Thursday, June 10, 2010

Breaking Up is Hard to Do:

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 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.


  1. I agree with the points you are making regarding community and communion, however, the financial and staffing realities are what are driving the decision. Rather than try to "spin" these decisions as something good for the church, how about the plain old truth?

  2. I don't know what is your experience as Church in the US. I don't know if the Church is growing or declining. What I know is that things aren't well... And yes, I think that the Church (or the Churches, because the problem is more or less the same for all the Historical Churches, liberals or conservatives)is highly concentrated in retain the numbers of the people inside the Church and meanwhile she forgets each individuals who are leaving the Church for any reason. The Church has no preocupation to ask each one: What's your problem? Why are you leaving the Church?... What can I do for you?...

    No surprise that the winners in the US and, perharps all over the developped world and some of the 3th world counthries like Brazil, are the modern Pentecostal (here in Portugal, the Brazilian ones, like IURD, the larger of them) or Megachurches!... Churches that are like "fast-food Churches"... Even the conservative ones!... Churches where the unique thing they really demand is that you go, hear the pastor (perharps speaking of morality and immediate Salvation), sing some modern hymns and of corse pay the tithe, and eventually buy the "Keys of the Sky" with no effective effect on their life apart the illusion of a personnal immediate well beeing for any reason!...

    We are losing the notion of commuinity in our Churches... And people give some sort of answer!... Even probably some inappropriate ones like going to certain "Churches"!... We have to find new ways to be a Church!... It is not only the question that "all are welcome"... It is the question that each one feels welcomed in the community!...

    Good evening!...

  3. Paula,
    Your piece brings up some interesting points. Please allow me to offer some comments of my own.
    I do not think it is necessary to juxtapose 'communion' and community'. A community is a group of people with common interests living in a particular area. Communion is the larger reality, a deeper relationship, and it reflects the loving communion of persons that is the Holy Trinity. In our context, a community is the particular part to the universal whole. If a parish is a community of people who seek to live a Christian life, then they share in the communion of the Church. Why shouldn't a community seek to unite in a communion, unless it is opposed to that communion?
    The way in which you phrase the question, "Can a reorganization plan that destroys community hope to further communion or the mission of the Church?" is misleading. How can one claim to destroy community while simultaneously claiming to further communion? Do you honestly think that the reorganization plan wants to destroy community?
    I think we should all examine how we are part of our individual parishes (or faith communities), and how that is part of a communion. It seems to me that the reorganization plan is asking that same question and furthermore, wants our input to it.
    No one can deny the deep connections that some share with their particular parishes. Yet if the issue is "I am losing my parish," or "I can longer go to my 10am Mass," then it betrays (on behalf of the individual) a lack in understanding of community and communion. Rather, the lament should be "We are losing our parish, etc." This is grieving with a completely different mindset.
    Moreover, I do not think anyone would intentionally seek to destroy those deep connections within a community. That would be malicious. Nevertheless, because that particular parish is part (healthy or not) of a larger communion, it always seeks the good (i.e. the needs) of that communion.