Thanks for your posts on this topic from yesterday. On the armchair liturgist series, I try to toss out a question and hang back to see what people will say.
Even though this is a fairly radical idea, I’d rather see bishops designate deacons and viri probati to preside at Mass in the absence of a priest than have communities celebrate Communion services. In other words, I’m pretty much against Communion services.
I would prefer to see a deacon or lay person bring Communion to a parish from a Mass just celebrated miles away–maybe even the cathedral–rather than have Communion be distributed from the tabernacle.
Communion services for the sick and elderly are part of the tradition because they are intimately and prayerfully connected to a rooted parish community. If the bishop is concerned enough about vocations, then perhaps the prayers for vocations should be embodied in a substantial way by having the Eucharist brought from the cathedral to the small rural or urban parish without a resident priest. Parishes staffed by priests share in the responsibility of prayer.
I hear the urgings that Communion services or other liturgies without a priest as an opportunity for people to pray for vocations. Count me a doubter on this one, for pastoral and pragmatic reasons. Liturgy, be it Mass, a Communion service, or the Hours, is about the worship of God. I’m a big-time doubter when it comes to special intentions or themes running roughshod over the Church’s liturgy.
While I’m not advocating congregationalism, the truth is that if a particular rural or urban community too small to be considered for a full-time pastor develops a person for a priestly vocation, that community will not reap the fruit. After ordination, the guy will be assigned elsewhere. A thirty family parish might develop a dozen or more priests, but you can bet that the parish won’t see any of those guys until the larger parishes are all filled up. And to top it off, their parish will likely be closed in the bargain. If a bishop were to ask them to pray for more priests, I imagine the colorful response would be to $%#* off. And I can’t say I wouldn’t be sympathetic.
Viri probati should be on the table. If a bishop cannot develop vocations on a diocesan level, and cannot afford to assign a priest to a parish for Sunday Mass, the community should have the option of sending a proven man to the bishop to consider as a presider for the Eucharist. By all means, continue to pray for vocations to a lifelong priesthood. But let’s not allow disciplines on one sacrament (orders) to dictate the existence of another (Eucharist). If viri probati were ordained with an understanding of a possible future priest being assigned, or limited to men with grown children or at a certain age (say, 60 or 65) I think we could see an issue of grave sacramental interest avoided.