Getting More Families to Sunday Mass
Using the religious education program to motivate Mass attendance.
"This is difficult to do but urgently important. Three years ago I would not have believed there would be cheers echoing down our hallways when the classes with the best Mass attendance are announced."
Pastor Michael Manning, MD, STL
Holy Cross Church, Rumson, NJ
The need it meets
The parish elementary school and Religious Education program at Holy Cross in Rumson, NJ, have more than 40 classes meeting weekly. The parish needed to address a large number of children who were not attending Mass on Sundays. It was apparent some parish families did not perceive attending Mass on Sundays as an essential part of their children's faith formation.
Where it came from
The parish adapted several ideas that were working in other parishes and then tried a couple original ideas. The intention was to incorporate Mass into the religious education program.
How it works
- Each student in the parish prepares for the Sunday liturgy by reading the Gospel in class the week before it is proclaimed at Mass. Our parish uses grade-appropriate catechetical materials to present the Gospel.
- Each student receives a Reflection Journal in which to record his or her responses to a question that prompts thought about the readings of the week or some aspect of the Mass. Younger children are asked to draw pictures, while older children write sentences in their journal.
- After Mass, each student receives a Gospel Art sticker that has a picture related to that week's Scripture reading. They place the sticker in their journal for that week.
- In class, the students share their reflections from Sunday Mass and the teacher tallies Mass attendance. The class with the best attendance wins the Holy Cross Award - a six-foot high copper cross which stood for years on the property of another church, now closed. Our pastor, principal and students in the other classes exhibit great excitement and enthusiasm for the award.
Since we began the program, it appears there is an increased awareness of the importance of attending Mass. While the numbers fluctuate week to week, there has been an increase this year in attendance from the previous year, especially in the attendance of younger children.
Elements that make the program effective include:
- The commitment of the pastor, principal, CRE and staff to include the importance of Sunday Eucharist in all communications with our families.
- Holding Hospitality Sundays once a month with a particular focus on making the liturgy child-friendly.
- Having each school class attend daily Mass at least once per month.
- Frequent visits to classes by the pastor and staff to talk about the Eucharist and the celebration of Mass.
- Including the importance of attending Mass in Confirmation interviews with students and parents, in all sacramental retreats and seasonal family retreats, in parish surveys and in presentations in the school.
How to implement it
Begin with a serious effort to confront the conspiracy of silence about Mass attendance in the parish. Listen carefully to what families are saying about attending Mass and about making it a priority in their busy schedules. Solicit parish members to help improve Mass attendance.
Rev. Michael Manning, MD, STL is pastor of