By Cian Molloy - 09 March, 2019
Fewer than a quarter of Catholics in the Ossory Diocese attend Sunday Mass every weekend, Bishop Dermot Farrell revealed in a pastoral letter this week.
The letter aims to discern how the church will adapt to changing circumstances in future years.
The Diocese of Ossory has a population of 86,000 people spread over 42 parishes, with a total of 89 churches where they can gather for worship. The 18,500 or so who worship regularly have the choice of 142 Masses on Sundays and Saturday evenings – some attended by several hundred people, others attended by just a few.
In his pastoral letter, entitled “A Pathway to our Parishes”, Bishop Farrell notes that he is bishop to 40 priests under the age of 75; but in the next 10 years that number will be halved to 20.
“This changing reality presents a challenge that cannot be ignored,” he wrote. “We need to consider how we can serve our parishes in the best way possible, taking into account the new situation in which we find ourselves.”
While Sunday Mass numbers have fallen, those who attend Church “come more and more out of a sense of faithfulness”, the bishop noted. These faithful are grateful when touched by the Word of God and when they receive the body of Christ, and are nourished by the beauty of the Liturgy. As a result, the Bishop said, care must be taken to ensure that when we give praise and thanks to God we do so in a worthy celebration where each one plays their part.
Over the last year, a group of priests and lay people have prepared various options that are now being proposed to parish pastoral councils, parish finance committees, to priests and to the general laity.
Looking to the future where parishes have to be missionary in their vision and structure, Bishop Farrell said: “This will involve the reorganisation of parishes and collaboration among groups of parishes.
“It is not about the suppression or amalgamation of parishes. However, it will involve parishes working together in new ways. It will inevitably lead to a change in the number and times of Masses. This cannot happen without consultation; it takes time to discover the changing needs of local faith communities and to match these with the available resources to permit a better celebration of the Eucharist.
“Change is never easy, but we must face the challenge together.”
In a reference to the Gospel of St Matthew, Bishop Farrell quoted Our Lord: “Can you not read the signs of the times?”
He said in his message: “As the Bishop of the diocese, I invite you to look honestly and prayerfully at the situation in the diocese and at this creative pastoral plan to provide for the celebration of the Sacraments in our parishes in the short to medium term. These changes are a continuation of the Church’s response to new and emerging needs.”
The Bishop concluded his pastoral letter to his flock by saying: “Change is always difficult. It inevitably involves uncertainty and fear is a natural response. However, the story of our Christian lives is filled with beginnings. We move forward in the firm belief that the Lord is with his people (Matt 18:20, 28:20), that the Holy Spirit guides and directs us in this endeavour (see Gal 4:6–7).”