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July 1, 2012

Year of Sunday Mass begins in parishes July 1 Second phase of strategic pastoral plan to deepen eucharistic fervor

By Joyce Duriga

EDITOR

The second year of the Strategic Pastoral Plan is now underway with a focus on the Sunday Mass. Vicar General Msgr. John Canary kicked off the Year of Sunday Mass on June 19 at the spring Priests’ Day at Lexington House in Hickory Hills. More than 400 priests attended the annual event

The goal of the Strategic Pastoral Plan is to engage baptized Catholics more deeply in the life of the church. Year one focused on teens and young adults; year two will focus on Sunday Mass; year three will focus on parents; and year four on the sacraments.

In materials for the year, Msgr. Canary wrote, “The central intention of the Year of Sunday Mass is to reclaim the vital significance of our weekly worship and, therefore, to reclaim the motivation to participate. Ultimately, this has to do with the very life of faith that we share, our existence in God.”

Just as in the previous year, each parish is to implement the plan in the way that is most fitting to their community. Archdiocesan agencies will offer resources to the parishes for each of the themed years. An archdiocesan steering committee will collect examples of best practices from the parishes and distribute those as models for others to use.

Msgr. Canary told the gathering that about 23 percent of Catholics participate in Mass regularly; 21- 24 percent participate once a month; 25 percent participate during Easter and Christmas and 25- 30 percent of baptized Catholics have left the church. During the Year of Sunday Mass, Canary said that the archdiocese will focus on the first two groups because their motivation and faith is strong enough that this effort to renew and deepen their faith can have a lasting effect.

“There are so many things in our culture that press against people’s motivations,” Canary told the gathering. “In our planning we felt it was terribly important to assist people to revitalize the importance of their own faith and the critical importance of Sunday worship as a source of life and deepening of faith.”

In the course of their research, the steering committee learned that parishes are looking for educational materials and resources to help enhance their experience and understanding of Sunday Mass.

The committee also learned that people’s own witness around Sunday Mass is a powerful influence on their motivation to attend.

“The importance of witness came back over and over again,” he said.

In response to that, the committee developed the Circles of Witness program for parishes and “Bread of Life,” a “eucharistic autobiography” written by Father Louis Cameli. Circles of Witness is a program for parish staff based upon “Bread of Life,” which helps them reflect on and pray about their motivation for attending Sunday Mass and the power of the Eucharist in their lives.

“Bread of Life” is available in English and Spanish. All other materials for the year are available in English, Spanish and Polish.

The committee also developed two resources for parish bulletins “Question of the Week,” and “One Word at a Time” that offer weekly reflections on Sunday Mass.

It’s always a good thing to focus on Sunday Mass in an effort like this, said Father Arthur Olsen, associate pastor at St. Hilary Parish, 5600 N. Fairfield Ave.

“The Eucharist connects us to God in a way that nothing else does,” Olsen told the Catholic New World during Priests’s Day. “We are privileged to receive the creator of all that is — even to take him in our hands and receive him in our body.”

The theologian St. Augustine spoke about all people having a hole in their hearts that can only be filled with God. Olsen said that we can try and fill that hole with things like food, alcohol and more but nothing fills it so completely and powerfully as God.

“Hopefully focusing on Sunday Mass will help people to recognize that,” he said, especially the people who “go to Mass to just go to Mass” and those who don’t attend at all for whatever reason.

“I know that there are people at my parish who are hungry for a deeper knowledge,” the priest said.

St. Hilary recently conducted a Bible study series about the Mass through the lens of Scripture and it brought out more people than usual, even folks from other parishes.

“I think there is a desire out there and I hope that this will tap into that,” Olsen said.