I had a reader telephone me; let’s call her “Mary”, from ....., from a diocese far away. Until 2 months ago her parish had a priest in his fifties, a congregation of 500 with three Masses, two, on a Sunday morning and one Sunday evening. Their parish priest used to say Mass for a neighbouring priest on Saturday evenings, he was in his seventies, he only said the Sunday morning and evening Mass but there were three Masses in his parish too. Two months ago Mary's parish priest, the 50 year old had been moved to take over a much bigger parish, where the parish priest had become too ill to continue.
The Bishop says he has no priests, as he does sickness/holiday supplies himself that is probably right. The seventy year old is running both parishes, but he only feels able to say one Mass in each, so where there were six Masses now there are now only two. Mary’s parish only has a Sunday evening Mass, now rather than 500, coming to Mass, last Sunday there were just over a 150 people who were present in the Church.
The other 350 people have stopped coming to Mass. Mary says the reasons people give are diverse, but mainly the reason seems to stem from “it’s not my Mass”. Often this is faced with other statements such as “the time is too inconvenient”, “I hate the folk music”, “Father, preaches too long", or "isn't that cheerful”, “I hate all those women on the sanctuary”, “I don’t get the chance to exercise my ministry”, “I hate the cantor” "the children can't take part", or even “they don’t need me now there are plenty of people to do my job”. The poor old priest can’t cope and is becoming depressed and I suspect this is being reflected in his preaching, which only exacerbates the situation. How long he will be able to continue is another question.
Mary telephoned me from Ireland but this is a pattern that we are beginning to find all over the British Isles, Masses are cancelled or changed, and there is a deluge of complaints, upset and lapsation. Mass is seen something which belongs to us and that we have a right to, we have lost sight of it being a gift first of all of Christ but also of the Church, and in the last instance of the priest.
No priest, no Mass!