From the weekend of 1/2 October 2016, changes will be introduced in St Michael’s Parish, Enniskillen, which will see new arrangements for Sunday and weekday Masses. This will involve the reduction of one Sunday Mass in St Michael’s church, together with some alterations to weekday Masses. The changes reflect two important realities in the Church today: firstly, that the reduction in the number of priests poses a challenge and, secondly, that parish ministry is still being delivered, in a collaborative way.
St Michael’s Parish has had to grapple with the feelings that arise with the loss of a priest. Does this mean the loss of a sense of parish? Does this mean a reduction in parish life? The initial reaction might be to say ‘Yes’, but on reflection when looking at the reality of parish life, the answer is ‘No’. This is particularly true because over the years, parish ministry has become increasingly collaborative: the parish office, the parish baptism team, the people who administer finance, marriage paperwork, the parish registers, a parish sister who is a hospital chaplain. So, the broader truth is that parish ministry can still be delivered, even if the number of clergy diminishes.
In 1971 there were 5 priests in Enniskillen, serving 1,400 families and a population of around 6,000 people. Today there are now 2 full-time priests together with one semi-retired priest serving over 3,000 families and a population of almost 9,000. This new reality poses risks for the entire faith community in terms of (i) capacity to provide for Sunday Masses, (ii) weekday Mass provision and (iii) provision of priests to cover hospital care, especially in terms of night calls. (In this context it is important to bear in mind that while the number of beds at the hospital is broadly similar to what it was in the 1970s, the throughput has doubled.)
Taking the above factors into consideration, the parish community has had to reflect on how it sees itself and negotiate how best to manage the risks involved in this new situation – one which other parishes will face in the period ahead.
The first thing is to acquaint people with the reality of the situation so that their understanding of the parish could remain positive and that they could better grasp the boundaries that a diminished clergy provision now created, so that informed decisions can be made. With this in mind, the Parish Priest, Monsignor O’Reilly spoke at Masses during August and explained the situation. This was followed by two open meetings to which all parishioners and parish groups were invited and given the chance to explore options.
Another consideration for the parish is the quality of the Sunday liturgy and its community dimension. The liturgy is the public worship of the People of God. Liturgy is not best served by sparse attendances which can lack a sense of living community. When we celebrate Eucharist we are called to fully, actively and consciously participate in the liturgy and to be a Eucharistic people. The new arrangements will, we hope, help to strengthen this. If needs be, the number of Masses will be further reduced in order to ensure a better sense of community.
Losing a priest is not the same as losing a parish. Yes, it challenges us and, in particular, it calls us all – laity and clergy alike – to renew and live out our baptismal calling anew. We must never forget that the main place of parish is in the home. This is where we most immediately live out our calling. It is the sacredness of our life and our relationships that the parish helps us recall and honour through its liturgy.
As the Second Vatican Council tells us, all the People of God are called to share in Christ’s prophetic office:
“It is not only through the sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the People, leads them and enriches them with his virtues. Allotting his gifts according as he wills (cf. Cor. 12:11), he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church… ” – Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, par. no. 12.
It is in this spirit of collaboration that the priests and people of St Michael’s Parish look to the next phase of their story.
For details of Mass Times from 1 October 2016 – see below.