Bishop Brendan Leahy
THIS week, history was made when lay people replaced priests on altars around the county for the first time in Limerick Diocese’s history.
Lay led public prayers on Tuesday morning were led entirely by lay members of the community, in light of priests’ attendance at a clerical conference with Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy.
But besides the practical reasons, it also served as preparation for a move towards lay-led prayers in the diocese, given the decline in vocations.
“It’s inevitable with the fall off in vocations that we need to explore new and exciting opportunities to celebrate the word, and one of the ways will be through lay-led times of public prayer,” explained Bishop Brendan Leahy.
The move is on foot of a range of proposals voted for at last year’s Synod, which acknowledged the need to move towards lay-led prayers, both because of the shortage of priests and also in appreciation of lay ministers, or “the priesthood of the baptised”.
“As we move forward, we need to prepare for a time when, even though priests are not available, each local community will be prepared to arrange for moments of public prayer for various occasions. No parish should find itself in a position where it is not prepared for such a possibility, so it makes sense for us to begin right now,” said Bishop Leahy.
Although Communion was not given out at Tuesday’s prayer events, Bishop Leahy stressed that this is not to suggest that it might never happen at future lay-led liturgies. Communion is commonly brought to the sick on house visits every Sunday.
“All over the world, when priests are not available, the liturgy of the word is celebrated parishes without the distribution of Communion,” said the bishop.
“I would like to see us moving to a space where we celebrate public prayer more in its own right rather than it being synonymous only with Mass and receiving Holy Communion.
“Lay-led prayers will not be an ‘alternative’ or ‘mini’ Mass, but instead, a moment of public prayer that is thoroughly valued in its own right,” added Bishop Leahy.
Despite the conference, three churches still held Mass on Tuesday evening: St John’s Cathedral, Kilmallock and Newcastle West.
City funeral director John Thompson said that the lack of Mass on Tuesday didn’t affect operations because they received due notice.
“We had a funeral in Clare on the day, so in that way it didn’t affect us. We wouldn’t have organised one in the city anyway, because I had been told last week about the priests being at a conference. So even if I did have a funeral in the city, I would have worked around it,” said Mr Thompson. There are 108 Limerick diocesan priests, of which 73 are in active ministry. The other 35 are retired.
In the large geographical area between Abbeyfeale, Templeglantine, Mountcollins and Tournafulla, there are only three priests, and the areas rely largely on the support of retired priests.