Closing parish doors

Question: Our bishop is closing our parish. My grandparents were among those who built and paid for this parish. By what right does the bishop close what is ours?

Name withheld, Philadelphia, Pa. 

Answer: Canonically, there likely are some solutions that permit the lay faithful to take possession of a building slated for closure, undertake its maintenance and keep them open as chapels, etc., under the supervision of the local church. Frankly though, most congregations that have reached a critical state where closure is deemed necessary are not, in fact, able to undertake such solutions.

While there are legitimate canonical issues, and as the lay faithful you have canonical rights at the closing of the parishes, I am not a canon lawyer and would like to answer your question pastorally.

And from a pastoral point of view, it seems evident that bishops do not close parishes, people close parishes. The fact remains that many parishes filled to overflowing back in the 1950s now sit increasingly empty.

This is a teachable moment, and we must accept some very painful facts. When only 25 percent of Catholics go to Mass nationwide, and when Catholics stop having many children or effectively handing on the Faith to their children, this is what happens.

The Church simply cannot maintain parishes and other institutions such as schools and hospitals, when Catholics are largely absent. Pastorally speaking, people — not bishops alone — close parishes. Many parishes, schools, seminaries and convents now sit largely empty. And as they become empty, bills are unpaid, maintenance is deferred, and the situation eventually becomes critical. Decisions have to be made.

Pastorally, one would hope that long before things go utterly critical, that bishops, working together with communities that are going into crisis, can speak honestly and work for solutions. But this is not simply the responsibility of the bishop, it is the responsibility of all of the people of God to have such honest discussions. Thus, we are left with a difficult but teachable moment about what happens when the Faith handed down to us is largely set aside by the vast majority of Catholics.

It’s time to evangelize and make disciples, as Christ commands.

Washing of hands

Question: Our new priest does not wash his hands at offertory in daily Mass. He says without a server it is hard and the rite no longer has practical use. Is this right?

Bill Eitenauer, Plains, N.Y. 

Answer: The priest celebrant should wash his hands, even if there is no server. The priest’s explanation that there is no practical necessity for him to wash his hands does not hold. It is true that the hand washing in ancient times had more practical purposes due to the reception of many and varied gifts during the offertory procession. Handling these things often soiled the priest’s hands.

But liturgical rites don’t have a merely practical point. The washing of the priest’s hands has an important spiritual dimension as well, indicating his desire to be free of sin before offering the Holy Sacrifice, and handling the body and blood of Christ. Omitting this rite is not permitted. 

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.