Tuesday, 18 March 2014

An Interview with Our Parish Priest

Since I take part in several activities within the parish and work closely with Father in the office, it is often to me that people make their remarks and bring their questions. I brought this to Father’s attention and asked if I could do a mock interview in which I asked him those questions that I most commonly hear. He agreed, and decided to make the text available to the parish last weekend. I thought it might give readers of the blog an insight into our parish too, so here it is...with an added question I hadn't noticed I had omitted (I wondered why we did not have the whole 20 Questions)!

1.   Are we making good use of the laity in the running of the parish, especially in light of your health concerns?
We are trying, though we are a village parish with many elderly parishioners. Still, we have laity acting as Readers, Extra-ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC); forming the Finance Committee, leading Children’s Liturgy, engaged as the Vulnerable Persons Link, in  Bookkeeping, Gift-Aid organising, Baptism Catechesis, housebound visiting, managing the piety shop, doing coffee-mornings, prize bingos, assisting at Mass, doing repairs, gardening etc. My health is like everyone’s: up and own. Sadly the COPD does prevent me doing some things, but as the Bishop has said, in that I am saying daily Mass, doing school Masses, Funerals, housebound visits and meetings, all is doable (at present...)

2.   What is expected of a priest?
A priest’s primary task is to pray, celebrate the sacraments and teach. He should attend those in crisis events, visit the housebound and the school, attend Deanery meetings, prepare funerals, visit the bereaved; see those who ask for a private talk, take over-all responsibility for supervising parish groups and oversee the admin of the parish.

3.   How are our housebound parishioners cared for?
The Housebound receive Holy Communion every week from their EMHC; are visited monthly by the priest on the week of the First Friday (only impeded by a funeral or by the priest being ill) and are visited by the Legion of Mary. There are also parishioners who make private visits to the elderly who they know need a little help or some company. 

4.   What links do we have with our school?
Several of our parishioners are on the Governing Body (along with the Parish Priest); several help voluntarily with the Breakfast Club and classroom work, there is a sharing of one another’s Bulletins, and there are School Masses and classroom visits from the priest. We have also had the school in Church for Carol Concerts in Advent (proceeds from which went to the Street Children of Columbia) and Children’s Stations of the Cross during Lent.

5.   What are we doing about Justice & Peace issues?
Our Coffee mornings raise funds for such as Aid to the Church in Need, The Little Way Association; SPUC etc (information on these groups is on the parish Notice Board) and we have prayers offered every week at Mass for troubled places and international needs. We also do practical things such as buying only fair-trade wine for use at Mass. Our Red Boxes are a great support to the Missions.

6.   What is the collection money spent on?
Money from the collections goes on the heating, lighting and insurances for the Church. Repairs too have to be paid for from the collections, as do copyright licenses, Council Tax and water rates. Candle oil, wine and altar breads also have to be paid for, as do our office supplies (from account ledgers to paper and ink for the Bulletins) and renewals of such as altar cloths and vestments. The tea, coffee, biscuits etc, used by parish groups also comes from parish funds, as does the priest’s monthly allowance (£298 per month). As a parish, we survive on about £1,300 per month –much less than the average household.

7.   Why do we use Application Forms for Baptism & First Holy Communion?
These allow the parish office to access the essential information (names, date of birth, address, contact number etc) and give basic information on the Faith to the parents as preparation for their time with the catechist/priest. One section encourages the parents to think about ways of forming their child/children in the Faith, asking who will bring the child to Mass; what they will do to form the child (holy pictures, pilgrimages) etc. If we ask people to fill out Enquiry Forms for Marriage we can do the same for baptism, since this is the foundational sacrament; the gateway to all the others.

8.   What is the extent of our Ecumenical Involvement?
Very limited since there is no non-Catholic community here with a resident minister, but we can join ecumenical services arranged for Advent/Lent. We also advertise Thornley’s Fete days arranged by the local Council and should not forget that our Prize Bingo has supported non-Catholic schools & the local Community Centre for the elderly, which is also ecumenical activity. Diocesan events are also advertised within the parish.

9.   Are there any ways we can make more use of young people at Mass?
We try to involve young people by encouraging them to serve Mass, and it is always a young person who leads the intercessions, and the Offertory Procession always done by the Children’s Liturgy. Further, we make provision for two people from the age of 16-25 to sit on the Pastoral Action Care Team (formerly called The Pastoral Council) so as to bring younger views into our deliberations. Suggestions from people are willing to take responsibility for running them, are always welcome.

10.What are we doing to support families?
This is a difficult aspect of parish life to support. The priest offers support by making himself available for pastoral counselling, and we try to have family days during the summer such as Parade of the Saints Day and the Summer BBQ. We asked families to come together for a meeting to say what they needed but only two families came and it all fell through. It is important for families to come together to give mutual support in their common vocation.

11.Why don’t our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion distribute Hosts?
Because it isn’t necessary. If a lay person assists with Hosts the queues for reception from the chalice build up, distribution of the Host being so much quicker. On a spiritual note, the chalice, paten and priests hands are all consecrated to touch the sacred Host, which EMHC’s are not. It was Pope John Paul II who made this point in Dominicae cenae (1980): saying “one must not forget the primary office of priests, who have been consecrated by their ordination to represent Christ the Priest:...How eloquent therefore, even if not of ancient custom, is the rite of the anointing of the hands in our Latin ordination, as though precisely for these hands a special grace and power of the Holy Spirit is necessary! To touch the sacred species and to distribute them with their own hands is a privilege of the ordained, one which indicates an active participation in the ministry of the Eucharist.” (emphasis added).

12.Why do we have the Old Mass on Sunday mornings?
We have the Extraordinary Form because it reminds us that the Church before and after Vatican II is the same Church, and because it reminds us of the dignity and reverence with which the Holy Sacrifice must be offered. Not only that but, as Pope Benedict pointed out, “what was sacred before remains sacred today”; it should not be seen as bad but as precious and greatly valued. I also think it is important as a matter of justice to provide young people with the heritage that is rightfully theirs.

13.Have we lost numbers since moving from a Vigil to a Sunday evening Mass?
I think a few have chosen to go elsewhere, but we can be pleased in that when I arrived here nine years ago the Mass count was 130 and remains around 130. Remember, this change was necessary because we could not get supplies for Saturday, and because the Deanery had no local Sunday Evening Mass. The change was supported by the clergy of the Deanery and was approved by the Bishop because it means we priests can supply more easily for one another in times of illness, retreats, conferences, holidays etc.

14.Why have we had Mass facing the altar for the last nine years?
When we used this for Easter nine years ago, consultation slips post-Easter showed that 1/3 preferred it; 1/3 disliked it and 1/3 expressed no preference. We adopted it from that time because it [1] is the position given in the Missal; [2] symbolises our facing the sanctifying waters flowing from the East of the Heavenly Jerusalem, [3] symbolises our waiting and looking East together for the return of Christ on the last day.

15.Why do we use sung Latin for the Sanctus, Pater Noster and Agnus Dei?
We use it because it retains continuity with our past and because it was given pride of place by Vatican II. It should be used not only for the above but the Creed and Gloria too.

16.Why is there no ‘peace’ exchanged?
The ‘Peace’ is exchanged in that the celebrant offers it to the people and they respond. Sharing a sign of peace is not offered (but not forbidden) because it disrupts our focus on the Lord present on the altar, and because it is wrongly used as a sign of affection between family and friends which is not its purpose -it makes it a non-liturgical, man-centred act; an attitude highlighted when we seek the optional Sign of Peace yet refuse the required acts of humility before God (bowing during the Creed; striking the breast in the I Confess).

17.Why encourage receiving Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue?
First because it symbolises our subordination to God; second because it helps us to grow in humility before Him and third, because it is still the official way to receive (reception in the hand is only allowed by special indult to the Bishops of a country by Rome and can be revoked at any time. A number of Bishops around the world are beginning to make this revocation.) The Jewish people do not have the Lord in their tabernacles, they have the scripture, yet speaking in synagogue meets with removal. We need to give the Lord who is Truly and Substantially Present in our Tabernacles even greater reverence.

18.What is the reason for silence in Church before and after Mass?
It respects the Presence of God in the tabernacle and the right of others for the silence in which to pray. As St John of the Cross said, “One Word spoke the Father; and that Word is His Son He speaks that Word in eternal silence, and in silence it must be heard by the soul”. The Church is where we talk to God (pray); The hall is where we talk to one another.

19.Why do we not get a “Good morning” or a “Thank you” at Mass?
Because these are replaced at Mass with the liturgical greeting “The Lord be with you”. Good morning”/“thank you” are non-liturgical; foreign to the liturgy and officially disapproved by Rome.

20.What is your hope for the Synod on the family later this year?
I hope that it will clarify the Church’s teaching on the dignity of marriage, and provide encouragement to those in irregular situations to do all they can to live a life of grace (this would include the life of prayer, charity, taking part in pilgrimages, attending prayer meetings, seeking counselling from their pastor etc.) A helpful thing for the Synod to do would be to remind such folk that although they have chosen to remove themselves from the reception of Holy Communion by their attempt to enter a second (civil) marriage, they have not removed themselves from attending Mass where they, like all of us, stand at the foot of the Cross to ask that the Blood which flowed from Christ’s wounds may wash away our sins so that we may be filled with the grace that flowed from His pierced side. I hope to see specific guidance for pastors on what those in irregular situations can and cannot do in line with the Truth and the avoidance of scandal. 

Obviously not everything about our parish has been covered here, but I hope you have found this an interesting read.


  1. A pretty clericalistic and old-fashioned PPX type Parish. A little less insistence on form and more on substance would help - plus humble submission to the work of the Pope. Hopefully the treatment of persons in 2nd marriages will become more Christian and less cold before too long.

    1. Dear Anonymous,
      There is a lot of substance you seem unable to note: 20-25% active parishioners; family days, Justice and Peace support, youth involvement in the liturgy and the Pastoral Council, children's liturgy, Coffee Mornings, EMHC's, etc, etc... This is good for a small, mining-village parish with an ageing congregation in a semi-rural setting.
      As for 'form', this equates with 'orderly', and far better an ordered parish than a chaotic one!
      God bless you.

    2. What do you mean by "2nd marriage"? One can only marry once while one's spouse is living. A valid second marriage can only be entered into after the death of one's spouse. To purport to marry someone else while one's spouse is alive, is a lie, and adulterous.

    3. Thanks Lynda,
      Of course you’re right in what you say, but around here, to say “she’s in a second marriage” would be understood as meaning a non-sacramental marriage. That is why the post says ‘attempt to enter’ a second civil marriage.
      God bless.

  2. I wish that I lived in, near or even within an hours travel of your parish. We have numerous EMHC's and the priest sometimes just sits and watches them distribute which I am told should not be happening. The homilies hint that miracles and prophecies related in Scripture are not to be taken literally. The chatter before and after Mass is appalling. I could go on and on...

    1. Thank you, Lepanto,
      We would love to have you in the parish. When I have to attend Mass elsewhere I see what happens in your parish repeated in our locality. I find it immensely annoying. My concern is, when Father leaves the parish, what will we get next...?
      God bless you.

  3. I find this post most illuminating. It suggests to me that you find Fr Gary rather fascinating. Your most recent reply confirms this, wondering "what we will get next?" - how very odd! For all your posts about Holy Mother Church, it seems to me that you and Gary are rather fixated with the model of Church which you have both fashioned in your little ivory tower. If Gary is moved, welcome be the holy will of God. As for the model of priesthood you describe, it is a cultic model, not a pastoral one. So much for fidelity to the Magisterium, eh. An inconvenient truth, Francis calls us all to be shepherds, not anointed puritans.
    Andrew, my advice will no doubt be rebuffed. But, nevertheless, I suggest you get on your bike and ride far out from your comfortable parish myopia and see what the Church is really like, outside the mists of incencse in your little parish. there is more to life and Church than the comfort of one man. O, did I say that out loud?

    1. Dear Anonymous,
      Thank you for taking the time to comment, but I I think you are more in the dark than illuminated. I cannot understand your point about finding Father Dickson ‘fascinating’; I can overlook it though, because unless you know how open Father is to responding to parishioners queries (don’t we call this ‘transparency’?) and how our people like to have their questions answered, you wouldn’t be able to grasp the reason we did the interview in the first place. It was placed on the blog just to give readers insight into how our semi-rural parish lives.

      The models of Church in the interview are more than one: yes there is the cultic model (worship); there is also the People of God model (all the lay activity) and the shepherding model (the support of families by family days; the support of Justice and Peace initiatives via our coffee mornings which Father established; the visits to the school, the sick and the housebound). Your reading of the post seems very narrow, perhaps even biased.

      As for getting out on my bike, you ought not to presume that this is my only experience of parishes. We have not fashioned an ivory tower here, but faithfully followed the Magisterium in her Catechism, her documents on divine worship, and her call for lay activity. We would love to be doing more in the way of social ministry, but an almost ‘countryside’ parish doesn’t lend itself to much of this as easily as does an inner-city parish.

      And doesn’t every parish wonder what they will get next in their pastor? It is unavoidable in that today’s priests utilise (promote) their own personality and preferences far more than the priests of the past who simply taught what the Church taught and did what the Church asked them to do.

      As for Fr Dickson’s priestly ministry, be aware that the interview describes a semi-rural parish ministry. I do not think Father will mind if I tell you that when he was in city parishes he spent some time as chaplain to the Association of Separated and Divorced Catholics; set up a support group for families of drug addicts; has been involved in prison ministry and in ministry to homeless folk. That is what Pope Francis calls ‘getting dirty’, is it not?

      God bless.

  4. Thank you Andrew & Fr Gary for your openness in describing your parish.
    I am shocked that you allowed "Anonymous" to comment in view of your request re 'pseudonyms'. In my opinion anyone responding or commenting anonymously either has something to hide or doesn't really believe in the validity of their comments!
    I admire almost all you do at Thornley & totally admire your commitment to the EF Mass & to celebrating properly the OF. In far too many instances attendance at OF Mass can be almost non-attendance when priests do their own thing, use their own words etc. Why can't the Church in general get back to 'say the black & do the red'? There seems little point in having rubrics if they are so frequently ignored. The priest is, as Fr Gary says, there to celebrate the sacraments, to pray with & for the people & to teach the Faith. So many of our clergy seem to see the celebration of Mass as an acting role with them as the star.
    Having recently been diagnosed with COPD myself I can now, in some small way, realise how difficult life is for Fr Gary.

    1. Thanks, David.
      I published the 'anonymous' comment because it is a point of view, and .reminds us all to read posts with an open mind and respond with charity.
      the parish will not please everyone in all that we do (as you note for yourself), but we do what we can within the limits of who and what is available to us, and the limits of our own 'internal resources'.
      God bless.

  5. On reading this “interview”, I get a very good impression of your parish – and of your priest. Your (Novus Ordo) Mass is as it should be, a re-enactment of the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for the Redemption of Mankind – and not just a jolly commemorative celebration before coffee.

    I Trust you place due emphasis on Catechetics, that is on the Catholic Church as the One True, and only Church, the Mystical Body of Christ on this passing earth!

    The celebration of the ancient Catholic Mass each Sunday is sound. That emphasises, particularly to the young, the Continuity of the Church with two thousand years of Catholicism.

    note that the “sign of peace” amongst the congregation is not compulsory. Good! It is highly disruptive, and in any case is not, repeat not, a handshake but an embrace/bow. Handshakes are for reaching the tops of difficult mountains etc., and yes the reception by mouth and not by un-anointed hands is sound. St Francis would be shocked to see the casual way the Host is handled today in the average Catholic Church.

    Now do not feel the need to reply, or I might not comment again!


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