The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has welcomed proposals by the bishops that lay people could yet hold services in this country if there are not enough priests for every parish.
However, the ACP has said it is a “huge negative” for Catholics not to regularly witness the consecration of the Eucharist.
The transformation of bread to the body of Christ can only be carried out by an ordained priest.
According to the Irish Catholic, these latest proposals float the idea that lay people could play a role in church ceremonies, and married deacons, eight of whom have already been ordained in this country, may also co-ordinate the running of a parish, do readings at Sunday service and organise the distribution of Holy Communion.
Lay people and deacons already perform these roles in France and western Europe where the vocations crisis has really started to bite.
Due to the dwindling number of vocations and the ageing of the Irish curia, it’s widely accepted that in 10 or 15 years’ time, many parishes could be without priests and one priest may have to serve several parishes.
It is understood that the matter will be discussed by the country’s bishops at their meeting in Maynooth in October.
It comes as it has emerged that Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin did not give his permission for a nun to lead a communion service in a Co Wicklow parish at the weekend.
According to RTÉ Radio One’s Liveline, parishioners turned up as usual for Mass in Blessington last Sunday.
However, when no priest arrived, a religious sister who was present led a liturgy, preached a homily, and distributed the host to those present.
ACP spokesman Fr Tony Flannery said it was “positive to at last see a role for lay people in the Church being proposed”.
However, he said, “a big negative is that people might not see the consecration of the Eucharist but in exceptional circumstances”.
“In this situation, people might only have access to a full Mass on a Sunday or even once a month.
“The consecration of the Eucharist is the central part of our faith,” he said.
Fellow ACP member, Fr Kevin Hegarty said there is an “urgent need” for the hierarchy to discuss the introduction of married priests and women priests to the Church.
It is understood the bishops are keen that the term ‘communion service’ be used when referring to these lay people-led services so there is no suggestion that it is a Mass.
They also want these services to only happen in exceptional circumstances when a priest is unavailable.
* Permanent deacons are men ordained to an office in the Catholic Church who do not intend to become priests. They can be single or married. If the deacon’s wife dies, he may be ordained a priest if the bishop permits and approves.
* Permanent deacons help the priest by visiting the sick and working on parish committees and councils. They also do readings and give out Communion.
* Deacons can baptise, witness marriages, perform funeral and burial services outside of Mass, distribute Holy Communion, preach the homily and are obligated to pray the Divine Office (breviary) each day.
* Deacons, priests, and bishops are considered members of the clergy in the Catholic Church.
* Transitional deacons are seminarians, students in the last phase of training for the Catholic priesthood. After being a deacon for a year, they are ordained a priest by the bishop.
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