A few parishioners have mentioned that they miss the “liturgical notes” that I was including at the beginning of my weekly reflections. Over the past few weeks, there were some practical items that I needed to cover. Hence the liturgy notes ended up on the cutting room floor. I reintroduce them this week below.
During Lent and especially during Holy Week, we do a lot of “liturgical gymnastics” (sitting, standing, kneeling, genuflecting..) What do I do if I am injured or have difficulty genuflecting?
Pastorally speaking, if you are injured; if you are older, if you have bad knees, if you cannot – for any legitimate reason – genuflect – don’t. Putting yourself in some kind of physical discomfort or in a potential fall risk is NOT going to affect how much God likes you. A reverential bow towards the tabernacle (an ancient liturgical gesture of respect and reverence) is sufficient if it is done in a reverential manner. It also might have an evangelizing effect. If done well, a reverential bow has a certain beauty that others notice and serves as a reminder of the sacred space in which all find themselves. Now, let me continue with my reflection from last week…
I began to share some items that were discussed in a recent meeting of “Deanery 4**”. I did this upon the suggestion of several parishioners. They mentioned that such information is relevant to parishioners today. More transparency and information from the Catholic Church in general, and from the Archdiocese specifically, would be a positive development.
I started talking about visits to sick and dying Catholics. Parishes have fewer number of priests. They are dealing with caring for an increased number of hospitals, nursing homes and senior living centers. We also have an aging “Baby Boomer Generation.” This has led to an increased number of elderly people in homes in the Philadelphia area. Moving forward, the issue involves setting proper expectations against pastoral demands. With fewer priests and an aging priest population, we are beginning to see challenges for priests even to cover Masses. Covering hospitals and institutions are becoming a luxury more and more.
The pastor from one city parish said, “We’ll anoint all Catholics when they arrive. We can’t do “emergency” anointings any more. Several suburban parishes covering a large hospital all chipped in to hire a religious sister. She covers the hospital and provides Communion daily. The priest is called only in the case of “true emergencies” (competently discerned by the religious sister). This religious sister has been a great Catholic source of on-site information. She helps discern situations with particular patients. This is especially important when dealing with hospital administrations and Protestant chaplains. Many are (at best) non-cooperative or (worst case) hostile towards the Catholic Church. This is a nice solution. Nevertheless, cost is one negating factor. One must also recognize that the number of religious sisters in our areas is declining. Some religious orders are aging. Future availability might not be a ready option.
Utilizing “Hospital Ministry Teams” is another approach. They have helped immensely to reduce the number of unnecessary emergency calls. Coverage of the spiritual, pastoral and sacramental needs of Catholics is also better. The downside is that these teams do not do any emergency calls in the evenings. They have to be available during the day. Thus younger people with full-time jobs are typically not available. They have to be trained. They need various police and abuse clearances. They sometimes need to be certified by the hospital. Thus, the solution does have logistical challenges to overcome.
In considering policies and planning for the future, some questions were asked. “What about backup if a priest is away or on vacation or on retreat?” “Is it reasonable that there is an expectation of receiving Communion every day in a hospital. Most people weren’t receiving Communion every day when they were not in the hospital” “Can a uniform archdiocesan policy be developed and then distributed to all hospitals? Such a policy does not exist today.” “What about a parish sick call policy? This would outline: ‘This is what you can expect from your local parish priest. This is what we will do. This is what we will not do.” “We need to inform nurse staff and parishioners about the theology and practice of the ‘Sacrament of Anointing.’ For example, there is really no “Last Rites” anymore. That falls under “Sacrament of Anointing: Anointing of the Dying.” If a person was already anointed while they were seriously sick, but not dying, it is not necessary to anoint the person again once death is imminent. Hospital staffs and owners shift and change. You can have a policy but if a new nurse has come in, do they know the policy? How to account for this staff turnover?” “How do we address the problem of a lack of faith, lack of religious practice and a serious ignorance and understanding of the sacraments in our culture?”
Some people might find these questions uncomfortable and the approaches being implemented by some parishes uncaring. Yet, parishes and priests are trying to deal with statistical reality. We are certainly open to a conversation with parishioners. In addition, we always welcome parishioners who wish to come forward, volunteer to participate and implement new and creative solutions.
Parishes in Deanery 4: Archdiocese of Philadelphia: Our Lady of the Assumption (Strafford), SS. Philip and James (Exton), St. Ann (Phoenixville), St. Basil the Great (Kimberton), St. Elizabeth (Upper Uwchlan), St. Isaac Jogues (Wayne), St. Joseph (Downingtown), St. Joseph (Spring City), St. Mary of the Assumption (Phoenixville), St. Monica (Berwyn), St. Norbert (Paoli), St. Patrick (Malvern), St. Thomas More (South Coventry).