Yesterday, I read a troubling report on Fr. Z's excellent blog. It concerns the state of affairs in a diocese up north, way up north, near the New England area. I used to think that this was an urban legend, having read the many horror stories posted on the Catholic Answers Forums. However, it was not until I saw the links posted by Fr. Z and one very troubling bulletin announcement that I realized that this legend was a very sad fact.
The bulletin announcement, written by the parish administrator, a laywoman, informs the parishioners that they will not, for the time being, have the services os a "Sacramental Minister", also known as a priest, for daily Mass. He is retiring and will no longer be available for daily Mass. Yes, "Sacramental Minister" is the word used by this particular parish in the front page of its bulletin as the title for the priest. At the risk of sounding like the rather annoying Vicky Guerrero from WWE's "Smackdown" program, "Excuse me!" A priest is not some mere "sacramental minister." He is ordained to be a shepherd to the faithful entrusted to him. The hallmark of his ministry is the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It seems as though the folks in this particular parish have forgotten that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the source and summit of the life of the Church.
Now, I can understand that there are priest shortages, but, even the parish administrator's justification for wholeheartedly endorsing lay-led "Communion services" is highly suspect.
"Too priest dependent in the United States"? Again, pardon me as I channel Vicky Guerrero. Excuse me! It seems to me that this well-meaning, but, misguided parish administrator does not seem to regard the priesthood as sacred and essential to the life of the Church. Citing Tanzania as a means of justifying her position does not cut it, either. Tanzania is still missionary territory. Furthermore, I would think that the Tanzanian faithful would greet any priest who comes to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice with great joy and perhaps form long lines at the confessional so that they can reconcile with God and His Church. To merely refer to a priest as a sacramental minister is to completely disregard everything that a priest does. He is the spiritual father of the community entrusted to him. He provides us with spiritual and sacramental nourishment. He advises us, and, sometimes, corrects us. He is there to be a servant to his flock, spending himself and sacrificing himself for the salvation of their souls. A mere sacramental minister he is not. As I see it, this term is most derogatory to the priest serving that particular parish. My pastor and my parochial vicar are not mere "sacramental ministers". They put in long days and are engaged in various duties. They are out there ministering to the people, whether it's ministry to persons with disabilities, those in jail, the homebound or the infirmed.One insight I gained praying with Catholics in Tanzania is that we are entirely too priest dependent in the United States. There, local communities take great responsibility for keeping their churches vibrant and active even though they only get to celebrate Mass once every couple of months! They still meet regularly to pray together and study the sacred scriptures. They celebrate the feasts of the church with or without their pastor. Their choirs practice two or three times a week! I was totally amazed by this experience of church.
Surely, the territory where this parish is located in can should have priests available, at least for a couple of daily Masses per week. If Mass cannot be celebrated, maybe the parishioners should engage in the Liturgy of the Hours and pray for more vocations in their particular diocese. However, as it stands, there does not seem to be an interest to do even that, since the parish administrator seems to relish in the idea of lay-led communities that can and should function without a priest.
This is certainly a sad state affairs for that area, indeed. It really should be cause for alarm in the United States and should prompt all of us to pray for more vocations to the priesthood.
Here is a link to the bulletin of the parish in question: