We are so short of people, that is, in the Catholic Church. We all know that we do not have enough priests today and the looming vacancies keep growing. We ordained a young man a deacon last Friday who was a late life vocation after a tragic family disaster. He had been at our local parish for years but now he is being fought over as the vacancies outnumber the deacons and priests. Our pastor, at age 73 years, had hoped to keep the young deacon (soon to be ordained a priest) on but the diocese has other plans. The pastor serves alone having seen both of his assistant priests relocated to other parishes in the past five years to fill vacancies. He is now supported by three retired priests, some in their late 70s, who represent a very shaky base due to their age and declining health.
But I was shocked to find out that the support staff made up of people from the parish is shrinking also. On any given weekend, we are short 12 ushers. This is a perpetual ongoing shortage. Ushers have retired, moved away from the parish, and even passed away and no one steps up to take their place. No one wants to make a commitment to serve on any sort of a regular basis. Maybe it is because many people do not attend Mass on a regular basis?
We are short of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist so badly that it is now impossible to man the communion stations in the church which consist of four host and four cup stations. Unfortunately, the only option is to keep leaning on the existing ministers over and over again.
It is also rare to have three altar servers at any Mass. Whether girls or boys, who cares as long as they are willing to serve. However, even these young adults are becoming rare as, in many cases, they travel with their families out of town on a weekly basis or the parents do not support their children making a religious commitment that could interfere with their lifestyle and travel.
Over 80 million people identify themselves in the United States as Catholics, an increase of over 30 million since 1965. With more Catholics, one could assume that the Church would be overflowing with men pursuing the priesthood. But that is far from the truth. Instead, the number of Catholic priests has seen a drastic decline from nearly 60,000 in 1965 to 37,500 in 2015.
I do not have a quick and easy answer. It worries me. I see congregations declining in number, parishioners aging, funerals becoming more common, as well as the marked absence of Catholic wedding ceremonies. Catholic schools are closing at record numbers as the cost of a Catholic education exceeds the ability of most Catholic families to pay for this education. I guess the decline I see fits within this scenario of fewer and fewer people supporting the mission of the Church. Sadly, we may not be far from the day when these services will either be discontinued or will no longer exist as they did in the past.