Cleansing Fire

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Growing Complacency with the Priest Shortage

December 14th, 2010, Promulgated by Dr. K

Charlotte Bruney, who has been serving as the lay pastoral administrator of St. Vincent De Paul in Churchville for nearly 12 years, comments in her most recent column about the departure of Fr. Cosgrove from weekday Mass assistance at her parish. In this piece, Ms. Bruney appears all too comfortable without a regular priest to offer weekday Masses. Sadly, this is a problem I see becoming more widespread each day in this diocese. Here is what she says, with emphasis and commentary:

“On a somewhat sad note, I returned home last weekend to learn that Fr. Cosgrove, who has said two weekdays Masses for us regularly since the fall of 2002, has decided to slow down in his retirement and will no longer be our weekday presider. Although we wish it were otherwise, we understand his need to do this and are so grateful for his gift to us these past eight years. What that means practically is that, at least for the present time, our weekday Morning Mass group will gather regularly for scripture & communion services only [What about their parish’s “Sacramental Minister”?]. When we talked about it this morning, one of the regulars suggested that perhaps this is the Holy Spirit telling us we need to take more responsibility ourselves for our communal prayer. I will try valiantly to line up another weekday presider, though I am not optimistic about this [Not optimistic? There are parishes with multiple priests where some have available time. Try a little harder!]. I ask for your patience and understanding. These are new realities for our church. One insight I gained praying with Catholics in Tanzania is that we are entirely too priest dependent in the United States [The priest is the most important part of any Roman Catholic parish. Without the priest there is no Mass. Without the Mass there is no Eucharist. Without the Eucharist, there is no Real Presence of Christ! Being “priest dependent” is not a bad thing; it’s what makes us Catholic]. 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 [This is not an ideal that one should strive to achieve, but rather a necessity that exists in that country because of a TRUE shortage of clergy. Sadly, this is the direction that many in the Diocese of Rochester would like to see us travel]. Their choirs practice two or three times a week! I was totally amazed by this experience of church [A priestless community is something we should work to avoid at all costs by promoting more vocations to the priesthood and better utilizing the priests we already have].”

Perhaps my concern will be better appreciated if one recalls what Ms. Bruney wrote in her brief article printed in Bishop Matthew Clark’s lay ministry apologetic, Forward in Hope:

“an eighty-year-old gentleman who was a regular at daily liturgy pulled me aside one morning and announced: “We’ve been talking and we’ve agreed that we don’t want you working so hard to get us a priest for weekdays. We’ve decided that you should say Mass for us!” Stunned, I laughed aloud and then realized that he was perfectly serious. I asked him if he wanted to have me excommunicated; he replied, “We’ll just pull down the shades. No one will have to know but us!“”

Equally problematic is the following passage, also from Ms. Bruney’s piece in Forward in Hope:

“This small, but faithful, community gathers every weekday morning for either Mass or a Scripture and Communion service (at this point, it matters not which it is)”

This growing complacency should be an alarming concern for each and every one of us. Far too many in this diocese are getting comfortable with priestless parishes and  Communion Services in place of Mass. This is not a good thing. We need priests if we are going to survive as a Church. Only a validly ordained priest can consecrate the bread and wine into the Body and Precious Blood of Christ. No layperson can do this; not Charlotte Bruney, not Joe McHeretic, nobody. A Communion Service is an inferior form of worship to the Holy Mass. There is no consecration at a Communion Service, and that is the very high point of our Catholic worship.We need priests to hear Confessions, to baptize, to perform marriages, to offer Funeral Masses, and so on. A lay person can do some of these things, but not all.

It is because of this growing complacency that I strongly feel something needs to be done quick before the majority of Catholics take on the opinion that the priest is useless and outdated. We need to return ALL of our parishes to priest control. I don’t care how the diocese does this, but find a way. If you need three priests running 5 parishes, so be it. These lay administrators are doing next to nothing to solve our priest problems. They are promoting complacency, they are causing parishioners to believe that the priest is unnecessary, and they are doing little to promote vocations so that they can keep themselves perpetually employed in their new roles. Now, I don’t know if this is the case with Ms. Bruney (with the exception that her parishioners are definitely beginning to view the priest as unecessary), but many of our administrators are all too happy to play priest and don’t appear eager to surrender their new-found administrative power.

This bishop has proven that he will do nothing but support the diminishment of the priesthood. I hope and pray that his successor, come 2012/3, will take a far different approach. The future survival of this diocese depends on a change of direction.

Update 12/16 6:03 PM – I have just been informed that Fr. Z has commented upon this story. You can read his analysis here.

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11 Responses to “Growing Complacency with the Priest Shortage”

  1. avatar Louis E. says:

    So is Helen Delaney,the “Pastoral Minister” at Auburn Holy Family,filling the void caused by Fr Shaw’s suspension?
    (Their website appears to have blanked the staff page).

  2. avatar Dr. K says:

    They blanked the bulletin page too. One wonders why…

  3. avatar Christopher says:

    Dr. K, this is a very good informative critique and very alarming to say the least. I have heard a wise man say before in a sermon in this diocese “If the Bishop wants priests, the Bishop will have priests”.

    My only humble suggestion (beyond constant prayer) is to continue to learn and share our faith vocally, via writing in the church bulletin, etc. so that we may find new ways to challenge our youth to keep their ears open to the vocation. If our leadership is sub-par in this regard, perhaps we can assist by furthering our fellowship with the young and their parents. Getting to know the people in your parish and sharing Catholic ideas where appropriate will help energize people in their faith. We can learn a lot from Protestants who do a much better job at creating a sense of church family that is inclusive to all ages. Of course I would only recommend the small talk outside the Church after mass to be respectful of those who are praying.

    What are some other ideas people can think of?

  4. avatar Faithful says:

    I am so sorry for you.

    It is a vicious circle in your diocese. They do a lot of talking about needing priests, then turn around and say things like “We don’t need priests, we are entirely too dependant on priests…we can do it ourselves…” Talk about mixed messages! If I were a young Catholic man in your diocese, why on earth would I sign up to be a priest when that is the attitude?

    I also think the lack of priests in your diocese is very much contributing to the lack of orthodoxy. This is not to say there are not heretical priests, but I think when Mass is celebrated every day and every week consistently, even by a liberal priests, it goes a long way towards preserving the Faith.

  5. avatar A Catholic says:

    Thank God this nonsense will be over soon (hopefully) when we get a new bishop. There’s a whole generation in this area that doesn’t even understand the importance of the priesthood, not to speak of many other important aspects of the Catholic faith. Essentially, no priests = no sacraments, even if deacons can fill for weddings and baptisms. We need our priests and we need to pray for them to stay strong.

  6. avatar Snowshoes says:

    I like to think of the structure of the Church into dioceses with Bishops and parishes with Priest Pastors as one of the primary revelations of the Holy Spirit of which Our Lord Jesus referred when He said to the Apostles: “You cannot bear it now…” Canon law states that all parishes are headed by an ordained priest. This cannot be changed by anyone, not a bishop or a diocesan council.

    Why? Because we receive Grace through the Sacraments, and a parish is a “full service” community. If it isn’t “full service” then it ain’t a parish… A parish is a family reflecting the way that the Blessed Trinity is a family, it is a cell in the Mystical Body of Christ. The parish priest-pastor is our father, the head of the parish family, and he participates specially through his ordination, in the office of God the Father, in Christ, (alter Christus), through the power of the Holy Spirit. And the Bishop is the father of the Diocese. If this wondrous truth is not clearly exemplified in the diocese and its several parishes, through the clear teaching and loving service of the Bishop and Priest Pastors, how impoverished will be that Diocese! The grace of God is there for us all, and we can flourish, as Chris has said, through our prayer, and sacrifices and witness. This is indeed the message of Christmas! Merry Christmas.

  7. avatar Mary says:

    There was a beautiful vocations Rosary held at St. Thomas the Apostle Church on November 2, this year. I was in awe at how it was magnificently planned and carried out. My only regret was there was not more young men there to witness this event. We need to get the message out to places like McQuaid HS, and other teen groups in the parishes. It was truly something to see all the young men both young and old alike serving, and to hear Fr. Bonsignore speak of the priesthood was inspirational. Also, in Lincoln, Nebraska Bishop Bruskewitz started Adoration at every parish church in his diocese, and they now have many vocations. Maybe God isn’t sending us priests because in many respects we are a disobedient diocese. I think there are many young men waiting in the wings for a Shepard who will lead them. Our school of theology is run by a women! Tell me what young man, who is discerning a vocation, wants to be lead by a women? All the roles are mixed up and confused. They’ve been in charge since 1980, that’s 30 years. We’ve seen the fruits of their labors. It isn’t working. I say clean house, and do it right. Starting with Adoration in reparation for the sins of the past 30 years and beg God for another chance. All the while pleading with Him to send us a bishop who is obedient and clear in catechizing the faithful.

  8. avatar Abaccio says:

    Not just that, Mary, but a woman is also “coordinator of priesthood vocation awareness”

    She’s a touch less heretical than Sr. Pat though!

  9. avatar Anonymous says:

    We must pray that the successor of the bishop is a strong orthodox leader and prevents the current bishop from fueling the fire of heresy in the DOR in his retirement.

  10. In my lay opinion 🙂 weekdays communion services should be ceased- too confusing and unnecessary. Here is where I am coming from: http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com/2010/11/lay-people-what-is-proper-way-to.html

  11. avatar Patti Day says:

    Our priest celebrates Sun, Wed & Fri mass at our parish, Sat at another parish, once monthly at a third, at the prison, and at a local college, Sun at a local resort during ski season. First Friday Adoration. He is in his early 70’s and not in the best of health. May God preserve him, because there don’t seem to be vocations among our young men.


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