As we work towards vitality in our new Families of Parishes, it will be important for us to remember that the Eucharist is indeed the source and summit of parish life. Even now in Phase 0, we can begin to envision parish life in which the celebration of Sunday Mass is truly life-giving, beautiful, and transformative.
While the real work of pastoral planning can’t begin until July 1, there are important considerations right now to be considered at the parish level.
As we know from the current reality report created in the strategic planning phase of Beacons of Light, the average Sunday Mass in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati utilizes less than 40% of the church building.
After further analysis including attendance figures from October 2021, projected numbers of priests to be assigned to each Family, the current Mass schedules of each Family, the capacity of the church buildings, and the availability of retired priests, we know a bit more about the work ahead to ensure vibrant Eucharistic liturgies.
You can explore more analysis of the current reality regarding Mass schedules and facility utilization of our parish churches.
One of the areas of greatest concern as parishes come together in Families is the schedule of Sunday and weekday liturgies.
Sunday Mass is the most important facet of parish life, and the largest gathering of the faithful on a regular basis. Changes in Mass schedule are among the most disruptive in parish life…but they also present great opportunity for dialogue, collaboration, and communication if executed properly.
All pastoral planning efforts should follow the Pathway, which calls for the establishment of a Family planning team (by Sept 1, 2022), co-responsibility among the pastor, deacons, staff, and other lay parish leaders, and consultation with the faithful; this may take a while to develop. Making serious “permanent” decisions prior to July 1, 2022 or even January 1, 2023 may shortcut important consultation and information-gathering that would build trust between parish leaders and the faithful.
The Department of Pastoral Vitality will be working directly with the current pastors of parishes in those Families that will need to make radical change.
Every Family will receive data from the Department of Pastoral Vitality in February to assist with this analysis and initial planning efforts. In some extreme cases, it may be necessary for an interim Mass schedule to be created in spring of 2022 to take effect July 1, for 6-12 months, until proper assessment, consultation, and decision-making can take place led by the new pastor and the planning team. Further guidance and strategies for creating an interim Mass schedule will be available in mid-Feb for those Families where this is necessary.
In the meantime, because many Sunday Masses do not presently fill 40% of the building’s capacity (and in some cases, no Mass even fills 30%), it may be possible and prudent for the current pastor to reduce the Sunday Mass schedule by one each weekend. If this change can be made by spring 2022, it may reduce or eliminate the need for an interim Mass schedule as described above. And if this slight adjustment can be made soon, it will be done before the Family comes into being and before the pastoral planning process really begins, which could help perception of the process by the faithful.
You may find it helpful to limit the horizon during which Mass intentions may be accepted, in light of changing Mass schedules. Perhaps allow scheduling no further than 18, or 12, or even 6 months out, to eliminate the need for adjustments later on.
As Families of Parishes discern which church buildings will be used and not, consider scheduling wedding liturgies also with a limited horizon. Perhaps allow scheduling no further than 18 or even 12 months out. Or guarantee that a wedding may take place, but not guarantee which liturgical space will be available for use.
You may also indicate that the presider may change, but that formation will be provided and a priest or deacon will celebrate the wedding liturgy.
The eventual grouping of parishes into a Family will bring together music ministry leaders, choirs, and ensembles in ways that will benefit the Church at prayer. No doubt there will be challenges to overcome, but this will also bring an opportunity to grow in unity and better serve the Family of Parishes in the celebration of the liturgy.
Even now during Phase 0, among the principal considerations when making adjustments to the parish liturgical schedule is music ministry. Consider how a new Sunday Mass schedule will impact the ability of music ministers to serve the singing assembly. Make sure to involve music ministry leaders in any conversations during Phase 0 about adjustments to the parish worship schedule.
The Archdiocesan Committee on Sacred Music and other music ministry leaders are working on guidance to assist music ministers and pastors in ensuring smooth transition as parishes come together into a Family. Stay tuned for more resources in the coming months. If you have concerns or questions about music ministry during Phase 0, contact the Office for Divine Worship and Sacraments.
Resources for liturgies at the time of pastor transition (especially the installation of a pastor) will be available in the spring.