This one really bothers me. Fr. Peter Schineller in America gives the data:
The priest-laity ratio in the U.S. in 1903 was 1- 870. The best ratio was 1942 with one priest for every 617 Catholics. Since then the growth of the Catholic population has exceeded that of the priesthood. In 1962 it was 1 – 771. In 1985 it was 1 – 93. In 2000, it was 1 – 1257. Now it is about 1-1500 and getting worse.
When my grandparents moved off the farm in southern Minnesota into town, they sought out a house close to the church so daily Mass would be close at hand. My parents have no less devotion to daily Mass and would make the similar plans… except, what little parish has daily Mass any more? Their pastor has charge of four parishes.
I suppose the commbox will rapidly fill with all the usual proposals and solutions. Fair enough. But could we all talk first about the liturgical implications of the dire priesthood shortage? What is going down the tubes right before our eyes? Daily Mass, house blessings, nursing home Masses, anointings, Friday Lenten stations with Benediction… What does it do to our eucharistic piety and our liturgical sense of the common priesthood in relationship to ordained priesthood when the celebrant at Sunday Mass is an unknown figurehead to most of the 2,000 people in the nave of the newly built suburban church?
Some will seek solace in historical precedent, like this: “In colonial times the priest-people ratio was such-and-such, and the Faith survived.” I would refer them to the Second Vatican Council. There, we are given an ecclesiological and liturgical vision which makes historical precendent somewhat irrelevant, however interesting. What does the Church believe now about community and sacraments and liturgy and frequent Communion and all the rest?
At a recent Synod of Bishops, I believe it was Cardinal Scola of Venice who said that we don’t know what the ideal number of priests would be. So far so good. But his ergo didn’t follow, I don’t think: therefore we can’t claim accurately that there is a priesthood shortage. Now, I don’t know whether we need twice as many priests or five times as many priests. My hunch is it’s closer to the latter. Either way, we have a very, very serious shortage.