PORTLAOISE’S Parish Priest Msgr John Byrne has said the church has to live with the reality that regular practice of Catholicism is not part of everyday life.
The popular priest gave an extensive interview to the Irish Times last week in which he acknowledged that families with children making their first Holy Communion may not be regular church goers. He also admitted that half of those who made confirmation last year had not been in church since.
“More than 300 children will receive their first communion in our parish this year. What worries me is, when will they receive their second?”, Msgr Byrne told the Irish Times.
He said 247 received their confirmation last year, but many had not returned.
“I wouldn’t wonder how many have been with us since. I’d be thinking not even 50 per cent. These are children who went through a preparation programme and a cermony that said they are now full members of the church. So you have to cope with the question yourself: how much are you co-operating with hypocrisy and the lack of authenticity, or a lack of integrity? Are you exacerbating the problem by co-operating with that?” he told the Irish Times.
Expanding on his remarks to the Leinster Express, Msgr Byrne said that he prefers looking at the glass half full, than half empty. He said that overall, Portlaoise Parish is in a strong place.
“We are very fortunate here in Portlaoise that we have a strong congreation in the parish. The children have a good experience during preparation for first holy communion and I hope that experience stays with them,” he said.
Msgr Byrne said that there were no statistics to know exactly what the drop off rate is after children receive the sacraments.
“We have never completed a scientific survey on it, but I would presume that the numbers are not that far out of kilter with the average attendance figures, which have been in decline,” he said.
Msgr Byrne was quick to emphasise the positive effects of the process for both the children involved and their families.
“It is a great family occasion and many families are associated with and attached to the parish. However if you’re not at Mass as regularly, it doesn’t mean you are not detached. First holy communion is a joyful time for families,” he said.
Msgr Byrne went on to say that he views first Holy Communion not as a problem, but as an opportunity for children to become more involved with their faith. In the parish of Portlaoise preparation for communion is completed outside of school hours in the parish.
“The school is still a vital cog in the whole preparation programme, but we have just stepped up as a parish for the ceremony. But the school programme is vital,” he said.
Portlaoise parish has been working with this system for a number of years.
“We have been doing this for a while and making the point for a long time now. We haven’t just stood back and let the school be responsible. These are not school ceremonies, and they need preparation in the home and in the parish,” he said.
Msgr Byrne said that most parents are understanding of the parish stance.
“I suppose it would be a lot handier if we left it alone, but most parents appreciate what we’re trying to do. It is a big ceremony and there has to be some level of work involved with it,” he said.
Msgr Byrne told the Leinster Express that he is anxious and concerned about whether people will attend Mass after the ceremonies have finished, but is keeping a positive outlook.
“This is a time for families to take stock and I hope that for many that regular attendance will be a part of their lives. That is what we’re creating all the fuss about,” he said.