Proposed Modification of Our Sunday Mass Schedule (UPDATED)

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.

Some other 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? I discussed these, and all the other considerations above, with Bishop Stika on March 2nd.

Participants in the March 14th Open Forum expressed a consensus to revise the Sunday schedule, settling on a compromise schedule of 9 am and 11 am in English. There was some consideration of retaining the 8 am Mass, but also recognition that this would likely result in everyone from the 10 am and noon Masses attending the single Mass (e.g. 11 am), which would exceed the seating capacity of the church. Participants also suggested modifying the schedule as soon as early autumn of this year.

The Parish Pastoral Council discussed all of the above considerations on March 19th. The PPC identified several possible schedules, and will conduct a consultative vote on these at the council’s April 23rd meeting.

In Christ,

Father Shelton
Tuesday, March 19th, Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

SOME USEFUL FIGURES

  1. Saint Mary Church seating capacity: 400.
  2. Sunday Mass attendance maximum (excluding Christmas and Easter):  5:30 pm vigil: 175. 8 am: 150. 10 am: 275. Noon: 220. 2 pm: 160.
  3. Sunday Mass attendance typical:  5:30 pm vigil: 160. 8 am: 140. 10 am: 235. Noon: 190. 2 pm: 150.
  4. Easter Sunday Mass attendance:  8 am: 200. 10 am: 500. Noon: 280. 2 pm: 175.
  5. Total unreserved parking spaces (excluding public streets): 200.
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