Looking to the Future with great Hope – 2002

Home » Library » The Athenry Journal » Record

In the Summer Edition 2002 of the Athenry Journal, l was reflecting on the changes that have been happening over the past forty years and the development of our understanding of Church; the restoration of various ministries in the Church and how the quality of our lives as committed Christians will play such a vital role in the church of the future.

Here, in Athenry, the role of the parish is crucial for the faith and how strong vibrant communities with people and priests working together will play such an important role in the church of the new century.

The permanent diaconate

Some months ago, the Irish Catholic Bishops made a decision to introduce married deacons into lrish Church life and shortly I feel sure that plans will be drawn up for training and formation. While this is new to Ireland, it is very common in parishes in the United States and around the world. When l was ordained in 1963, l received the diaconate at the beginning of my final year — it was a prelude to ordination to priesthood. But in fact, the Second Vatican Council has restored the diaconate as a “proper and permanent rank in the hierarchy”. This means that in a few years there will be ordained deacons, probably married men, working in parishes, who will be able to carry out all priestly functions with the exception of celebrating Mass and hearing Confessions. ln practise, this will mean that deacons will baptise children, officiate at weddings, receive funerals, preach at Masses, lead prayer groups, act as chaplains and carry out various administrative tasks. As vocations to the priesthood continue to drop, it is very likely that many of the functions, at present carried out by priests will, now be, the responsibility of deacons.

Gradual change

The Catholic Church is a worldwide organisation and it is only natural like all huge institutions it finds it difficult to embrace change. Just think how difficult any of us find it to change patterns in our own attitudes and life-style. The basic instinct is to conserve, and change is only permitted where there really is no alternative to make the change. So, change is introduced gradually and piecemeal. It comes slowly, bit-by-bit and low key and people slowly adapt and adjust and emerge coping with everything in a very different way.

Married priests

Recently, on a visit to London, l talked, with priests there, about the numbers of Anglican clergy who became Roman Catholic priests and began to work in parishes in England. The official position at the time was that this was an extraordinary situation, with little effect on church life. But as those married priests began to work in parishes, the normality of a married clergy in the Catholic Church is now beginning to be taken as part of life and taken for granted.

The decision in the future to ordain married men to priesthood which everyday looks inevitable and more likely, will not seem as dramatic as it might have been viewed twenty years ago. In the end, it comes down to this; are Pobal Dé to be denied the opportunity of Sunday Mass and the nourishment of the Eucharist because we, as Church do not have the courage to acknowledge the promptings of the Holy Spirit?

Deacons

The same could happen with married deacons. If a married deacon can baptise his own child or officiate at his daughter’s wedding or his brother’s funeral, is it not a likely happening in the future that he will also celebrate Mass? And if there are men deacons, when will there be women deacons?

In the letter to the Romans, Paul refers to Phoebe as deaconess of the church at Cenchreae and deaconesses were part of the early church.

At present, the issue of the ordination of women seems to face some theological difficulties, but then the 2002Holy Spirit is at work and is continually calling on all of us to reflect and pray and be open to where God is calling us on our future journey.

People of hope

All I can say is that looking back on nearly forty years of my limited experience of priesthood and all the changes that have taken place, who knows where it will all lead to in the Church in Athenry in 2025. We must be people of hope and despite all that has been happening in recent times, it is a good time to be alive.

I offer these few thoughts sure in the knowledge that the future is not a place to be feared but a place full of hope. We move into the unknown confident that the Holy Spirit is bringing us to a place which only God can have imagined, because God has plans for us — plans for peace and not disaster in a future full of hope.

Canon Tony King, is Parish Priest of St. Mary’s Parish, Athenry.

– –

About this record

Written by Tony King

Published here 05 Aug 2023 and originally published Winter 2002

– –