ROCHESTER — As Bishop Matthew H. Clark walked into Blessed Sacrament Church on Feb. 6 for the Diocese of Rochester’s annual Mass in celebration of young adults, he was still contemplating his planned homily on the Mass’ introductory rites.
"When I came in the side door this morning from the parking lot I was totally wrapped up in myself, and a cheerful, loving voice broke into that, (saying), ‘Good morning, bishop. Welcome to Blessed Sacrament,’" Bishop Clark told the congregation during his homily. "She shook me out of myself in the ways those introductory rites should shake us out of ourselves every time we come to Mass."
These rites are the beginning of Mass and a time for Mass-goers to establish a sense of community and prepare for the rest of the liturgy, the bishop noted. That theme carried over into a reception afterwards, where young adults were invited to join in a conversation about various ways parishes can prepare to reach out to young adults and bring them into the established parish family.
"A lot of what we can do is just welcome people to the liturgy. I think people get more out of it than just feeling isolated and like they’re invisible," said Sue Howard, pastoral associate at Blessed Sacrament.
Indeed, the greeting the bishop received that morning made him feel as if the Mass’ introductory rites had almost begun, he said. These rites include the entrance procession, the sign of the cross, the Act of Penitence, the Gloria, and the collect, or time when the priest invites the congregation to pray silently for a few moments before the opening prayer.
"These entrance rites speak to so many values that are close to the human want to belong to something larger than our own small world, to be able to sing from the very marrow of our bones a hymn of praise, and the chance to pool our cares, our concerns, our needs, our wants, our problems, and commend them with one voice to the gracious mercy of God," Bishop Clark said.
The introductory rites are brief but beautiful invitations to find God’s presence and grace, to be family with each other in the Holy Spirit and to ask for forgiveness, the bishop said. They also help Catholics open their hearts to receive God’s word and to celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist, he added.
Preachers throughout the diocese spoke about the introductory rites during their Feb. 5-6 homilies. They are focusing their weekend homilies this month on the order of the Mass, in preparation for the Advent 2011 implementation of the newly translated Roman Missal. They reviewed and reflected on the Liturgy of the Word Feb. 12-13, and will discuss the Liturgy of the Eucharist Feb. 19-20. During the last weekend of February they will talk about the blessing and the dismissal, as well as Catholics’ call to live the Eucharist.
The implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal not only provides a perfect opportunity to provide catechesis for parishioners, but it also provides a wonderful opportunity for newcomers or people who’ve been away from the church to learn about the Mass without feeling embarrassed by their lack of knowledge, said Shannon Loughlin, diocesan director of young-adult and campus ministry. Even the most devout Catholics and regular Mass-goers will be learning the new prayers right alongside newcomers.
"Everyone’s on a level playing field. Suddenly no one knows what they’re doing," Loughlin said.
This provides a great entrance point for newcomers, including young adults, she said, but many young adults already belong to local parishes and are looking for ways to deepen their involvement and draw in more of their peers.
"Our generation really wants more. We’re not satisfied with what we have right now. A greater appreciation of and development of more young-adult ministry is something we’d like to have," said Sarah Mess, a senior at SUNY Brockport. Mess attended the young-adult Mass and reception with three friends who shared her interest in expanding the diocese’s young-adult offerings.
"It’s not always a big young-adult community at most parishes," noted Emily Salvas, Mess’ roommate and a fellow Brockport senior.
Most parishes offer programs and events for children and teens in junior high and high school, but nothing specifically for young adults, agreed 28-year-old Nick Delucenay, who attends Blessed Sacrament and Holy Cross Parish in Charlotte. This can make it hard for young adults to find peers who share their faith, added 22-year-old Bob Appleby, who attends St. Leo Parish in Hilton and St. John the Evangelist Parish in Spencerport.
Ministering to young adults can be quite challenging, Loughlin said, largely because the term "young adult" applies to anyone between the ages of 18 and 40, according to the U.S. bishops’ 1996 document "Sons and Daughters of the Light: A Pastoral Plan for Ministry With Young Adults." This range comprises people of all ages and life stages, so Loughlin usually recommends anyone wishing to start a young-adult ministry should first choose a target audience, such as college-age people, new parents, or engaged or newly married couples
"That will narrow your outreach to make it more effective, because those are people that are sharing similar circumstances," Loughlin said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on starting a young-adult ministry in your parish, visit the diocesan website, www.dor.org, and click on the link for Young Adult and Campus Ministry.