The past two years have brought us all historic and largely unfortunate events and new realities: COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, escalating urban violence, a contentious and contested presidential election, deepening partisan divisions, economic instability, weather-related calamities, and now the tragedy in Ukraine. And, given cable news and social media, we are more aware of these current events that at any time in history.
The question we struggle with here at our parish is how to respond to current events, especially when they are open to multiple interpretations by our parishioners (as all of the above examples probably are). Given the merely 60 minutes a week (at most) that we have people’s attention, how do we celebrate the Liturgy, honor the liturgical season or themes already established, attend to ordinary parish business and housekeeping (like parish announcements) and acknowledge critical current events in a way that does not offend. And what is our objective in doing so anyway?
First of all, it should be noted that critical current events, however unfortunate, do offer an opportunity for us. Suddenly, we have people’s attention, something that is not at all easy to lay hold of. If we can direct that attention from pain to promise, from confusion to purpose we have provided a real service to parishioners. Doubtless, newcomers and visitors are perhaps more likely to give church a try in the face of bad news, and we have an additional opportunity to demonstrate that the church is not irrelevant to the rest of their lives.
Simply acknowledging the situation and tying it to a shared value can be very helpful and even unifying: “let’s pray for the many people impacted by COVID” “let’s pray for civility in our country” “let’s pray for peace in Ukraine.”
There are numerous opportunities to do so, in the course of the parish’s weekly gathering at Mass. A mention at the beginning of Mass, placing the whole of the Mass in the context of a particular current event (like the Sunday after 9/11) would seem important to do. Other, ongoing issues, like urban violence, might better find a place in the Universal Prayer. Current events can also often serve as illustrations in the Homily, simply acknowledged, without comment or commentary. A special or second collection for some critical need, like disaster relief, can be an important way for the congregation to respond too.
More than ever before, we experience major world events collectively. They can impact the whole world. They can also impact our parishes. Let’s not miss the opportunity.