Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We are now moving into a new stage in the ongoing consideration of modifying our Sunday Mass schedule. First, let’s review the progress up to this point.
During our parish Open Forums held in October and November of 2015, several parishioners discussed the desirability of converting the three English Masses on Sundays into two Masses, especially for the purpose of relieving the burden on the lay ministers who make the Masses possible. To have a Sunday Mass, we need: one sacristan, one liturgy coordinator, five greeters for the doors, four ushers for the aisles trained in emergency management, three servers for the altar, one commentator before Mass, six extraordinary Communion ministers, two lectors, one psalmist, one musical accompanist, one choir director, six to twelve choir members, one sound technician to handle any amplifier issues, and a family with at least three members capable of presenting the bread, wine and monetary donations. Even with some duplication of roles, which is not ideal, we still need about 30-40 volunteers for each Sunday Mass.
The Parish Revitalization Team, which I formed in the winter of 2017 and which was composed of representatives of all parish ministries and apostolates, produced its “Final Report” in late spring of 2017. The report was published on the parish website, and in the bulletin I asked all parishioners to read and discuss it. The report included a recommendation that the three Sunday Masses in English be converted into two Masses in order to bring parishioners together more fully and frequently, especially during the planned time in between the two proposed Masses.
In January of 2018, I announced in the bulletin my intention to ask the Parish Pastoral Council to prepare final recommendations pertaining to the PRT’s “Final Report”, especially the proposed Sunday Mass schedule modification.
Over the past five years, it has become clear that, despite the fact that our diocese continues to grow and that young men continue to seek ordination to the priesthood, the number of priests in active ministry is not keeping up with diocesan growth. This reality is compounded by the fact that our parish is not experiencing the growth that is typical of other parishes in the diocese, but instead is in a 15 year process of steady decline in membership. Consequently, it is now necessary for one of the two priests assigned here to be made available on some weekends to cover Mass in other parishes, as needed.
If one priest at Saint Mary’s is covering for a priest in another parish, then the remaining priest here is permitted by canon law to offer Mass twice on a Sunday, or three times with special permission from the bishop. There is no provision for a priest to offer Mass more than three times on a Sunday, even with special permission. “Can. 905 §1. A priest is not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist more than once a day except in cases where the law permits him to celebrate or concelebrate more than once on the same day. §2. If there is a shortage of priests, the local ordinary can allow priests to celebrate twice a day for a just cause, or if pastoral necessity requires it, even three times on Sundays and holy days of obligation.” Since we have four Masses each Sunday at Saint Mary’s, this creates a problem whenever one priest here is covering for a priest in another parish.
Until recently, it was common for pastors to take early retirement and then make themselves available to cover for absent priests around the diocese. But with a shortage of priests, our bishop is asking priests to continue serving as pastors until the canonical age of retirement (75 years old). This necessary policy means we are quickly running out of retired priests healthy enough to cover for absent priests.
Over the past few years I’ve been closely watching the housing market in Oak Ridge. Although our city has a vibrant job market, young families overwhelming choose to live outside our city, due to the inadequate housing here. If there were indications that the housing opportunities could grow to match the job opportunities, then I would strongly prefer to keep our Mass schedule as it is on Sundays, at least until we had adequate assessment of how that housing improvement would affect seating at our Sunday Masses. However, I have not seen any significant improvement in housing opportunities.
If we do modify our Sunday Mass schedule, which now appears likely, then we will do so with effect on the First Sunday of Advent of this year, December 1st, 2019. The schedule will likely be as follows: from 8 am, 10 am, noon and 2 pm; to 9 am, 11 am and 2 pm.
Some final considerations: How would a modified schedule affect traffic flow through the neighborhood, given schedules at neighboring churches? Would parishioners who now attend one of the three English Masses on Sunday choose one of the two newly scheduled Masses equally enough to avoid overcrowding? Do we have sufficient handicapped parking and handicapped seating to merge three Sunday Masses into two?
Now, given all of the considerations above, and after consultation with Bishop Stika, I’ve decided to provide one final discussion of the matter during the Open Forum scheduled for March 14th, and then to ask the Parish Pastoral Council to take a final consultative vote during the PPC’s regularly scheduled meeting on March 19th. N.B.: any modifications to the Sunday Mass schedule will not affect the Saturday evening Mass, nor the 2 pm Spanish Mass.
I hope to announce a final decision by no later than May 1st, 2019.
If modification is in order, I hope to begin publicizing it fully and frequently by no later than June 1st, 2019, with the change effective the First Sunday of Advent (December 1st, 2019).
March 6th, 2019, Ash Wednesday