What does a vibrant, thriving, joy-filled parish look like?

Behold, Our Lady of the Rosary in Land o’Lakes, Florida, in the Diocese of St. Petersburg:

I was there this weekend to preach at all the Masses about CNEWA. I took part in six Masses — two on Saturday, four on Sunday — with two different priests and a wide array of people in the pews. The place was close to full — or even, at times, overflowing — with retirees, families, teenagers, toddlers, young people, you name it. Here comes everyone? Yeah, pretty much.

The mingling outside after Mass was more than just neighborly socializing; these were folks chatting about different ministries they’re involved in and various goings on around the parish. At one table, they were selling Bibles, as part of Word of God Sunday, then we had our CNEWA table, and there were a scattering of other tables touting a Valentine’s Day dance and other events.

Key impressions:

These folks are committed. They pray the rosary before every Mass, so there was a healthy contingent of people showing up 30 minutes or so before. They also sent a group to the March for Life, and prayers were offered for them during the Prayers of the Faithful.

The liturgies are joyful. There is enthusiastic singing, led by robust choirs at each liturgy, and half a dozen or so altar servers (boys and girls, in maroon cassocks and white surplices) who are superbly trained. Nothing is sloppy. The altar servers also use patens, even though there’s no communion rail and nearly everyone receives standing and in the hand.

The reverence for the Eucharist is impressive. I offered the Precious Blood at every Mass, and if someone did not want to receive that, he or she made a point of bowing before walking by the chalice. (“I insisted they do that,” the pastor told me later. “Jesus is present and needs to be acknowledged. Often, the Precious Blood is treated as almost an afterthought. It shouldn’t be.”)

They have a vibrant teen program. There is a LifeTeen Mass at 5 p.m. on Sunday, and it was packed. Afterward, the kids attend Adoration and a talk. They have between 100 and 150 every week.

They are aware and involved. The website lists a host of ministries — everything from music and liturgy to a jail ministry and LifeChoices, a pro-life organization. They also have two groups I haven’t seen before: The St. Kateri Sodality, which cares for the sick and homebound, and the St. Nicholas Society, which collects and distributes Christmas gifts to the poor and migrants in the community.

They are rooted in prayer. The parish has Eucharistic Adoration once a week, Mass every day, the rosary every Sunday (before the Masses) and confession two days a week.  The priests lead the servers and other ministers in prayers before and after each Mass. The church has a small Eucharistic Chapel (that can be used for baptisms, small weddings or even funerals) right behind the main sanctuary. It seats about 60 people.

The pastor knows his flock, and he knows what he is doing. That would be Msgr. Ron Aubin (“Father Ron” to nearly everyone) who has led the parish for more than 26 years (!) and who built the sprawling physical plant that spreads across about 20 acres. The parish works smoothly and everyone knows what to do and how to do it. They adore him. He’s empowered the people and attracted folks with generous, missionary zeal. And he’s clearly getting results.

I had a wonderful time visiting, and I was sorry to have to say goodbye. Everyone gave a warm welcome to me and my CNEWA colleague, Chris Kennedy. They folks we met were enthusiastic, supportive, and eager to get more information about the work we do. We typically collect three or four pages of addresses for magazine subscriptions when we visit a parish. This time, we got 12.

Kudos to “Father Ron” and his energetic young assistant, Father “Xavy” Castro. They have a real gem in Land o’Lakes. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and say hello. Tell them Deacon Greg says “Hi” and tat I hope to visit again soon. There’s something wonderful happening there.

Finally, I couldn’t help but notice this: the night we left, the sky over the parish was a glorious Marian blue.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!