I grew up with a best friend by my side. We had met in kindergarten in Mrs. Jones’ class and from that day forth we stuck together like glue through everything. Elementary school, middle school, first boyfriends, first kisses, and other friendships came and went. Our friendship didn’t change but our hearts started to. We were both 14 when we found God. Or maybe He found us.
We wanted to share that experience with each other, just like we had shared clothing, and stories, and shoes. We devised plans to go to each other’s respective churches because I was Roman Catholic and my friend was Pentecostal.
Going to a Pentecostal church for the first time was an experience.
“So, you don’t get the Eucharist?”
“What’s the Eucharist?”
“The communion wafer and wine that changes into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”
….Annnd her going to her first Catholic Mass went the same.
“How do you know when to sit and when to kneel?”
“I don’t know? I grew up with it, so I learned then.”
“How do you know all those prayers? There are so many prayers. Everyone knows them too.”
“Yeah, I remember taking classes as a kid to learn them.”
Our experiences were intense.
And then, we never went back to each other’s churches. Ok, I lied, she went to my Confirmation, but after that, never again.
We still talked about God and we still prayed with each other and we still read the bible together. But after that day, it was like there was some huge canyon that divided our spiritual lives from one another.
It was a bummer because I really wanted to share that with her. I had other friends that I was eventually able to invite along and prepare them for the Mass, and now that some of them enjoyed going. Some have become Catholic too! I wish I could go back to being fourteen years old and redo that entire situation so that I could have done the same for my best friend.
Maybe you’re thinking of inviting a friend for the first time. If so, here’s a handy checklist of things to run through with your friends beforehand:
They Are Welcome Here
The Church’s doors are always open for newcomers. Any person of any faith can walk in at anytime into a Catholic church and ask for help, or for prayer, or for food assistance. The Catholic Church wants to care for all peoples. Coming to Mass is no different. They are invited to participate in everything but the Eucharist, which is the next point…
The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ
This is so important to the Catholic faith that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of Christian life.” (CCC 1324) The Eucharist is a BIG deal to us as Catholics and as such, it deserves every bit of reverence that we can give. If your friend is agnostic, Protestant, or Muslim, let them know that while they are able to participate in Mass, they are unable to receive the Eucharist as the Eucharist is reserved for those who have gone through their First Reconciliation. In lieu of this, they are invited to come up with their arms crossed upon their chest and ask for a blessing in order for them to still participate spiritually.
Everyone Knows the Prayers and It’s Okay That You Don’t
The prayers that we say during Mass are intense and there’s a LOT of them! Newcomers can feel overwhelmed by how everyone seems to know the words and they don’t. If this happens, make sure to arrive early and look at the booklets where the readings are. Typically, they will have all of the prayers typed out in a way that makes sense to first-comers to allow that participation.
Take The Pressure Off
No one in the church will assume they are not Catholic. It’s okay if they stumble, if they don’t know when to kneel, when to stand, or what words to say, let them know there is no pressure to catch up with everyone or to know why Catholics do what they do.
Be Prepared For Questions
The Mass has a lot of symbolism and a structure that can make catechized Catholics feel at ease and at rest with the familiarity. Non-Catholics, on the other hand, will not share in that familiarity and will have a lot of questions that you may not have answers to. They may ask why do you use incense? Where did the Nicene Creed come from? Why do you all think the Eucharist is body and blood of Jesus? Be ready for them! They’ll come. If you don’t know the answer, look them up together or sit down with your priest and ask.
This list is only a small portion things can help you and your friends prepare for the astounding and rich traditions of the Catholic Church. No matter what, I hope that you and your friends come to the feast with open hearts and open minds.