Few things attract more controversy in a parish that a decision to cancel a Sunday Mass or reconfigure the weekend liturgical timetable.
There’s often an undercurrent from some parishioners that if a priest
cancels a particular Mass or tries to consolidate, it’s a sign that he
just wants less work.
I had correspondence from a parishioner recently who explained that
for the last few years in their parish there have been seven weekend
Masses across three churches.
These Masses were celebrated by the parish
priest, a curate and the retired parish priest.
retired parish priest has recently had to give up celebrating public
Masses (he’s in his mid-80s).
As a result, the parish priest has cut the
number of weekend Masses from seven to five.
Some parishioners are
understandably disappointed that the Mass they traditionally attended is
no longer available and they must attend a different Mass.
My correspondent adds “I can’t understand that between two priests
they can’t celebrate seven Masses over a Saturday night and a Sunday
The parishioner, undoubtedly in a bid to be helpful, reckoned that if
each Mass took approximately 45 minutes, that was a total of five hours
and 15 minutes, “that’s less than three hours each [for the PP and
curate], which doesn’t seem unreasonable”.
There was no thought expressed in the letter as to the quality of the
liturgy. The focus seemed entirely on quantity.
I wonder too if the
parishioner had given any thought to the fact that if priests are
entitled to four weeks’ leave a year (a fairly minimal amount of annual
leave nowadays), then in a parish of two priests, there are at least
eight weeks per year when there is only one priest available due to the
One wonders, at a certain level, why the parish priest – no doubt
aware of this fact – didn’t go for a more radical approach given that
there will now be eight weeks a year when one of the priests has to
celebrate five Sunday Masses.
It’s a reality in the Church in Ireland that in many parishes we are
still in a ‘keeping the show on the road’ mentality. It can’t continue
for much longer. Each summer brings more clerical retirements with fewer
and fewer younger priests to fill the vacancies.
Some priests have spoken to me of feeling bullied by parishioners.
Often not in a direct way, but in frowns of disappointment when the
hugely-stretched priest is unable to meet unrealistic expectations.
the whispering that goes on about ‘Father’ cancelling Masses while
continuing to go on holidays.
As if rest for body, mind and soul is not a
prerequisite for healthy, integrated ministry.
There’s also pressure from those who no longer go to Mass regularly
but want the consolation of the Church when it comes to a death or to
celebrate marriages and baptisms.
If many parishioners in the pews seem
largely unaware of the pressure placed upon priests by the vocations
crisis, those who are rarely at Mass have no cognisance of it.
There’s no quick or easy solution – despite what some may think.
people can start by taking an honest look at expectations, and asking
themselves whether or not there’s more they can do to build up the
community of faith in their parish.
It’s easy to grumble, not so easy to
take on a challenge.