One of the delights of these summer months is the opportunity they provide to meet with parish communities in a leisurely and relaxed way. It’s not unusual during August to celebrate Sunday liturgy with parish communities in outdoor venues. Most often, such celebrations extend into picnics to which all parishioners and their friends are invited.
I love those events. Among the elements that make them special is their unhurried pace. Ordinarily, the number of parish Masses is reduced because a great majority of the people commits to the special celebration. Priests and parishioners can take time with the liturgy and not worry about bustling off to the next event. They are there not only to worship, but also to socialize and relax together.
A second element I enjoy is the pleasure people take in gathering with the larger community. If Gladys always goes to the 8 a.m. Mass and Brenda always goes to the 10 a.m. Mass, they do delight in seeing one another and worshiping together at the parish-wide celebration. People often comment to me on such occasions that the experience leaves them with a renewed sense of the scope and vitality of the parish.
I hear that remark so often that it makes me wonder if there is a lesson in it for all of us. Suppose, just for the sake of conversation, that all parishes got together and decided on how many weekend liturgies they needed to provide room for the community. The next step would be to negotiate what would be the most convenient times to celebrate them.
I know that we have done a good deal of such work. Still, my intuition is that a significant number of our parishes have more liturgies than they need to accommodate those who attend. And I also have questions about what impact that fact has on the quality of our celebrations and the sense of parish that they foster.
I realize that every situation is different and needs to be thought through very carefully. But it does sadden me when I have the impression that some pastors and their communities know that they could accommodate everyone — and do a better job — with fewer celebrations and yet don’t do it. And why? In large measure, because some parishioners become very angry when the time of “their” Mass is changed. Or because other parishioners will go to Mass at their favored hour in a neighboring parish.
The presence of such questions and issues comes with the human condition. We do over time develop wonderful habits like going to Mass every Sunday at 8 a.m. And it is a good thing when our pastors make life as convenient as reasonably possible for their parishioners. But times do change, and we need to be open to new patterns and willing let go of those things most convenient for us, if doing so serves significant purposes and the common good. To me, a more richly celebrated liturgy and a deeper sense of the total parish community are values well worth that consideration.
The summer visits to which I refer include:
1. Our Lady of the Snow. This new parish is formed by the communities of St. John’s, Port Byron; St. Patrick’s, Cato; and St. Joseph’s, Weedsport. The gathering celebrated new beginnings and expressed thanks for years of devoted work.
2. St. Patrick’s, Victor. This growing, active parish celebrates 150 years of graced history this year. We had evenings of special rejoicing to mark the occasion.
3. St. Margaret Mary, Apalachin, and St. Patrick’s, Owego. This visit was occasioned by the damage and suffering experienced during and since the flooding that hit the area in late June and early July. The reason for the gathering was one that no one would choose, but the people are strong even in their suffering and keep good spirits.
4. St. Luke’s Parish brings together several parishes in Western Livingston County: St. Mary’s, Geneseo; St. Patrick’s, Mount Morris; Holy Angels, Nunda; St. Thomas Aquinas, Leicester; and St. Mary’s, Retsof. As was the case with Our Lady of the Snow, this liturgy with the bishop celebrates in ritual and commends to God’s care the well-being of these faithful and generous communities.
Wonderful communities. All working hard to respond generously to the realities of the day, to share the good news who is Christ the Lord.
Peace to all.