Fr Epiloka Pahia has been recalled by his Bishop, Soane Patita Paini Cardinal Mafi, and has taken up an appointment as parish priest in his home parish. Dioceses like Tonga which are blessed with vocations to the priesthood, come under pressure from various sources to share their priests. At this time, the more urgent need than ours is to train priests to staff the Pacific Regional Seminary in Suva. This year Tonga has five priests overseas training as seminary professors. Without professors for the seminary the seminary would not function. It is no longer possible to rely on professors from overseas, as they are simply no longer available. This is much the same for missionaries from the traditional sending countries. They too have a shortage of vocations.
Already, I have indicated to you that the short term solution to this situation of shortage of priests in our diocese is to have a Eucharistic Service led by a catechist. By taking this path, we are able to maintain not having to drop any of the current mass times. Each parish, whether large or small, has built up over the years a strong identity of itself and it would be a shame to lose this identity at this time. However, be warned that if numbers started to drop off at any of the present times, then the path taken in the likes of New Zealand and Australia, to first merge masses and secondly to merge parishes will become a possibility we have to face as a priest is limited to the number of masses he can celebrate in one day.
However, I hope it will not come to that drastic measure, as the third missionary of the Philippines priest should arrive in July or August this year. And the diocese of Tonga has not abandoned us completely. When their situation improves, they will reconsider their commitment to the Diocese of the Cook Islands.
The first difference is that a Eucharistic Service is led by a non ordained minister and the mass is celebrated by an ordained minister such as the priest or the bishop himself.
The Liturgy of the Word in both the Eucharist Service and the Mass is nearly the same. That is from the entrance hymn until the Prayers of the Faithful. Strictly speaking when the priest preaches it is a homily . When a non ordained minister preaches it is said to be a reflection.
The major difference now comes in the celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. A non ordained minister can not change the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. He has not received the power to do this, which is received at the ordination of a priest. So in a Eucharistic Service you will notice no hosts or wine come up in the offertory procession. And there is no Eucharist prayer. This means after the collection the Eucharistic Service takes up with the Our Father. This is the main reason why a Eucharistic Service will be much shorter than a mass.
The second major difference occurs at communion. Ideally the host we receive at communion should have been consecrated at the mass we are attending and not taken from the tabernacle which are the hosts of a previous mass. The reason is that the host that comes forward in the offertory procession is to be viewed as my personal gift, my offering. The words of the prayer used by the priest explains it well, "fruit of the earth and work of human hands". Whose hands? Yours. It is my placing myself on the altar to be offered by Christ. My offering is changed into the Body of Christ at the consecration and Christ comes back to me at communion. Ideally at a mass the host you eat has been consecrated at that mass. At a Eucharistic Service it will be a host from a previous mass.
I note in liturgical books Eucharistic Ministers are not to give blessings to people who can not receive communion. The Cathedral is already correct in this practice where all who wish to receive a blessing come to the priest. If there is no priest, which will be the case in the Eucharistic Service, those wishing to receive a blessing come to the Catechist who is representing the priest. I will write a formula for this blessing so that it is different from the words used by the priest.
This is the year of the Consecrated Life, which means we are aware of the importance of religious life in our diocese, as witnessed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny (sjc) , the congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (ss.cc) , (Fr Damian and Fr. John), myself a Marist (sm) and formerly the Christian Brothers (cfc) and Daughters of Charity (dc). We are praying for vocations for all these congregations.
However, more importantly is the question of vocations to the Diocesan Priesthood. Matavera parish asked the Nuncio when he was with them to talk about the lack of vocations. The Nuncio pointed out that today young people have many more choices than previously, which is a good thing and to be respected. It would be very wrong to put pressure on the young to be priests, brothers or sisters when they don't want to be. And not only for the individual involved but for the church itself. Recently Pope Francis warned religious not to accept unbalanced candidates as they will harm the religious order and the church. Selection of the candidate with the right motive is key here.
It is timely to remind myself as your bishop, the priests and Sisters to live our respective lives joyfully so that our life does look attractive to the young. And I ask you the parents and guardians to point out the value of priesthood or religious life to your children and present them positively. And perhaps timely to remind Nukutere College and St. Joseph's that one of your reason for existing is to be a source of vocations to the Diocese of Rarotonga.