The Catholic bishops are drawing up radical new plans for parishes to hold Sunday services led by laypeople as more-and-more communities are set to be left without a priest for the first time, according to The Irish Catholic newspaper.
The problem will also become acute as larger parishes used to having several priests are being left with only one priest to serve several churches.
As the number of priests continues to decline and faced with an increasingly older age profile, Church leaders are being forced to take radical action that just a few years ago would have seemed unthinkable.
Sources have confirmed to The Irish Catholic that the matter is to be discussed at a meeting of the hierarchy in Maynooth in October.
A ‘discussion document’ will be circulated to senior Church leaders in coming weeks which will set our plans for what parishioners can do when there is no priest to say Mass.
Laypeople will be expected to take a lead role. However, married deacons, eight of whom have already been ordained, will also co-ordinate liturgies in the absence of a priest.
It comes as it has emerged that Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin did not give his permission for a nun to lead a communion service in a Co. Wicklow parish at the weekend.
According to listeners to Liveline on RTÉ Radio One, parishioners turned up as usual for Sunday evening Mass in Blessington.
However, when no priest turned up, a religious sister who was present led a liturgy, preached a homily and distributed Holy Communion to those present.
It will also be made clear that such services should only happen in exceptional circumstances where there is no possibility of getting a priest.
While the hierarchy will make provision for services with Communion on a Sunday, it is understood that weekday celebrations with the distribution of Holy Communion will not be sanctioned.
Instead, parishioners will be trained to lead services with readings from the Scriptures.