Irish parishioners to oversee funerals

Priests celebrate the burial of a man as mourners look on at a Catholic cemetery in Fethard, Ireland, Feb. 3, 2021. The Diocese of Clogher in Ireland has trained its first 40 lay funeral ministers, authorizing them to lead the liturgy of reception for the deceased at the church and the rite of committal at the graveside. (OSV News photo/Clodagh Kilcoyne, Reuters)

DUBLIN (OSV News) ─ The Diocese of Clogher in Ireland has trained its first 40 lay funeral ministers, authorizing them to lead the liturgy of reception for the deceased at the church and the rite of committal at the graveside.

Bishop Lawrence Duffy of Clogher announced the move in his Advent pastoral letter, which was read at Masses across the diocese Dec. 17.

The first cohort of lay funeral ministers are due to take up their roles in 12 parishes in the Clogher Diocese by early summer, as the next group begins its training.

The Clogher Diocese has 37 parishes and 85 churches across a wide geographical spread. It currently has 44 priests and two deacons in ministry.

In his letter, Bishop Duffy asked the people of the parishes where the new ministry will be introduced to support the funeral ministers in their service.

"This is not a lessening of service to families and loved ones at the time of a death but, rather, a strengthening of the local parish commitment to accompany people at such a difficult and sensitive time," the bishop stated.

Gary Carville, a spokesman for Clogher Diocese, told OSV News that for now, priests will continue to offer a funeral Mass for the deceased as part of the funeral rites.
However, in the future, the celebration of a Mass at every individual funeral may no longer be the norm, due to the shortage of priests.

Instead, bereaved families will be offered a funeral service overseen by a lay funeral minister, while a priest may celebrate Masses at regular intervals for all the deceased.

This new approach is already being piloted elsewhere in the Irish church by Bishop Donal McKeown, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Down and Connor.

In his pastoral letter for Pentecost this year, "Be part of God's Amazing Dream," Bishop McKeown revealed that within 15 years, the large Northern Ireland diocese will, for the first time in its history, have more retired priests than priests in active ministry.

The Down and Connor Diocese currently has 86 parishes and 146 churches ministered to by around 84 priests. However, only seven of its priests are under age 40. The diocese is currently exploring new approaches to lay ministry and lay-led services.

"We have become accustomed to daily Mass being available in all parishes, a range of Sunday Masses being celebrated in each of the parishes and churches across the diocese, and the 3,000 funerals and the 800 marriages celebrated in the diocese each year being priest-led and celebrated in the context of the Mass," Bishop McKeown said.

He underlined that the celebration of a funeral Mass for every individual as part of the funeral rites may soon no longer be the norm.

In a July letter to the people of the Clogher Diocese, Bishop Duffy said that the diocese needed to move from a model that is "clergy-dependent and based almost solely on sacramental provision." He highlighted the challenges presented by the lack of vocations to the priesthood. The figures, he warned, indicate that if the diocese continues as is, in less than 20 years there will be fewer than 10 priests covering the diocese's 85 churches.

This stark reality is mirrored nationally across the church in Ireland as a 2022 survey carried out by the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland showed that of the 2,100 priests currently ministering in the country, 547 priests are aged between 61 and 75, and nearly 300 or 15% of working priests are aged 75 or over.

Carville stressed, however, that the introduction of lay funeral ministers is also about opening up roles in the church for the contribution of the laity.

Noting that over the past 60 years the church's ministries have witnessed growth in lay participation, from the introduction of lay lectors in the 1960s to extraordinary ministers of holy Communion in the 1980s, Bishop Duffy affirmed these developments.

"Your work is a great example of a synodal church in action," he said.

- - -
Sarah MacDonald writes for OSV News from Dublin.


AOD-REC: April - Article Bottom