“Ask a Priest: What If Reverence Is Lacking in a Parish?”

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Q: How do you know when a priest is really sincere or pious? My husband and I have been with this parish for about 28 years. We’ve had many priests come and go. We want to go somewhere else because we both sense uneasiness. There is lack of  interest and support from laity, and at times from the pastors, past and present. Everyone that comes there seems to want the priest to suit their needs. What should we do? The sense of reverence doesn’t always seem to be there. – M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is fitting that you desire a spirit of reverence to reign at liturgies. Our Lord deserves at least that much.

Without knowing how the priests and other congregants see things, I could only offer general advice.

First, if you and your husband are feeling unease, that is worth paying attention to. There might be something amiss. However, it might not be insincerity on the part of the priest so much as a general lack of awareness of the need for reverence, which isn’t uncommon in some parishes.

This general lack of reverence can affect how the priests deal with the parishioners.

In this “age of the casual,” some priests shy from being the “heavy” and trying to put a halt to loud talking and immodest clothing in church, for instance. Many priests are already grappling with a lot of problems in their parishes. Why open another can of worms? they might think.

Now, you could attend a different parish. But that might not address the real issue. Nor might it guarantee smooth sailing — what if the new parish starts to turn lax?

You mention a lack of support among the laity. Maybe this is an area worth trying to change.

You might, for instance, consider ways that you and your husband could promote reverence (at Mass, etc.) as well as support for the pastor.

Perhaps Eucharistic adoration could be introduced in the parish. Bible study groups and theology-of-the-body courses might bring out folks who want to do deeper in the faith. As groups coalesce, they might look for ways to improve the ambience at Mass.

Such active parishioners could also encourage the pastor more, for instance, by complimenting him on solid homilies and dignified celebrations of the Mass.

The general idea here is to try to form a little group and then start a snowball effect.

A helpful resource might be the Rebuilt site, a fruit of a transformation at a parish in Maryland.

In the meantime, you might want to intensify your prayer for the pastor and parish.

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