The other shoe

Sunday 5 July 2015 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Cape Verde Independence Day (40th anniversary)

Today the other shoe drops. Summer visitors are here in full force. My task is to provide pastorally for the increased numbers of faithful Catholics in town. This involves getting a grasp on how many souls there are and what the parish is able to provide for their pastoral care. 

In 30 years, things have changed. We priests on Cape Cod were once able to rely on many retired and vacationing priests who were willing and able to help with Masses. Not anymore.

It was common to have two or three resident priests in any given parish. Not anymore.

Thirty years ago we had more churches, missions, and chapels to accommodate the crowds. Not anymore. Parishes have closed or merged. Parishes have been downscaled to missions and missions have been downscaled to seasonal chapels. The crowds seeking Mass, however, have only increased. 

For some time, Mass attendance has been regularly monitored throughout the diocese. Here on Cape Cod, we have two “headcounts” every year. The each counting lasts one full month. 

I was especially surprised by the “off-season” headcount here at St. Patrick Church. It indicates that weekend Mass attendance has increased by 151 percent over a three-year period. Praise God!

The Parish Pastoral Council and I spent many hours considering the situation. What a gift the parish council has been to me. They get it. All I had to do was to provide them with the facts and suggest possible future scenarios.

We went with the model of having one pastor with one other priest available (either in residence in the rectory or living independently). In the end, although the ultimate decision was mine, all members of the council were unanimous. You have no idea how much I appreciated this support. 

There was the matter of weekday Masses. Thirty years ago, we had two weekday Masses in the church and, during the summer months, a third daily Mass at our chapel. None of the Masses were even a quarter filled. Then we went to two daily Masses, the second being at the chapel during the summer months. The council and I looked at today’s reality. 

One fact is that the church has a capacity for almost 700 worshippers. Another fact is that we have never had a total of 700 worshipers at daily Masses. A third fact is that although we still have two priests assigned here, that situation cannot last much longer.

Even with two assigned priests, we are actually here together only one day during the week and on weekends.

Given the facts, in the end, we went to one parish Mass, Monday through Saturday. Our weekday Mass is the earliest in town. Our Saturday morning Mass is the only one in town.

Having one daily Mass (as does the overwhelming majority of the other parishes in the diocese), we had the added benefit of more time and space for our many weddings and funerals. 

What about the chapel, now that the daily Mass was in the main church? People have been gathering daily at the chapel for prayer for generations. Being on the harbor, it’s a lovely place to assemble for prayer on a summer morning.

The pastoral council came up with a solution I thought was brilliant. Let the daily Liturgy at the chapel not be a Eucharistic Liturgy but rather the Church’s other major Liturgy — the Liturgy of the Hours. Morning Prayer can be appropriately led by one of our deacons, or by a qualified layperson. No priest is required.

But wait, there’s more. The former St. Joseph’s Parish in Woods Hole, before it became a summer chapel of North Falmouth, had been a place of daily Adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Unfortunately, the welcoming parish was unable to provide this. People missed Adoration and Benediction. 

We are now willing and able to have during the summer not only Morning Prayer, but also Adoration and Benediction twice a week (led by one of our deacons). 

As for weekend Masses, we mostly looked at the attendance numbers. After careful and prayerful consideration, we let go of two Masses, thus going from eight weekend Masses to six. We decided to keep the Sunday Mass at 7 a.m. because it’s the earliest in town. It’s a convenience for the people of Falmouth.

We decided to open the chapel for weekend Masses in July and August rather than from May through October. The overflow crowds are in July and August, otherwise the church is able to accommodate the worshipers. 

We also published a flier listing the summer worship schedule for all three Falmouth parishes on one handy sheet of paper. Neighboring parishes must not see themselves to be in competition, but rather serve pastoral needs collaboratively. 

Everyone (including me) was disappointed at the necessity to cut back, but it was long expected and people were very understanding. And so we continue to be able to meet the Spiritual needs of the people with the clergy and facilities we have. 

The Lord provides. 

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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