06Apr The celebration of the Eucharist: Could it become a museum piece?

In many parts of the world such as Africa and South America  celebrations of the Word have been taking place for a long time now;  they are not something new that the Church has recently created. These celebrations are  administered by zealous and dedicated men and women who come  from a local community.  However once a month or in some cases more than a month, especially on the missions,  a priest will come in to celebrate the Eucharist. But with the decreasing number of seminarians, and the loss of priests due to old age and death, even  these Eucharistic celebrations will become  more scarce and rare and so Celebrations of the Word will be the thing of the day.

If this happens our Catholic communities will become more and more like the Evangelical communities, communities without the Eucharist. Are we willing to accept this situation or are we ready to take a decision with courage to make sure that the Eucharist will not become a rare event? Some may say that I am painting a very bleak picture but if you look at the statistics  recently published you will see that the situation is serious. The number of seminarians in the world  declined by 1.5 percent between 2012 and 2013. In real figures that is a loss of 1800 priesthood candidates.

Statistics are statistics and you can’t deny them, so is there a solution to this real problem? Up till now great emphasise has been placed on praying for vocations, and  we should  continue  to do this  and ask  “the Lord of the Harvest to send labourers into the Harvest”. But when we pray for vocations are we praying only for male celibate candidates? If so then we humans are limiting God’s choice. Our prayers on Vocations Sunday should be more inclusive to include not only  celibate priests but also  female priests and married priests.

If we continue to limit the vocation to the priesthood to male celibates and if  the decreasing number of celibate priests continues  then it will  become more and more dificult  to obey Our Lord’s command, which He gave to us, when He instituted the Eucharist to: “Do this in memory of me”.

A few years ago Bishop Fritz Lobinger, the retired Bishop of Aliwal,South Africa, asked the question: “When will the day come when I can ordain the proven leaders of our communities?” He was referring to the many lay catechists who with great love and zeal  hold Celebrations of the Word for their local communities in the absence of a priest. This is a man with a vision and  a man of courage,  a man who sees and feels the situation from his own pastoral experience.  Bishop Fritz  is giving us here a powerful reminder  of the advice St. Paul gave to Titus in Acts 14:23 that he “should appoint elders in every town” (1:5).

There are countries today where the  celebration of the Eucharist is becoming a rare event and Celebrations of the Word are becoming more and more common. This  can be avoided  if the priesthood is opened up to others  and not limit it  to male celibate candidates only.

Brian Eyre: Catholic married priest, Recife, Brazil

5 Responses

  1. Darlene Starrs

    Human beings can never, ever….put limits on God’s choice…Granted, humans may put stumbling blocks in the way…the the belief that God has never, and will never call women to ministries hereto made exclusive to celibate and married men, but, eventually, God’s choice will manifest. Regarding the increase in the Celebration of the Word, this is exactly where the Church needs to be directed, and God’s emphasis is most definitely on the Word…especially if we intend to rejuvenate evangelization. The Eucharist, the presence of Christ…is always with us…Once again, we have here demonstrated the difference of understanding between those who are of old wineskins and those of new wineskins…the new wineskins appear with the New Age of the Spirit.

  2. Mary Vallely

    Brian and Darlene, we’ll just have to keep on praying that the Holy Spirit will guide and give wisdom to all those who can change this. The frustration and hurt is so evident, the injustice so obvious to all of us who cannot see why only celibate males can be ordained to the priesthood and married men of a certain age to the Permanent Diaconate. We may keep up the prayers and bear in mind all those women who do have a vocation to priesthood and of the loss to all of us of the exercising of that charism. The loss also of those priests who left to get married is another great shame and their dismissal appears to me to lack charity. All these injustices and inexplicably unfair acts need brought before the altar in prayer. We’re not going to solve it here but we can offer our support to those affected in as far as we are able. Courage, mes ami(e)s. 🙂

  3. Darlene Starrs

    Thank you Mary. Upon further reflection…I suggest it would be a very interesting discussion to have…that is, How does God respond when something is not His choice?…We can think of numerous things pertaining to the Church alone…like the New Missal…I would bet my last Canadian $ and your last Euro or Sterling dollar…that the so called New Missal is not God’s choice….and I believe God is always triumphant.. so what will happen?…In the case of the above with a so called shortage of priests, an increase in Celebrations of the Word,…what will God’s response be?…Sometimes God does as Mary says…inspires the powers that be think and act with wisdom…sometimes God simply surrenders something; sometimes God tears something up and starts again..and so on….Yes…How does God respond when something is not His choice?

  4. ts

    “When will the day come when I can ordain the proven leaders of our communities?”

    Doesn’t that assume that all leaders in the church must be clergy?

    The church in Ireland has as much of a congregation problem as a vocations problem.

    I see the expected number of ordinations in the US this year will be the highest it has been since the 1970s. Maybe the answer to vocation prayers is that the Americans are coming, it seems some have arrived already.

  5. Sean Kelly

    The question is, what is attracting them in the U.S.? Of course, in truth, numbers are still way down from past highs; whether that is good or bad is debatable.
    Another question, are there any incentives paid to students in seminaries in Ireland and if so should there be?

    The following from crux now.com
    “The US bishops’ conference released statistics this week on the 2015 class of new priests across the country, with the big news being a significant jump in numbers. This year 595 new priests will be ordained in America, up from 477 in 2014 and 497 in 2013. The increase over last year represents an uptick of almost 25 percent.

    One interesting nugget about this year’s crop comes from the Rev. W. Shawn McKnight, a conference official.

    “Over 26 percent of those ordained carried educational debt at the time they entered the seminary, averaging a little over $22,500,” McKnight reported in a news release.

    “Considering the high percentage of the men ordained already having earned an undergraduate degree,” McKnight said, “it will be important to find ways to assist in debt reduction in the future.”

    McKnight left unspoken the implied warning – if candidates don’t get some help, they may not pursue the priesthood, as already happens with other career paths. A 2011 study by Jesse Rothstein of the University of California at Berkeley and Cecilia Elena Rouse of Princeton found that taking out a college loan makes someone less likely to consider a low-paying public interest job, such as teaching.

    If the Catholic Church were an industry worried about losing young talent, the response would be immediate and obvious. Forward-thinking dioceses and religious orders would put money into helping seminarians cover their loans while they’re still in training, and then create a system for gradually paying those loans down for every year of service a priest delivers.

    Billboards would sprout around college campuses cheerily blaring, “You don’t have to go broke answering God’s call!”

    Catholicism, however, obeys a somewhat different logic. Basically, there’s a certain kind of Catholic uncomfortable with any financial or material incentive being attached to the priesthood. Such folks may balk at a debt relief program, on the basis that they don’t want candidates entering the seminary to escape debt rather than for more noble reasons.

    In reality, that’s not a terribly Catholic way of looking at things. St. Thomas Aquinas famously said that “grace builds on nature,” which in this case suggests that reasonable concern for material security does not rule out a supernatural element to a priestly vocation. Instead, it can help lay the groundwork for it.”


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