Parish Missions: A Time of Great Grace
A mission is an opportunity for a parish to experience in a heightened and intense way spiritual services, sermons, and sacraments focusing on the major themes of our faith.
Redemptorists love to talk about redemption, about what Christ has done to set us free from the evils of sin and so has made it possible for us to be fully human and alive in Him, about a God who loves to forgive, and goes so far as to be willing to die to forgive!
The goal of a Redemptorist mission is to provide a positive experience of God, leading to personal and ongoing conversion in a community setting. Essential elements of the Redemptorist mission are preaching, reconciliation, fellowship, prayer, sacred and sacramental ritual, Scripture, and healing of relationships.
A unique preaching
Redemptorists, having inherited the rich legacy of preaching redemption from their spiritual father, St. Alphonsus, see a mission as an opportunity for healing, renewal and reconciliation. While some missions concentrate on adult catechesis, Scripture study and a variety of devotions, Redemptorists preach a Gospel of unconditional love in order to move hearts and change lives. Preaching continual conversion means that the mission is not merely a nice "shot in the arm," but rather the beginning of a renewed relationship with the Holy Redeemer. The emphasis is on love and mercy coupled with the availability for reconciliation and down-to-earth preaching.
Laity joins in
Redemptorist parish missions are no longer a case of "missionary does it all." The laity are an important part of the mission. They may be found signing fellow parishioners with holy water or processing into the sanctuary with a Bible to be enthroned. They may be seen distributing blessed bread or helping commission the missionary to preach by the laying on of hands.
Some missionaries involve children in skits depicting the Gospel; others organize processions with the Blessed Sacrament while a lay minister reads a healing prayer; some larger missions have engaged up to 200 parishioners. The Redemptorists believe lay people are indispensable for the vitality of a present-day mission.
A faith-filled experience made available to all
Based on the needs of the parish the missions take on different forms and themes. For example, some missions are charismatic; others focus on healing or broken marriages. The Redemptorists have even sponsored a mission for the homeless. Missions can take place in parish churches, in the streets, and in homes. They may last five days, two weeks, or longer. In some countries they last as long as a full year! No matter the form they take, the message is consistent everywhere: in Christ there is plentiful redemption for all.
The most common form of the mission takes place in a parish context. It typically starts on Sunday and concludes with Mass on the following Thursday night. The weeknight services may include preaching, benediction, meditation, the rosary, a Marian service, Bible service, and a healing service. Some missions include children's programs. One night is dedicated to a Reconciliation service that may involve as many as 15 priests. During the day, priests are available for private consultation and visitation.
A Redemptorist mission always stresses Reconciliation — historically Redemptorists have been known as confessors — and the priests and brothers try to make it nonthreatening, loving, sensible, and meaningful. They provide a series of talks, homilies, and instructions with liturgies, services, and many opportunities to experience the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Each participant receives a pocket-size prayer book to guide them through confession, and prayers during and following the services, including prayers to Mary, to help during an examination of conscience, for healing, bereavement, thanksgiving, and for loved ones to return to the Church.
Redemptorists hold a special place in their hearts for un-churched Catholics, and especially welcome people who have been away from the Church. The parish mission team makes personal phone calls to each parishioner, and to people whom parishioners hope will return to the Church. All are invited and welcomed no matter how long they may have been away. Ads in local newspapers and on the radio echo that invitation.
Parish teams provide witness and support
At every mission, people return to the practice of their faith because a friend of theirs manages to get them to come and just try it for one evening. What they find amazes them. They say they cannot believe the laughing, crying, and joyful clapping of hands that they experience during the time of the mission.
The parish planning team includes committees for publicity, babysitting, liturgy and music, transportation, and refreshments. Two weeks before the mission, a layperson (sometimes someone who had been away from the Church prior to a mission) might speak at all Sunday Masses; the following week, a missionary addresses the parish. Each encourages parishioners to participate and to invite others who are not there to come and hear the message. Often enough the result is standing-room-only gatherings and on occasion, closed-circuit televisions for the people who cannot fit in the church.
Where Redemptorists mission
Redemptorist missionaries of the Baltimore Province preach throughout the eastern United States and in the English-speaking Caribbean. In the Diocese of Portland, Maine (which covers the entire state), missions were given by 29 mission preachers in every parish in the fall of 2008. According to Father John Murray, the mission coordinator, "The impact is much greater when the parishes celebrate missions at the same time."
A Redemptorist mission is a time of great grace, an experience of the Word made flesh among us, an occasion of healing, conversion, and reconciliation for a parish and its people.
For information about a mission in your parish, ask your pastor to e-mail Father John Murray.