Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
July 12, 1999
We need prophets of unity
In our transient and individualistic society, a Catholic parish is one of the few relatively pure forms of community to remain. A parish brings together baptized Catholics in a certain geographical area, regardless of their age, political convictions or social status. It is an amalgam of humanity in a world where communities too often only bring together the like-minded.
Parishes -- both large and small -- are precious because their members are so different. It is good to have a loyalty to one's parish -- a community that can lift one out of the small prison of self and unite him or her to a wider world.
So when people fear a loss of community resulting from the merging of their parish with another, it is not a bad thing. It is true that longer travelling times to worship will be inconvenient. And the change to a different sacred space for worship may well be emotionally troubling for those who have long worshipped at the same church.
However, it is irresponsible to state that the current parish restructuring in the Edmonton Archdiocese was cooked up in secret and is now being imposed on the hapless faithful with only a charade of consultation. This unsubstantiated allegation has been made in a couple of recent letters to the editor to the WCR as well as privately. It comes without a shred of evidence to support the existence of such a pre-established plan and no suggestion as to what anyone would gain by disrupting the archdiocese's parish structure. And it implies that those responsible for the restructuring have acted with deliberate deception.
If our archdiocese has made mistakes in the process, they are two-fold.
One is the decision not to impose in a top-down manner a vigorous program to promote priestly and religious vocations. It is questionable whether any vocations program would have been successful in the religious indifference of recent decades. But Archbishop MacNeil made regular pleas to parishes at the annual Chrism Mass to call forth eligible men in their midst to consider the priesthood. The failure to respond to that call has paved the way for our current crisis.
The second possible mistake is the decision to allow and even encourage the holding of regular lay-led liturgies with Communion in small rural parishes. That decision not only delayed the day of reckoning in regards to the priest shortage, but also gave credence to distorted concepts of the Eucharist and the role of the laity.
Regular lay-led Sunday Communion services can play a role in situations where people are physically unable to attend the Eucharist, such as nursing homes and remote northern communities. But a Catholic parish in normal circumstances must regularly celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday.
That the local Church is backing away from lay-led liturgies at the same time the number of priests is declining has spurred a more rapid parish restructuring than would have otherwise been the case. And unless there is an immediate upsurge in vocations, we will face an even greater crisis in five to 10 years which further compromises the local Church's ability to preach the Gospel.
Some opponents of the restructuring plan which follows that crisis may claim that it too has been cooked up in advance. The reality, however, will be that the goose was cooked by the indifference of local Catholics in 1999 to the future of the Church.
The Gospel can be lived in many forms of community. But a Catholic parish is a Eucharistic community. Parish viability depends on having an ample number of priests to celebrate the Eucharist. So far, we have fallen short in raising up enough priests. Given that shortage, our best alternative is to restructure parishes so that all have an opportunity to participate in the Eucharist.
Irresponsible allegations are of no help to any community. What we most need now -- perhaps especially from those opposed to restructuring -- are prophets of unity who will strengthen the Church in carrying out its mission.
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