- “Beginning on the First Sunday of Advent – 1 December next – there will be changes in the number of Masses in our parishes. These changes reflect the changing character of our parishes and communities: not only the effect of fewer clergy, but also the need for greater collaboration between parishes” – Bishop Farrell
A radically extraordinary – yet wonderfully ordinary – moment is captured in the Acts of the Apostles (15:1–51): the early Church is struggling with how best to respond to the needs of its time. The Church was growing and had, by then, undertaken missionary journeys to Samaria and Judea, and even established a community in distant Antioch. But their growth had brought them to the point of questioning how best to engage with the situation in which they found themselves. It is an extraordinary moment as it is the last action of Peter and the Apostles – afterwards, the Church moves beyond them, through others to others. It is also extraordinary in that the decisions they made shaped the very character of the Church from then on. It is also wonderfully ordinary in that the Church then, as now, was continually changing and adapting. This is how the Church actually is: never static, but continually responding to a changing world – the very world in which we live, are nourished, and come to life, the world though which God embraces us.
A second interesting aspect of this story is the number of people involved in the dialogue which results in change: the community in Antioch shares in the decision to send Paul, Barnabas, and others; “all of the brothers and sisters” in Phoenicia and Samaria respond with delight, some Pharisees resist, while Peter, James and Paul appeal to the community. Judas and Silas are sent. The whole community is involved; under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a consensus is reached. They had to find a new way; the status quo would not suffice.
Since my arrival as Bishop of Ossory a similar process of discernment has been taking place as we have attempted to explore how best to respond to the needs of our time. This is the ordinary work of the Church – continually to renew, grow and change. It is what people of faith have done since those days when Peter and the Apostles entrusted to others the care of the faith community. I find it extraordinary to see how that decision was reached. In our parishes many conversations have been taking place as, together, we discern the promptings of the Spirit for our time. These conversations, as you may know, have led to the establishment of 13 pastoral areas, gathering our parishes into groups that can support each other and share resources. These pastoral areas are just now beginning to work together and explore what is possible. These groupings will permit our individual parishes to become stronger, more alive, and be in a position to offer an even greater level of service in their communities. May this new – deeper, more gentle – life become more and more visible.
These conversations have also explored practical aspects to the life of the Church here in Ossory: most immediately this will be seen in new Mass times in every parish in our Diocese. Beginning on the First Sunday of Advent – 1 December next – there will be changes in the number of Masses in our parishes. These changes reflect the changing character of our parishes and communities: not only the effect of fewer clergy, but also the need for greater collaboration between parishes. I hope that, in time, this will also allow our liturgies to improve. Every liturgy, every Mass, is a time to hear the Lord, and to welcome Him. Simple changes such as allowing more time between Masses will permit and encourage, improved celebration, and better participation of everyone who comes to Church.
Let us not lose sight of the wonderful work that has taken place in parishes and across the Diocese to enhance our liturgical celebrations; may we be encouraged to continue, remembering that the Lord is with those who gather in His name (see Matt 18:20). In the year ahead we will continue to work together to see all that is possible. This is an exciting time in our Diocese – new shoots are emerging, new supports are being given, and new structures are developing. It is ordinary, and yet always extraordinary, to see our community – all of its members – discussing, responding, growing, and continuing today what the Lord began with the Apostles long ago.
A fire does not burn by itself;
it has to be fed or else it dies;
it turns into ashes.
If everything remains as it was,
if we spend our days content
that ‘this is the way things have always been,’
then the gift vanishes,
smothered by the ashes of fear,
and by the anxiety of defending the status quo.
(Pope Francis, Homily at the Opening of the Amazon Synod, 6 October 2019)
- Bishop Dermot Farrell is the Bishop of Ossory. This pastoral letter has been distributed to the 42 parishes of the Diocese of Ossory. The Diocese has 67 priests and consists of most of County Kilkenny and portions of Counties Laois and Offaly. The Patron of the Diocese is Saint Kieran. For more information on the Diocese please see www.ossory.ie
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