30 NOVEMBER, 1997

Last weekend a group of young men gathered along with some priests and seminarians of the diocese in Dromantine College. They spent the weekend reflecting and praying in an effort to discover whether God might be calling them to become priests. I am grateful for the prayers which were offered for them throughout the diocese on this day.

There are at present twelve students preparing to become priests of the Archdiocese of Armagh. As we thank God for them, we pray that they may persevere and that many others may join their ranks.

However, the smaller number of priests being ordained in recent years has meant that there are less priests available for appointment to parishes when others die or retire. The Bishops and priests have been considering these issues in recent times in an effort to find solutions.

Out of these discussions the following proposals have emerged which I have decided to adopt:

The times of Masses in each parish should be reviewed so that Mass is celebrated at times best suited to the present pattern of Sunday Mass attendance.

Where it is feasible, there should be an interval of not less than ninety minutes between scheduled Masses in any one church.

When the number of priests is reduced in a parish, the number of Masses should also be reduced. Ideally each priest should not have more than two scheduled Sunday Masses per weekend.

The possibility of one priest covering for another priest, whether in his own or a neighbouring parish, in time of illness or absence, should be considered when deciding the times of Masses.

In rural parishes, a weekday morning Mass may be dropped in favour of a wedding or funeral Mass.
The implementation of these proposals is set for today, the First Sunday of Advent, 1997.

These decisions were made in the light of the knowledge that since the introduction of Vigil Masses, there now are many more Masses and fewer priests than thirty years ago.

Fewer Masses will hopefully make for better preparation of and fuller participation in the liturgy. The Eucharist is the summary of our faith. It is at once the sign and cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the church is kept in being.

These directives are being adopted so that the Sunday Mass may continue to be central to the life of faith in the local community and build up the unity of the People of God in our parishes.

The identity of traditional rural and urban communities is to be safeguarded.

The decline in the number of ordinations and the number of candidates coming forward to study for the priesthood is truly worrying. I ask people to keep the intention of an increase in vocations to the priesthood constantly in their prayers.