Churchgoers in the diocese of Limerick expecting their local priest to celebrate Mass next Tuesday will instead have lay people lead the way in daily church ceremonies.
The move is on foot of a range of proposals voted for at last year’s Synod in Limerick which acknowledged the need to move towards lay-led prayers as a result of the decline in vocations.
The Synod, which was attended by 400 delegates — more than 300 of whom were lay people — saw 97 proposals endorsed across a range of themes to provide a pathway forward for the diocese to meet the challenges of the future.
Among the specific lay-led liturgy proposals adopted at the Synod was the plan to develop and support lay leadership in public prayers.
Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s initiative, Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy said: “It’s inevitable with the fall-off in vocations that we need to explore new and exciting opportunities to celebrate the Word and one of the ways will be through lay-led times of public prayer.
“As we move forward, we need to prepare for a time when, even though priests are not available, each local community will be prepared to arrange for moments of public prayer for various occasions.
“No parish should find itself in a position where it is not prepared for such a possibility so it makes sense for us to begin right now.”
Bishop Leahy said that communion will not be distributed at Tuesday’s service, though he stressed this is not to suggest that it might never be at future lay-led liturgies, especially, for instance, in nursing homes.
“All over the world, when priests are not available, the liturgy of the Word is celebrated in parishes without the distribution of communion,” he said.
“We are, in many respects, going back to the future as not that long ago people would attend weekly Mass without receiving communion, which was largely a sacrament received only occasionally.”
Bishop Leahy said he would like to see people celebrate public prayer more in its own right rather than it being synonymous only with Mass and receiving Holy Communion.
He said the Church already has many forms of public prayer, such as morning and evening prayers, the rosary, holy hours of adoration, reading of scripture or benediction.
“Lay-led prayers will not be an ‘alternative’ or ‘mini’ Mass but, instead, a moment of public prayer that is thoroughly valued in its own right,” Bishop Leahy said.
“We are facing many challenges due to the decline in vocations but we must view these as opportunities and explore through these how we can encourage more lay engagement and participation in liturgy.
“Increasingly, we will see lay people lead prayers in funeral homes, and at the reception of the remains in the Church or other moments when public prayers are required.”
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