This Week’s Discussion Question: The Church’s Perception of the Ministerial Priesthood

Each week this summer, a Pray Tell contributor puts up a question for discussion. Here is this week’s.

This week’s discussion is about the nature of the ministerial (ordained) priesthood, and the Church’s perception of priesthood.

I believe that the last century has witnessed two fundamental change in this perception. At the beginning of the 20th century, the stress was almost entirely on the priest as a modern Levite, a man set apart to bring about the daily miracle of the altar.

The middle of the 20th century saw a shift in emphasis, from the priest as cultic minister to the priest as a proclaimer of the Word, and as a servant-leader of the community.

And the last few decades – roughly, the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI – have seen the return of the priest-as-Levite.

So I thought we might discuss several questions. First, is my reading correct? Has a change taken place? Second, what implications would a shift in perception of the priesthood have for issues confronting the Church today? – I think, for example, of the abuse crisis and of conflicts around the liturgy. And third, is there an understanding of the priest and his role that transcends or unites the two I have set out?

Please note that I am not presenting the change as ‘a good thing’ or ‘a bad thing’ – just as a change.

I call three witnesses to make the case that there has indeed been a change. The first is James Joyce, who completed A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in 1914.

In this passage, a Jesuit is encouraging Stephen Dedalus to enter the Society of Jesus and become a priest.

To receive that call, Stephen, said the priest, is the greatest honour that the Almighty God can bestow upon a man. No king or emperor on this earth has the power of the priest of God. No angel or archangel in heaven, no saint, not even the Blessed Virgin herself, has the power of a priest of God: the power of the keys, the power to bind and to loose from sin, the power of exorcism, the power to cast out from the creatures of God the evil spirits that have power over them; the power, the authority, to make the great God of Heaven come down upon the altar and take the form of bread and wine. What an awful power, Stephen!

He listened in reverent silence now to the priest’s appeal and through the words he heard even more distinctly a voice bidding him approach, offering him secret knowledge and secret power. He would know then what was the sin of Simon Magus and what the sin against the Holy Ghost for which there was no forgiveness. He would know obscure things, hidden from others, from those who were conceived and born children of wrath. He would know the sins, the sinful longings and sinful thoughts and sinful acts, of others, hearing them murmured into his ears in the confessional under the shame of a darkened chapel by the lips of women and of girls; but rendered immune mysteriously at his ordination by the imposition of hands, his soul would pass again uncontaminated to the white peace of the altar. No touch of sin would linger upon the hands with which he would elevate and break the host; no touch of sin would linger on his lips in prayer to make him eat and drink damnation to himself not discerning the body of the Lord. He would hold his secret knowledge and secret power, being as sinless as the innocent, and he would be a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedec.

My second witness is the Vatican II Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis. It was promulgated in 1965.

Though priests of the New Testament, in virtue of the sacrament of Orders, exercise the most outstanding and necessary office of father and teacher among and for the People of God, they are nevertheless, together with all Christ’s faithful, disciples of the Lord, made sharers in his Kingdom by the grace of God’s call. For priests are brothers among brothers with all those who have been reborn at the baptismal font. They are all members of one and the same Body of Christ, the building up of which is required of everyone.
Priests, therefore, must take the lead in seeking the things of Jesus Christ, not the things that are their own. They must work together with the lay faithful, and conduct themselves in their midst after the example of their Master, who among men “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life as redemption for many” (Mt 20:28). Priests must sincerely acknowledge and promote the dignity of the laity and the part proper to them in the mission of the Church. And they should hold in high honor that just freedom which is due to everyone in the earthly city. They must willingly listen to the laity, consider their wants in a fraternal spirit, recognize their experience and competence in the different areas of human activity, so that together with them they will be able to recognize the signs of the times. While trying the spirits to see if they be of God, priests should uncover with a sense of faith, acknowledge with joy and foster with diligence the various humble and exalted charisms of the laity. Among the other gifts of God, which are found in abundance among the laity, those are worthy of special mention by which not a few of the laity are attracted to a higher spiritual life. Likewise, they should confidently entrust to the laity duties in the service of the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action; in fact, they should invite them on suitable occasions to undertake works on their own initiative.

The final witness I will call to the stand is Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily on 11 June 2010, concluding the Year for Priests…

Dear Brothers in the Priestly Ministry,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Year for Priests which we have celebrated on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of the holy Curé of Ars, the model of priestly ministry in our world, is now coming to an end. We have let the Curé of Ars guide us to a renewed appreciation of the grandeur and beauty of the priestly ministry. The priest is not a mere office-holder, like those which every society needs in order to carry out certain functions. Instead, he does something which no human being can do of his own power: in Christ’s name he speaks the words which absolve us of our sins and in this way he changes, starting with God, our entire life. Over the offerings of bread and wine he speaks Christ’s words of thanksgiving, which are words of transubstantiation – words which make Christ himself present, the Risen One, his Body and Blood – words which thus transform the elements of the world, which open the world to God and unite it to him.

… and in his letter of 16 June 2009, proclaiming a Year for Priests. Pope Benedict is discussing – with fervent approbation – St John Vianney and his views of the priesthood.

He spoke of the priesthood as if incapable of fathoming the grandeur of the gift and task entrusted to a human creature: “O, how great is the priest! … If he realized what he is, he would die … God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host…”

Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the sacraments, he would say: “Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest… After God, the priest is everything! … Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is”

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60 comments

  1. It would be useful to have another example from secular culture (if one may be so crude as to call the hieratic Joyce “secular”) to support the hypothesis that a different understanding of priesthood in the mid twentieth century had permeated any further than the readership of Catholic journals.

  2. Thomas, given that Bloomsday was this past weekend I found it impossible to resist quoting Joyce.

    I read Joyce as a “secular” reflection of the first, cultic model of priesthood.

    For the second, servant-leader model, an excellent secular witness would be David Lodge, in particular his How Far Can You Go?. Not only highly relevant to many of today’s debates but also very funny.

    What would be a good secular picture of the current model for priesthood as proclaimed by the Vatican – which is very similar to the first?

    1. I begin my undergraduate class on Catholic Theology in Modernity by having them read How Far Can You Go? to give them some sense of their grandparents’ experience of Catholicism. It’s also got some interesting theology in it.

  3. Vatican II’s teaching on the priesthood is not a refutation of what preceded this council but an elucidation, a building up and in a very positive way. In other words the foundations of the priesthood in the cultic sense were not eliminated but a fuller expression was developed and this development is based upon the priest’s personal encounter with Christ and His real presence in the Church (all the baptized) and in his cultic and ministerial duties, including proclaiming the word. What Pope Benidict does is not to negate Vatican II but to show that it is in continuity with what preceded, its foundation.
    But I think we can’t make gross generalizations about the manner in which one’s priesthood is carried out in terms of pre-Vatican II and Post Vatican II as much of this, even today, is culturally based (I have a Polish Parochial Vicar and one from Ghana, both away right now to their homelands on visa issues soon to be resolved pray God!) But their vision and experience of priesthood in the post-Vatican II period is quite different than this lowly, humble child of immigrant parents (Italian and Canadian) but thoroughly southern in an Italian/Canadian sort of way. I suspect my parochial vicars would consider themselves thoroughly post-Vatican II but their cultures have formed them in attitudes that I find a bit jarring at times and obviously my role is to help them to understand the American experience of priesthood ( the orthodox version of course) that has priests mingling with the laity, incorporating them in decision making and working closely with them as collaborators in the mission of Christ and thus the Church. But with that said, I love my parochial vicars and they run circles around me.
    But there is also a difference of understanding of the priesthood between those formed as Diocesan Priests and Religious Order priests. This was of concern in the late 1980’s and I believe steps were taken to address this, especially in seminaries staffed by religious orders who formed diocesan priests. I can’t now recall these differences, but some of them were rather profound. Does anyone recall?

  4. I would characterise the image of the priest from the 70’s and 80’s in the West at least, as that of a ‘pontifex’ or bridge-builder between the sacramental model of the pre-Vatican period and the questioning and increasingly secular culture in which he lived,trying to maintain boundaries between the two while striving to live comfortably in both camps.
    From that period on I lived in an Asian environment which was different again.

  5. The Google Books Ngram Viewer allows one to graph case-sensitive comma-separated phrases such as “Catholic, Protestant, priest, minister” from the corpus of English writings for the period of 1800 to 2000 with a smoothing of ten years,e.g.

    http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Catholic%2CProtestant%2Cpriest%2Cminister&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=10

    After 1830 “Catholic” is always in the neighborhood .005% to .006%. For those who note that there was a decline of .001% for the forty years after Vatican II, I would call your attention to the similar decline after Vatican I. Actually the relatively stability and lack of long term decline in “Catholic” is rather unusual as we shall see.

    In 1850 “Protestant” peaks at slightly less than .004% then declines steadily to slightly less than .002%.

    In 1840 “priest” peaks at around .0045% and begins a long slow decline to near .002% by the year 2000.

    In 1840 “minister” peaks at .009% and begins an at first sharp, then gradually slower decline to about .0025% in 1960, then levels off, actually above the frequency for both “Protestant” and “priest.”

    The difficulty is that “minister” applies to civil (e.g. prime minister) as well as church positions. If one looks at “American Books” vs “British Books” the patterns are highly similar. In fact minister peaks at .009% in the American vs. only .008% in British.

    This new database has to be used very carefully. I am planning on submitting a humorous post on how easily one can come to false conclusions by not taking into account things like the varied uses of “minister.”

    I would argue from these admittedly tentative data that the “Catholic” brand has shown a remarkable stability in comparison not only to the “Protestant” brand but also in comparison to the “priest” and “minister” brands.

    Maybe we should emphaized the Catholic more than the priest, nun, minister or layperson in our branding.

    1. This shows the stability of “Catholic” against the declining occurrences of “bishop, bishops, Bishop” http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Catholic%2Cbishop%2Cbishops%2CBishop&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=10

      The episcopacy may have started out higher than “Catholic” just like “minister” did, but “Catholic” has kept its staying power.

      Part of the staying power of “Catholic” may be the many things it can brand: churches, schools, universities, hospitals, social agencies, charitable funds. That gives a lot of stablity across time and many situations in a changing and growing world that is not inherent in positions like bishop and priest.

      One of the reasons that most things appear to decline is the increasing diversity of the world. So it is a great accomplishment to stay stable when you have more and more competitors.

  6. It’s hard to get the genie back in the bottle once it’s out. Or, for a more Biblical metaphor, trying to force Catholics who recognize the servant leader to go back to subservience to the Levite is a classic case of storing new wine in old wine skins!
    Many (most?) Catholics who’ve learned to trust in a loving Father will be unable to stomach a clergy which presents an angry punitive god who must be placated by the intercession of the clergy.
    We all had a role in the pedophile cover-up, laity and clergy alike. If lay people hadn’t accorded their priest mysterious authority, if priests hadn’t accorded that authority to their bishops, anyone who knew of a child being hurt would have called the cops! Part of a lay person’s resolve to never let it happen again is founded on a resolve never to place anyone on a pedestal again!
    Unfortunately, I see young men being recruited into the priesthood with the same sales pitch Joyce quoted. That’s not good for the young men, it’s not good for the priesthood and it is a disaster for the Church!

  7. Excellent question, Jonathan. (even if it continues to be framed via the overcentralization of the papacy and what he says or doesn’t say).

    Difficult to answer – ideally, it should be both/and rather than either/or. The debate is highlighted by Yves Congar in his Journal – he was responsible for the schema on De Presbyteris. (at one point, there were more than 9,700 *modi* from bishops to the proposed schema). Congar tried to be consistent and follow from Lumen Gentium’s structure (People of God and then drill down), the section on the episcopate (office of pope and bishops as “servant of the servants of God”); then Life & Ministry of Priests. Congar noted the initial criticism because the schema did not start with a Thomistic structure of office, powers, legal definition. (as late as Nov. 25, 1965, Cardinal Browne is profoundly dissatisfied that the *priest* is not being defined by the celebration of the eucharist and he wants to warn the pope.)

    But, as you state, VII’s approach was scriptural, flowed from mission as a sacrament, that priesthood came from and received its authentic role from the community of faith (not from some type of legal definition; not from some concept of *alter Christus*; and not cultic). To be oversimplistic, it echoed more the ideas from Berulle, dePaul, Ignatius, deSalles, Olier marked by a strong apostolic/missionary commitment; structured community life; special concern for a priest’s formation; and a mystical sense that the priest continues and supports the Body of Christ in its mission. Summed up by this quote: “What sets their hearts apart is their ability to realize the most urgent need of their contemporaries and to devote themselves to meeting it.”

    The Church in France was thus in a fairly sorry state, and though the Council of Trent had come to an end in 1563, the decrees it had issued were not “officially” received in France until 1615. Against this background, vigorous missionary efforts were…

  8. Sorry – ran out of time – here is complete comment:

    Jonathan – it would appear that Ratzinger has moved us backwards; not unlike his personal liturgical manifestations. Interesting comments today from B16’s biographer, David Gibson which is directly connected to your question:

    “It’s a consistent thread of thought running through Benedict/Ratzinger’s thought that the church is entering a “wintertime” rather than a “springtime” (as JP2 would have it) and that there will be a paring away down to the mustard seed of more devout, orthodox Catholics who would provide the seedbed for a future renewal of a more authentic Catholicism. Sort of the Catholic version of a post-apocalyptic scenario, like “The Beach.”

    As pope, Ratzinger has toned it down a bit, which is natural given his new role. But it is still there. I actually agree with him to some degree, in that I think places like Bose and Taize and other communities of faith will provide a kind of lamp to light the way forward, if the institutional church doesn’t get with the program.

    Ratzinger also refers to different levels of participation in the church (per Augustine, I believe), content to have some members remain members but on the margins. In reality, I think you wind up driving the margins out completely.

    But I think Ratzinger sees this “smaller” church as about who controls the levers of power and authority in the church — who gets to say what is what — whereas the other “petite eglise” is about witness, which also has a certain authority.”

    Not a big fan of Vianney – his spirituality and lifestyle require lots of “translation” in order to resonate today. As a former formation director, would not want to *hold him up* as an example to today’s candidates. Vianney’s piety comes from a different age (specifically his acts of mortification, extreme devotion to Mary, his focus on confession (15-18 hours per day); poor academically; escaped at least four times to be a monk; focus on miraculous cures) . He came 150+ years after deBerulle/dePaul/Olier school but would suggest that those religious community founders are much better examples for today’s priesthood candidates than Vianney. Today we need different skill sets – focus on serving and building community; ability to preach well; ability to clearly lead a highly educated catholic community with all of its diversity – gender, economically, race, sexual, etc.; ability to understand and work in the secular world and address issues from consistent ethic of life; global involvement; social concerns; war/peace; etc.

    My point: this continues the internal tension between Kingdom (mission focused) and Communion (identity focused). It sees the priest as primarily *cultic* to support the *remnant* as opposed to priest as *servant* to the community’s witness and mission to both church and world. Can remember these debates as my class approached ordination in 1978. What is primary – dispenser of sacraments or community member who lives, serves, sanctifies? This was and is an important question – will a priestly candidate basically see his role as *endless* presider of sacraments (think issues such as circuit priests who serve 3-4 parishes or missionary who services 100s of parishes and see week-ends where they spend little time with the people of God beyond the eucharist and then they quickly move on. Thus, the pastoral administrator (e.g. Sister Mary) is the servant living and working in the community). What does this say about priesthood?

    This was a significant question in formation in the 1980s – what kind of academic, formational, and spiritual formation was necessary? Faculties had internal debates with those who leaned to a more *cultic” model and those who leaned to a more “community servant* model.

    Today, I hear many pastors in large dioceses envision a future (almost here) of a few, very large parishes – there may be only a pastor or one assistant and time/energy is spent on large eucharists; large parish structure meetings, etc. What happens to the concept of a catholic community (or in South America – base communities?).

    Can you adequately serve communities of faith if your only role is cultic? (wasn’t this a problem for Israel?) And what does this do to priests? Would suggest that it is another B16 area in which his comments lead to *unintended consequences*.

    (Note: The Church in France was thus in a fairly sorry state, and though the Council of Trent had come to an end in 1563, the decrees it had issued were not “officially” received in France until 1615. Against this background, vigorous missionary efforts were started by these religious communities to re-educate/reinvigorate the people of God via Trentan reforms. (interesting that this was roughly 55 years after the end of Trent and reforms were still be resisted).)

    1. With reference to the large parishes – how many Catholics have walked away because the large parish model leaves them feeling unattached?

      1. On this, Brigid, I think you raise an excellent point. One that’s been bothering me for a while.

        Some of the consolidation into big parishes is, of course, a result of a reduced presbyterial pool. There are only so many priests to go around. But even allowing for that, it appears to be a genuine preference on the part of the Church in the U.S. today.

        And I have found it considerably harder to find any sense of belonging in a parish of thousands of families. There are groups and activities one can join to find a niche, to be sure, just as there are in protestant megachurches; but it certainly requires more work.

        Bishops have also been a little keen to shut down smaller parishes, sometimes even when they’re in the black or close to it. That doesn’t help, either.

      2. Brigid;

        There are two ways of looking at this though. I previously worked in a parish that was a “small” parish in MA. It was then merged with several other neighboring parishes and became a physically “large” parish. Unfortunately, it continued to behave like the “small” parish it had been for 150 years and so continues to flounder because it is unable to make the jump to being a big parish.

        I now work in a “big” parish in SW Florida. It was founded as a “big” parish and has always been so. Parish life thrives here and membership continues to grow, although much of that is due to immigration and retirement populations. The point I’m making, I guess, is that there is a considerable difference in the way that large parishes are administered versus how small parishes are administered.

        If parishioners feel “unattached” in large parishes, it is because the very personal relationships between parishioners and clergy is not possible, at least not on the same level. In my MA parish, the paster knew just about everybody by name. That is simply not possible with a parish of 10K-15K parishioners.

    2. Hello Bill,

      “Vianney’s piety comes from a different age (specifically his acts of mortification, extreme devotion to Mary, his focus on confession (15-18 hours per day)…”

      I’m genuinely curious: Why would these traits you identify in Vianney be any less relevant to Catholics in 2012 than they were in 1850? These things were not unique to the 19th century Church or even the Tridentine Church, after all. Mortification is common to so many of the saints (and others). Penance is one of the seven sacraments. And to be Catholic is to be, fundamentally, Marian.

      I am not suggesting that Vianney provides a perfect or exclusive template for the parish priest today. But I am perplexed at the notion that his priestly life is excessively culturally conditioned and thus of less relevance to Catholics in time and space.

      After all, one thing we can certainly do a *lot* more of is confession. In too many parishes, there’s perhaps a half hour or so regularly scheduled (usually on Saturdays). The message being sent to lay Catholics is that this sacrament really does not matter any more.

      1. Good questions, Richard:

        Allow me to expand and explain my comments as a former formation director and based on experience, input/training from formation experts, and continuous regional/national meetings/reflections. Jonathan framed the original post using two concepts – cultic and servant – and if B16 is shifting backwards vis a vis his talks? (note that a significant impact on this question is the linkage of the issue of Western celibacy on these concepts? This is basically an *elephant in the living room* in terms of responding to Jonathan’s question. It echoes via related issues such as clericalism; gay priests/bishops.)

        IMO, Vatican II reformed and ressourced priesthood based upon biblical and patristic traditions (both change and continuity). Cite two mentors that best articulated this transition:

        Joseph Cardinal Bernardin: “Priests: Religious Leaders, Doctors of the Soul” – presented at Priesthood Today: Presentations at the 27th Annual NFPC Conference.

        Donald Cozzens: former rector; has published numerous books on the *Changing Face of the Priesthood*

        Both provide a brief summary of the reform:
        – From pedestal to participation
        – From classical preacher to bearer of the mystery, doctor of souls, tender of the Word
        – From Lone Ranger to Collaborative Ministry
        – From monastic to secular spirituality
        – From ‘saving souls’ to liberating people

        So, my remarks about using Vianney as a model are not meant in a derogtory way but, rather, that the times, priesthood’s identity, role, and function have dramatically changed. Thus, the starting point for consideration is how we find the priest today in the times, history period, world, and church of today. Vianney’s attributes, life, and example are noted but he is, at best, a saint from an earlier time period that is best described by the categories on the left – found on the list above. (Allan has already mentioned the 1980s-90s seminary change from the *older* Sulpician model to an *as yet* defined diocesan priestly spirituality.

        One of the best presentations on this shift is from Thomas O’Meara, OP: published in America Magazine, 1997, “Leaving the Baroque: The Fallacy of Restoration in the Postconciliar Era”.

        http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=22fc09ec-c05c-4d4e-935d-a288df5cbc6d%40sessionmgr12&vid=2&hid=24

        What it shows is that Vianney is an example of the older Baroque time period – his identity emphasizes the list of categories found on the left in the list above. It starts with a *mechanical*, onotogical definition with Thomistic categories, roles, functions per canon law. VII started with Lumen Gentium and biblical/Patristic concepts that flowed from the People of God, common baptism of the community, and then identified various ministries – bishop, priest, laity.

      2. Bill

        If I may add…

        There’s also the eschatological dimension (there always is, right?). If one believes that the Kingdom of proclaimed in the Gospels, and the New Creation begun in the mystery of the 50-day Pasch, is brought to life solely in the sanctuary, the baptistery and the confessional, then one’s vision of the priesthood is going to a different key and dynamic than if one sees the priesthood having a broader but contrapuntally intermixed (with the laity) character. While the holy is set apart, traditionally, if you believe the holiness of the baptized People of God is more fundamental, then you draw the line of apartness differently.

      3. What it shows is that Vianney is an example of the older Baroque time period – his identity emphasizes the list of categories found on the left in the list above. It starts with a *mechanical*, onotogical definition with Thomistic categories, roles, functions per canon law.

        If you read Presbyterorum Ordinis, you’ll find that it to references the Summa, the Council of Trent, and Canon Law!

        That article by Fr. O’Meara is shameful.

        He’s wrong on verifiable facts, “Small but vocal Catholic groups of reaction (marked more by distortion than imagination) have emerged since 1980.”

        Catholics United for the Faith: founded 1968
        Triumph magazine: founded 1966 had ceased publication by 1980
        The Remnant newspaper founded in 1967
        National Committee of Catholic Laymen founded in 1975
        The Traditional Mass Society (succeded by Una Voce America) was founded in 1967 by Dietrich von Hildebrand.

        This was hardly something new in 1980.

        Then there’s what he writes, “Latin Masses
        are said not only for the elderly but for a few young people
        for whom that liturgy could only be a theatrical performance.”

        Funny… I thought it was prayer. This is downright offensive.

        “Members of new quasi-religious orders are spotted wearing cassocks in airports or rehabilitating neglected devotions and sacral objects from sacristy storerooms.”

        Yeah, some of them are members of actual religious orders… some of them are members of *his* religious order… most of them are members of what are commonly called “religious orders” even if canonically they are technically members of religious congregations or societies of apostolic life. It’s dirty pool to argue this way.

        It’s laugable to call this one of the “best presentations” of the “shift”.

      4. I agree with Samuel Howard about the Fr. O’Meara article. However, that was the mid ’90s afterall and it was par for the course to write such dismissive and haughty things about the “restoration” and trot out some of the most insulting stereotypes. I’ve never heard someone try to assert that 19th century style devotions were practiced by the Early Fathers and all this tripe. I was hoping he’d say something like some restorationist seminarians thought Jesus said a ’62 MR Pontifical Mass for the Last Supper but alas, I was disappointed.

        His swipe at new religious order priests walking around in cassocks and reviving defunct pieties was especially rich considering his own Province (especially the brothers, but some of the priests too) walk around town in the traditional habit. The Dominicans (especially on the West Coast) have revived their traditional Mass. Yet, not a single one of them that I’ve ever talked with or read what they wrote advocate the kind of simplistic and mindless things that supposedly go hand in hand with a “restoration”.

      5. “Funny… I thought it was prayer. This is downright offensive.”

        Funny … I hear similar comments quite often about the liturgy from the Right: talk-show host presiders, performance musicians, and the like. Clearly, the Right’s criticisms of the Mass are more prophetic and less insulting.

        As for the Tridentine approach to liturgy, just check the emphasis on any reform2 website on clergy vestments, on choir-only music, and how much, in comparison, is written or discussed on lay liturgical spirituality.

        That’s not to say that the human indulgence for performance can’t be found in all styles of worship. But traditionalist Catholics and the preconciliar Church have not and were not able to completely avoid the spectre of doing liturgical actions according to exacting standards. Right intentioned, no doubt. But performance often has good intentions and high standards.

      6. Actually, its quite a bit different than “right” wing criticisms. When Fr. O’Meara says, “…for whom that liturgy could only be a theatrical performance.” it makes an absolutizing statement. It says that those of us who never grew up with the old Latin Mass could not possibly actually pray it. It cuts off the “old ways” absolutely as it limits the only possibly legitimate usage to a few old people who will die soon anyway and then the “old ways” will be once and for all done away with. This, of course, is patently false unless you buy into the overarching idea that what his generation gave us as normative Catholicism really is just that and any effort to hold on to what was normative only a few short years ago is a projection of infantile fears and inabilities to deal with change, the messiness of life, etc. etc. ad naseaum.

        I don’t see the problem with a “performance”. I’ve seen the Mass described as a sort of sacred ballet (approvingly) and the peasant’s grand opera (disapprovingly). This has its limits, of course. Sometimes, Some could say Baroque liturgy is artificial or this, that, and the other thing. However, I’d much rather have my performance classy if a bit stilted as opposed to hopelessly irrelevant “sacred” elevator music. If we are going to latch on to one out of whack era it would be better it was 1770 than 1970.

        Concerning Tridentinist websites and lay liturgical spirituality, from where I’m sitting at least, it sounds like you’ve just looked at the pictures. Even so, who’s going to see those vestments? The laity. Who is going to be listening to the choir/schola? The laity. What is all of these things for? The laity, obviously! In the negative, it is usually the laity that sabotages any traditionalist priest’s efforts to get them to sing a Gregorian Ordinary. Seems to me that its all I’ve been inundated with since I first started assisting at the TLM-pray the liturgy, don’t pray at the liturgy. Live liturgically in observances of feasts and other special days at church and at home, etc. etc.

      7. Well, this pretty much sums it up: “…..If we are going to latch on to one out of whack era it would be better it was 1770 than 1970.”

        Todd – thought you would enjoy this; *snark* does seem to come from both sides:

        http://www.catholica.com.au/forum/index.php?id=105792

        or – from last week’s Association of US Catholic Priests:

        http://www.uscatholicpriests.org/assembly/

        With Allan Preface – “I Cringe, Jesus Weeps; And Some Priests My Age or Older Are Nostalgic For This Crap”
        .

    1. To assert in any manner that God obeys the priest is preposterous and blasphemous. The very concept makes of the priest a mere shaman and is the result of an incredibly boastful pride and adolescent immaturity. God obeys no one. What, then, happens at the eucharist where God is thought to obey his creature? It is not at the priest’s command that God becomes really present. It is, rather, in faithfulness to his own word, Word, and promises that he becomes present when the priest, in union with the Church assembled, obeys HIM. Such notions as this are why there was a reformation, and why Vatican II fulfilled a need. (It may also be one of the Lefubvre-ists raisons d’etre.) A careful look at our various eucharistic prayers will offer no shred on which to build the argument that God obeys his priest: we beseech God to fulfill what he has promised, but we command nothing from him… the priest, like the rest of us, is a supplicant.

  9. Continuing on –
    As to the pre- and post-Vatican II priesthood: I think that it would be unfortunate to view the two as distinct species. They are, ideally, two sides of the same coin. Undoubtedly, many post-VII priests went astray in trying to be a sort of glorified Protestant minister who was not really comfortable being thought of as a ‘cultic’ person. This goes a long way to explain many of the liturgical abuses which have plagued us since the council.
    The good part of this is that we have, hopefully, put behind us the ultra-montane worship and legalism of those in holy orders who, all too often, really are not holy men.
    The bad part of this is that the ‘cultic’, sacerdotal holy man, which is THE distinguishing facet of priesthood, a priest’s first and foremost raison d’etre, has been widely forgotten about and, often, deliberately denied.
    A priest IS a cultic person. He IS a man set aside to offer sacrifice, a sacerdotal being. This is amplified, not altered, by the more mature understanding of his role as servant and bearer of the word for which we have Vatican II to thank.
    But we have a long road to travel before the desirable balance becomes the norm. On the one hand, we are faced with the unhelpful nostalgia of those who are rather ultra-montane; and, on the other hand, we have the determined iconoclasm of those who wave the banner of VII but really are not very VII.
    A few months ago, I and a colleague had a meeting with a priest charged with priestly formation at the local seminary. With a shockingly bald face he stated that ‘the days of the praying priest are over: we are training administrators’. I could not describe the sadness I felt, nor the disgust I felt for that man.
    We do not need administrators, nor glorified Protestant ministers. We need fully rounded holy men to fulfill a cultic, sacredotal role, and to be servants of the word.
    I think that this is the legacy of Vatican II which just may be beginning to see fulfillment.

  10. The perception in the areas of rural France where I go: no priest = no Mass. The concrete impact of the low number of priests in some dioceses: the elderly without transportation can only receive communion when a priest visits their village, once a month or so.

    However important the other views might be, it seems to me that the perception is that the availability of the Eucharist is the priest’s primary impact. I don’t see this as coming from some theological reflection but from on-the-ground experience. It’s more a fact than a mere perception. No?

    1. The same is true here in the more rural parts of the country. In my own diocese we have several very “remote” parishes in the Everglades region that are served by a “traveling priest”. For those living in such places, theology is meaningless if there is no priest at the parish to say Mass.

  11. Have any of you ever wondered if there will be some kind of tipping point that will result in the priestly people abandoning compliance to lay hold of the freedom of the children of God. Whatever that may be could force those who claim to be the sole holders of truth to finally take to heart the teaching of Jesus about how his disciples are to exercise authority. That includes me.

    1. Jeffrey, you actually raise a good question.
      Personally, with my commitment to ecumenism, I try not to say that everything the Protestants did was wrong, we’re right, those are the options, end of discussion. – I know you’re not necessarily saying that.
      There is overlap, it strikes me, between many of the concerns of the Reformers and the decisions of the Second Vatican Council – of course alongside important differences and distinctions. Let’s appropriately emphasize all the commonality.
      Then on our Catholic side, of course structures and understandings of doctrine have evolved much over history, and will continue to do so. I see future evolution coming possibilty from our learning from Protestants, fomr a deepened understanding of our own tradition (when it was more democratic, when the Pope didn’t appoint all bishops), and also new developments which are always coming about as we relate to new cultures and how to evangelize and be church with the people of today who have the understandings they do of authority.
      Pax,
      awr

  12. JF –
    Could you be somewhat more specific about what compliance is to be abandoned. Also about ‘taking to heart the teaching of Jesus…’.
    I am not asking adversarially, but in true curiosity.
    To what or whom is compliance to be denied…
    and what, in your view, would constitue
    ‘taking to heart the teaching of Jesus…’

  13. I am entirely in agreement with Jonathan’s analysis. We need a both/and synthesis of the two models.

    I am reminded that in the former ordination rite of subdeacons – the first major order to be received – the candidate was presented “ad titulum Ecclesiae [name of diocese]” or “ad titulum [name of religious order]”. This gave a purpose for his ordination, and the purpose was defined in terms of service. It was also a canonical requirement, such that a would-be priest could not be ordained without such a purpose for his priestly functions being formally defined for him.

    Am I right in thinking that this feature has disappeared? If so, a pity.

  14. An interesting and revealing contrast for the common understanding of the ministerial priesthood is the difference on ‘priestly ordination holy cards’ between the usage of the text from Hebrews 5, referring to the ‘High Priest’ (most general in use before Vatican II and maybe still in certain places) and the text of I Corinthians 4:1 “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries”; Christ here understood as both Head and Members. This latter text was quite often used by Pope John Paul II in his Holy Thursday letters to priests (and personally I chose it before the Council for my own ‘holy card’ of commemoration of priestly ordination.) Having lived it out for 50 years I still think of it as a ‘better job description’ for the ministerial priest.

  15. I agree with Fr. Sandstrom, 1 Cor. 4:1 is a much better “job description” for a parish priest than the Hebrews 5 passage. Both are true (correctly understood), but we don’t sing “Ecce Sacerdos Magnus” when the priest comes in.

    Personally, I do not find this “models of priesthood” talk helpful because it tries to squeeze the priesthood into an exclusive box. My pastor (FSSP) is both cultic and servant-leader, and more importantly, without being self-consciously either. The best priests I know (diocesean, order, etc.) are that way as well. However, the “cultic” aspect is the raison d’etre of the priesthood. While certainly ordained for service to the whole Church and their religious community, how many Carthusian priests have pastoral duties?

    As to Vianney being a model, I think Good Pope John would disagree with the verdict that he is not a good example. He wrote a whole encyclical on him afterall. A slavish imitation is never what the Church expects when it holds up a saint for an example. One man’s salvation is, after all, another’s damnation. God used Vianney’s total gift of self in the way it needed to be used in mid-19th Century France but today, a priest who sacrificed himself in the same total way would have a ministry that was tailored to the situation he found himself in in the Year of Salvation 2012. However, a priest zealous for the salvation of souls would definitely have a strong place for self-mortification, Marian devotion, Mass, the confessional, the pulpit etc. like Vianney did-but not as a carbon copy of him.

    The Church would do well to have a lot more Vianneys (version 2012) and a lot less ordained administrators, psychologists, glorified Prot ministers, spiritual facilitators etc.

  16. +1 on 1 Cor 4.

    “A slavish imitation is never what the Church expects when it holds up a saint for an example.”

    Imitation, like continuity, is a very lazy way to be a Christian. I prefer to think of saints as pointing to Christ, like the way Mary gestures to Christ in iconography. They show us the way, but like good apprentices, we infuse our own abilities and gifts into the ministries we inherit. We don’t attempt to be Father Joe the 4th, or Musical Jane III. Or we don’t if we want to truly serve others.

  17. Richard –

    Some of the consolidation into big parishes is, of course, a result of a reduced presbyterial pool. There are only so many priests to go around. But even allowing for that, it appears to be a genuine preference on the part of the Church in the U.S. today.

    When you say “it appears to be a genuine preference on the part of the Church in the US today” does “Church ” mean the bishops, the bishops and priests, the lay people?

  18. Jeffrey –

    If parishioners feel “unattached” in large parishes, it is because the very personal relationships between parishioners and clergy is not possible, at least not on the same level.

    I think parishioners need to fell attached to each other even more than to a particular priest. For example, if a single person in your parish needs a ride home from a minor medical procedure, do they ask a friend from the parish?
    The practice I see of moving priests around every few years is given various justifications, but it makes a bond between priest and people almost impossible to form. All too often, “father” is seen as angling to move up with his next assignment. Of course, the same applies to the bishopric in the US, where small dioceses aren’t valued for themselves but as training grounds for the big leagues.

  19. The day my life in the church was completely upended was the day I read a homily in which the priest referred to ordination as a form of transubstantiation. Idolatry and heresy all rolled into one neat word, with not a breath of a hint that this word was specially coined to protect and “explain” the mystery of the Eucharist—and that ONLY—in the context of Aristotelian metaphysics. This priest, by the way, is under 50 and part of what must be the scariest bunch of priests the church has yet to see, coming as they do in the wake of the abusive bishop-priest scandal and desperately trying to regain their “status.” There has, indeed, been a change, and it is not for the better. When those who support the idea of the “priest as ontologically changed” and the only indispensable member of the church start reading the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ with a view to taking it—and him—-seriously, the idolatry and arrogance that accrues to the present (neo-con) construal of the ordained ministry will sink back to where it first came from: the pit of hell. Until then, hope for true renewal in the church and its witness is virtually nil.

  20. Janet – good points. From one of our frequent posters and his favorite blog:

    THE PRIEST COMPLETES THE HOLY SACRIFICE OF THE MASS BY HIS COMMUNION IN THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
    IS THIS EATING A MEAL OF BREAD AND WINE OR A COMMUNION IN THE BODY AND BLOOD OF THE RISEN AND GLORIFIED LORD? MEAL OR COMMUNION, MEAL OR COMMUNION, MEAL OR COMMUNION, COMMUNION OF SAINTS OR MEAL OF SAINTS. I REPORT; YOU DECIDE, NO, LET ME DECIDE, COMMUNION IN THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST IS IT AS WELL AS COMMUNION OF SAINTS!

    These first two images are absolutely essential for the completion of the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Christ at every Catholic Mass–it must occur.
    The Holy Communion of the Laity is important, but not necessary for the completion of the Holy Sacrifice which belongs to the priest alone to complete.
    Did you know that in the pre-Vatican II Liturgy, especially with its stringent fast from midnight to the time of Mass and fasting from food and water, that often Holy Communion wasn’t even offered to the laity present. Yes, only the priest received. And in doing so both the Sacrifice and the Banquet of the Body and Blood of Christ who is the Sacrificial Victim or Holocaust were completed.

    Cultic; rejection of Vatican II, let’s put *father* back on a pedestal thinking, etc.

  21. Bill: thanks for the quote, even though I read it just after having eaten lunch! Sheer wickedness! How insulting to the Lord Jesus Christ, who humbled himself for our sake! How can anyone who reads the Gospel not feel utterly ashamed when they read such things or believe them? This stuff is the work of Satan, in my view.

  22. Like Fr Allan, I hope we can find a way to make the cultic and servant aspects work together.

    We see this in other contexts — the Queen, or a CEO or university vice-chancellor or top military leader is human like the rest of us, but by virtue of their role takes on a different relationship to the community. There is something different about a priest, but (as I experience it) it’s not about an “ontological change” brought about by the bishop laying on hands, but by the community recognising him in a different way.

    The priest plays a distinctive role in the assembly and for the assembly. It seems right that one person steps forward to lead the sacrificial action.

    But it’s an action of Christ, not of the priest, of Christ in the entire assembly. I’m also with Bill and Janet in rejecting the idea, pushed by some neo-conservatives, that we gain anything from a rigid distinction between Christ the Head (symbolised by the priest) and Christ the Body (symbolised by the laity), that the priest should only rarely enter the nave and the laity only rarely enter the sanctuary.

    I am grateful for the priests I know. They work hard, as teachers and pastors and administrators and public voices and spiritual guides and confessors and cultic leaders. St John Vianney reportedly worked very hard, spending hours in the confessional, but he didn’t have to deal with the pressures of modern life that our priests do.

    Thanks to all who have contributed to this discussion!

    1. St John Chrysostom says it well in his explanation of “And with your Spirit”:

      “If the Holy Spirit were not in this your common father and teacher, you would not, just now, when he ascended this holy chair and wished you all peace, have cried out with one accord, ‘And with your spirit.’
      Thus you cry out to him, not only when he ascends his throne and when he speaks to you and prays for you, but also when he stands at this holy altar to offer the sacrifice. He does not touch that which lies on the altar before wishing you the grace of our Lord, and before you have replied to him, ‘And with your spirit.’
      By this cry, you are reminded that he who stands at the altar does nothing, and that the gifts that repose there are not the merits of a man; but that the grace of the Holy Spirit is present and, descending on all, accomplishes this mysterious sacrifice. We indeed see a man, but it is God who acts through him. Nothing human takes place at this holy altar.”

      I have not yet tracked down the sermon (on Pentecost I think) to get past some awkwardness of the first sentence, but I take it the spirit, teacher of us all, is the one who performs the liturgical actions through the priest and the affirming congregation. Even though I think he is reading something into the dialogue, it is a beautiful reading.

      1. Jim: “If the Holy Spirit were not in this your common father and teacher…”

        John Chrysostom was speaking of the presiding bishop who was celebrating the liturgy, Flavian of Antioch.

        The sermon is “De sancta pentecoste” in PG L. 458 ff, and the excerpt is in the chapter titled “Hæretici in Spiritum S. blasphemabant”, around col 463. The Greek reads:

        Εἰ µὴ Πνεῦµα ἅγιον ἦν ἐν τῷ κοινῷ τούτῳ πατρὶ καὶ διδασκάλῳ, οὐκ ἂν ὅτε πρὸ µικροῦ ἀνέβη ἐπὶ τὸ ἱερὸν βῆµα τοῦτο, καὶ πᾶσιν ὑµῖν ἔδωκεν εἰρήνην, καὶ ἐπεφθέγξασθε αὐτῷ κοινῇ πάντες, Καὶ τῷ Πνεύµατί σου·

        The Latin reads:

        Vides hoc quoque per Spiritum fieri? Nisi esset Spiritus sanctus in hoc communi patre ac doctore*, cum paulo ante sacram hoc in tribunal ascendit, ac vobis omnibus pacem dedit, non simul omnes acclamassetis, ‘Et cum Spiritu tuo.’

        The * has a footnote: Flavianum episcopum indicat.

        (I figured this out via an article on EWTN’s web site that had the citation of the PG, and then used DocumentaCatholicaOmnia.eu to track down the corresponding PDFs. Here’s a Google Books link to the precise place in the PDF. The Latin text is highlighted, and the corresponding Greek text is in the bottom right corner of the preceding page.

  23. Jeffry and Anthony: can’t tell you how many times I have been “accused” of beng a Protestant because of my views on the priesthood…perhaps ot in its many permutated understandings today, but certainly in its more classically presented form, Luther and many of the Reformers were right in seeking to restore the centrality of the priesthood of the faithful, participating in the ONE priesthood of Jesus Christ (so the RC idea that the ordained shares in Christ’s priesthood differently from the rest of the baptized in both “dregree and kind” is also a false idea, since there cannot be another “kind” of priesthood if there is, in fact, only ONE)…If this makes me Protestant, I accept the badge fully and proudly. I believe that a great many of the Church’s sins stem from the evil of clericalism. Period.

      1. Thanks, JP. And, IMO, use the word *ministry* rather than *participation*…..it is one priesthood but different ways to minister. That really does support Janet’s points about why one form of *ministry* or *participation* is ontological, elevated on a pedestal, a sacrament higher than other sacraments (as some state – without priesthood, no eucharist; thus negating hundreds of years of church practice and history), etc.

      2. Bill, I think “ministry” works here too, just as there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; varieties of service, but the same Lord; varieties of working, but the same God who inspires them all in every one.

        So the ordained priesthood is one particular way to minister to others through Christ’s priesthood, and the common priesthood is another.

        That said, I do accept the distinctions between these ministries of/participations in Christ’s priesthood, particularly regarding the administration (there’s the word ministry again!) of certain sacraments.

      3. It might also be said as the ordained priesthood is one particular way Christ still ministers as a priest, and the common priesthood is another.

  24. Spending time, as I do, with people on both sides of the Reformation divide, I find strict parallels between the temptations to which either side is prone. Protestantism is tempted to bibliolatry, and Catholicism is tempted to ecclesiolatry. Both are forms of idolatry that involve some sort of grasping of security where it is not to be found. This grasping ends up by evacuating the object grasped (whether the Bible or the church) of meaning, turning it instead into a projection of the one grasping. The nonidolatrous approach is when we allow ourselves to be reached and held by a living act of communication from One who is not on the same level as either Bible or church, but of whose self-disclosure those realities can most certainly become signs. A sure sign of a pattern of desire locked in grasping is the speed with which we collapse into invidious comparisons such that we acquire our identities over against others in our own group, rather than receiving them together patiently from the one calling us into being.

    As a Catholic I am fully committed to the notion that, the Word having become flesh, the living act of communication is an ecclesial one, made available through bodily signs. In addition, I take it for granted that the church is prior to me, and that if something is church teaching, it is true. The presumption is on there being some sort of truthfulness at work in the stated teaching until it becomes clear that this is not the case. The real question for me, as a Catholic trying to think toward the future, is this: we know that we have only one Magister, the Incarnate Word of God, and that the authentic teaching office in the church is not above, but serves, this Living Word. Furthermore, this Living Word has chosen to address us at a level of fraternal equality, making of us his brothers and sisters who have only one Father, God, and are not to call anyone else our father. So, how do we hold fast to the experience of Jesus teaching us in and as church…

  25. The above is a quote from theologian James Alison in an interview with Brett Salkeld published in Commonweal (“Theology As Survival,” 03/06/12). I find it truly inspiring as a vision of what the church is called to be, and an incisive look at the problem of “ecclesiolatry.” Its is respectful but hard-hitting in naming the idolatry that so often marks clergy-“lay” relationships.

  26. Here is the rest of the quote…sorry, I am iPad clumsy and it is a LONG quote (but each word is truly worthy)!

    …as we become aware of how often the bishops, those who have been consecrated sacramental signs, seem to allow the richness of the faith to become secondary to culture-war imperatives, institutional self-interest, and the search for corporate approval? I think that reimagining the ecclesial shape of Christ teaching in our midst, exploring the sort of act of communication genuine divine teaching is, and understanding better the relationship between the Teacher, those taught, and those charged to be signs of truthfulness is going to be one of the real challenges of the next generation.

  27. Here is another big point that seems to be almost universally overlooked: the Mass text is actually a narrative—-the story we tell God about Jesus and all that God has done for us in him, asking for God make all of that present to us by the power of the Spirit. To attend to this basic structure and take it seriously would relieve us of the idea that we need a cultic, “in persona Christi” minister who is exclusive, above, etc., the people, but who is from the people, minstering with them in offering worship. The priest isn’t speaking as if he IS Jesus…when he says, “This is my Body…my Blood..” God help us if we tink he is saying it about himself or that Christ has somehow “taken him over.”. Looking at it this way, both women and the married could be the minister on behalf of the people, based on their call from God and their gifts. I really think we need to disabuse ourselves of the idea that we must have a priest who “literally” embodies Jesus in order to have access to Jesus, or to have a “valid” Eucharist. We don’t. Jesus is the one Mediator; the Sacraments minister that mediation to us in physical signs; the presbyter is the instrument of that ministry. Those who are called to ministry tell God the story with us and on our behalf. Jesus is alive and well…we don’t need anyone to “stand in” for him 🙂

  28. Verbatim from yesterday’s homily on Catholic TV Mass here in Boston:
    “After God, the priest is everything…”

    Brothers and sisters, WHEN WILL IT STOP????

  29. what was discussion of infallability regarding ordination of women? was that treated in recent comments (jul 2012) cathey s ott, deenver. colorado

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