Busy, busy, busy (repeat thrice)

westernmarylandThis is an ultra-busy time of the year for people whose lives revolve around ancient religious traditions. I mention this, because your GetReligionistas are impacted in a major way. Ari -- just after his arrival here -- headed deep into Passover.

Our own EEE is headed into the thick of the Triduum weekend as interim pastor of a parish, which may be even more stressful that spending Holy Week and Easter as the regular pastor of a parish. After all, the permanent pastor has had time to get to know all of the musicians, altar servers, etc. Most of the phone numbers are already in speed dial.

Meanwhile, as the GetReligion blogger who Faces East, this year's Holy Week and Pascha cycle for my family's church is a week behind the Western rites. So tomorrow is Lazarus Saturday, then there's Palm Sunday (on western Easter this time) and then, hundreds and hundreds of pages of liturgy later, we will reach Holy Pascha the next Sunday. As the old saying goes, you know you've spent Holy Week in an Orthodox parish when you have rug burns on your forehead.

So GetReligion will be open for business, but perhaps not as busy as usual. Be patient with us, if major stories break.

But, hey, at least we will not be as busy as Father Jim Hannon, the subject of a seasonal A1 story in the Baltimore Sun. Here's the crunch section of the feature:

The 55-year-old Hannon pastors six churches in Allegany and Garrett counties, the result of a priest shortage that the Archdiocese of Baltimore faces in Maryland's westernmost jurisdictions.

The number of priests in the region, on the decline for years, has dwindled further since 2004, from 14 to 10. As Catholic churches throughout the world celebrate Holy Week, the sacred -- and busy -- period on the Christian liturgical calendar, Hannon's road-warrior routine has become even more frenetic.

Palm Sunday was an apt illustration.

First came an 8 a.m. service at St. Michael Church in Frostburg, then a change of clothes before driving to Grantsville for St. Ann Church's 10 a.m. service. An 11:30 brunch-fundraiser at a church couple's home was next, followed by the annual Palm Sunday parish dinner at St. Peter in Westernport, about 40 minutes away.

Now wait just a minute. You know that if Hannon is the only priest at six parishes -- with, we are told, 1,500 families -- there had to be more liturgical work to do than than. Unless, there were permanent deacons who took some of the services, the priest must have started alternative rites the night before and continued on throughout the day.

stmichaelsfrostburgIf not, several of those parishes did not observe Palm Sunday and that is a big deal. Or perhaps members drove to nearby parishes for joint services, which would be another telling detail to include in a story about the era of the rare priest.

This is a nice story, but it simply raises more questions than it answers and, in this case, God is literally in the details. We are told that a Day Planner for Hannon would "would read like War and Peace," but we are not told if he actually keeps one. Surely he does. Try to imagine the complexity of his life.

There was a time when this priest had two associate pastors on this circuit, but now they have gone elsewhere. He does get some liturgical relief from a priest who serves at a nearby college and another who is a hospital chaplain. And it's good to know that his longest drive from home to one of his altars is 40 minutes. But how about one altar to another?

But here is my major complaint. If this is an Easter story and it's about the life of a Catholic priest caught up in this set of circumstances, then we absolutely have to know one or two facts.

First of all, where is he going to celebrate the Easter Vigil, the middle-of-the-night rite that is the highlight of the entire Christian calendar? And how many of these parishes get to have Mass in the hours after midnight on Easter? How does he handle that challenge? How many Holy Week and Easter services can one man do, during a packed season that can push any parish priest to the point of spiritual combat fatigue?

Oh, and one more thing. According to canon law, all Catholics are supposed to go to confession during Lent before receiving Holy Communion on Easter. What is this priest's schedule for confessions during the weeks before the holiest day of the year? Or has that sacramental duty faded? Either way, that is a poignant detail.

This was a great, great idea for a pre-Easter story. Kudos for whoever spotted this one. The story hook is so strong that it needed a stronger story to go with it. If you are a praying person, you might offer a prayer for Father Hannon in the next day or two. Lord have mercy.

Photos: Somewhere in Western Maryland. St. Michael's Parish in Frostburg, Md.

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