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Liturgical Considerations

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.

The Current Reality

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.

  • Between 2019 and 2021 we had a total decline of Sunday attendance throughout the Archdiocese of Cincinnati of 32,955, a loss of 25% from 133,533 in October of 2019.  While we’ve rebounded from even more dire numbers in 2020, we have a long way to go to return just to our attendance in 2019.
  • 138 of our 208 parish churches (66%) utilize less than 40% of the church building on Sunday.
  • Of our 57 Families of Parishes, only 17 will need no change whatsoever to the schedule of Sunday Mass or the increased assistance of retired priests.
  • 78 parishes would benefit from a reduction of at least one Sunday Mass to facilitate a sustainable schedule within the new Family on July 1.
  • 65 parishes will need both a reduction of at least one Sunday Mass AND the increased assistance of a retired priest to ensure a feasible schedule for the Family of Parishes
  • Thankfully, only 4 Families (including 20 parishes) will need radical change to their Sunday Mass schedules in the near future.

You can explore more analysis of the current reality regarding Mass schedules and facility utilization of our parish churches.

Liturgical Schedules

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.

Action Steps

Use the data provided in February by the DPV to assess the need for changes to the Sunday Mass schedule.

Consult the current archdiocesan Sunday Mass Schedule Guidelines. (Updates to this document in light of Families of Parishes will be forthcoming.)

Should your parish reduce the Mass schedule by even just one Sunday Mass in early 2022? If so, start working now to consult parishioners, pastoral council, worship commission, et al. and make a change soon.

If not, will you need to create an interim Mass schedule to take effect July 1, for even just 6-12 months, until a new more permanent schedule can be created? Guidance on this will be available in February, and will include planning for catechesis, consultation, strategy, and planning.

Please Remember

  • In the long run, the Mass schedule for a family should adhere to the parameters that it not be predicated upon a priest celebrating Mass more than twice a day and the building being at least 50% full. In the short run, this may not be possible. While striving to conform to the stated parameters, the pastoral needs of the community may require trination.
  • In the long run, the availability of retired priests should not be considered in making a regular liturgical schedule for the Family of Parishes; retired priests should only be counted on for vacation, retreat, illness, and emergency.  (If they are able to provide more assistance, all the better.). In the short run, the assistance of retired priests for Sunday Masses could be considered so as to not unduly reduce the Sunday Mass schedule. Please know that the Department of Pastoral Vitality will be working to connect incoming pastors with retired priests in the area (especially newly-retiring priests).

Mass Intentions

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.

Please remember the following as regards Mass intentions:

  • Separate Masses are to be offered for each stipend that is given for a single Mass. It is not permitted to group separate stipends together and offer a single Mass for many intentions.
  • It is permissible for the faithful to contribute to collective Mass intentions (e.g.  “Purgatorian Masses”) provided it is clear to them that their individual offerings will be used in this way. However, the place and time of the offering of these Masses must be made public and they are not to be offered more than twice a week in any given church.
  • No priest or parish may retain more Mass stipends than can be satisfied within one year. Surplus stipends are to be sent to the Chancery or the Mission Office for distribution to other priests in the Archdiocese or in the missions.

Detailed questions about Mass intentions may be directed to the Chancery.

Wedding Liturgies

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.

Music Ministry

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.

Pastor Transition

Resources for liturgies at the time of pastor transition (especially the installation of a pastor) will be available in the spring.