to re-think the hospitality facet of this, and stop presuming that “everybody” is comfortable with the new translation by now.

  5. Fr. Allan J. McDonald :I’ve asked all our cantors (whose ministry is from the choir loft, but on a microphone) to speak the parts of the Mass for the congregation into the microphone so as to make it clear what the response is.

    Ugh. Is there anything that kills a congregational response more than a voice booming “AND WITH YOUR SPIRIT” from above? A parish bereavement committee of as few as three or four people, strategically placed behind the family, can be more effective and certainly less heavy-handed.

    Mass cards, of course. I’ve found that an announcement before the funeral is usually ignored by emotional mourners shuffling into place behind the casket. The best time to bring it up is in the preparation days before the funeral, while planning the music and other details with the family. And if they say the old responses? Welcome to what it was like around Advent and Christmas last year. The learning curve is steep.

    1. @Christian Cosas – comment #5:
      We did this the first few weeks during the time of implementation and with a full church, it enabled the proper responses of those who were there, who were all Catholics. But at our funerals, there are so few Catholics, it is better to have a microphoned response than none. There’s nothing worse than when I have to say, “The Lord be with you” and I have to answer myself! “and also with you!” Just kidding!

      1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #8:
        Again, that’s where a bereavement ministry can come in handy. Ours is made up of retired women who come to every funeral, act as hospitality for the family, and even cater for a reception afterwards (if they ask for it). Having “ringers” in a funeral choir —I know of several churches in our area that have a well-attended “Resurrection Choir” of retired volunteers for every funeral—also helps.

        A microphoned response might be the lesser of two evils, sure. But as at any funeral, the experience can mean so much more for the grieving if they know they have an actual community to support them, even if they don’t attend on a regular basis.

  6. I have been encouraging couples to put the responses in their wedding programs — since I only do ceremonies, there are only a couple of “And with your spirit”s plus the responses before and after the Gospel — and most have done this. Even so, the responses at most wedding are very weak. They might have been ever so slightly stronger before the changes, but not much.

  7. When we have liturgies which are likely to include many visitors (funerals, weddings, Masses with baptisms, mother’s day, grandparents day, etc.) I err on the side of explaining too much. I make an announcement at the beginning of Mass about which hymnal we are using that day, how to use the revised order of Mass booklets, where to find the lectionary readings, etc. This has the added benefit of reminding our usual crowd how to navigate the two hymnals and one booklet in our pews.

    This coming year, we will change to a single hymnal and start creating worship aides for Sundays. These will include, in small print on the cover page, a welcome message, our web and facebook addresses where they can learn more about our parish, instructions about today’s music, where to find the restrooms, etc. Space allowing, we will also include brief commentaries on the readings to help put these in seasonal context for people unfamiliar with our lectionary cycle.

    The main impetus for this change is hospitality–making it easier to participate in the Mass for visitors, seekers, etc.

  8. Basic hospitality: be sure those that may want assistance are pointed to where to find it – and provide the supply reliably. (Ritual masses like weddings and funerals also tend to have many people who are not Catholic and so they are not familiar with the old vs new response issue anyway!).

  9. Leave them alone. They’re grieving.

    The only person who cares whether they make the “right” responses is the over-active liturgy personnel.

    If they can do the old responses from memory, that’s considerably more important than getting it “right” or having everybody saying the same words precisely. The old words are close enough.

    Let me put it a different way. Nothing undercuts people’s ability to be present to their grief and to the genuineness of the moment of loss in their lives than being asked to pay attention to trivial details that have nothing to do with the death they are mourning. We have enough trouble with the denial of death as it is. Do we want to insert still more distractions?

    The essence of the funeral liturgy is not to be found in getting the responses right or saying them all together on cue. Insisting on the use of pew cards and giving instructions will only make the infrequent attenders self-conscious, and emphasize their status as outsiders. That’s just what you don’t want to do.

    Leave it alone. Live with the dissonance. Life is like that. If the cards are there in the pews, those who want them will find them. Work on hospitality, but don’t work on making visitors conform by booming over the mike at them or confronting them with the fact that their memorized responses are obsolete. If you do minister well to people who are grieving, they’ll come back, and figure out the new responses eventually.

    P.S. If a number of the visitors are from Protestant or Anglican communities that do say “And also with you” they are saying their own responses, and should not be forbidden to do so at a funeral.

    1. Rita, that is a PERFECT answer!

      Frankly at weddings and funerals I am still using the Sacramentary.

      I’m following the dictate, “first do no harm.”

      Don’t know if you heard the hierarchs gushing at Raymond of the Evil Woman Television Network from the K of C orgy last week, but Ray Burke’s polemics were a disgrace.

      One of the most favored members of the US Church has absolutely no connection with real people. It was beyond sad, so I just laughed.

    2. @Rita Ferrone – comment #11:
      I’m glad that I waited before I said anything, because no matter what I would have said – and I am hardly the liturgy police – your sentiment trumps all.

      While this is a wedding/funeral matter in one way, I am more interested in what happens around me each week. Which is quite the mixed bag. I guess all I can think of at the moment is the Israelites muddling their way around with Moses for 40 years. Some at the head of the pack, some at the middle, some way back… and generally all of them occupying all of those places at various times.

      Enough ruminating from me – the rectory beckons and work begins!

    3. For once, I disagree with you, Rita. My experience was not related to the mourners themselves: they were all staunch Catholics who had the new texts memorized. It was the rather large crowd of “infrequent Catholics” who attended this funeral — who seemed caught off guard and uncomfortable with their routine responses not working any more. This is a very specific group in our assemblies, quite distinct also from non-Catholics, who don’t necessarily come expecting anything much familiar.

      1. @Teresa Berger – comment #24:
        A funeral can be a place to remind infrequent Catholics of the comfort of the Church, but not if the Church makes them uncomfortable!

      2. @Teresa Berger – comment #24:
        Not too strenuously, I dare to hope. 😉

        Some of the strategies other commenters have mentioned — preparing a program, informing people of where they can find the order of the Mass — are innocuous and would be suitable for those participants who are not grieving themselves but are supporting others who are, and who want to “follow along.”

        The part I picked up on from your original post was that the infrequent attenders in fact knew the older responses and used them with confidence. In my experience, people in that situation generally do not want to “follow along” a printed page or be told, implicitly, that their old habits are no longer good enough. They wish to travel the well-worn groove of their prior experience, of which they are sure. I don’t say this as a criticism. This instinct is so well developed in general that I’ve found it is difficult to train even the most devoted liturgical ministers in new procedures. In general, and especially in times of stress, they automatically go back to what they know best. We are creatures of habit, and the ritual responses are internalized, etc. etc. etc., as you well know. Not having to think about it is what enables us to sink into the ritual and be present to it at deeper levels.

        Your most recent comment made it clear to me however that you were picking up on signals that these people were themselves uncomfortable when they perceived that others were using different words and that they wanted to learn the new ones (I would quibble with the expression that the old ones “no longer work.”). In this case I would say, by all means, help the people who want help. And for the rest, let them be.

    4. @Rita Ferrone – comment #11:
      “The essence of the funeral liturgy is not to be found in getting the responses right or saying them all together on cue.”

      Agreed but of course that is true of all liturgy.

      “If a number of the visitors are from Protestant or Anglican communities that do say “And also with you” they are saying their own responses, and should not be forbidden to do so at a funeral.”

      But good manners should suggest that they join in the Catholic responses when possible.

  10. I get the point of allowing a gentle muddle at funeral masses, having the cards available in the pews would help anyone who’s noticing.

    At our University Baccalaureate mass last May, the new responses were not printed in the program and we were in a basketball arena, not a chapel. The responses were a mess, other than everyone gratefully belting out the Lord’s prayer. I have strongly suggested that the responses be printed right in the program from here out.

    Why? Because we should always go the extra mile to make people feel comfortable. These kind of large events draw in many who are on the fringes of Catholicism, the last thing we want is to make them feel odd or out-of-place. If they feel that way at an event like a cousin’s baccalaureate mass, the next time they consider going at Christmas, they’ll remember that there were some strange new things at the baccalaureate, there are new responses now, etc. They won’t risk showing up at Christmas mass if they think they will feel awkward or stupid.

    I’m thinking that we should have the cards readily in the pews for the next five years at least.

  11. Since the first Sunday of Advent, we have printed a complete worship aid, including all the people’s responses, along with all the assembly music, each Sunday, as well as for funerals. While I have printed a worship aid for assembly song nearly my whole professional life, including the spoken responses and the text/music for the Eucharistic prayer is new for us. Even when we in the parish are comfortable with the responses and the Mass setting music, I doubt that we’ll go back to our old ways. We have new insights about hospitality since Advent and believe that the additional assembly assistance is worth our while.

  12. When I’ve been to Episcopal or Lutheran funerals I have found it hospitable to have the minister indicate where in the Book of Common Prayer where the Order of Service is. But I agree that we need not obsess on forcing people to verbally participate especially non Catholics or the grieving family. Of course the EF could be a model in this regard where there is not as much of a preoccupation with what the congregation is doing just so long as the EF’s servers, cantor or schola know their parts. In the OF the same can be accomplished including a bereavement committe in the congregation to assist along with the cantor discreetly helping at the mic and a handy printed worship aid.

  13. The CARA model of the average parish says that 1005 people attend Mass weekly, another 1047 attend once a month or more, another 1,225 are registered in the parish and attend less often.

    The most contact time for the very infrequent 1,225 will be Christmas, Easter, Weddings, Funerals, First Communions, etc. These are also the occasions when liturgies are often special. My favorite parish gives a trifold at every service during Holy Week, contains everything needed to participate. A good idea for all the special occasions that benefits regular as well as infrequent people.

    The 1047 who attend once a month or more are most likely to attend regularly during October, November, December and Lent-Easter. These are also times during which there is often special music, e.g. a different Gloria, etc. A monthly or seasonal pew trifolder could contain all the special material plus all the changes, e.g. Creed. Again make it easy for everyone as well at those who attend infrequently.

    My favorite parish also has a bulletin worship guide that gives everything different for the Mass on the front page.

    During the next two decades people are going to shift from the more frequent to the less frequent categories as greater numbers of older people have health interfere with their high attendance, and young people with lower attendance rates grow in number.

    This suggests we should program for the less attendance people rather than dwindling numbers of weekly Mass goers, e.g..

    Give everyone who arrives a worship guide-parish bulletin that gives them everything they need except the hymn book both to worship and to relate to the parish, not just next week but the next several months (events, groups, etc. with further info found on kiosks and website).

    A local parish had flyers for Bible study at Easter, one “Easter Bunny” attracted to Bible study is now very active in the parish.

    I check five local parish websites (bulletins displayed early); my aunt says I sure make Mass going interesting.

  14. As an aside, I had given our Baptist assistant organist permission to have a Baptist funeral in our church for his aging father who was professor of religion at Mercer University and also a Baptist minister . While I was on vacation he died. His son made up an order of service borrowing from his Baptist tradition but also from the Book of Common prayer and some Catholic elements. He printed a several page booklet for the 300 or so there and as a keepsake. Our choir sang a couple of Catholic Latin pieces. The service was presided over by a Southern Baptist pastor. Unfortunately being away I missed it but heard marvelous comments about it.

  15. I am encouraged by the common focus in this discussion about what we can do to help all who attend these liturgies to have a deeper, fuller experience of the celebration.

    I was struck by Fr. AJM’s comments about the large number of people who come from other traditions in support of a family in grief, and then the comments from others helped me realize that this desire to offer support and come together is what prompts less-frequent Catholic Mass-goers to share one another’s grief at funerals and joy at weddings.

    Given these motivations of our visitors, perhaps we underestimate their willingness to join in, if we would just provide the right sort of invitation.

    One way to engage them is to anticipate their presence as we plan such liturgies: are there elements that could be part of the liturgy that they might be familiar with? Fr. AJM’s example of drawing elements from different traditions is intriguing.

    Another way is to let them know that their participation in the singing and spoken parts is a very tangible and meaningful way for them to express their love for the family/couple. If they know that what matters is the feeling in their voices, not the perfection of it, we might be surprised by what can happen.

    1. @Jeff Rexhausen – comment #17:
      This subject is precisely why many non-Roman Catholics were distressed with the new translation of the Mass.

      Over the last fifty years, there has been an increasing amount of liturgical conversation among scholars across denominations, with greater and greater confluence of liturgical practice as a result. Liturgical texts became more common across denominational lines, and Eucharistic practices increased among more low-church groups following an increasingly common liturgical outline of worship. It’s not just Roman Catholics who have been saying “and also with you” for the last fifty years, but Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and others as well.

      For Roman Catholics to unilaterally opt out of this liturgical conversation broke a growing consensus. The pains of that choice are at the heart of this post.

  16. To comment directly on the question posed by the post . . .

    At services where there are a large number of guests and/or infrequent worshipers, I tend to give more directions than I otherwise would do, such as verbal “please stand/sit” comments, or “please turn to page xxx in the front of the hymnal” as the liturgy moves along.

    Two other keys to this, I have found, are in the attitude of the regular attendees who are present at these kinds of services. The first key is the welcome offered by ushers and greeters who meet people in the narthex. Their hospitality sets a tone before the liturgy even begins, which puts guests and infrequent attenders more at ease. The second key is the regulars scattered in the pews. In a number of parishes I’ve served, many make special efforts at funerals and baptisms to sit not in their “regular” places but instead sit among guests to offer a gentle liturgical help if needed when the guest looks lost (“Here — take my book . . . we’re on page xxx”).

    As much as presiders might like to do so, at services like these we cannot pretend that everyone worships like we do. There are guests present, and so we put on our best Benedictine hospitality and welcome them to our celebration.

    As Benedict noted in his Rule, the presence of guests changes the way the community acts, and hospitality takes center stage. As Sister Joan Chittister described it in her book “The Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life”:

    Benedict’s community met everyone,
    whoever they were,
    with friendship and trust and honor.
    The pilgrim,
    the poor,
    and the stranger
    all became new royalty
    at the monastery door.

    the Rule teaches,
    “is to be welcomed in them.”

    For the sake of the welcome,
    community silence
    was broken,
    the table was set,
    and the abbot
    ate with the guest.

    The question posed by the post ought not to be heard as “Shall we be hospitable?” but “How shall we be hospitable?”

  17. I concur that we should not underestimate the willingness of those attending a funeral to participate, especially those who have come in support of the grieving family. Having played the organ for a dozen years at a United Church of Christ and another eight at a Lutheran church, I know that virtually all services, including funerals, gave all attendees exactly the information they needed to participate via a detailed worship aid, often accompanied by pastoral remarks. (Weddings were the unfortunate exception.) And the level of participation from the assembly was always quite good, both in sung and the spoken responses.
    Indeed, hospitality is the virtue to which we aspire. When people visit our homes who’ve never been before or haven’t been in a while, we give them a tour, show them where to sit, explain what we’re having for dinner, etc.–in short we make them feel welcome and comfortable. Why should we do any less when guests come to the house of the Lord?

  18. We use an overhead video projection for all funerals. I call attention to it briefly at the beginning of the funeral Mass, inviting people to “refer to the video worship aid above” for responses and such. I think it makes people comfortable, and I consider it a gesture of hospitality to those who are there to support a grieving friend or loved one.

  19. Yes, there should be no effort to shoehorn everyone into responding like a totalitarian rally, but people should merely be given resources so that they can make informed decisions about how to participate.

  20. “Nothing undercuts people’s ability to be present to their grief and to the genuineness of the moment of loss in their lives than being asked to pay attention to trivial details that have nothing to do with the death they are mourning.”

    And the trivia, as we all know, have no redeeming virtues that make it meaningful to fuss about them.

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