Sunday, March 24, 2013

A & P Catholics

We are in Holy Week.  An interesting phenomenon occurs I've noticed these past few years after leaving atheism for Catholicism.  I have noticed that on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday, churches are packed beyond capacity. The amount of people in the church can bring a pastor to fear getting a summons from the fire department for overcrowding.
A&P Catholics

You are probably wondering what is an "A&P Catholic."  This is a term I've heard being used to describe Catholics who only attend Mass two times a year: Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday.  This is a serious problem for pastors throughout the globe, particularly in industrialized nations.  There are Catholics who do not attend Mass regularly and only show up on these two days.  

Why these two days?
Well, there are several theories out there that try to explain this:
  • The Church gives out free things: Palms and Ashes
  • There is a sense of superstition regarding Palms and Ashes
  • Syncretism is manifesting itself publically
  • The Precepts of the Church
  • People are Lazy
  • The public witness of the Ashes and Palm

The Church gives out free things: Palms and Ashes
Yes, it is true.  The Church does give out these items for free.  Anyone can enter and receive ashes or palms, no questions ask.  Human beings love to receive things.  There exists no human being on Earth who would not be tempted to get something for free.  Human beings change behavior when they are rewarded.  Perhaps this psychological cue is what draws lapsed Catholics back to Mass at least for these two days.

Pastors must explain what these sacramentals are in depth. 

Unfortunately, some Catholics were not properly educated on the faith.  They adhere to all kinds of folkloric understanding of the religion.  There are some who believe the ashes or palms are good luck charms, or possess some kind of energy or magic.  While they are sacramentals, they themselves do not possess any magic or the like.  God works through them just as He works through any thing He has created.

Pastors must be clear that sacramentals are not magic charms.

Religious Syncretism
This is another problem that has presented itself to the Church since its beginning.  There are those who blend rituals of Paganism with Catholicism.  Santeria and other folk religions often borrow Catholicism to enhance their rituals.  

Pastors and other Catholics must evangelize these people.  They must teach them that once you have Christ, you do not need anyone or anything else.  Santeria and voodoo rituals are placebos.  These people must be shown the power of prayer.

Precepts of the Church 
The precepts of the Church, or commandments are specific rules all Catholics must adhere to.  One of these rule states that Catholic must receive Holy Communion during the Easter season or once a year. This might not have been explained well and A&P Catholics literally only attend Mass during this time.

Pastors must take advantage of their presence and explain the importance of attending Mass every Sunday and holy days of obligation.

People are Lazy
Yes, people can be lazy.  They generally do not want to do anything that does not reward them in return.  Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday offer "rewards," so to speak; so they come.

Pastors must be patient with these people.  They must not use the homily to criticize or speak sarcastically to a packed church.  If a pastor does this, rest assured the people will not return.  These Catholics must be made to feel at home, if you will.  They must be seen as distant relatives who we do not see often and now have decided to visit us. We must welcome them with open arms!
There is no greater feeling than that of feeling welcomed.  Some parishes have greeters who greet people as the enter, this can be used to promote the regular attendance of A&P Catholics.  Other parishes offer breakfast after Mass.  This is another great time to get to know these lapsed Catholics and make them feel at home.  Who opens their door to strangers for breakfast?  The mere fact that these people can walk into a hall and have breakfast shows the Church is open to them and friendly. This send a clear message to them.  It is also a great opportunity to start conversation and listen to why they do not attend regularly and pastor to them.  

The Public Witness
One of the reasons we use Ashes and Palms is for public witness.  We want to show the world what Christ is all about.  Walking around with ashes or palms will definitely draw attention and inquirers. This most likely triggers the memories of lapse Catholics who might remember attending Mass and receiving ashes and palms.  They then only return for those days.

Catholics must take the time to evangelize.  They should be able to give a reason behind the ashes on their foreheads or palms in their hands.  A great explanation with love and affection can go a long way.

Let us all take this moment to evangelize to our brothers and sisters.  This can only be done with our by showing our faith and hope via our love. 

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