It is possible that in 20 years’ time there will be no longer priests in Ireland, which would mean no Mass and no Eucharist. This is the worst kind of poverty – to be without Jesus, the Bread of Life. Let us pray for an increase in priestly vocations everywhere, especially in Ireland.
The Catholic bishops are drawing up radical new plans for parishes to hold Sunday services led by laypeople as more and more communities are set to be left without a priest for the first time. The problem will also become acute as larger parishes used to having several priests are being left with only one priest to serve several churches. As the number of priests continues to decline and faced with an increasingly older age profile, Church leaders are being forced to take radical action that just a few years ago would have seemed unthinkable.
This critical problem will be discussed at a meeting of the hierarchy in Maynooth in October. A ‘discussion document’ will be circulated to senior Church leaders in coming weeks which will set our plans for what parishioners can do when there is no priest to say Mass. Laypeople will be expected to take a lead role.
The average age of priests in Irish parishes is 64 and as scores of priests retire each year just a handful of newly-ordained men are available to take their place.