20Dec Eucharistic starvation and the need for priests

“This is my body, which is given for you.”

Recently I was sick in hospital, and as it was Sunday I wanted to receive Holy Communion but as there were no Ministers of the Eucharist available I had to wait some days to receive Our Lord.

This situation made me reflect on a pastoral reality that many people have to go through; I am speaking of places where people go months without the Eucharist. I experienced in a very small way the spiritual hunger that people suffer when they are deprived of frequent access to Mass. I know I could meet Our Lord through a Spiritual Communion and talk to Him in prayer and meditation but I longed to receive His Body and Blood in Holy Communion.

In parts of the world we have situations where people are left without the Eucharist for months due to the shortage of ordained ministers. Sometimes it can be 3 to 4 months before a priest can visit that community and celebrate Mass. We can call these areas mission territories.

This situation though could become common as well in countries which once had a surplus of priests. Parishes are being clustered and people have to travel long distances to Mass; in some parishes there is no longer a resident priest.   The weekday daily Mass may become a thing of the past.

In a diocese in the south of Ireland the Bishop warned that part of the diocese may have Mass every second Sunday or on one Sunday a month to adapt to the priestless parish. (Source –The Irish Times Newspaper). At the same time as this new phenomenon is happening a bigger lay involvement can be seen taking place in this diocese and this is liberating. In the past four years more than 500 people completed the diocese`s pastoral course; these are encouraging figures and show that the spirit of pastoral service is alive among the People of God. 500 people is a lot of people among whom there may be some who feel called to the priesthood even though they may be married. Could an invitation not be put to them to come forward for ordination? A priesthood that would allow them to organize their life and their time so that they could still hold down their secular job and have time to serve the needs of a small community, a small community, not an entire parish. A parish could then become a community of communities.

As regards their theological, scriptural, pastoral and liturgical studies they could follow, as an example, the study time-table for the Permanent Deacons as it is not as long as that which is set out for those who enter an enclosed seminary. This model of a community would follow St. Paul`s advice to Titus, ch 1 v 5 to 9 when he speaks about the community of Crete and exhorts Titus, to organize this community and to nominate in each city the elders of the churches (“presbyters”).

If however the traditional parish is to continue and if there is a reduction in parish services then we will lose some very precious long-standing spiritual experiences that people have been accustomed to. My mother, for example, when she was alive, used to go to the 10 o clock morning mass. She, like many other senior citizens would start their day with this daily Mass.  If this situation continues, i.e. the shortage of priests, then Eucharistic belief and devotion may suffer. While the older generation will keep the faith and continue to cherish the Eucharist, it will become more difficult for children and teenagers.

In 2014 Bishop Helmut Kratzi, the ex-auxiliary Bishop of Vienna warned that the Eucharist is in danger of disappearing, he also said that the Eucharist should be available to people where they live. He made this statement on the occasion of his diamond ordination to the priesthood. He asked the bishops to listen to Pope Francis request and “To make courageous suggestions” in order to avoid this from happening.

Everything should be done to make access to the Eucharist available on a regular basis. If this means that a discipline, celibacy, which has been with us for the last 9 or10 centuries needs to be examined, but not abolished, then for the spiritual good of the people it should be looked at.

The shortage of priests needs serious consideration and a courageous and pastoral decision taken by the Bishop’s Conference of a country or region as Pope Francis suggested to Bishop Erwin Krautler of the Diocese of Xingo in the Amazon region of Brazil when Bishop Krautler talked to the Pope about the terrible shortage of priests in his diocese, one of the biggest in the world.

In recent times suggestions have been offered which could alleviate this shortage, a shortage which is not only being felt in this part of Brazil but also in other parts of the world. So People are talking about the ordination of proven men,”Viri Probati”, these are good married men who give witness through their faithful married life and their pastoral work. As priesthood is all about service many many women too are models of service in pastoral community work and if it wasn’t for them the many works of charity and liturgical celebrations would not take place. Among these women there are those who feel called to Holy Orders. Likewise too, priests who have married and who are still doing pastoral work could be called back to full public ministry.

This question of the shortage of priests is not something new. In 1989 at the US Bishops Conference the bishops were to vote on the following guideline – “An order for Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest”. Bishop Emeritus William McManus urged the bishops to contemplate the implications of this vote which he said amounted to a de facto acceptance of priestless parishes and move away from the Mass as the centre of parish life and he continued “Are we prepared to make a value judgement that it is better to have priestless Sundays than to ordain married men or women?” The guidelines for priestless liturgies were approved 225 to 18 with one abstention.

Years later we are not a step nearer to having a discussion on this subject which Bishop McManus had advocated way back in 1989 and it would appear that all the ecclesial authorities seem to be able to do is to pray that more men answer the call to a celibate priesthood. (Source – NCR  Vol No. 20,  1989).

So while there is a shortage of celibate vocations in parts of the world there is not a shortage of people who are serving and animating communities and doing wonderful pastoral work and these could be officially called to exercise public ordained ministry so that the People of God can have a sufficient number of ordained ministers.

Brian  Eyre – Catholic married priest, Recife, Brazil

3 Responses

  1. DR. HENRY

    With respect for all the priests in Ireland: I have noticed in the past year or so, a lot of mockery of Irish priests. This needs to be stopped. I will attempt to get the main Irish newspapers to fight this mockery. I encourage all of your priests, especially the very gifted writers, whose articles appear on this website to express their thoughts and feelings in the newspapers and even from your pulpits. And, dear Bishops, lend a hand.

  2. Wilfrid Harrington, OP

    Relevant is a characteristically blunt statement of Bernard Haring:

    ‘The people of God have a God-given right to the Eucharist. On the basis of human law, to deprive the people of God of the Eucharist is objectively gravely sinful’.

    Qui potest capere..·

  3. Diarmaid

    The mockery of Irish priests really began with Fr Ted. Though funny (I enjoyed it myself), that programme probably did a lot of harm. The producer of that show is, in the opinion of some, pretty anti-Catholic and a proponent of abortion in Ireland.


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