French Laity Run Parishes
The priest shortage in France is among the most severe in Europe. In 2001 the diocese of Nice had to reduce its 265 parishes down to 47. In another northern diocese one priest serves 27 parishes, dropping by only rarely to celebrate Eucharist and consecrate hosts for communion services when he leaves.
The rest of the time, lay people run their own churches. The newly created parish of Notre Dame d l’Esperance has just one priest, yet all five village churches are flourishing. Each has an appointed lay leader who celebrates communion services, presides at funerals, conducts parish visitation, counsels parishioners, gives pre-marriage instruction, brings communion to the sick, and provides chaplaincy services to hospitals, retirement homes and youth groups. Other lay leaders accompany catechumens through a two-year program and see to the financial oversight of the parish church.
Many in France believe that soon there won't be any priests at all which means that people will ultimately be left without the Mass and sacraments, the center of Catholic faith. Lay leaders are wondering when the Vatican will wake up and recognize these new ministries.
Vatican II talked about us all being priests,” said lay leader Mary-Ann Hosley. “The priesthood of the laity. So maybe the church will soon have a new form of priest.”
Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Dublin, Ireland has advertised for full time lay pastoral workers for the first time. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin insisted that lay Catholics must play a greater role in the life of the Church, “assuming roles of personal renewal, of leadership and of service in different ways, reflecting the diversity of ministries.”
(Excerpted from former Dominican David Rice’s July 8 article in The Irish Times and The Tablet 7/12/08).