Dear friends in Christ,
Christmas is always a beautiful time to be with the people we love both at home and in our church communities, and I pray that these upcoming days of Christmas are filled with peace and grace for each of you.
This year in particular, however, Christmas may be quite difficult for some people at your church. You see, this year, Christmas Eve is Sunday, which also happens to be the Fourth Sunday of Advent. This might not sound like a big deal, but for those who help to prepare the liturgies at your church, it is. And many of them are dreading it. Here’s why.
Advent always has four Sundays before December 25, and this Sunday is the last Sunday of Advent. So, even though it’s also Christmas Eve, this Sunday is still a regular Advent Sunday, and many parishes will have their usual full schedule of weekend Masses. A typical schedule includes Masses on Saturday late afternoon and evening and all day Sunday into the evening.
When Christmas Eve is also the Fourth Sunday of Advent, it means there will be Masses Saturday night and all day Sunday, followed by Masses all night Sunday for Christmas Eve and at least one or more on Monday for Christmas Day. Larger parishes might even have Masses all day long on Christmas Day or simultaneous Masses going on in different locations!
So if you’re the parish music director, the liturgy coordinator, the only ordained priest or deacon, or a staff person who assists with liturgy, you’ll probably be camping out at church this year from Saturday afternoon until as late as Monday evening. This doesn’t include any weddings, funerals, or sick calls that might happen Saturday morning or in the days after Christmas. Nor does it include the planning meetings and rehearsals going on now, the time spent preparing and writing a homily for each feast day, the preparations involved in changing the church decorations from Advent to Christmas in a matter of hours, making sure there are enough liturgical ministers who aren’t out of town, creating, printing, and battling copier machines for worship aids, warming up and rehearsing the choir before each Mass, and the countless other details that go into making these celebrations beautiful for the community and the many visitors who attend Christmas Mass.
Now don’t get me wrong. Professional parish ministers love what they do. I know, because I used to be one of them for many years, and I miss the unique blessing of being one. People like us who have given our lives in service to the church’s liturgy especially love the wonder and grace of this season because no matter how exhausted we might become, the Spirit always seems to surprise us in the most unexpected ways whenever the community we love gathers to pray.
Still, it doesn’t make the time away from family, friends, and loved ones waiting at home any easier during Christmas. In 2000, I was the music director for a church, and Christmas Eve that year fell on a Sunday. I was in charge of the music for all the Sunday Masses followed by Christmas Eve Masses at 4:30p, 7:00p, 9:00p, and midnight. Even today, I can still feel in my stomach the overwhelming sadness sitting in an empty choir room in between Masses that night, eating a hamburger ordered to-go from Denny’s because it was the only place close enough that was open Christmas Eve.
This year, some seriously dedicated people at your church may have similar moments as they try to be joyful ministers even through the exhaustion and loneliness of back-to-back Masses over three days.
So I humbly ask, on behalf of my friends who will begin a blessed but grueling liturgical marathon this weekend, when you’re at church this coming week, please give some extra kindness to your parish staff. Here are 12 simple things you can do to encourage, bolster, and say “thank you” to your parish music directors, liturgy coordinators, clergy, and staff who will work so hard this week to make your church a home for all who seek Christ at Christmas.
Twelve ways to be extra kind to your parish staff this Christmas
- Greet them after Mass, and tell them one specific thing they said or did that you appreciated. But try not to linger too long if they are preparing for the next Mass or are eager to get home after a long day.
- Handwrite a thank you card, and mail it to them at the parish after Christmas.
- Remember them in your daily prayers. Then before Mass begins, let them know that you’ve been praying for them this week.
- Sing, participate, and be engaged during Mass. That’s always the best encouragement for those who prepare the liturgy!
- Prepare and deliver a simple and not-too-heavy meal that doesn’t need to be refrigerated that they can eat “on the go” in between Masses. Include utensils, plates, napkins, a drink, and something “Christmas-y” to make it a bit more special.
- Stay after Mass, and offer to help tidy up the pews in preparation for the next Mass or put away music equipment after the last Mass of the day.
- Arrive early before Mass, and offer to help distribute any worship aids or set up any music equipment.
- Find out the person’s favorite beverage or snack, and give it to them as a Christmas gift.
- Write an email message to them thanking them for what they do. If you can’t find their email address, send it to the parish email address and ask that it be forwarded to them.
- If they’re a coffee drinker, offer to bring them a cup of their favorite coffee between Masses.
- Get everyone in your pew to sign a Christmas card, and give it to them after Mass.
- Call them at their parish phone number when you get home, and leave a message saying thanks. Tell them one specific thing they said or did at Mass that helped you pray, that encouraged you or gave you hope, and that made you feel closer to Christ.
I promise you, your music director, liturgy coordinator, clergy, and parish staff will appreciate simple acts of kindness like these in the coming days, and you will minister to those who minister to you each week. Thank you for helping to announce the joy of the Gospel in simple ways this Christmas!