The Man at the 10 o’clock Mass
By Paula Ruddy
According to a report in the Catholic Spirit of May 4, 2010, Archbishop Nienstedt told 300 parish ministers that the coming archdiocesan reorganization “will require that weekly routines be altered and, yes, even lives be adjusted. The man who has been going to the same church for the 10 o’clock Mass for 20 years is going to find that Mass at the next parish.”
If the Archbishop’s goal in reorganizing the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis is to serve the Church’s mission, then the reorganization has to preserve and build a sense of belonging in community. Eucharist arises out of community, tradition is carried by community, spiritual growth is supported by community. We don’t have ecclesia-gathering-church unless people feel that they belong with each other and that they have a job to do as a community.
What is the job the community has to do? The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform has recently formulated its understanding of the Church’s mission (see www.cccrmn.org). There are an infinite number of ways to articulate it. The Christian Church, including the Roman Catholic Church, has the same mission as Jesus — to live the belief that human life in all its joy and suffering is destined for glory, union with God, what we have traditionally called “salvation.” The human dream for a universal community of mutual cooperation is an already/future reality for us, something we work toward with hope. Each congregation, parish, or small faith community, believes that and shows its faith by its way of life.
So what about a reorganization plan that breaks up communities? The Archbishop tells us it must be done. There are not enough priests to serve all the parishes in the Archdiocese. There is not enough money to keep the parish plants and the schools in operation.
The Archbishop doesn’t use the word “community.” He uses the word “communion.” He says in his Pentecost letter to parishes that the changes “are meant to proclaim and promote this local Church as a more dynamic and effective communion of faith, hope and love.”
Is “communion” the same thing as “community”?
There is no question that communities will be broken up. The Archbishop is pre-empting the response to the break up of communities by a steady stream of articles in the Catholic Spirit giving notice of the coming pain, warning against selfishness, trying to temper the “potential for hurt and anger that so often accompanies change.”
The way the Archbishop has the situation framed, it is a human weakness for people to resist and be pained by change. If they are dismayed by the break up of their worshiping communities, they should look to some greater good, i.e., communion within the Archdiocese. He says in his Pentecost letter to parishes that the changes “are meant to proclaim and promote this local Church as a more dynamic and effective communion of faith, hope and love.” He has it framed as an either/or. Community must go in favor of communion.
But here’s the question: How does human social/cultural formation happen?
Keeping the faith, feeling belonging and joy in belonging, growing in spirit — these happen in a daily life of interactions with caring others. Does “communion” at the archdiocesan level produce the same good effects as “community” at the parish level?
I think communion is very important. I understand it as the experience of unity in wider and wider circles of moral awareness, like the love we feel at higher stages of development for our fellow humans, or the solidarity we experience even when worshiping in a church full of strangers. It is more abstract than community, which requires direct communication and interaction.
We need both communion at the archdiocesan level and community at the parish level. We do care for our brothers and sisters in the Archdiocese, the local church, but where do we discuss our ideas, get our bonding and our support for living justly? What unit do we belong to that manifests the belief that Jesus taught? Is it the archdiocese? Is it the worship service center in the quadrant of the archdiocese we live in?
When the man from the 10 o’clock Mass has to adjust his life, he will, as the Archbishop says, “find a Mass at the next parish.” It will be with believing people with whom he is in communion. But will he have the history of sharing he has had with others for 20 years and all that means to him? It isn’t selfishness and lack of flexibility that make him grieve. He will be losing something important and he may well ask why it is necessary for him to lose it. Why is a celibate male clergy more important than the experience of community for Catholics?
Can a reorganization plan that destroys community hope to further communion or the mission of the Church? Is there testimony to what community is like 20 to 50 years after sacramental services are centralized? Maybe we need a reorganization plan that provides for smaller communities with their own ministries and leadership while at the same time providing the larger framework of communion at the archdiocesan level.
What we most certainly need is conversation between Catholic people and their leadership about it.
What do you think? We would like to hear your opinions.