As our consultation on changes to Mass times comes to a close, Pastor Gareth answers some of the questions you have raised along the way.

Couldn’t we have a lay-led service (such as Word & Communion) at the current places and times where no priest is available to celebrate Mass?

Archbishop Mark has given an instruction that this is not permitted as a permanent substitute for for weekend Masses.

When Our Lord celebrated the Last Supper, he said “do this in memory of me”. What does it mean to “do this”? It means to gather with a priest who consecrates bread and wine. Holy Mass makes present the dying and rising of Christ. By joining in this prayer, the congregation offers worship to God our Father, giving Him the greatest possible gift, His beloved Son pouring out his life in love for us – and we share in this by our baptism, because we are all members of Christ’s body.

When a lay-led service of the Word and Holy Communion takes place, we satisfy our human needs – to receive communion, to gather with our friends in a cherished place at a familiar time – but we are not offering Our Heavenly Father the worship he has asked for.

Mother Church knows that when we officially organise an “alternative to Sunday Mass” it will attract not only those who genuinely cannot attend the nearest Mass, but also those who find it more convenient. But since Our Lord asked us to celebrate Mass, alternative services will not be set up on weekends unless the nearest Mass is hours away.

Can’t we use modern technology – gather in a church to watch a video-relay of Mass and then receive Holy Communion from the tabernacle?

That’s a good question – does it count as “doing this” in answer to Christ’s command? I did ask Archbishop Mark this very question, pointing out that with small adjustments to three service times I could celebrate in each church fortnightly with the other churches connecting by video. The Archbishop’s reply was that this would be “bad sacramental practice”. Again, Mother Church is very wary of innovating when it comes to Mass. We know that when we physically gather with a priest we are certainly “doing this” as Jesus told us to.

Livestreamed Masses are a genuine blessing for those who cannot physically attend Mass. We should remember that the Church’s Sunday obligation is that (i) we should worship God on Sunday and (ii) we should do so by making every reasonable effort to be present at Mass in person. When it is genuinely impractical – not merely inconvenient – to be physically present at Mass, joining in the prayers on a livestream is a great way to fulfil our obligation to worship God on the Lord’s Day.

As parish priest I would also be happy to give individual lay ministers of communion a dispensation so that on some Sundays, instead of being present at Mass in person, they could watch Mass with the person they visit regularly and administer communion at the appropriate time during Mass. Communion visitors should speak to me personally if they wish to pursue this, bearing in mind the number of other minsters available to assist with distributing communion at the Sunday Mass.

Canon Pat, who lives in the All Hallows Presbytery, says Mass in All Hallows on Saturday morning. Couldn’t he do this on Saturday evening or Sunday morning instead?

Canon Pat, like the other healthy retired priests in our diocese, is part of our supply bank. On Saturday nights, as on Sundays, he is rota’d by the diocese to cover parishes where a priest is on holiday or on sick leave. Some weekends he is the “standby priest”, not scheduled to be anywhere else but ready to go immediately if a priest falls ill (or tests positive for covid). On such “standby weekends” he might well appear on the sanctuary at All Hallows to share in Mass, rather than saying Mass privately. That doesn’t mean he is available to be scheduled to lead that Mass. Our long term plan has to rely on the priest who is allocated to our parishes – me – not the priest who only happens to be available when he’s not on duty elsewhere.  

Can’t we get priests from somewhere else in Britain (London / a religious order) to help us so we don’t have to lose Masses?

All across the UK, priests are reaching retirement age. There was a boom of vocations in the 1940s and 50s. As cities expanded, bishops allowed many small parishes to be set up. Churches added Saturday evening and Sunday evening Masses. We had enough priests to staff all of that. But now we have fewer priests. Every diocese across Britain is struggling with filling holes. Some are at the stage of reducing Masses in each church, some may be considering closing churches or not providing Mass every weekend.

Priests make a lifelong commitment to a diocese for their own personal reasons – often because it keeps them close to supportive family members or friends. No priest can be commanded to transfer from another diocese to Cardiff – and bishops are unlikely to ask for volunteers to go when they are struggling with similar issues of manpower in their own dioceses.

Meanwhile, religious order priests have made the personal choice to join an order because they want to live in a community which prioritises prayer in common over pastoral work which would take them away from community life. They would have chosen to be parish priests if they had felt God was calling them to that. We do draw on religious orders for what they can give for long term assignments or short term supply, but we have to respect the commitment religious order priests have made to be together in community on Sundays and Holy Days.

In a way, a priest has been called from England to help – from 2018 until the end of 2022, I was working with Sion Community in Coventry and Brentwood. Archbishop Mark asked me to come back to the diocese so we didn’t have to lose even more Masses than we are doing at the moment.

Couldn’t we get more priests from other countries to help?

Two priests from Nigeria are coming to the diocese – but they will be covering future retirements, to serve in places which otherwise would not be able to have Sunday Mass at all. At present, Britain is very high in the league table of “priests per Catholic”. We still have one priest for every 847 Catholics. The overseas priests serving in our diocese come from Ghana (one priest for every 2,502 Catholics) and Nigeria (one priest for every 4,036 Catholics). It doesn’t seem fair to keep taking priests from places where priests already have to serve thousands of parishioners to help us sustain what we’ve become used to. Given the manpower Cardiff Archdiocese can expect to have in the next 15 years (the time to Archbishop Mark’s likely retirement) the fair share of our four churches is one priest – me.