Sunday is at the heart of our Christian Life

Our first topic looks at how Sunday – the Lord’s Day – is at the heart of our Christian life. This goes beyond the Blessing and post-Mass commissioning. A holy Sunday doesn’t end when we leave the Church.

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To hold up the vital, indispensable and irreplaceable place of the Eucharist in our lives, we have produced a series of four discussions for Advent called ‘Dies Domini – Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy’.

Elliot Vanstone, Mission Adviser at the Bishops’ Conference, hosts our series alongside Natalie Orefice, Advisor for Parish Evangelisation for the Archdiocese of Birmingham based at the Maryvale Institute.

Our first topic looks at how Sunday – the Lord’s Day – is at the heart of our Christian life. This goes beyond the Blessing and post-Mass commissioning. A holy Sunday doesn’t end when we leave the Church.

The pandemic is taking many twists and turns so it’s not as simple as heading back to Church en masse this advent. That said we asked our guest, Sarah Adams, Director of Adult Education and Evangelisation for the Clifton Diocese, a question central to the theme:

What’s the importance of being physically present at Mass on a Sunday?

Listen

Transcript

Natalie Orefice:

In this discussion, we focus on John Paul II’s beautiful document Dies Domini and how he unpacks the Sunday obligation, but emphasises the importance of making the whole of Sunday holy and not just going to Mass and then forgetting that it’s the Lord’s Day.

Elliot Vanstone:

We’re delighted to be joined by Sarah Adams. Hello, Sarah. Thank you for joining us. Would you like to give us a little brief introduction about yourself?

Sarah Adams:

Thanks, Elliot, Natalie. Yes. I’m Sarah Adams. I work for the Diocese of Clifton as the Director for the Department for Adult Education and Evangelisation. Just coming to the end of my third year in this position, which has been quite an interesting experience, given what we’ve been going through over the last 20 months or so.

Elliot Vanstone:

I’m not surprised at all! So the question we’d like to ask you today is: What is the importance of being physically present at Mass on a Sunday?

Sarah Adams:

I think it’s a really good question. For me, being physically present, personally, unites me to a group of people that come together. We witness to one another, we share our joys and our sorrows. We support and encourage one another in our faith. And it has been something which I really missed when we were in lockdown – that sense of coming together. I think part of it is that it just gives me a sense of identity, of where I belong and who I belong with. That encourages me when I’m faced with the many challenges that life can throw at us.

However, in the course of the work that I’ve been doing, I’ve become more and more aware, of how, even before COVID, the numbers of people coming to Mass on a Sunday had been diminishing and were diminishing quite significantly in some places. And that, to me, still seems to be the case that those numbers have not increased since the lifting of the restrictions that we were given.

I’ve been doing a lot of talking to people around the Diocese and listening to priests and listening to parishioners. It wasn’t working beforehand, and that made me think, well, what is it that wasn’t working? What is important about our Sunday coming together. In Dies Domini, it is quite clear that it isn’t just about Sunday, as in the celebration of Mass, it’s everything else that goes with it and making that space and time to relax and to find ways to, in a sense, break the week up into that special time.

I think we are faced with challenges of the secular society in which we live. It is far more secular than it used to be. It’s not that people don’t care, it’s just that it’s more secular and what is mentioned in Dies Domini is the idea that Sunday has almost kind of submerged into a weekend and everything happens at the weekend that doesn’t happen when you’re at work. It has been squeezed, I think.

But for me, the most important thing is that we really think about what we do when we gather on a Sunday. In many of our parishes, one of the things that matters to me is the sense of community after the community gathers. So we gather as a community, we celebrate hopefully, beautifully, the liturgy. Then we gather as a community to share coffee and stories and to spend time with one another and get to know each other. Perhaps the only time we see each other as a group is on a Sunday.

One of the things we tried to do in our Diocese is to look at how do we help parishes to renew themselves. We did in conjunction with Northampton Diocese, to renew ourselves, to refresh, to reengage people. I think people need to have this sense of invitation to come back to Church, to come back home, to know that they are missed and that they are loved and that they are wanted because this community matters. It matters to me and it matters to other people.

Elliot Vanstone:

I think that’s a brilliant point, Sarah, I really do. I think community is a really important aspect as to why we’ve gone back and, don’t get me wrong, I do think that the Church, especially in England and Wales, is putting great provisions in place during the pandemic to make us still feel involved in the community while worshipping at home. But I do feel like the active community that you get in a parish on a Sunday you can’t replicate anywhere else and I do think it’s a really important thing. But with the pandemic in mind, I think it’s an interesting thing to acknowledge that people might still have some worries about going back.

Is there anything you’d like to talk about in that regard, Sarah?

Sarah Adams:

I think it’s very true. I think a lot of people are anxious. I’ve been to a number of churches in our Diocese and the difference in how people are either just confidently coming along and the people who are there are confident. There’s a mixture of people wearing masks or not wearing masks. I think that’s an interesting perspective. For people who do feel anxious. Then the fact that there are people around who are not wearing masks adds to that anxiety. Equally, wearing masks puts some people off. It’s very difficult to sing – if you have singing – with a mask on. You can do it, but it’s not quite the same. And also there are so many different aspects of what happens in the liturgy that are still not happening. So we’re not receiving Communion under both kinds. We don’t have the Sign of Peace anymore. Even the quality of welcome, I think, in some parishes has diminished because it’s become stewarded, not stewards haven’t done a fantastic job because they have, but there’s a different quality of welcome that makes people feel very much a part of the community, and that’s still not there.

The numbers where I live in the Bristol area, the numbers for COVID are going up and up all the time. So it’s not surprising that people are feeling anxious.

I was talking to a priest and he said since they stopped having the booking system, the numbers of people have gone down. So he’s going to reinstate the booking system because he thinks that people will feel safer because the numbers will be managed. But actually they had more coming when they had the system than they did when they stopped it. So that in itself indicates something about how comfortable people feel and how safe people feel.

Natalie Orefice:

I think it’s really interesting what you’re saying about the booking system and how comfortable people feel about coming into the churches. I know that most churches I’ve been into, and I’ve been into lots throughout the pandemic, have had their varnish stripped off their pews because they’ve been so well sanitised. So if anybody is listening who hasn’t been into a Church, I can assure you that there’s lots of effort being made by stewards and volunteers who stepped forward throughout the pandemic, which has been quite amazing to see. But there has been certainly especially a drop in families with young children coming to parishes and I can quite understand that. My children are teenagers now, but I remember it being very stressful when they were younger, taking them in and getting them to stay in one pew and not escape and run off. So I have some empathy and understanding for parents who worry about not being able to touch things and keeping everything safe and clean, but they can be assured that they’d be most welcome if they did attend, we would love to see lots more children coming back to Mass.

Elliot Vanstone:

I think it’s a very interesting point, and I do completely agree with Sarah. I think as much as we’d love people to come back, at our hearts we are an empathetic Church. We don’t ever want to make people feel uncomfortable. We want everyone to always feel comfortable in their praise and their worship. At the end of the day, the main focus is Christ in the Eucharist and we want people to feel comfortable following Christ in the Eucharist. Obviously we’d love that to be in an actual Church building on a Sunday but if that’s maybe not possible for everybody at the moment, I think we’re inviting people to come back. That’s a really interesting point you’ve brought to the table Sarah – something that certainly resonates with a lot of people up and down the country.

Thank you very much for joining us today and giving such a good account of everything that’s going on, not only your diocese, but I’m sure this is the general consensus up and down the country. Thanks again.

Sarah Adams:

Thanks very much, Elliott. Thanks, Natalie.