Father Thomas Morrette is pastor at The Catholic Community of Our Lady of Victory in Troy, Our Lady of the Snow Mission in Grafton and Christ Sun of Justice Parish in Troy. (Provided photo)
Father Thomas Morrette is pastor at The Catholic Community of Our Lady of Victory in Troy, Our Lady of the Snow Mission in Grafton and Christ Sun of Justice Parish in Troy. (Provided photo)
For the last quarter of a century, Catholics have been hearing about the dwindling number of priests to serve in our parishes, schools and hospitals. However, because we’ve been blessed with a good number of retired supply priests who help fill in the gaps, most Catholics haven’t been seriously impacted by the shortage. On this past Feast of the Assumption (which fell on a Monday), I met a few people after Mass who were, in fact, deeply affected by this sad development in the Church. This couple came up to me and said they drove over an hour to get to our noon Mass. They said they have had life-long devotion to Our Lady of the Assumption and really wanted to get to Mass on her feast day. However, a few days before, they called several churches in their area and could not find a parish where Mass was being offered during the day on Aug. 15. (Since they are elderly, they were afraid to drive at night.) Their eyes were filled with joy and tears as they thanked me and the parish for scheduling Mass that day. They had never before attended services in our parish.

I began to question why there may have been no scheduled Masses during the day in the several parishes in their area. Was it because the feast fell on a Monday this year when the Mass obligation was abrogated? Was it because there was a Mass somewhere close to them that they just couldn’t find? Were they subtly criticizing the Church or pastoral leadership in their area for a kind of neglect of duty?

The more I thought about it, the more I was disturbed. But then I remembered something! In that specific area in the Diocese, there is only one priest assigned who covers multiple parishes, some of which are miles apart. I know this good and generous priest. He celebrates five Masses every weekend, driving from church to church, to ensure that the people in the region are not deprived of the sacraments. He visits every family experiencing a loss and helps them plan for funerals. He makes regular hospital rounds and is sure to bring Viaticum to the dying. He’s a deeply spiritual man and he pours himself out for his people. No wonder it is impossible for him to schedule multiple Masses on a given day. No wonder that parishioners have to be, in some sense, “short-changed” at times, given all that is on his plate.

Fewer Masses will be a fact of life today in parishes because we have fewer priests and many are spread so thin. What are we to do — we who were raised in a Church that offered multiple Mass times every weekend and almost every day of the week? And what about getting to confession? 

It seems to me that we have to change. We’ve got to adjust our mindsets and expectations. We’ve got to face reality as it is. We’ve got to be patient and ready to change some of our worshiping habits. We’ve already done a lot of this recently, but it seems we’re called upon to do it even more now. Most importantly, however, and probably most essential: we can’t let this development diminish any of our optimism for our faith.

In some areas of the world, vocations are booming. In some dioceses in our country, there are more than enough priests to minister to God’s people. Besides, we have strong communities of faith among us, countless faithful Catholics, converts to our faith, scores of believers teaching the Truth and the largest social outreach system in the world. So, fewer Masses does not make for fewer Catholics or less enthusiastic ones. Besides, in former days, when missionaries first planted the seeds of the faith in our area, circuit rider priests effectively spread the faith while covering vast portions of the Northeast, alone, as their mission field. And look what happened!

Today’s situation calls for us to be patient and to face head-on this new and different landscape in American Catholicism. We can do it and we’ve done it before. Change, as we all know, is hard, but it can also be the beginning of new possibilities. So who knows what all these changes will bring? In the meantime, we may have to drive more, do more searching for Catholic services, and swallow hard.

Father Thomas Morrette is pastor at The Catholic Community of Our Lady of Victory in Troy, Our Lady of the Snow Mission in Grafton and Christ Sun of Justice Parish in Troy.