EARLIER this year, Arts Minister Josepha Madigan was embroiled in controversy when it was reported that she said Mass one evening in her local church in Dublin, after a no-show by the priest.
That was a bit of an exaggeration because she didn’t actually say Mass.
She was going to do a reading but when she discovered that there was no priest available to say the Mass, she stepped in to say some prayers.
Minister Madigan also felt the need to address the issue of women priests, and Archbishop Diarmaid Martin wasn’t happy with Josepha Madigan after that.
I’m not an expert in church affairs, but you don’t have to be one to see that there’s not only a shortage of priests, but church attendances are also down.
Sunday mornings are a lot different to what they were 30 years ago. Traffic is much quieter at mass time than it used be and footfall has reduced.
The local church was a hub of activity at Mass times and not only for religious reasons either. Large groups gathered outside the church to meet the neighbours and catch up on the events of the week. Now they get their news elsewhere and many say that they don’t find what the church has to say is relevant to them anymore.
I was at a funeral mass recently and I heard an interesting sermon. The priest saying the mass has been around for a long time and has an association with sport. He spoke about the interest that the deceased had in English football and about the team that he followed. He knew enough about the topic that he was able to talk about it easily.
He made the sermon unique to the individual and made it very personal to the family.
Sometimes, these sermons can seem a little generic — “the deceased (insert name here) was a good man” kind of stuff, but this was different. So much so that he got my attention.
He spoke about John the Baptist being in prison and having doubts about his friend, Jesus. He told how John sent messengers to Jesus to find out what was going on and he was getting messages back telling him to cop himself on and have a bit of belief in the cause and to trust him.
Then he spoke about the importance of looking inside ourselves to see what we believe in and if we are happy with ourselves. It was an interesting approach.
I have attended many services and one of the things that always strikes me is how little they have changed since I was a child. The same prayers have been used in the same sequence forever.
The priest leads the chants and the congregation responds. The prayers that I learned as a child are still being repeated automatically from memory and the only difference is that there is less Latin in use now.
The decades of the rosary are still being recited in unison in a monotonous tone and maybe that’s why the young people don’t buy into it.
The youth have little or no interest in any religious activity and with the numbers entering religious order also falling, there’s clearly a problem.
The various scandals that have rocked the church over the years haven’t helped either, but in spite of that, there are still some good guys out there doing their best and fighting the good fight.
I was at a Christening some time ago and the whole ceremony was conducted informally. There was a five-year-old child who wanted to be part of the occasion, so the priest made him his assistant.
The young lad interrupted every now and then and tried to make up his own rules, but the priest went with it and explained to him why things were being done in a certain way.
People were laughing along with them and enjoying the occasion, and it was great.
The surprising thing about these two experiences is that the priests in both cases were not young men, they were in their seventies.
I don’t know if they have always been this way or whether they have adapted over the years to meet the changing times, but the Church needs characters like these to have any chance of stopping the haemorrhage of church-goers.
The future is grim for the Church and celibacy seems to be another part of the problem. Maybe a happily married priest, with a home and a family and all that goes with it, would make religious life a more attractive prospect for many.
So, why not go with it before the churches go the way of so many rural garda stations and become a safe refuge for mice and spiders?
Maybe Josepha Madigan has a point too and women priests could provide another possible solution for the future of the Church.
Theologians offer firm opposition to women priests and argue that in a communion service, the priest represents Jesus and as Jesus was male only a man can represent Jesus adequately.
Specific biblical teachings seem to be incompatible with women becoming priests too. For example, it says that women should remain silent in church and in 1 Timothy, women are told that they may not have authority over a man.
I think Timothy might have a few problems if he was around today. If he tried that line with my wife, Tim would hear some choice words that would send him off to the nearest retreat.
Those in favour of female ordination say that women are perfectly capable of doing the job as well as any man, and I agree. Lots of those guys haven’t made such a great fist of it and let’s face it, they need all the help they can get.