The Armchair Liturgist: Handling Overflow

armchair1.jpgI can’t say I’ve been a fan of handling overflow crowds at Mass by stuffing them into the vestibule, or setting up a tv in the parish hall. That said, we have a decent situation at my new parish. It’s Parents’ Weekend at Iowa State, and after Saturday success on the athletic field and court, Mom and Dad want to take their college man or woman to Mass. Significant numbers of families chose 10:30 Mass in Ames today.


We cracked out over a hundred extra chairs, a third Communion song, and lots of extra hospitality. Check out this across-the-church image from the piano, with our on-time (aka not early) churchgoers seated behind and to the right of the font and the Great Cross, under the east balcony:

overflow on parents weekend

Including the day chapel and the south loft, our seating capacity is 852. That’s the largest for a church I’ve ever served. We’re not packed to the gills on Christmas and Easter, like most of your parishes. But Parents’ Weekend, Homecoming, and for the first time earlier this year, the Sunday before classes started, there’s a nice Triple Crown we look forward to now. If only we subjected our new sacristans (Good job, Larry!) to this every weekend!

So what’s your ideal solution for overflow? Sit in the purple chair and render judgment: turn ’em away? set up a speaker in the parking lot? pack the vestibule and hope the fire chief isn’t a parishioner?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to The Armchair Liturgist: Handling Overflow

  1. Liam says:

    Since your peaks appear to be somewhat predictable, alert parishioners and schedule additional Masses (get dispensation from bishop if rules about trination are implicated).

  2. Liam says:

    I should add by way of example: the two main Easter Sunday morning Masses at St Paul’s in Cambridge are SRO. The earlier Mass (9AM) is SRO; while that Mass is being celebrated, there is a police-organized line for the next Mass (11AM). That Mass is also SRO plus, and the choir for the earlier Mass goes to the lower church for the additional Mass (which usually starts about 15-20 minutes after 11AM) for the overflow crowd – this is also SRO or nearly so. It helps to have additional priests and ministers, of course, but the point is that everyone attends a Mass they can actually participate in. There are actually people who every year prefer to go to the “overflow” Mass in the lower church because it has such a different feel from the Masses upstairs. (Oh, and the overflow Mass invariably ends before the Mass upstairs – the latter goes on for at least 1.75 hrs).

  3. Roz (Bella) says:

    Hi there, I subscribe to your posts and read your post today….I am an Iowa State alum (BS, MS, and PhD) and a native of Ames, Iowa and an alumnus of St. Thomas Acquinas. It was such a nice SURPISE to see your photo and read your post about St. Tom’s! What an absolutely wonderful, faithfilled parish! You are so fortunate to be able to go to Mass and all of the programs that are provided there! I wish you well and although I’m a Hawkeye fan moreso than a Cyclone fan (yea, that’s right, I went to U. of Iowa for 3 years prior to transferring to ISU), it was nice to see the Cyclones win. PS….when I went to St. Thomas there was USUALLY standing room only at the Masses…and that’s a GOOD thing! Blessings, Roz (aka bella)

  4. Jimmy Mac says:

    Never, never, NEVER turn anyone away from attending a liturgy. There are enough Catholics who voluntarily absent themselves on a regular basis. Be joyful and glad that people want to come. Anticipate the attendance and cram them into the sanctuary whereever possible. A little pew crowding never hurt anyone, even in super-sized America.

  5. Liam says:

    I’ve known fire marshals to audit crowd sizes at churches when they see indicia of problems outside. Just be advised.

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