There are a lot of things happening in the Catholic Church on a daily basis, and all of them deserve serious study and consideration on many levels. One of the trends that I have noticed recently in my own parish and in others as well is the increased use of Eucharistic Ministers for the distribution of Eucharist, with the parish priests and deacons making themselves absent from the multiple Masses. I will use the phrase…it used to be…that priests and deacons were the main distributors of the Eucharistic species in our parishes. With the popularity of communion under both species it has become more common to see multiple Eucharistic ministers assist in this task. However, I have noticed that in the past year or so, the priests of the parish only distribute communion at the Mass they are the principal celebrant, and they no longer assist at other Masses for Communion. Additionally there are two deacons in the parish as well , and they only distribute Communion at the Mass they are assisting the parish priest. While I understand the need for additional assistance with the distribution of Holy Communion is often needed in large parishes, and under both species, I do not understand the lack of desire on the part of parish priests to assist at ALL of the Masses. In my mind and according to Church law, Bishops, Priests and Deacons are the ordinary ministers of the Eucharist. Instituted Acolytes and then appropriately appointed Eucharistic Ministers then fill in the ranks as necessary according to pastoral needs. However no where is it said that the ordinary ministers of Eucharist should not assist at all of the Masses in deference to Eucharistic Ministers.

Perhaps the development here is the usurpation by the lay community in the parish of the obligations of the  Sacrament of Holy Orders. What I mean by this is simple…perhaps we have permitted the parish priest to abandon the role as the Ordinary Minister of the Eucharist to an appointed group of extraordinary lay ministers of communion. As a result the vocational ministry of Priesthood has been diminished to one of a purely perfunctory ministerial role that “confects” Eucharist rater than directly leads the community of the faithful in worship and prayer.

This diminishment of priestly functioning over the past twenty years or so is an alarming dimension to our Catholic spiritual and liturgical lives. The alarm sounds very clearly in my thoughts…perhaps the multiple reasons we have a decline in priestly vocations transcends the concept of ministerial service and active parish ministry…maybe young men are now motivated by the thought of serving as a “sacramental” functionary in our Catholic parishes…that is just the vehicle through which Sacraments are “implemented” and then just a passive observer of the parish life around them as it is directed and dictated by the laity and the rest of the community. It seems that this passive manner of pastoral ministry has permitted activities usually reserved for those in Holy Orders to be fulfilled with myriads of men and women that mistakenly believe they are helping to “build” up the Church through lay ministry, but in reality are isolating and causing the sacramental and priestly ministry of Holy Orders to occupy a place of “functionary” rather than active ministry!

I quess my thoughts are simple…when there are three priests and two deacons assigned to a local parish, why is there a need to have legions of Eucharistic ministers to assist with distribution at each Mass? Why can’t all of the local priests and deacons help in this task, which clearly by sacrament and canonical legislation is their responsibility to undertake anyhow! Maybe the time has clearly come for each Bishop to reevaluate the pastoral responsibilities of each priest in active ministry and seek to develop with all of the priests and deacons a sense of the “purpose” of their sacred and sacramental ministry.

As a faithful Catholic, I really confess a great admiration and affection for all of those in Holy Orders, regardless of Bishop, Priest or Deacon. However, rather than diminish the role of each of these Sacred Orders in our Catholic lives, all three ranks Holy Orders should be out there making their presence more keenly felt in our parishes, hospitals and schools.

Understandably there are fewer priests around to do the job as there were say 40 years ago, however guys…if you want to foster more vocations to priesthood, it would make sense to show parishioners that the ministry involves more than just saying a Mass or two and then letting all of the parishioners take over the role of teaching and sacramental preparation in our parishes.

I had a Church history professor at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary that used to say. “There is no shortage of priests; however, there is a shortage of working priests!”

Maybe our priests need to get back to work and stop letting laity usurp all of their responsibilities and activities. Perhaps when we see hard working, inspirational examples of priestly service and ministry our vocational levels will rise and the Catholic community will see priesthood as a true and necessary component of the Catholic lifestyle and not merely as a functional occupation that happens at one or two Masses on Sunday.

 

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