Archbishop Farrell, at the very moment he informed me he was appointing me as parish priest of both Castleknock and Laurel Lodge parishes, immediately mentioned that the number of Masses in Castleknock parish had to be “substantially reduced.” Because our clergy presence has gone from what was, ‘pre COVID’, three priests celebrating the liturgy to now effectively one and a half priests [Fr Denis being the one and I being the ‘half’], I have had to take a long hard look at our Mass schedule. Should either Fr Denis or I ever be away, for retreat, holiday time or out of medical necessity, the schedule has to be manageable for the one remaining person, to say nothing about coping with funerals and other essential pastoral commitments. If and when Fr Denis is away, I will, at the same time, also be ministering in Laurel Lodge parish. We need to safely guard the treasure that is our Fr Denis and ensure that the schedule of liturgies in our parish is not overly burdensome on any individual. An extraordinary meeting of our Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) took place last Monday, 13th September, to discuss this.
At this meeting I proposed that, on weekdays, we can now only sustain one Mass per day: 10am on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 7.30pm on Tuesday and Thursday. In keeping the Tuesday and Thursday evening Mass, I believe it is important to continue to offer some celebrations of the Eucharist at times for those who cannot attend morning Mass. For the Lord’s Day, the number of Masses will need to be reduced from five to three: a Saturday Vigil Mass and two on Sunday morning.
The majority of PPC members see this as necessary. One member suggested we look for priests from religious orders in order to keep the number of evening weekday Masses the same as they are now, as an outreach to young people. However, many religious orders are pulling out of running parishes in the Archdiocese of Dublin as they too simply do not have enough priests. It is highly unlikely that any religious order would newly commit to such an arrangement.
It was mentioned at the PPC that parishioners knew this day would come. I quoted a report prepared for the Dublin Diocesan Council of Priests in 2015 that forecast that by the year 2030 there will be around 100 priests available (including those over the retirement age of 75 still actively ministering) to serve in, what is currently, 196 parishes in our Diocese. That’s the best case scenario. Therefore, we cannot continue as is.
We will be reducing the number of weekday Masses as indicated above from Monday 4th October. Because of restricted numbers attending due to COVID, we will be reducing the number of Sunday Masses as proposed only after the 22nd October, from which time we should be, please God, able to welcome full congregations again.
I know there are many who will be upset that their Mass routine may now have to change. On those days when we will not have a 10am weekday Mass, our neighbouring parishes of Laurel Lodge, Porterstown and Blanchardstown all have 10am Mass. Please God, after 22nd October Blanchardstown Parish will return to offering a 7pm evening Sunday Mass. As was evident at our discussion at last Monday’s PPC, there will need to be much future co-ordination and planning between the family of parishes in our area. This is something I promised to raise at our next Deanery meetings. I will ask neighbouring parishes if they too would consider offering an evening Eucharist even one day a week. We also need to look at reducing ancillary burdens, such as locking up, on clergy so as to allow them to preserve their energies for their ministry. Thank you for your patience with this necessary development. The PPC have agreed to review this in six months. I will keep you informed as any related issues arise. May Holy Wisdom assist us as we discern our future and grant kindly grace in abundance as we walk together in the light of the Lord.
Fr Damian McNeice P.P.