The Diocese of Columbus has been working on a strategic pastoral plan that addresses the shifting demographics and growing trends across the wide spectrum of Catholic life. Currently the focus is on two trends: (1) the severe drop in active priests in our diocese and (2) the significant decrease in Mass attendance among those who self-identify as Catholics. Regarding the latter, we are all aware of how few of our parish’s registered members attend Mass weekly. What is happening at St. Peter is exactly what is happening in the Church at-large, both in the United States and abroad. As for active priests: in 2008 the Diocese of Columbus had 100 active priests; in 2019, we are down to 86 active priests, which includes 7 priests already over the retirement age who have needed to keep going. Many of our priests – 28 of them – will reach retirement age in the next five years. Soon, we will have only 65 active priests to serve our 23counties and 108 parishes.
Given these two trends, parishes are to trim their Sunday Mass schedules. For years, we have tried to offer as many Sunday Masses as humanly possible in order to accommodate the faithful to the extent humanly possible. Yet, despite adding more and more Masses, fewer and fewer are attending them.
At St. Peter, one Sunday Mass will be discontinued, and in all likelihood, remaining Mass times will change. Some parishes have already made changes; some pastors have simply changed their schedules without parishioner input. The Strategic Plan leadership recommends though that pastors consult with their parishioners before making changes. During the recent shutdown, I introduced the news to all our faithful who have a presence on our Flocknotes social medium. Now that we are back together for Mass, I am able to put the word out more broadly.
There can be no reasonable expectation of consensus among us. The early returns (so-to-speak) from Flocknotes proved widely divergent. Everyone is invested in one’s own “favorite” Mass. I ask you, however, to be more spiritually detached, to be less focused on your own interest, and to think objectively about the needed and coming Mass schedule change.
Initially, please prayerfully consider a new Sunday Mass schedule to be, say, Saturday at 5:00pm; Sunday at 9:00am; Sunday at 11:00am; and Sunday at 7:00pm in Spanish. That still leaves Fr. Tuttle doing four Sunday Masses, with three of them on Sunday. You may be interested to learn that according to Canon Law, a priest is only permitted to say two Masses a day unless the local ordinary (i.e. the bishop) grants express permission for the priest to say a third Mass if necessary, though it is not to be a regular occurrence. Of course, I did not have the luxury of saying only two Masses on Sundays, and even with St. Peter dropping a Sunday Mass, Fr. Tuttle will not have that luxury either. It takes a toll.
There are answers to many expected questions posted on our parish website at www.stpetercolumbus.com. The questions and the answers have been provided you by the Diocese of Columbus. The answers and the questions are not mine, but were formulated by Diocesan Strategic Plan leadership.
If you want to comment on the proposed changes for Mass times, please send them to the Parish Office at 6899 Smoky Row Road, 43235. Please be civil.
Fr. Mark S. Summers
- Will my parish, with only one Mass before the crisis, not be part of the initial Mass restart schedule?
Some parishes with only one Mass before the crisis may be delayed from having their Mass as part of the restart. There are many issues behind this delay, but offering all previous Masses at all locations with our reduced available priests is a factor in this delay.
- Can all Mass times in my parish be changed permanently?
Yes, with reduced number of Masses being offered, coordinating Mass times with nearby parishes may require changing Mass times for Masses at a particular parish.
- Can I expect to see Mass schedules go through further contraction/expansion?
Yes, as Mass attendance continues to migrate to new schedules, we can expect some additional changes to Mass schedules to respond to the changes in Mass attendance.
- Can I expect my favorite Mass time to be offered at a nearby parish rather in my own?
Yes, part of the Mass time changes is to allow for convenience of time while it may not be convenient to location.
- Do I have to change my parish registration if I begin to attend Masses at another parish?
No, not initially. Once there is a settling out period and Mass schedules become more stable once priests, Masses, and attendance smooth out, you may be invited into joining the parish of your choice.
- Could the initial reduced Mass schedule become a permanent reduction?
Yes, however, this is much somewhat dependent on how Mass attendance adjusts to parishes and Mass times.
- What if my parish’s Mass times are currently sustainable by our priest?
We understand that many priests have the capacity to cover the Mass times currently offered at their parish; however, we must look at the Diocese as a whole and to its future with reduced number of priests. There are many priests traveling back and forth between multiple parishes, and we must ensure that all parishes and priests have adequate coverage, which may mean adding another parish’s Mass to your priest’s schedule.
- Will you be closing any parishes? Why not close smaller parishes and move the priests to other churches?
Closing a parish is only considered as a last resort. The process includes much more than simply a corporate view of the parish. There is the parish’s history, the community it serves, and the requirement to show a viable, on-going Catholic presence in all parts of the geography we serve.
- Some of our Masses are already packed, and/or there is no space for parking. How will we handle increased Mass attendance?
We have tried to adjust Mass times to seek a balancing out of Mass attendance for each Mass retained. There may be additional changes needed to create further smoothing for out of our Masses.
- If I attend Mass at another parish each week, but participate in my home parish’s bible studies and ministries, where should I be registered?
Registration and parish support should be where you identify yourself as a parishioner. This should be primarily what parish boundary do you live and the weekend you generally attend.
- How should I address my weekly offertory donations if I’m attending Masses and/or events at multiple parishes?
Offertory support should be given to the parish where you are registered and the boundary where you live. There are instances where you may split your support.
- My parish is more rural, and there aren’t any parishes nearby. Do I need to drive 30+ minutes to attend another parish?
The Diocese of Columbus has a large rural geography to support (23 counties). Minimizing drive times to attend Mass have been part of the consideration with the Mass changes considered.
- If I watch a Mass live stream instead of attending my parish’s Mass, does that fulfill my obligation to attend Mass?
Live streaming never fulfills the Sunday obligation. The Ohio Bishops have dispensed Ohio Catholics from the necessity of attending Sunday Mass as part of the Sunday obligation. Once Masses are restarted, there may be some additional consideration as provided for in Canon Law to further dispense certain elderly and ill from their Sunday obligation. The recent COVID-19 has been an unprecedented event which caused the Ohio Bishops to temporarily dispensing the laity from attending Sunday Masses.
- Won’t reducing the number of Masses cause overcrowding, which puts more people at risk for COVID-19?
The health risks of COVID-19 and meeting in large numbers should be respected based on the advice of the authorized CDC. Reducing Mass schedules and overcrowding from this action adds no more risk than prior Mass schedules presented. In order to implement strict distancing procedures, we would implement social distancing procedures within the worship space, which would vastly reduce capacity. We do not have the priest staff to be able to add Masses.
- When will we know what the final Mass schedules are at each parish?
This initial rollout, while it is intended to be final, will consider instances where further time adjustments may be warranted. There is no intent to create standing room only situations at Mass (with the notable exceptions of Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter).
- Are there other steps being taken to address the shortage of priests?
Priest vocations have been in decline for more than 40 years. Mass reductions have only been deferred until now due to the dedication and selflessness of our retired priests. This no longer offers a viable option. The numbers of retired priests still able to serve Mass is rapidly shrinking and not sustainable for our future.
- What should priests do in response to performing fewer weekend Masses?
In years past, priests were able to be fully engaged in the communities they served. Over time, Mass counts and schedules continued or increased in counts adding to the daily and weekend burdens of our priests. Meanwhile, Mass attendance and priest counts continued to shrink over that same timeline. To accommodate the continued support of Mass schedules on fewer priest, that time displaced some of the connections to the community priests served. Reducing weekend Masses is a first step to restore a bench of priests that are readily available to serve at Masses when there is an absent priest. Our Priests need to be able to return to taking vacations, retreats, pilgrimages, sabbaticals, offering priests advanced studies and degrees, to be routinely present and teach in our elementary and high schools, be present on the college campuses, and in the living rooms of fallen away Catholics. Doing these things provide an environment and opportunity for intentional Evangelization to be part of the daily priestly routine.