This coming week will see a relatively extraordinary event taking place in the life of our local Church here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Archbishop Gomez has called us together for the first time in almost twenty years, in an effort to “challenge us to a renewal of our priestly commitments and service.”
The immediate effect of this gathering is that all Archdiocesan priests will be away from their parishes during the same time. Daily masses will not be taking place. Some parishes will have prayer services incorporating liturgy of the word, but the Eucharistic Celebration will not be available during the week in most parishes. I say “most” because there are a significant number of parishes in the Archdiocese that are not staffed by Archdiocesan priests, but by priests from many different religious communities. In these parishes, the daily schedules will continue as usual. The nearest such parish to us, here in Northridge, is Our Lady of Peace in North Hills, which is now staffed by the Camillians. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate staff parishes in San Fernando, and the Rogationists staff St. Elizabeth in Van Nuys.
According to the 2019 Archdiocesan Directory, there are 287 parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, spread throughout Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. Of these, 54 are shepherded by priests from religious communities. The remaining 233 parishes are shepherded by priests of the Archdiocese (218 parishes), as well as deacons (4 parishes), religious women (1 parish), and lay men and women (3 parishes) who have been trained specifically for this purpose. 7 parishes are shepherded by pastoral teams. There are a total of 495 Archdiocesan priests, of whom 327 are active and available for ministry. With 327 active priests available to serve in 233 parishes, it’s not difficult to see that there are logistical challenges facing our local church that require our imagination and our creativity in planning to meet the pastoral and spiritual needs of the catholic population which currently runs at 4.04 million souls.
I know that here at Lourdes we have been extraordinarily blessed by the service of Msgr. Peter and Fr. Jerry who, though both retired, continue to participate in, and serve, the life of our parish community. We also benefitted for twenty-five years from the service of Fr. John Coleman, RIP. We might be forgiven for not considering what it might be like into the future here at Lourdes if there is but a single priest assigned to our spiritual and pastoral care. However this is not inconceivable possibility. We are currently very comfortable with our 11 weekday masses and 6 masses (soon to be 7, with the addition of a Spanish language mass) for Sunday. But what might we have to consider for ourselves if there is only a single priest in the parish a few years from now? What might that look like for our community,and what steps might we want to take toward planning for such a possibility?
I hear every year from a handful of people who are upset because for two months in the summer we offer a single daily mass instead of our usual two, Monday through Friday. We do this to facilitate vacations for the priests without laying the burden of possibly three masses in one day on a single priest (two daily masses plus a funeral).
Canon Law allows for a priest to say one mass on a weekday, and an additional mass in an emergency (e.g. funeral). On Sundays we are permitted by Canon Law to say two masses, and in an emergency (grave pastoral need) we may say a third. I know that across our Archdiocese this law is honored more in the breach than in the observance. Many years ago I found myself in the unenviable position of having to say six Sunday Masses. The first three I could manage well enough. The fourth, I remember, was a struggle. The fifth I could barely read from the book, and the sixth was more of a sacrilege than anything else, because I was so wiped out.
In these days when the priests of the parish are away for the Archbishop’s meeting, I ask your prayers and your support. I might also suggest that perhaps in these days when the gift and convenience of daily eucharist is not available to us, and the sacramental life of our community is temporarily diminished, perhaps we might take some time to join in prayer for a spirit of good discernment for the future pastoring of our parish communities in Los Angeles?
It is increasingly clear that things will not continue as they have been. The future has yet to be revealed to us, but God’s Spirit is ever faithful and true, and I am confident that by God’s grace, our local Church of Los Angeles will rise to the challenge of renewed vision for leadership in the shepherding of our communities. .