The headlines in today’s Irish Catholic will come as no surprise to those who are aware of the long-term decline in priestly vocations in Ireland: ‘Church Prepares for Priestless Parishes.’ As the reporter, Michael Kelly, puts it:
As the number of priests continues to decline and faced with an increasingly older age profile, Church leaders are being forced to take radical action that just a few years ago would have seemed unthinkable.
Kelly also mentions the case of a nun in Blessington, Co. Wicklow, who led a communion service this past Sunday, after no priest turned up for evening mass. This seems to have happened spontaneously, and as such without the permission of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. His spokeswoman told the Irish Catholic that:
… for Sunday celebrations to take place in the absence of a priest, the explicit permission of the archbishop ought to have been sought.
Of course, in an increasingly secularised Europe, ‘priestless’ parishes are common, and provisions that allow laypeople to lead worship have already been approved by the Vatican. Kelly claims that the Church in Ireland has been reluctant to follow this trend, seeing it as a ‘last resort.’
I personally see the precipitous decline in priestly vocations as unfortunate. But I take issue with seeing the greater incorporation of laypeople in leading roles at the ‘front of the church’ as a ‘last resort.’
The very term ‘priestless parishes’ of course undermines the Biblical idea of the ‘priesthood of all believers,’ and in some sense, devalues the very real vocations of Christians who are not called to priestly orders.
The mildly scolding way in which the nun’s actions in Wicklow are referred to by the Archbishop’s spokewoman underlines this point.
As long as there are Christians in Ireland willing to participate fully in the life of the church – especially those as resourceful as the nun in Wicklow – I think Ireland will be ready for these so-called ‘priestless’ parishes.
(Photo sourced on flickr, by Cycling Mollie)