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Query: is it possible for traditional parishes to become too large? May 10, 2016

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, awesomeness, Dallas Diocese, episcopate, General Catholic, Grace, Latin Mass, priests, Sacraments, sanctity, Tradition, Virtue.

We have been blessed by a particular “problem” at our local FSSP parish.  This church has grown like wildfire since it moved out of the convent and into its own facility, a converted Korean Methodist church that was rundown when bought but which has been restored to something quite nice.  Since that time, roughly the beginning of 2010, the parish has at least doubled in attendance, with a fourth Sunday Mass added recently and more and more new faces showing up every week.

I don’t have updates on the latest Sunday attendance figures over Holy Week but I’m quite certain they are now surpassing 1000 souls per Sunday.  That’s quite small by typical NO parish sizes, but makes our local parish perhaps the largest, in terms of weekly attendance, traditional parish in the world.

Mind, this is after two priests were permanently assigned to a parish in Fort Worth, 30 miles away, and two priests are also in Tyler, 90 miles away.  The three priests at our parish are swamped, and there is talk of bringing in a fourth.

Which gets to my question – is there an optimal size for traditional parishes?  Traditional Catholic parishes are much more than just the Mass, they are the community, they are the intimate involvement of the priests in every level of catechesis, they are Sacraments always offered by priests and not deacons, they are communities where the priests try to visit the homes of every parishioner at least once (and generally, more than that).  This is to say, a priest at a traditional parish is a true father to the souls in his charge, attempting to know all the families at least a little bit and taking great concern over the state of their souls.

As such, at a certain size, no matter how many priests are assigned, can a traditional parish not outgrow itself?  Would it not be better to build a new parish to split some of the congregation off?  Is that not what the Church did for centuries?  And weren’t most parishes, outside the largest urban areas, smaller in attendance than the (it must be said) ludicrous situations we have today, where two priests supposedly supply pastoral care to a notional 15,000 families?

To me, the situation in Dallas is getting to the point where serious consideration for a second traditional parish should be underway.  It is not unforeseeable that the current parish could have 2000 people assisting on a given Sunday within a decade, after the new church gets built (as we’ve outgrown the one acquired in 2010).  Even with 3 confessionals, can you imagine the lines?!

Add to that the factor that many souls drive 20, 30, 50, even 100 miles to assist at Mass.  Much of the parish attendance comes from the northern suburbs, and I’m positive that should a second Fraternity or other traditional parish open in Plano or McKinney, there would be no problem with attendance or funding.  But would Bishop Farrell allow it?  I keep hearing the words of a local diocesan (non-FSSP) priest ringing in my ears – “the Traditional Mass will never be offered  in this diocese outside Mater Dei.”

What do you think?  Do you agree that traditional parishes are best if they don’t grow beyond a certain size?  Believe me, this is not a “I want this to myself” complaint, I constantly invite folks to Mater Dei, but I’m concerned that much of what makes a traditional parish special can be lost if it becomes too much of a behemoth. I think there is also a practical benefit in having more than one location, as there are more than a few folks who would assist at a TLM were it 10 minutes away, instead of 45 minutes to an hour.  Might not four priests spread among 2 parishes not result in more folks assisting at the TLM than four priests at one parish?  Isn’t bringing more souls back to the traditional practice of the Faith, and giving them the best shot at Heaven, the point of it all?

But really, it’s mine all MINE and I want you OUT!



1. Baseballmom - May 10, 2016

Sounds like at some point they need to split off and start a parish nearer to where the folks who are driving quite a bit live…. Seems like that is how growth would continue…

Tantumblogo - May 11, 2016

Yeah. It may not be possible, at least so long as this bishop is around. But I think eventually it will have to happen.

2. skeinster - May 11, 2016

Your description of what makes a TLM parish different is just right.
It is almost impossible to explain to the family why I drive to Irving instead of 1/2 mile up our street.

So it really is the priest/parishioner ratio that is critical.

3. Richard Malcolm - May 11, 2016

“I don’t have updates on the latest Sunday attendance figures over Holy Week but I’m quite certain they are now surpassing 1000 souls per Sunday.”

How shall I put this? This is quite a lovely problem to have. Of course, it helps that – aside from the FSSP’s *other* new apostolate in the area, the one in Fort Worth – there simply are *no* other competing options for traditional (Latin Rite) liturgy in the entire Dallas metro area.

I don’t know about an ideal size, though for my part I tend to prefer something on the smaller size. 300 to 600 households? But I also know that in the old days, it was not at all uncommon to see big urban parishes that had several thousand families, and ample ranks of priests to serve them, along with the usual attached school, etc. (Such churches were also, of course, a good deal bigger than what Mater Dei has, which surely made them seem less cramped.) Smaller parishes tended to be what you found in rural areas. To some degree it was a factor of the most economical use of resources.

I know how much talk there has been of splitting up the parish there, and carving a second one out of it in the northern part of the metro area. But if the local ordinary will not permit it, it seems like a moot point, even if the resources are there to establish it. (If so, a serious prayer effort may be warranted to warm a cold heart.) Clearly you’ve outgrown your present establishment.

Barbara Hvilivitzky - May 11, 2016

This is a problem even where the FSSP has a very small parish like mine. People ask the bishop for more traditional Masses at other parishes but he says: I’ve given you a parish to go to. Our little parish is growing fast but with this bishop we will never have another site for the old Mass. We have people driving an hour or more but that’s their problem according to the diocese.

Richard Malcolm - May 11, 2016

“I’ve given you a parish to go to.”

I’ve seen and heard that very conversation unfold elsewhere, including at my own diocesan cathedral (with its rector, heatedly). That’s how they think. “We set up a trad ghetto for you (often in a literal ghetto); go there, and stay there.”

Yet with Summorum Pontificum, one does not need to go to the bishop to get a Mass started. The power is in the hands of the priest. It’s true that some dioceses have rules (alas) about requiring a bishop to sign off if you’re doing anything to an existing Sunday Mass; but if a pastor wants to add a TLM to his schedule at an otherwise unoccupied 12:30pm time slot, he shouldn’t need permission from the ordinary. The bishop should only be involved when you’re petitioning for a traditional personal parish to be erected, since that is something only an ordinary can do.

Of course, the reality is that a parochial vicar or pastor actually making use of this canonical liberty in certain dioceses can carry adverse personal consequences. This is why, when you find a priest who actually *is* willing to take the risk, that the laity have an obligation to support him with concrete as well as spiritual aid. They are far more vulnerable than we are as laity.

MFG - May 12, 2016

Living in an opposite world where there are several parishes in a metro area that offer the TLM weekly (though only one on Sunday) another problem develops: the inability to develop traditional parish culture that FSSP has. If the parish has 4 reverent weekend Novus Ordo Masses and 1 TLM, it’s tough to build a TLM community because the prevailing parish culture is Novus Ordo (even if the TLM is fully embraced). You may get a few hundred people attending the TLM but the parish culture won’t change because the Novus Ordo people still outnumber traditionalists. To change parish culture to embrace tradition the number of weekend TLM Masses must equal that of Novus Ordo.

4. DM - May 11, 2016

Interesting points Tantum. There probably is an optimal size for a traditional parish where anything larger starts losing some of the benefits, but it would depend on the situation. If a particular parish has a large enough church, adequate parking and facilities, several priests, and enough parish groups or ways of keeping people involved, it can still have all the benefits.

With a church that is more constrained with space etc like Mater Dei, things may be more difficult. But in other cases, it still seems to work out very well. I know the FSSP parish in Sacramento also has nearly 1000 people attending and they seem to make it work well for a moment. And the SSPX church in Phoenix, with 5 (!) priests plus 2 brothers takes care of probably that many people as well, with a very solid parish life despite the huge number of parishioners.

I certainly agree with the idea that 2 priests for two separate churches is better than 4 priests in one church in most cases, especially because it gives so many more people the chance to be closer to a traditional parish and be a part of it.

For the Mater Dei situation, I think a way really needs to be found to convince Bishop Farrell to allow the Fraternity to have a second parish in the north suburbs. I’m not sure what the likeliest way of convincing him would be. It could involve the priests of the parish and the Fraternity superiors meeting with the bishop himself? Or getting the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei involved might be able to help as well.

Richard Malcolm - May 11, 2016

“I’m not sure what the likeliest way of convincing him would be.”

If all else fails, a rosary campaign might be in order.

5. MrT - May 11, 2016

The NO priests in the diocese are motivated to keep a priestly TLM fraternity out of their territory either because they view the TLM as representative of rigid, superstitious medieval Catholicism, or because they will want to celebrate the TLM themselves, which the bishop won’t allow with a nearby FSSP apostolate. And they will continue to prevail because modern Catholicism is a vibrant religion producing so many babies and vocations. Oh wait …

Richard Malcolm - May 11, 2016

I can’t say I know the diocese there *well*, but from what I *have* heard, I tend to doubt that the second motivation is much in evidence.

I think that most in the chancery and deaneries simply do not like it, and wish it (and you) would go away. They can’t get away with that, so they’ll settle for keeping tradition hermetically sealed up in a ghetto at Mater Dei, and nowhere else.

I hope it does not mean having to wait for the next bishop. The present one is seven years away from retirement age.

Tantumblogo - May 11, 2016

“so they’ll settle for keeping tradition hermetically sealed up in a ghetto at Mater Dei”

That’s exactly it. And yes it means waiting for Bishop Farrell to leave, and even then it will be a rough ride because so many influential priests are dead set against Tradition. Of course, many of them will be retiring in the next 5-10 years, as well. Or should, by age.

Tantumblogo - May 11, 2016

It ain’t because they want to do the TLM themselves. I’m quite certain of that.

6. Molly Alley - May 11, 2016

In the US in 1965 there were about 36,000 diocesan priests, for 45.6 million Catholics. That’s 1250 Catholics per priest. It’s known that at that time, mass attendance was around 50%, so that’s about 600 parishioners per priest.
I found numbers for the UK going back even further, and they too seem to hover around the 1250 Catholics per priest number, for the first half of the 20th century (before they too go nuts in 1965).

So no, I don’t think Mater Dei is in any kind of crisis yet. This is just what a normal healthy parish looks like.

Barbara Hvilivitzky - May 11, 2016

And I guess we could say that in the good old days people ‘lived’ their Catholic life among their fellows. Now we have only our parish Church to cling to, as sort of a refuge. Maybe it’s because of that that we are so concerned about getting too big. We fear not having all the trimmings because that’s all we have.

Richard Malcolm - May 11, 2016

Yes, but that’s only counting diocesan priests – but not religious priests.

The real problem for Mater Dei, I think, is not the raw numbers (at least not yet), especially not with three full-time resident priests. The problem is that the church is simply too small, and that its geographic base is too spread out. This is not your typical territorial parish, after all. The obvious solution is to split off a new parish or quasi-parish in the north end of the metro area. But that may not be possible.

7. Alison DeRusha - May 11, 2016

How about the eastern-most part of the Diocese of Fort Worth (Carrollton area)?
Close to George Bush Turnpike, the Tollway, 121, 35 and 635. Seems like that would work for a lot of the Plano/McKinney area folks who have been driving to Irving.
And this area is Bishop Michael Olson’s turf!

8. Anonymous - May 11, 2016

These are excellent points, but Mater Dei also has an extraordinary set of priests and a wonderful lay community. I’m not saying other FSSP priests and communities are not good, but the priests at Mater Dei are, and have been, simply one-of-a-kind (I’m also thinking of the one who moved last year), and I’ve never met a more Christ-centered community of lay people. I wonder how many people from the Fort Worth side go to Mater Dei instead of Fort Worth because of the priests or the lay community at Mater Dei. Thinking these things, I also wonder if people would still go to Irving for these reasons if there was another FSSP parish up north.

Tantumblogo - May 11, 2016

Fort Worth going to Mater Dei? Lots. But mostly because Fort Worth still doesn’t have its own parish. So there is very little community life there. After Fort Worth finally, at some undetermined future date, gets to move into their own parish, they may stop coming so much.

We’ll see.

Good points. But while the excellent priests may keep people at Mater Dei, I don’t think that’s what initially attracts them, at least not too much.

9. Camper - May 11, 2016

The problem here goes all the way to PF. If the Pope were not a villain, we could force Farrell’s retirement by mentioning that he gave the Holy Eucharist to Joe Biden.

Tantumblogo - May 11, 2016

He didn’t do it personally, did he? But it happened at a diocesan parish. I thought the pastor gave Communion.

Camper - May 12, 2016

Come on. He’s the bishop and there should be a policy that no politicians be given the Holy Eucharist. No national or state politicians. Period. And definitely no democrats.

Tantumblogo - May 12, 2016

Oh yes I’m sure it was all worked out in advance. These things don’t just happen on the fly. The Secret Service contacts and vets every venue anyone in the National Command Authority will be at any given time. So this event was known in advance, and I am certain the bishop was heavily involved. Thus, and I think I said this at the time, he bears a personal responsibility for this sacrilege.

I just wanted to make clear that Bishop Farrell did not, personally, give him Communion.

10. David - May 12, 2016

Here’s one point: At the larger NO parishes, at least half of the congregation on Sunday are the “one hour Catholics” (yes, I was one before my reversion story) who are only interested in fulfilling Sunday obligation. The TLM attracts those with more intetest in their faith. One hour Catholics don’t take much interest in parish life, and some are looking for Fr. Nice or Fr. Yeah Whatever.

The pew potatoes need some inspiration.

Judy - May 12, 2016

That church of “yeah, whatever” is three minutes from my house. It’s like that you tube Gather Hymnal parody, “Scatter Us Out”:
“Gather us in, the blitzed and hungover,
Gather us in, in tube tops and skorts,
Call to us now and we might awaken,
Then we’ll leave early,
Cuz Sunday’s for sports.”

camper - May 16, 2016

Love the parody.

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