As the age profile of Roman Catholic priests continues to rise, combined with a serious slow-down in vocations, the shortage of working clergy is beginning to bite in the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore as it is throughout the rest of the country.
And even though hard-pressed priests are working extremely long days, some members of the laity are unhappy with arrangements that have been put in place to facilitate the situation. Recently, there were objections and some walk-outs from Ardfinnan Church in County Tipperary when the Sacristan, Ken Hackett, conducted daily Communion Services in the absence of the parish priest, Fr Robert Power, who was away and for whom a replacement was not available.
Mr Hackett conducted the Communion Service on the altar in full compliance with the rules and regulations laid down by the church. He followed the normal format of the Mass apart from the Eucharistic Prayer and the consecration of the Eucharist. The Communion hosts had earlier been consecrated by Fr Power.
“The Church has asked lay people to take more responsibility and I have responded to that invitation and will do so again if asked”, said Mr Hackett. A spokesperson for the Catholic Communications office confirmed that, in the absence of a priest, it was proper for a suitable lay person to conduct a weekday Communion Service that involved readings, prayers of intercession and the use of pre-consecrated hosts.
A spokesperson for Bishop William Lee told The Munster Express that weekday Communion Services and Services of the Word were already being conducted in some Waterford city churches by lay people who are Ministers of the Word and Ministers of the Eucharist.
“So far, we are able to cover Sundays but it is increasingly difficult to find midweek cover for priests who are sick or on rest leave. While, of course, it would be preferable to have enough priests to cover every eventuality, we have to be pragmatic and deal with reality. Most people are happy with the services conducted by lay people as they are dignified, respectful and prayerful and fully in compliance with the rules”, said the spokesperson.