By Father Stephen Battey
Q. Why is it that these days it seems there are very few churches that offer Stations of the Cross on Friday evenings? It was a very nice tradition that I, and I assume many other Catholics, grew up with.
I always enjoy listening to elder priests and parishioners speak about what parish life was like in decades past. In many cases, it was not uncommon to have as many as three or four priests living in a rectory together. This allowed for the pastor to take care of the administrative duties, while the assistants would busy themselves with parish activities like youth groups, visits to the sick and a great variety of spiritual devotions. Of all of the liturgical seasons, those spiritual devotions were most common during Lent and many still endure to this day.
To complement our personal Lenten sacrifices, many parishes will still offer additional opportunities for spiritual growth. This could include things like Stations of the Cross on Fridays, rosary groups and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Lenten missions and penance services. Such offerings were quite easy to provide with an abundance of priests throughout the diocese, but have become more difficult with fewer priests to go around. Pastors have had to become much more organized when planning for such events, sometimes booking a priest years in advance to come and give a Lenten mission. Others may have to schedule a handful of different priests for a mission because of the increasing number of commitments that are required of every priest.
Put simply, people are beginning to feel the effects of an ever shrinking presbyterate. To be sure, some devotions in a parish can and are led by the faithful. For the spiritual well-being of our parishes, I am grateful for those that have sacrificed their time and taken on those devotions. But it seems to me that the shrinking number of parish activities are another indication of the need to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood. Bishop Tobin said it best in his column a few years ago, when he noted that it’s unfair to think that the burden of priestly vocations falls on the shoulders of the seminary faculty. It is imperative that we all continue to encourage and support those considering a priestly calling.
It is only then that we will begin to see things change for the better. I pray for the day that we begin to see more parish devotions offered instead of less, more Masses celebrated instead of fewer and more doors opening than those closing.
“Ask the Newly Ordained” features Fathers Brian Morris, Joseph Brice and Stephen Battey — who respond to questions about the faith from Rhode Island Catholic readers. Have a question? Ask the Newly Ordained! Readers may submit questions by sending them to Editor@thericatholic.com.