Thursday, July 06, 2006

MANY MOUTHS TO FEED by Kathi Scarpace

This month my parish went from about two thousand families to just over four thousand families. If each family has only two people, my parish is now eight thousand people. The parish is undoubtedly larger than that, but just considering eight thousand people is staggering. The town I lived in four years ago is less than half the size of my parish.

The parish landscape is changing.

My parish grew because of many things: a shortage of priests, a decision to celebrate Sunday Mass rather than offer communion services, as well as an influx of new housing and new families. The parish will soon build a large worship space with a seating capacity of over two thousand persons.

The shift to this larger parish community has me thinking about ministry. I minister to the sick and elderly as a lay pastoral minister. One of the most satisfying moments of my pastoral ministry in the past four years grew out of contact I had with a parishioner.

Once a week for a couple of years, I brought Joan communion. She and I laughed, told stories to each other, and shared our faith. She had a twinkle in her 94-year-old eyes, and she gave me either a recipe or a card or cookies nearly every week.

When she died, her family contacted me to lead the rosary the night before her funeral. The rosary I prayed was a reflection of her life’s story woven into the glorious mysteries. (A friend had given me an outline to use.) Because I knew Joan and some of her family stories, I could connect Joan’s life with Christ’s in a simple way. This rosary service was very rich and satisfying, both to me and to Joan’s family. The connection between faith and life was almost effortless, in part, because I had become Joan’s friend.

In large parishes, priests today celebrate funerals, weddings, and baptisms without really knowing the families at the liturgy. With the trend moving to larger and larger parishes, priests will know proportionally fewer and fewer people that they pastor.

One danger of a very large parish is that priests will become functionaries, not by choice, but by circumstance. How can the human dimension of the sacramental life be honored in mega-parishes?

I do not have the answer. I know that the challenge is great for both priests and parishioners.

Will a small faith community become the “parish within the parish” and provide a human face to parish life? Will sacramental preparation become a community-building opportunity? What events will bring people together? How will the priest experience for himself the human side of parish life?

Everyone needs community, from the child being baptized to the pastor presiding at a Mass of two thousand people. What will help nourish the many people who come to the table of the Lord?

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Bill M. from Miami said...

I like this new blog. Kathi really seems to understand what we at the parishes have been going through. I once belonged to a parish that also grew in numbers quickly and we had a change of priests (yes, plural) to go with it. I know what Kathi's parish is going through. But dont despair, it all works well in the end. God will guide you through.

Veronica, Phoenix, AZ said...

As our Catholic numbers continue to grow and our priests continue to lose in numbers, this will be a problem that we need to adapt to. It's a good thing lay people like yourself are steping up to the challenge.

Anonymous said...

Kathi, please help settle this questione between me and my sister. When is the proper tome to bow our heads during consecration? I say when the priest raises the host and wine? My sister said when the priest genuflects after he raises the host and wine. Can you help us?

Kathi said...

The General Instruction on the Roman Missal offers this information in response to your question: (42)... A common posture, to be observed by all participants, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered for the sacred LIturgy: it both expresses and fosters the intention and spiritual attitude of the participants."
You did not specify if you stand during the eucharistic prayer in your diocese. If you are kneeling, there is no additional act of reverence. Article 42 goes on to state:"Those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the priest genuflects after the consecration."
Unity first, if standing a bow. I hope this is helpful.