Thursday, June 21, 2007

About that meeting...

I should have posted about the Deanery cluster task force meeting on Tuesday by now. Unfortunately, as usual, life jumped in the way, including a tee-ball game and a bookshelf building project (yes, I'm building it from scratch, not from a box). So... the result of all this? In the end, not much really.

The facilitator, whose name I insanely forgot to write down, started by telling us the factors they used in their decision-making, including:

  • geography and distance of travel for people in the affected region
  • workload on priests
  • size of each parish (# of parishioners) and capacities of each church building
  • physical plant status as well as financial status for each current parish
  • the need to work for greater vocational response
  • plan for the future and not undo hard work in the past
  • input from previous listening session
After all that, there were a few seconds of squirming in the pews as people waited for the proverbial hammer to drop. Instead, there was no hammer at all. The recommendation to go forward is to have no immediate change: St. Catherine will stay a stand-alone parish; St. John the Baptist and Holy Rosary will remain twinned. A review of the situation in 2010 will be called for to review: physical condition of the churches, their financial status and the strength of the housing market.

There was some consternation by some in the audience regarding the phrase "strength of the housing market" which, in fact, simply meant determining whether the population was growing at, above or below the projected rate. In effect, those who were very much convinced a decision to close at a minimum Holy Rosary had already been made were shown to have jumped far too far in thinking the worst of others. Interestingly, given that this decision was the best anyone could hope for (assuming the priests can, in fact, handle this heavy workload) there were still some who seemed to have wound themselves up for a fight which simply was not there to have. After a brief time of swatting at air, the discussion closed with a stern reminder, from a parishioner, that the only way to get out of this situation is the way Catholics have always survived trying times - prayer and living according to the Gospel. If we want more priests, we must "pray the Lord of the harvest" and encourage our children, our grandchildren, our friends' children to listen to the call.

There was one very interesting sub-discussion which does need to be addressed. One man suggested that if we do not have enough priests to say Mass that they should allow deacons to say Mass. He was reminded, by a deacon, that deacons cannot say Mass and that it is the sole purview of priests. Towards the end, he again suggested that his wife, originally not from the US, suggested in her home country deacons could say Mass. Another person suggested that maybe it was time they (yes, the proverbial "they") should allow deacons to say Mass.

Ahem. Let's set this straight right now, folks. First, of course, we start with relevant Canons:
  • Can. 900 §1. The minister who is able to confect the sacrament of the Eucharist in the person of Christ is a validly ordained priest alone.
  • Can. 907 In the eucharistic celebration deacons and lay persons are not permitted to offer prayers, especially the eucharistic prayer, or to perform actions which are proper to the celebrating priest.
Lest we need to be reminded, these Canons are universal in the Latin Church and not particular to any country or Bishops' Council. So, unless this man's wife had some very heterodox priests and deacons where she lived, she most likely was mistaking a deacon-led Communion service with a Mass. The fact such a mistake can be made shows the inherent danger in frequent Communion services - over time they can easily be seen to hold equivalent stature to the Mass itself, which can never be the case.

Further, let us re-focus on Can. 900 §1 again - "a validly ordained priest alone." There simply is no substitute. Why can't the deacon pray Mass (yes, that was another minor bone of contention - one should never "say" Mass, one should only "pray" Mass)? Simply, aside from the fact he has not been given that faculty from the successor of the Apostles, his Bishop, he has not had that indelible mark set on his soul that comes with ordination to the priesthood. Just as a transitional deacon has no right to pray Mass even though he is "going to be" a priest, a permanent deacon has no right even though he is "almost" a priest in the eyes of some. And almost all of the permanent deacons around would tell you they wouldn't even try to have it any other way.

The fact, however, that we have people who are interested in the future of the Church and of their parish enough to take time out in the middle of the week to come to a listening session and still not understand the ontological difference between a priest and a deacon is very troubling. I must suggest to either our pastor or our deacon that this seems to be a more than opportune time to explicate the role of the priesthood in the life of the Church in a homily. We pray every Sunday for an increase in vocations; perhaps it would help as well to remind people both what it is they are actually praying for and from where it must come.