Sorry, no Mass today

by Chris McDonnell

Many years ago, when I lived in London, I use to visit the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of Quarr on the Isle of Wight off the South Coast of England. It was my first introduction to enclosed monastic life and was indeed a salutary experience. The geographical location, on the northern coast of the island facing Portsmouth, with its own stretch of beach and in some areas quicksand, the woods surrounding the abbey and the abbey itself, designed by a monk and built in brick by local craftsmen, was perfect. It was on the site of a much earlier abbey, dating from the 12th century and destroyed during the Reformation. When the monks from Solesmes were forced to leave their abbey in the early 20th century, they came to Quarr and began the rebuilding program that has become the abbey we know today.

One monk I came to know was the guest master Dom Paul Zeigler. He was also the community organist. He would come and chat in the guest room after lunch, and occasionally called in to speak with us in our rooms. On one such occasion, he told me a story of being a young boy in Austria and of going down to his village church one morning for Mass. The church was locked and on the door was a note, “Sorry, no Mass today, urgent sick call.” He then realized the great privilege of going to Mass. As he told me the story, his eyes were closed, almost screwed up, and it was obvious that he was picturing again that morning years before in his home. It made a great impression on me then and I have never forgotten it.

Who would have thought, that fifty or so years on, that closed door for a morning would be at risk of becoming closed for a much longer period, as we face the current crisis in the priesthood? Recently, I have reflected on Brendan Hoban’s recent book Who Will Break Bread For Us? on the ever-growing shortage of priests in Ireland. That story is likely to be replicated all across the West in the very near future, with the consequence that our Eucharistic celebration will become more and more restricted.

Last year, considering the Irish Church, I wrote this short piece, recently published in Dublin in the Dominican journal Spirituality.

Crop

The crop failed, first one year
and then the next.

Driven from family fields by hunger
they moved to towns
and then took ships across the water.

The Great Migration of an Island people
who sought relief from poverty.
In their ravaged, weakened frames,
they journeyed to another place.

An overwhelming emptiness
was left languishing in a deserted land.

Now in our present time
a new hunger harrows the land.

O Eucharistic Christ remain
to ease the growing doubt
and endless pain.

Although written with Ireland in mind, those last three lines are applicable to the church in general. Just as we have experienced the tectonic plate movement of the abuse revelations in so many countries, amongst many other problems, so we have need even more of the Eucharist to help, nourish and support our Christian faith.

Somehow, somewhere there must be a resolution of the crisis in priesthood that we presently face, or that hunger will spread and we will have failed future generations. Let’s be realistic. More of the same is no answer for a pilgrim church.

Chris McDonnell is a regular reader and commenter at Pray Tell Blog.

 

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80 comments

  1. How long before individual remote churches receive packages of consecrated Hosts via FedEx from the Diocesan office? I really wish that I was kidding.

  2. Thank you very much Chris for this article.

    I once read a very entertaining anecdote. Towards the end of the 15th century, a number of Scandinavian bishops made their ad limina visit to Rome. After what must have been a long and perilous journey (no four-hour jets, then), the bishops arrived at the papal court with their wives and children. Certainly, it would have unwise to leave the family home.

    Within about two generations, Scandinavians grafted the Lutheran movement onto episcopalian government. This doctrinal shift certainly included a certain pragmatism. It’s not unlikely that Cranmer, Luther, and other prominent reformers merely regularized the “irregular relationships” of many of the clergy. If a community accepted the parish priest’s partner as a de facto wife and their children as part of a family, then why would God and civil law not accept such marriages?

    Was Trent an exercise in oppositional defiance? Maybe. I’ve always thought that the Tridentine bishops and theologians doubly insisted on celibacy for all in orders as a mark of loyalty to the see of Rome. Thus a town, region, or ethnos could identify itself as Catholic by the lives of their ministers. The current interpretation of celibacy in the Catholic priesthood (after the restoration of the permanent diaconate) as a sacrifice of spouse or family strikes me as an attempt to recast priestly celibacy in postchristian and secular societies where denominational identity is no longer relevant.

    I doubt the latter strategy will succeed. Catholics who live in what have historically been predominately or majority Protestant societies are not usually scandalized by married clergy. Similarly, more and more Catholics welcome women clergy of other traditions into their communities. Purely metaphorical, philosophical, or theological arguments fall apart in pluralist societies. The disintegration of religious identity as an almost intrinsic aspect of being renders arguments for compulsory priestly celibacy more difficult.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #2:
      If memory serves me, Trent did not insist on celibacy but left it to the pope, since a number of German (Catholic) princes asked for a dispensation for their priests. (See John O’Malley, Trent)

  3. I must admit that I’m quite bitter about this situation. My brother, who died eight years ago, was in a nursing home for fourteen years. NOT ONCE did a priest go there to say Mass for those most vulnerable people. Even then there weren’t enough priests for such duties.

    I’ve seen the excuses from Rome — all about the value of celibacy, which, so far as I can see, boils down to what the bishops *want*, ie., their own preferred lifestyle, and not what the people need.

    Don’t talk to me about bishops being married to their flocks. If they are, then the current ones are abusive — they are failing to provide the desperately needed Sacraments which could easily be provided by part-time married priests. And this when canon law *requires* them to provide the Sacraments.

    Shame, shame, shame on Rome and the bishops who don’t fight the system.

    1. @Ann Olivier – comment #4:
      Well said! I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed. It seems like the clericalism infecting many of the hierarchy is aided and abetted by an idolatrous loyalty to the institutional church and a false appropriation of Tradition in its exercise of magisterial responsibilities!

  4. I think that there is a lack of empathy on the part of much of the clergy. The evolution is gradual, so each reduction in the availability of the Eucharist is in itself a small change, and they adapt. In a village I know, currently there is no Mass during the summer, and the people who can’t drive do without it for two months. I have to admit that few people seem to care. It is not important enough to bother organizing shared rides, for example, it seems.

    I think that the clergy lack empathy because they are not at risk of not having the Mass themselves, since they can always celebrate it themselves. My suggestion would be for some priests, in solidarity with their flock, to go without the Mass for the duration of Lent. That’s the suffering that some of their people undergo, and it’s a suffering that they ought to share in order to understand it. For example, some priests in religious orders could do that without disrupting the organization.

    Then they are also content to ask divorced and remarried Catholics to go without receiving communion, forever!

    There is a lack of imagination. The old ways (minor seminaries) are no longer appropriate, the most obvious new ways (married priests, women’s ordination) are forbidden from discussion, and the institution’s rigidity prevents the Holy Spirit from filling people with creative ideas. The whole attitude belies the claim that the Eucharist is source and summit of our faith.

    As for us lay people, we probably should start thinking about how to be Church without the Eucharist, since that seems to be the future. Already many people do not feel the need to show up for Mass on Sunday: maybe they are showing the way forward.

    1. @Claire Mathieu – comment #5:

      There is a lack of imagination. The old ways (minor seminaries) are no longer appropriate, the most obvious new ways (married priests, women’s ordination) are forbidden from discussion…

      Well, actually, a celibate priesthood is not forbidden from discussion, at least not in the way that “women’s ordination” is. It is a discipline; it has not always been the discipline; and it could be changed.

      I would just add my voice to others here who have noted the difficulties involved. Making celibacy optional, at least for some priests, would gain certain advantages, yes, but it also presents disadvantages as well. To begin with, the absolute ceiling for a relaxation would be the Eastern Rites model – married men may become priests, but they could never become bishops; priests could not marry. Widowed priests could not remarry. These practices are the most that tradition supports. So you must start there in any discussion.

      Would it increase the number of priests, and therefore, access to sacraments? Probably, especially in some areas (Latin America, for example). But there are difficulties. Seminary formation takes seven years, seven years of enforced penury, unless one has a wife working, or parents willing to help financially. This will take a toll on marriages, and will dissuade many potential married vocations. Then there is the question of financial support for the priest’s wife and family. Parishes would have to provide more generously, much more generously, to support these families. Parishioners would have to get used to “part-time” priests; they’d have families with demands on them. But more importantly, children and wives would have to get used to fathers at the service of a parish. That is not easy. There is a reason why divorce and burnout rates are very high for many Protestant clergy. Which means dealing with the problem of…divorced priests.

      It may still happen, one day. But it is not a silver bullet.

      1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #52:

        I realize the challenges posed by a married priesthood. The prime candidates could be men in their late 40s, whose children have already left home and who have saved enough to be comfortable facing a few years with a single salary (their wife’s) and the remaining years of their active life with a small salary. They could be found among the middle-aged married men you already see active in many parishes.

  5. Once again the prurient and dirty-minded attitude of the institution when it comes to sex is getting in the way of common sense.

  6. Hmm. There’s much food for thought here, certainly. I’d just like to add two controversial reflections: firstly, that, in some ways there are still too many priests, and the Mass is too familiar and too all-pervasive for us truly to value it in the way Chris describes. Secondly, let’s not forget that clerical celibacy was held up as the ideal, indeed as the norm (even given all the exceptions and abuses) by the Western Church well before Trent – even, to some extent, back into Patristic times. No solutions here, it’s true – for which, my apologies!

  7. We need to get right back to first principles on this.
    Jesus said: “Take this, all of you…”. He also said, “Anyone who eats this bread will live forever … ”
    He did not say that his disciples should do this every Sunday, but the tradition of Christians from the beginning is to gather for the breaking of bread on the first day of the week.
    This is where we start. All else follows – or should follow. Whatever is necessary to make this possible for each community of Christians: this is what we are called to do. Whatever stands in the way of this is secondary, so that the community itself can become the living Body of Christ. Combining parishes and having everyone come to one large church is not the answer: it damages the Body of Christ in the communities which cannot themselves gather for a full celebration of the Mass every Sunday. Coming together sometimes can be great; dissolving the smaller communities is not.
    So the first question is not about celibacy or women’s ordination or any other issue related to who may be ordained to serve the community as one who presides at the community celebration. These are all secondary. If we allow secondary considerations to block the primary privilege of Sunday Eucharist, we are contributing directly to the decline of the Church.
    We know that there have been exceptional situations, as in Japan for 200 years, or as in Ireland during persecution, when faith life continued in the absence of normal Sunday celebrations, as in many parts of the world today. These are exceptions, not the norm.
    It appears those in control are fearful. Jesus knows our fears. When he says, “Be not afraid”, he knows we still will have fear, but he says that that fear is not to control our lives. Thanks be to God, Pope Francis seems to know how not to let fear control him. May those around him learn the same lesson. And soon. As Bishop Christopher Butler used to say: “Let us not fear that truth might endanger truth”.

  8. We Catholics need to complete our liturgical renewal by restoring a Divine Office to our lives.

    The local Orthodox Church with its Saturday Vigil (Combination of Vespers plus Matins lasting about a hour celebrated by about 20 or 30 adults) and one Sunday Divine Liturgy (celebrated by 100 to 130 adults) seems a far more natural community and a natural way of doing liturgy than our large parish factories with multiple Masses on Saturdays and Sundays. Obviously if we were to implement the Orthodox model we would have to have a married clergy

    We also need to make a further step of restoration of the Divine Office by recognizing that monastic individuals and communities in the early church did not have clergy (they were discouraged from joining) but continued a form of the Divine Office adapted to their own lives and communities.

    Today in the USA about 60% of people pray daily while only 30% worship weekly. It makes far more sense to construct forms of the Divine Office which cater to those who pray daily rather than to continue with the idea that we have to get all the 60% to church every weekend.

    In past decades and centuries family and ethnicity carried much of the burden of maintaining Catholicism. We exaggerate how important churches and schools were to that endeavor. We need forms of the Divine Office that sustain families, neighbors, and friends without the benefit of clergy.

    The American Grace study showed that religious networks of families, close friends and small groups were the essential elements in all the benefits that occur for people who worship regularly. People who simply came to church without those social networks did not have better health, increased happiness, and a greater likelihood of engaging in altruistic behavior that occurred among those with religious social networks.

    Finally modern America has extensive opportunities for solitude much more than the deserts of Egypt. A large portion of our population lives in single person households, and most people have a room of their own. Again we need forms of the Divine Office, e.g. DivineOffice.org, which cater to this solitude.

    I think we may have some “Eastern Orthodox” reforms under this Pope: greater synodality, communion for divorced in second marriages, and more married clergy. But the underlying “Orthodox” liturgical reform needs to be a restoration of the Divine Office.

  9. Two interrelated comments:

    Alan Johnson (#6): Once again the prurient and dirty-minded attitude of the institution when it comes to sex is getting in the way of common sense.

    The end result of millennia of thought and practice in western Christianity has resulted in a certain tension between (obsession over?) the prurient and healthy sexuality which predates Christianity itself. This tension both precedes and follows the Reformation: all western Christian traditions have experienced this struggle regardless of policy on clerical marriage.

    Stoicism greatly influenced Roman thought and in turn many Christian attitudes about human sexuality within the greater sphere of human reason. Cicero, through the words of the interlocutor Marcus (de legibus 1.22-23) describes human beings as almost mechanical items devoid of emotion, including sexual affection. Marcus continues at de. leg. 1.31-32 to paint human sexuality as uniformly negative, with no reference to the positive unitive aspects of sex. Here are prototypes of Augustine’s persistent doubt (dread?) of sexuality and subsequent deprecation of all sexual expressions.

    Ian Coleman (#7): indeed as the norm (even given all the exceptions and abuses) by the Western Church well before Trent – even, to some extent, back into Patristic times.

    I am quite convinced that the division at the Council of Trullo in 692 CE between western and eastern bishops stemmed directly from the Stoic worldview of clergy from many Roman-influenced Christian areas and the more Platonic worldview of their hellenized counterparts. Frequently Roman Catholic apologists will characterize the eastern bishops of Trullo as deviants from an apostolic mandate for clerical celibacy. Could this division also be seen as a philosophical dispute far beyond Christian theology?

  10. #10. Thank you for your response. I agree about the background to celibacy, but would like to throw in the influence of dulaism and all that it implies about the body, and also the unspoken requirement for cultic purity.
    Sacramental theology is a thoroughly physical thing. It seems odd that it has become coupled with such negative and timorous notions when it comes to sex.

  11. I’d love to hear from someone with experience outside of the US and Europe regarding the availability of Mass. I sometimes wonder if we don’t take its availability for granted while many areas of our Church are lucky to have access to Eucharist only a few times each year. And I’d love to hear more about views of its frequency from the historical perspective. I was surprised when recently reading about the early monastic movement to learn that they not only did not have Mass often, they even resisted having any of their number ordained. As a Carmelite, I’ve participated in many a discussion of St Teresa’s remarks cautioning against frequent reception of communion which seems so contrary to our modern experiences.

  12. Correct – it goes along with the assumptions about Trent and vernacular. Trent did not outlaw the vernacular – it was used and continue to be used in some regions.

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #16:
      Did it, indeed? This is news to me. Can you elaborate? I have heard of the use of vernacular in a few overseas missionary areas (I’ve even seen Gregorian chant adapted to a North American Indian language), but not in Europe. Can you give examples?

  13. MOJ – don’t have O’Malley’s book in front of me – will be tonite. But here is a link to an article by O’Malley – note his last paragraphs:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-w-omalley/the-council-of-trent-450-years-later_b_3180148.html

    “Despite what is often said, for instance, Trent did not insist the Mass be in Latin. It, rather, left the door open for both Latin and the vernacular. What about clerical celibacy? Emperor Ferdinand I and Duke Albrecht of Bavaria begged the council to mitigate it, at least for German-speaking lands. On this issue, as on others, the council decided not to decide, which in effect threw the matter onto the desk of the pope after the council. Pius IV procrastinated over it, but his successor, Pius V, adamantly refused to make any change. Thus, the issue died.”

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #18:
      MJO – don’t want to get off the post focus but to your questions:

      – Trent: What Happened at the Council; chapter 5, pages 190-91

      O’Malley quotes from the actual Trent documents, chapter 8, canon 9:
      “Although the Mass is full of instruction for the faithful, the council fathers did not think it advantageous that it should everywhere be celebrated in the vernacular.” or, in other words, “if anyone says that the Mass should be celebrated only in the vernacular…let him be anathema.”

      (but. given the Protestant threats, latin became a badge of identity)

      Other interesting items from O’Malley:

      – Trent left open the question about communion from the cup for the pope to decide
      – Eucharist as sacrifice – elaborated over several decrees over many years. This weakened the overall theology (per O’Malley, due to the limitations of Scholastic theology of that day). Thus, Trent never synthesized the three elements we find at VII – Eucharist is sacrifice, real presence, and a meal. But, interestingly, the council did try to push for much more frequent communion – the Jesuits in particular implemented weekly communion (per O’Malley, the eucharistic Trent theology was adopted in an age when communion happened once a year and was most often received separate from the actual liturgy – received before or after the liturgy. This was a reform that never was adequately implemented).

  14. Re. Quarr Abbey, I.O.W.,

    I too used to go there many years ago regularly and remember Fr. Paul very well. It was a lively place, with some real intellectual clout and also great care for and interest in their guests. Many priests in this Diocese used to go there for Confession and SD. Of course, their monastic liturgy was memorable.

    The tragedy is that now there are only a handful of monks there (less than a dozen) and the future of the place must be a serious question.

    Alan Griffiths.

    1. @Ann Olivier – comment #20:
      Ann 1+
      Isn’t it odd that sometimes we are our own worst enemy.
      Scripture states: Do we not have the right to take along a wife as does James the brother of Jesus, the rest of the apostles and Cephas? I Cor 9:5.
      Maybe if we paid more attention to what scripture says instead of philosophical arguments, stoic world view, platonic world view, hellenism, cultic purity, ad infinitum, we might not be in such difficulty.

    2. @Ann Olivier – comment #20:

      Nothing can “replace” the Eucharist. Nothing.

      And yet, western Christianity has struggled for centuries with the question of Eucharist and the personal communion. Indeed many Protestants historically substituted Matins or Morning Prayer for the Eucharist for the same reasons Catholics often received only a few times a year. A distorted understanding of what the Eucharist is often distorts piety and any sense of assembly, even notional.

      I was raised to believe that confession must precede communion. In fact, it is more important to go to confession and “worthily receive” than attend the Mass itself! I have struggled to overcome this mentality. I have not yet shaken it off. Holy Communion is a sacrament. Its grace strengthens us; we cease to live spiritually without this grace. Still, I am quite convinced that many people view the reception of communion as a reward for going to confession. This is doubly corrosive, as this mentality engenders pride and also a spiritual starvation.

  15. Celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is an admirable state of life. There have been many witnesses to this in the church since its inception and I am grateful for that. But as a mandatory discipline for priests of the Latin rite, it may well be like a cancerous growth on the Body of Christ. How can the Eucharist be the source and summit of Christian life if its very ability to form and unite vibrant communities of faithful disciples is predicated on the diminishing number of men willing to accept this discipline? Is the purpose of a diocese or a parish to provide benefices for bishops and priests. If we look at the inordinate number of dioceses in countries like Italy and Ireland it surely seems so. Is not the true purpose of a church to be a focal point for the preaching of the gospel and the celebration of the sacraments of new life. Is it not to be a womb like environment able to give birth to disciples of the one who came to set the earth ablaze? Given the Pauline list of qualifications for the ministry of elders and overseers how can we continue to insist that the practice customary in the western church since the mandate of Lateran I cannot be reconsidered and modified? This is not an attack on celibacy in imitation of the Master who gave himself entirely to his mission. I am living celibately for the sake of that mission, but not because I embraced it from the start as a charism freely sought but rather as a condition of priestly ordination. Many of us have made the best of it and have grown into it, but many others have failed. Some of them had the grace to resign but others stayed and harmed themselves and others. I referred above to this discipline as a form of cancer in that it is contributing to the death of Catholic parishes around the world. People are told they must abandon they must become part of new clusters or collaboratives in order to accommodate the diminishing number of celibate priests. What’s wrong with this picture?

  16. That’s sad to hear Alan. The last time I was there was in ’64 – a long time back!
    That place had a great influence on me and the story of Paul Zeigler is as clear now as when he first recounted it to me.
    As to the future? who can say. The monastic life is in a state of flux. So be it

  17. Yes, I agree that Scripture-as-history plus the later history of the Church should be the determinant in this matter. But the current Vatican seems to be unwilling or unable to open its eyes to facts.

    Hopefully our new pope will be somewhat more open and let himself become aware that many, many in the flock are suffering badly.

  18. Since Francis seems to favor synodality and some bishops have in the past raised the issue of ordaining viri probati, Francis may give bishops conferences authority to ordain older married men who have already established their families.

    I wonder if the American bishops will do this if they are empowered to do so. Maybe it will be like English in the liturgy. If permission is given for ordaining married men, that we will soon have a mostly married clergy.

    Or perhaps not, Eastern Bishops have said that having a married clergy makes it much more difficult to assign clergy. Many of our smaller parishes are in the inner city and rural areas, places that are unlikely to be attractive to married clergy. Such positions are also hard to fill in some Protestant denominations. It is not that they do not have the ordained clergy, but that their married clergy do not want to take these undesirable jobs.

    Number of permanent deacons grows, but many reaching retirement age

    http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/number-permanent-deacons-grows-many-reaching-retirement-age

    There are more than 18,000 permanent deacons in the United States, including more than 15,000 who are active in ministry, according to the study conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

    However, more than two-thirds of active deacons — 68 percent — are at least in their 60s, with 25 percent of all deacons at least 70. Thirteen percent of U.S. dioceses have a mandatory retirement age of 70 for deacons; 80 percent mandate retirement at age 75.

    This study of deacons illustrates one of the problems of Viri Probati. Namely that their span of actual service will be less than that of celibate priests ordained at a young age.

    Since we have to think anyway of recruiting more deacons to replace those who are retiring. It might be an opportune time to think of recruiting some who could be ordained to the priesthood, , e.g. that they would continue seminary studies for a number of years after becoming deacons and then be ordained to the priesthood.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #26:

      I wonder if the American bishops will do this if they are empowered to do so. Maybe it will be like English in the liturgy. If permission is given for ordaining married men, that we will soon have a mostly married clergy.

      Or perhaps not, Eastern Bishops have said that having a married clergy makes it much more difficult to assign clergy. Many of our smaller parishes are in the inner city and rural areas, places that are unlikely to be attractive to married clergy. Such positions are also hard to fill in some Protestant denominations. It is not that they do not have the ordained clergy, but that their married clergy do not want to take these undesirable jobs.

      This is another excellent point by Jack.

      Assignments of married priests would be more fraught with difficulties, inevitably. It means uprooting families; it would also mean, alas, assigning priests to “difficult” pastoral assignments that married clergy would greet with reluctance in some cases. Or, as you imply, bishops might find themselves reluctant to move such priests, despite a clear need (to get them out of where they are, or to put them in somewhere where they are needed) out of sympathy for the families.

      As for the article on deacons, I am not sure why there is a concern…the numbers continue to rise, despite retirements; because of the average age of new deacons, their careers are shorter (as Jack rightly notes), but they are also replaced by a steady flow of new deacons. The U.S. has by far the most deacons of any nation in the world; we have a long list of problems in the Church in the U.S., but a lack of permanent deacons really is not one of them.

      Again, relaxing the celibacy discipline may bring some aid on the manpower front, in some places. But it is not a silver bullet. With those extra numbers would come new difficulties. We have to confront those difficulties with open eyes. And have long talks with our Eastern Catholic clergy.

      1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #53:

        Again, relaxing the celibacy discipline may bring some aid on the manpower front, in some places. But it is not a silver bullet. With those extra numbers would come new difficulties. We have to confront those difficulties with open eyes. And have long talks with our Eastern Catholic clergy.

        All agreed. However, not all secular seminarians will wed before ordination. Also, religious priests even now often substitute for the secular clergy in parishes and even run entire parishes. I do not see a complete disappearance of celibate clergymen in the secular priesthood. One must remember that bishops will largely, but not exclusively, be drawn from a pool of celibate secular priests. Today sometimes religious priests are elevated to the episcopate, and that practice would continue. In any event, I strongly suspect that the Eastern custom of a celibate episcopate will be maintained in the Roman rite.

        A friend of mine who is Greek in background commented that a quarter of parish priests in Greece are celibate. This suggests that celibacy will remain present in some degree among the parish clergy, even if married priests eventually predominate.

  19. There are many permanent deacons who would need little further training to be qualified to be ordained to priestly ministry. They would be of invaluable service to Christ’s faithful and would be warmly welcomed. I predict that these men would eagerly accept whatever assignment would allow them to serve where most needed. I’m talking about those able to support themselves, whose children are adults and no longer dependent upon them. With no disrespect intended for our many generous international priests, these married clergy will serve more effectively and with greater acceptance.

  20. The crisis in priesthood in the West is a symptom of the crisis in faith.

    The Church could change her exceptionally long-standing discipline and ordain married men; she could attempt to do the impossible and ordain women. Ultimately, neither of those actions would make any difference. Treating the symptoms doesn’t do much good if the underlying condition is left alone!

    How many families actively encourage their sons to explore whether they are called to the priesthood? How many parishes encourage their young men to do the same (through, e.g., discernment groups)? How often is the beauty and importance of the priesthood communicated from the pulpit, or through the ars celebrandi of the liturgy? Dare it be suggested that the shortage of priests in the West can be correlated with a failure on the part of the laity to follow and pass on the Catholic faith in its fullness, especially since Vatican II?

    What Paul VI wrote in Sacerdotalis caelibatus back in 1967 is as true and relevant today as it ever has been. Instead of lobbying for change in this matter in his capacity as secretary for the Movement for a Married Clergy, Mr McDonnell would do well to reread Paul VI’s encyclical, paying particular attention to paragraphs 42-43.

  21. It was left to Pius X to implement the reform of frequent communion intended by Trent; his reform is explicit on that point. Reform can take centuries.

  22. #32 Matthew, there is no mention in my posting of my position as Secretary of the UK Movement for Married Clergy.
    I presented a story that reflects a changing time and new circumstances. I offered no solutions but did ask that we recognise where we are, and actively talk about realistic options for the Church of our children and grandchildren. Is that too much to ask?

    1. @Chris McDonnell (#34): [T]here is no mention in my posting of my position as Secretary of the UK Movement for Married Clergy.

      Why are you seemingly so shy about your position and vested interests? Would it, perhaps, detract from the air of neutral concern in your original post?

      As far as “realistic options” go, there are organisations – like the one you happen to be secretary of – that have been myopically lobbying for the same thing for decades. Yet Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI (and Francis, when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires) have all indicated that no relaxation of the discipline of celibacy is forthcoming. Indeed, Paul VI wrote that:

      The causes of the decrease in vocations to the priesthood are to be found elsewhere—for example, in the fact that individuals and families have lost their sense of God and of all that is holy, their esteem for the Church as the institution of salvation through faith and the sacraments. The problem must be examined at its real source. (Sac. caelibatus 49)

      Nothing in the intervening decades has shown him to be mistaken in this – indeed, the loss of the sense of the sacred is more evident now that it was in 1967.

      So, as has happened in a lot of the comments above, people can rehash the topic of married priests, or claim that our problems would be solved if only the Church accepted she can do the impossible and ordain women. It’s easy to wait – or lobby – for a top-down solution from Rome. It’s harder for us to begin to solve the “clergy crisis” where we need to begin: in our own families, parishes and dioceses; indeed, in our own hearts.

      For it’s not that God is calling fewer people to follow His plans for them; rather, fewer people are listening to Him. The “clergy crisis” in the West is a crisis first and foremost of faith. Celibacy, contra Fr Hoban, has very little to do with it.

      1. @Matthew Hazell – comment #38:

        For it’s not that God is calling fewer people to follow His plans for them; rather, fewer people are listening to Him. The “clergy crisis” in the West is a crisis first and foremost of faith. Celibacy, contra Fr Hoban, has very little to do with it.

        I know quite a few Anglican priests, and I have found that they are quite faith-filled and capable of expressing their convictions well. If the clerical crisis in Catholicism is due to a crisis of faith, then the crisis might be reserved to the articles of faith which pertain uniquely to Catholicism. What would these be? The articles of faith that we share with other Christian traditions greatly outnumber the differences. Would a debate on transsubstantiation or the immaculate conception dissuade many Catholic men from the priesthood? Rather a clergyperson’s faith as expressed through a pastoral care of souls transcends the theological fractures within western Christianity.

        An argument that the ordination of women and married persons in other liturgical Christian churches affects the faith of Catholic men considering the priesthood fails to persuade. Faith is a conviction available to all the faithful and is not a job prerequisite. An insinuation (of which I am not accusing you) that women priests in other traditions lack faith because Catholicism does not recognize their ordinations as ontologically valid implies to some degree that all Christian women are not faithful in the same manner (or even faithful in a deficient manner) as compared to men. The latter argument is untenable regardless of Catholicism’s doctrine of orders.

        What variables are left? Clerical celibacy has never been a matter of faith. Christians have been faithful and are faithful despite doctrines of orders. Compulsory celibacy counters not faith but a Catholic man’s legitimate call to both ministry and family.

      2. @Matthew Hazell – comment #38:
        I accept that I am but one voice, but I would gladly answer God’s call in my life if that were possible. Having a wife prevents me from becoming a Catholic priest (because I am a cradle Catholic; no such impediment would be in place were I an Anglican priest horrified by the equality of women).

        There are many like me, I am led to believe, who would willingly swell the ranks, and bring something of a different perspective too. I have had sexual relations. I have woken up at 3am to clean vomit and excrement produced in generous quantities by a beloved newborn. I have had to worry about how to stretch the finances to include new shoes for the child in a month where just buying food was hard enough. I have argued with my wife about all things. Yet all of this pastoral experience disqualifies me from becoming a pastor.

      3. @Paul Robertson – comment #66:

        Paul, thank you for your comment. I would be very happy if you, and men with similar experiences, were ordained.

        The married priest of my parish is well-grounded in the lives of his parishioners because he has walked in similar footsteps. Unfortunately, many celibate priests are numb or even hostile to the crosses of everyday life. Many people seek pastoral assurance from their priests, and not necessarily citations from the Catechism.

        Don’t give up your dream, Paul. You certainly do not lack belief or faith! Do not listen to naysayers who wish to fetishize the celibate clergy rather than realize the call of married men.

      4. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #68:
        Jordan, thank you for your kind words.

        A number of people have asked me if I’d consider the deaconate. I’m not sure that it is my calling (you’ll appreciate the personal nature of this discernment, which I’m not going to share here); to me, it would be like priesthood-light: “you can’t be a priest, here’s some crumbs instead”, which the deaconate is emphatically not.

        Maybe, by the time my children are a bit older than primary-school-age, something will have changed. I wait in joyful hope.

  23. How many families actively encourage their sons to explore whether they are called to the priesthood? Matthew @#32.

    CARA has challenged the notion that families have much to do with vocations to the priesthood.

    What Was Behind the 1960s Vocation Boom? Not Your Mom or Dad Apparently…

    http://nineteensixty-four.blogspot.com/2013/08/what-was-behind-1960s-vocation-boom-not.html

    In 1966 there were nearly 60,000 priests in ministry in the United States and only about 17,900 parishes. Few were concerned with the notion of a “priest shortage.” I didn’t talk to your mom about this but sociologist Father Joseph H. Fichter, S.J. may have. Especially if you grew up in Illinois. Deep in the CARA archives sits an historical gem of social science, “Catholic Parents and the Church Vocation” published in 1967 using data from 1964 Fichter survey.

    Parents were asked if they thought they should promote vocations to their children. Surprisingly, many did not feel they should. I think this stands in stark contrast to our “memories” of this period. Only 17% said they thought they should encourage vocations. Additionally, 25% said they should just “initiate a discussion” of vocations. Parents were most likely to say their child should “bring it up first” (31%). Four percent said they should pray for their child to be interested in a vocation but mention nothing to them about this and 23% said it should be left “completely in the hands of God.” I would not be surprised to see survey results like this in 2013 but it sounds a bit off coming from the parents of 1964 (…especially when we know now that encouragement is so important in fostering vocations).

    When I was in high school in the 1950s, I began to be deluged with vocational materials from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Our pastor had a priest friend in the order and had given him my name. My mother strongly objected. The materials were recruitment for the minor seminary, and my mother thought I was too young to make that decision. This was a very unusual action for her. Both she and my father had become mature (taken responsibility for their families) around age 16 and in every other aspect of my life gave me full adult responsibility at that age. However not with regard to going to a minor seminary.

    Neither objected to me entering the Jesuits at age 18. However the fact that I did was not important to either. In Jesuit lingo, they were “perfectly indifferent” to my vocation at age 18.

    1. @Jack Rakosky (#35): CARA has challenged the notion that families have much to do with vocations to the priesthood.

      Not quite a true conclusion, if I’m reading your summary correctly. All CARA appears to be saying is that, in the recent past, a majority of parents in the USA didn’t consider it their responsibility to encourage their sons to think about whether they were called to the priesthood. That doesn’t mean families don’t have much to do with vocations – to get that information, surely you’d have to ask active priests about whether they received any parental encouragement and whether it was a factor in their vocational discernment.

      There’s also this post from the same blog you linked to, which concludes that “[o]ne of the most important factors leading to the consideration of vocations is you (and at least two of your close friends, family, and fellow parishioners).”

      In any case, it doesn’t really affect my contention in this regard – which is that all fathers and mothers ought to talk with their sons about vocations, and encourage them to discern whether that vocation is to the priesthood. Families and parishes: that’s where we need to start in order to resolve the “clergy crisis”, rather than waiting (or lobbying) for some top-down “reform” from Rome as some here are advocating we do.

  24. One more “myth buster” from CARA. The time line of the “priest shortage.”

    We are accustomed to think of 1950 as a time of “priest surplus” but it the ratio of priests to parishes was 1.01 then when it is 0.97 now.

    The “priest surplus” came about in 1960 when the ratio of priests went up to 1.79 priests per parish. In other words we ordained a lot of priests in the 1950’s, possibly a reaction to the World War II and maybe to the Cold War? It was not the pre-Vatican II church that automatically rolled out vocations but something very specific to the 1950’s. American Grace makes a similar argument for religion in America.

    The priest surplus declined only a little to 1.72 in 1970, more substantially to 1.53 in 1980, and to 1.28 in 1990, and to 1.08 by 2000.

    In some ways we have been living off the priest surplus of 1960 clear though 2000.

    In the past decade we have begun to maintain the priest-parish level by closing parishes. Now that we are back to 1950 levels, the question is how far we will go below that level.

    http://nineteensixty-four.blogspot.com/2013/08/surplus-and-shortage-mapping-priests.html

    CARA thinks we have come to a critical point”

    Although 2012 may not have felt all that different from 2011, it did represent a new era of parish life in the United States: parishes are beginning to outnumber a key population of priests. Coinciding with recent efforts in New Evangelization and welcoming new or returning parishioners to communities, it seems unimaginable to simultaneously be reducing the number of parishes and/or Masses. Instead, it may be time to more boldly let the country know that the Church is “now hiring.”

  25. The Cara statistics are helpful in keeping a certain perspective. But, they don’t include the recognition that for most places in the U.S. the parish of the 1950’s and 1960’s is very different from that of the 21st century. They differ in geographic size, parishes of today cover more territory; they differ in population, and perhaps most importantly, they differ in ethnic and racial diversity. I grew up in western Pennsylvania in a town of less than 12000 people. In the 1950’s the community had a Polish church, churches that had been historically German or Irish and one that was Slovak. Priests tended to minister to those of their own ethnicity. I now live and serve in a large parish in the Southwest that is ethnically and racially diverse. I can see very clearly how much more challenging it is to be a pastor under these circumstances. I wonder to what extent there is a reluctance on the part of parents who are strong, committed active Catholics to want their sons to be subjected to such stressful demanding lives.

  26. #38 No Matthew, it wasn’t shyness that prevented inclusion of my position as Secretary of the Movement for Married Clergy here in the UK but a desire to state clearly and with a degree of sadness the position the church is now in, irrespective of my personal position.
    Please read Brendan Hoban’s book “Who will break bread for us?” again, for his graphic analysis of the Irish church is but a precursor of the future for other national churches. Hold on to your conviction that celibacy is essential for the celebration of the eucharist if you wish. I want to help sustain a church that will include my grandchildren, firm in faith and nourished by the Lord. Seeking the holy comfort zone of history doesn’t necessarily show us the way forward. The courage of a pilgrim church is seeking faith in the world we presently live in, and that is not being myopic as you put it.

  27. Ordaining married men is an issue of justice. The CC has rejected the scriptural tradition on this matter in the interest of maintaining control over its clergy. Opening the priesthood to mature married men will, in fact, provide much needed help in staffing rather than closing and consolidating parishes. There are some parishes that are no longer viable because of demographic changes, but many more are being shut because there are not enough priests. Celibacy, according to all recent popes, is not an essential requirement of priestly ministry. How could they say otherwise in the face of ordaining married men who were once Anglicans or Protestants; and in the face of the constant practice in the Eastern Churches. Matthew, you come off as a trad who is happy to see the Vatican II people and priests fade into oblivion.

    1. @Jack Feehily (#43): Matthew, you come off as a trad who is happy to see the Vatican II people and priests fade into oblivion.

      Then, since I obviously loathe Vatican II (?!), would it be churlish of me to cite Presbyterorum Ordinis 16?

      This holy synod asks not only priests but all the faithful that they might receive this precious gift of priestly celibacy in their hearts and ask of God that he will always bestow this gift upon his Church.

      Again, along with Sacerdotalis caelibatus, PO is a document that some perhaps need to re-read. Oh, and we can’t forget Pastores dabo vobis either.

      @Jordan Zarembo (#42): If the clerical crisis in Catholicism is due to a crisis of faith, then the crisis might be reserved to the articles of faith which pertain uniquely to Catholicism.

      I appreciate your attempt at an ecumenical approach, but I’m not entirely sure what your point is. In all honesty, who Protestants choose to install/ordain as their ministers doesn’t concern me. Protestant ministers have not received Holy Orders, and thus are not priests.

      @Chris McDonnell (#40): Please read Brendan Hoban’s book… his graphic analysis of the Irish church is but a precursor of the future for other national churches.

      Fr Hoban’s analysis is only a precursor of the future if nothing changes. MMC suggests that “the Western Church should consider the relaxation of the discipline of celibacy in order that we might meet the needs of the Church in our time” (mission statement #9), and others here are suggesting the same thing. What I’m suggesting is only what Vatican II asks of us in Presbyterorum Ordinis, and the proper implementation of it that the post-conciliar Popes have promoted; if that’s synonymous in your mind with “[s]eeking the holy comfort zone of history”, then so be it.

      1. @Matthew Hazell – comment #46:

        I appreciate your attempt at an ecumenical approach, but I’m not entirely sure what your point is.

        In sum, belief is not faith. The shortage of priests in Catholicism is not a matter of faith, but possibly a matter of belief. Faith is an emotional and subjective trust in God as well as a willingness to follow his commandments. Belief is an intellectual assent to a body of dogma and doctrines. A person can be of a Christian faith and also a moral person without assenting to the dogma and doctrine of Rome. This includes the clergy of other Christian traditions. Although they are only laymen and laywomen in the eyes of Rome, nevertheless one would be hard-pressed to say that these clergy lack Christian faith even if they lack belief in Catholic dogma and doctrine.

        If you contend instead that belief is faith, then you have set yourself on a slope towards two convictions. The first is fideism. The second is the possibility that priests have more belief-faith than laypersons because a priest’s ontological transformation (a belief) elevates their faith (a properly subjective condition) above that of any layman or laywoman. I would be very, very hesitant to equate belief and faith especially in the course of a discussion on celibacy and ordination.

        Please do not casually throw about terms such as “belief” and “faith” in the context of highly emotionally charged questions.

      2. @Matthew Hazell – comment #46:
        “In all honesty, who Protestants choose to install/ordain as their ministers doesn’t concern me. Protestant ministers have not received Holy Orders, and thus are not priests.”

        None but a Protestant who has been received into full communion with the See of Rome could write in such a smug and ungracious manner.

  28. Matthew #39

    parishes: that’s where we need to start in order to resolve the “clergy crisis”, rather than waiting (or lobbying) for some top-down “reform” from Rome as some here are advocating we do.

    I agree but with a very different twist.

    When a largely “top down” reform comes, the married clergy and women clergy that will be chosen will be second class clergy, solidify the clericalism of the church, and largely undo most of the progress that we have made in regard to lay participation.

    The growth of ministry in the last several decades, particularly in the USA, has been in the deaconate and in lay ecclesiastical ministry. This growth has been driven and guided by parishes more than dioceses and supra-diocesan organizations. The vocations to these ministries have also been discerned largely at the parish level.

    In our parishes we all (priests, deacons, lay ministers, laity) should be encouraging married men who are capable of becoming priests and who strongly support lay ecclesiastical ministry to become deacons in their forties or fifties with the idea that they may later become priests in their fifties or sixties.

    The women in lay ecclesiastical ministry should be particularly interested in this issue since many of the younger priests have little enthusiasm for lay ecclesiastical ministry.

    If we begin to build strong relationships among these “new” likely transitional deacons and lay ecclesiastical ministers (who are mostly women) we would set the stage for acceptance of women into the deaconate (or perhaps something similar, e.g. minor orders that can preach and teach).

    My own hunch is that both a married priesthood (vir probati) and women deacons (or something similar) will come about but in a manner that makes them both second class clergy. It is up to everyone at the parish level to see that people who are chosen are not “second class.” We should be beginning that process now so that the deacons in the pipeline are the ones we want to become priests.

  29. It always puzzles me that people presume to know the mind of God when it comes to whether or not he is/isn’t calling as many people to the ministry. Where is the evidence to make such an assertion?

  30. A major theme here is that we need priests because we need the Eucharist, but this, perhaps, is very illustrative of one major cause of the so-called vocations crisis. Is everyone here so innocent that the thought of being unable to go to Confession causes no qualms at all, that dying without a priest is not a real cause for concern? One could make a very good case that our vocations crisis is better termed a Confession crisis, and this from two standpoints.

    First of all, could it be that the priesthood is being withdrawn from us, that the Mass and the Eucharist are being withdrawn from us, precisely because there are too many sacrilegious communions? Given that almost no one goes to Confession in this very hedonistic and materialistic age, but everyone goes to Communion at Sunday Mass, it seems a possibility worth considering

    Secondly, if we won’t go to Confession, why do we need priests? Such indeed may be the very thoughts of God . . . As it says in Scripture, “Your eyes have only to look to see how the wicked are repaid.” We are repaid with fewer priests. Perhaps we should go to confession!

    “Over the years what have you heard from the Church is the recommended frequency of Confession?” So far, posing this question to fellow Catholics has always yielded the same answer: “At least once a month.” Yet do the Math. Take a parish with about 1000 communicants per week- St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland, Oregon, for example. Figuring 4.3 weeks per month, and 4 minutes per penitent, for each parishioner to go to confession a minimum of once a month would require 15.50 hours of priestly availability in the confessional per week We are in a truly absurd situation. How absurd? Only 780 of the 1000 communicants would even be able to make their Easter duty given the one hour of Confession offered in this and in most parishes. Who’s kidding whom?

    Corporately we have decided that we do not want the Sacrament of Penance. The Lord is simply honoring our decision by withdrawing the priesthood.

  31. #46 Matthew, our failure to recognise the need of the times does no service to the Church whose faith in the Lord we profess. Reflect on the South American diocese of some 600,000 people with 60 parishes and 30 priests reported here a while back and then ask if a rigid adherence to a disciplinary code from the Council of the Lateran in 1139 offers a realistic solution to the needs of people today.
    If the collegiality of bishops advocated by the Second Vatican Council had been allowed to flourish then local solutions could have been found to solve local problems. I am very pleased to hear that you have read the Mission Statement of the Movement for Married Clergy. It is a balanced and reasonable statement of the case to allow choice. Others can read the Mission statement in full at http://www.marriedclergy.co.uk if they so wish.
    And when all the dust settles, just remember Dom Paul Zeigler’s words which I modify slightly “Sorry no mass today, there is no priest to share the Eucharist with you”

    1. @Chris McDonnell (#49): If the collegiality of bishops advocated by the Second Vatican Council had been allowed to flourish then local solutions could have been found to solve local problems.

      Those same bishops approved Presbyterorum Ordinis by 2,390 to 4. So I’m not sure you can legitimately use the Council to endorse a position demonstrably contrary to its intentions – intentions later restated by Paul VI and John Paul II.

      Mr Howard is right, by the way. For reference, I live in England, in the Diocese of Hallam. I am very aware of the possibility that priests in Hallam may be more scarce than they are now within 10-15 years. But any solution cannot, to my mind, lie in abolishing something the Church has treasured as a gift for nearly a thousand years.

      @Jordan Zarembo (#47): The shortage of priests in Catholicism is not a matter of faith, but possibly a matter of belief.

      I think it’s a matter of both. Faith and belief are distinct, but related. I don’t remember ever equating the two, or even implying that they are the same, so I’m not sure your criticism is that well aimed. Thank you for your clarification, though.

  32. Chris – if I may add to Matthew’s referencing VII priestly life document and subsequent papal reinforcements.

    His focus is heavy on tradition but not history. The two documents he named were taken up at the very end of VII – some would say that they were rushed. The context was also that Paul VI limited the council’s discussion by not allowing celibacy to be on the agenda.

    Simplistically, the council fathers tried to synthesize different theological emphases – priest as another Christ and priest as minister or servant who is called from the people of God. Thus, the document has inherent tensions. One focus started with VII’s *universal baptism* and *people of God* in defining priestly life; one focus picked up on Trent and looked at *alter Christus*, more cultic role, separate from the laity, etc. At best, it was a *compromise* document and JPII, especially, chose to highlight the alter cristus part.

    To support your excellent post – isn’t it time to move beyond the alter christus model? VII started with baptism and that eucharist is the foundational sacrament (not just one among seven and we don’t start with ordination, we start with eucharist); and that this changes how we look at priesthood, priestly ministry and along with other VII documents and our early church history, that celibacy is just a legal requirement and should not be allowed to block the church’s sacramental mission.

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #51:

      His focus is heavy on tradition but not history. The two documents he named were taken up at the very end of VII – some would say that they were rushed. The context was also that Paul VI limited the council’s discussion by not allowing celibacy to be on the agenda.

      Simplistically, the council fathers tried to synthesize different theological emphases – priest as another Christ and priest as minister or servant who is called from the people of God. Thus, the document has inherent tensions. One focus started with VII’s *universal baptism* and *people of God* in defining priestly life; one focus picked up on Trent and looked at *alter Christus*, more cultic role, separate from the laity, etc. At best, it was a *compromise* document and JPII, especially, chose to highlight the alter cristus part.

      In other words, you don’t like the text of Presbyterorum Ordinis – or at least not certain parts of it.

      Well, that is fair enough; there are some passages of conciliar texts *I* don’t much care for, either. At some point, we should compare notes.

      But to the extent that P.O. has magisterial authority at all, the text is what we have to work with, not allusions to what this or that faction was hoping for behind the scenes (a text which, as Matthew notes, only 4 Fathers voted against). We can’t wish it away or interpret it away, no matter how it came into being. If the law in question is open to change (which I think just about everything in V2 that is not a quotation of an existing dogma is), then we need a legitimate authority to write a new law to replace it – in this case, either a Pope or a new general council.

      Otherwise, I think it is only fair to say that if traditionalists or conservatives get beat over the head repeatedly with the mandate of the Council for some desired end, one must be prepared face the actual texts of that Council, especially when they happen to be infelicitous. We have to start with the texts.

      1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #55:
        You have made assumptions that are not true. Don’t have an issue with PO – what I did raise was the context and some of the studies that provide the history of the document – how it was developed, who wrote it, why, the haste at the end of the council and a desire to close the council, the fact that it was limited from the get go by Paul VI not allowing celibacy to be discussed, etc.

        And, again, you knee jerk to the usual – *must start with the texts*. As Fr. Ruff repeats consistently over and over, the text is not a tabula rasa – in order to understand a document, you have context, historical council father notes, you have committee notes on the text, etc. The document did not fall out of the sky. It was a compromise document not unlike all of the documents e.g. Sacrosanctum Consilium has compromise articles and sections (Paul Inwood reminds us of this constantly).
        Unfortunately, without taking the context, committee notes, council father notes into consideration, anyone can take a text and write revisionist history (which is what we experience too often with SC and trads).

        So, within that understanding, PO is fiine. But, like all VII documents, I see them as beginnings; not ends. And, again, church history (vs. mythical tradition) indicates that development, change happens from the bottom up – not just from pope/council – very often, that was the last step).

        And, again, your fixation on law -law is not the centrality or focus of our faith or church – it is merely a support – nothing more, and nothing less. And, as others have said, VII tried to posit episcopal conferences as the driving force in development and change (rather than a top down only approach). And there is no reason why this couldn’t happen on celibacy – permission for Africa/South American bishops to ordain viri probati.

        IMO, PO is a compromise document (not unlike SC) and this might have been one reason why it got such overwhelming positive votes?
        It does raise some questions for me:
        – what comes first? eucharist or ordination
        – would we have eucharist if we didn’t have ordination?
        – and it connects to – would we have a church without a magisterium?
        – what comes first – church or papacy/magisterium?

      2. @Bill deHaas – comment #61:

        Hello Bill,

        You have made assumptions that are not true. Don’t have an issue with PO – what I did raise was the context and some of the studies that provide the history of the document – how it was developed, who wrote it, why, the haste at the end of the council and a desire to close the council, the fact that it was limited from the get go by Paul VI not allowing celibacy to be discussed, etc.

        And, again, you knee jerk to the usual – *must start with the texts*. As Fr. Ruff repeats … the text is not a tabula rasa – in order to understand a document, you have context, historical council father notes, you have committee notes on the text.

        I start with the texts, Bill, because there must be something limit and order how we implement the Council. Otherwise, we’re at risk for a free-for-all. And that free-for-all can cut lots of ways, including some you won’t find condign.

        On some of these documents, I’ve read the preparatory documents, the Vorgrimmler, etc., so I know they were usually compromises of some sort. But digging behind documents for the intentions of the Fathers is a difficult and dangerous business.

        You say that you don’t have an issue with P.O.. All right, fair enough. But you also say that you are skeptical of the alter Christus model of the priesthood (which goes back much further than Trent, BTW), and “seriously question whether that model can continue.” Yet P.O. is fairly permeated with the alter Christus. If we suddenly decide that this model no longer works for the priesthood, we’re jettisoning vast swaths of the most relevant Council document. A document which nonetheless was approved by all but 4 Council Fathers. Had they been presented with a document that renounced alter Christus altogether, would it have been approved? I doubt it.

        Likewise, celibacy. Yes, Paul VI limited the mandate. But even so, P.O. dedicates three full paragraphs to enthusing about it at length.

      3. @Richard Malcolm – comment #69:
        Thank you, your follow up comment only solidified what I was saying. Documents are living things – not inanimate objects or laws.

        The fact that PO makes celibacy central to its definition of priestly life shows its compromised character and limited scope. It puts celibacy (a discipline) as a core element – it isn’t. That alone should make us stop and think. (and dedicated three whole paragraphs – how ridiculous – so, everything is put on hold because PO dedicated three whole paragraphs. do you even listen to yourself?

      4. @Bill deHaas – comment #74:

        do you even listen to yourself?

        I”m listening to Vatican II, Bill. That’s all I’m doing. And that starts with the texts. I don’t say we can’t look at other sources for explanation, but they can’t simply contradict or completely vacate the texts. 99.9% of Council Fathers voted for a document that enthusiastically endorsed a celibate priesthood and a priesthood understood as alter Christus, among other things.

        If we don’t like the texts, we see whether they’re prescriptive or dogmatic. To the extent that it’s about celibacy, it’s prescriptive, albeit with a very ancient tradition behind it. To the extent that it is about the priesthood as alter Christus, I would strongly contend that it is dogmatic, because this understanding goes back to the early Church (though this ontology can and should be balanced by a strong sense of service and humility). In fact, I would argue that a priesthood that is *not* understood as alter Christus is not a priesthood at all, but merely a variant on Protestant ministry. And we are not Protestants.

        If we think the texts can and are able to be reformed or replaced, then we need new texts, and we need a Pope or Council to promulgate them. (For example, if Pope Francis comes out next year with an apostolic constitution creating exemptions to the celibacy discipline, this would be a valid exercise of power and a way to supersede what the Council says. Whether it would be prudent is another question.) We can’t just ignore the parts we don’t like. Because if we start doing that, I have a list of ones I’d like ignored or superseded, and I very strongly suspect that you won’t agree.

      5. @Richard Malcolm – comment #79:
        Yep, your suspicions are correct. But it brought to mind this from Yves Congar on the intial VII preparatory committee schema (1960):

        “It is this little system, carried to a mad extreme [à la manie], that some have for twelve years wished to impose upon us as alone orthodoxy. Among most assembled here, you don’t feel any concern for what would be needed in order to nourish and guide the Christian people or to call the
        world to the Gospel. All this, they say, belongs to the “pastoral”; it’s not part of “dogmatics”; it’s not our business. “Pastoral” for them means practical applications and popularization… Their “dogmatics” itself seems not to be interested in the central dogmas; it refuses to recognize the Christian mystery in its profound unity; it is becoming an ideology of pulverized assertions. To watch them among themselves, in their contemptuous unconsciousness, in the agreement underlying their disagreements, you sometimes have the impression of old children who have imprudently been entrusted with powerful means of destruction.”

        He describes two approaches – of the second he says:

        “Let’s reread the ecclesiastical texts of these last hundred years: encyclicals, letters, occasional discourses,//decisions taken against so-and-so, monita [warnings] of the Holy Office, etc.. Out of all this, without letting anything be lost and without correcting the slightest word, let’s make a patch-work; let’s push the thought a little further; let us give each assertion a greater value. Above all, let us not be looking at anything outside; let us not lose
        ourselves in new research on Scripture or the Tradition, nor a fortiori on recent thought, which would only make us risk relativizing the absolute we have.” Only the second sort is considered “safe” in a certain milieu.
        “This has no basis in the documents,” I’ve heard more than once. The conclusion drawn is that it’s not a safe doctrine, it’s a doctrine that we may set aside even if it has Scripture and Tradition behind it. Only ecclesiastical documents, especially the most recent ones, count. Of these documents, the slightest words are received as absolutes. In reply to any objection against this idea or that formulation or that one-sided phrase: Ipsa verba desumpta sunt ex documentis; sunt in talibus litteris encyclicis; in tali oratione
        pontificia [These very words were taken from the documents; they’re in such-or-such an encyclical, in such-or-such a papal speech]’ At that point no one has any rights except to bow down.
        This is an extreme positivism in method and fundamentalism of mind…, and it risks provoking among some a reaction of scorn for the literature of the magisterium.”

    2. @Bill deHaas – comment #51:
      If Presbyterorum Ordinis was able to hold multiple theological conceptions of the priesthood at once — the alter Christus, cultic view, and the universal, people-of-God view — why should we necessarily “move beyond” one model? Perhaps we should try to flesh out all the models more thoroughly.

      1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #60:
        Good points and questions, JP.

        Off the top of my head – think we are living through a period of time where this *multiple model* approach is showing tension creating gaps, delaying our ability to respond and develop, etc.

        IMO, we have *fleshed out* the alter christus model and seriously question whether that model can continue (in fact, it has been the dominant model since Trent and the dominant interpretation of VII’s PO document – see JPII, Benedict). We already have had synods and episcopal conferences that for years have asked for a re-orientation of this predominant model – it does not work in Africa, South/Central America, Asia, and some would say, even in the First World). (but these initiatives have been squelched)

        Finally, would like others to weigh in here but would suggest that the starting point has to be *ecclesiology* from which you would then draw your theology of priestly life. The ecclesiology that supports a sole alter christus model has been changed by VII.

        It is a complicated and complex discussion – but would argue that the council fathers saw a *servant* model that included sacraments – thus, stressing mission (not cultic only); living with your community; balancing sacramental duties with broader pastoral duties e.g. preaching, adult education, social justice activities, empowering the lay community, etc.

        (in some ways, this was the primary focus in Trent – benefices, non-resident pastors, sacramental duties for payment, non-observance of celibacy resulting in scandal and corruption – all of which contributed to protests (Protestantism). Trentan council fathers had to address these first before launching into a defense of the sacraments e.g. issues with practices that separated communion from liturgy; once a year reception, etc. Thus, Trent, in many ways, posited a *servant* model (for its day and times) rather than a purely cultic model (especially one in which clerics sold the sacraments).

        There are more educated folks on PTB in this area – but would suggest that this tension of models has been going on for over a century.

  33. @Alan Johnson – comment #45:
    +1

    There is no evidence that God has called anyone who is not listening. It is not much of a call if it cannot be heard.

    I can agree with some other points, with important twists that probably put me at odds with Matt. If there is a crisis of faith, it is among bishops not laity. I know one vocations director who visited “all” the high schools in the diocese; what he meant is all the Catholic high schools, which educate about 1 in 10 teen Catholics. Neglecting 95% of teens is a sure way to limit vocations. Bishops have to reach out beyond Catholic schools to extend vocations, a very difficult task.

    And the family is central to vocations, but siblings probably matter as much as parents. Unfortunately, there are not as many siblings as in the past. CARA analyzed birth order of those ordained in the US in 2012, and found mostly unremarkable numbers, until you look at how the family has changed. 42% of families with children under 18 in the US have only one child, but only 4% of the priests ordained last year were an only child. Only 20% of families has 3 or more children, yet 40% of priests were middle children. Siblings may not play a direct role in vocations, or may, but I suspect the gap here needs to be addressed.

  34. As a practical matter, ordaining married men would be more difficult than ordaining celibate women, FWIW.

    Also FWIW, Catholics as a society lack the skills to have these conversations intramurally. They’ve been stunted by too many generations of only having vertical conversations matter, and in one direction mostly. Addressing that problem must precede others, else we put cart before horse.

  35. …..which brings us back to the original premise, sorry no Mass today because there is no priest.

    Until we begin to think out of the box we will certainly continue to slide and things will become worse.

    Throw open the windows. Change the discipline to optional celibacy, not mandatory celibacy for priest and bishop, and open the diaconate to women. Realistically, ordaining older men Viri P. will not work, as some have suggested, because it will create a second class group of priests who because of their age will not be able to serve long. Opening the diaconate to women will create a dynamic in the Church that will tap into a large resource (50% of faithful). Finally, I do not think that we need to rely or seek advice from the Eastern Orthodox, their culture is completely different and don’t forget, in their opinion the bishop of Rome/Pope is only “first among equals”. They certainly do try to stick it to Rome as much as they can (to quote Cardinal Kasper, to H*ll with Moscow.)

    Expecting more priests without making significant changes reminds me of what Einstein once stated:
    “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

  36. Let’s see, let’s not have the blessing of mature married men as priests because they won’t serve very long? So let’s just put up more no Mass today signs. I believe we need to reassess our whole notion,of what it means to choose some baptized men to serve their respective communities as leaders, teachers, and sanctifiers. They’re not being called to join a priestly caste, to vie with one another for better benefices, or to Lord it over those they serve. They’re being called to form leaders, to teach others but not as know it alls, to sanctify others by emptying themselves as Jesus did. Never forget the definition of insanity by continuing to do the same things over and over again expecting a different result. Friends, the church is in deep doo doo.

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #65:
      Jack, I agree but up to a certain level. In a perfect world what you state is true but we don’t live in one. Look, we don’t need “real priests” and partial priests. Which priest is saying Mass today? Oh, I’ll go to the 11:00 am Mass with the real priest. How may communicants skip the eucharistic minister and sometimes the deacon to go to only to the priest?
      Any change we make must remove any hint of real vs partial priests who can only do “some things”.
      We need ONE clerical priesthood with optional celibacy.

  37. Additional burdens are placed on priests when they are made to be jacks-of-all-trades,….. leaders, preachers, celebrants, teachers, administrators etc. There are plenty of people in our parishes with one or more of these gifts, without necessarily having them all, and I am not aware that ordination bestows them all, either. Why not look at models of priesthood where people are commissioned/ordained for just a couple of the functions as and when needed. Among those people would be those ordained to celebrate those sacraments that require a priest. They could all be in other paid employment or retired, and have their own homes, thereby lifting a considerable finacial burden on the church. These teams of ministers could be led and coordinated on a deanery or area level by priests ordained to the more traditional ministry, or even local bishops.
    I am not sure, however if this would lead to a more or less hierarchical church, people being what they are …… “Oh you’re just a flower arranger? I’m a Eucharistic minister” is the unspoken attitude all too often already.

  38. Claire Mathieu : @Richard Malcolm – comment #52: I realize the challenges posed by a married priesthood. The prime candidates could be men in their late 40s, whose children have already left home and who have saved enough to be comfortable facing a few years with a single salary (their wife’s) and the remaining years of their active life with a small salary. They could be found among the middle-aged married men you already see active in many parishes.

    Hello Claire,

    Such an option is basically Todd has been talking about – viri probati. That’s one option, certainly – assuming that a diocese is open to investing that much resources in a man who will be giving them, say, 2-3 decades of service rather than 4-5. (I’d say: Why not? Late vocations are not unheard of even now. But that concern is out there.)

    Still, even for such men…seven years in seminary for a late life vocation, for a married father, is no small thing. You might need a different formation program for such men, just as long, obviously (we can’t skimp), but treated differently from celibate men in the 18-25 range. Again, something to talk with our Eastern Catholic friends about.

  39. Allan Johnson 67 Additional burdens are placed on priests when they are made to be jacks-of-all-trades,….. leaders, preachers, celebrants, teachers, administrators etc. There are plenty of people in our parishes with one or more of these gifts, without necessarily having them all, and I am not aware that ordination bestows them all, either. Why not look at models of priesthood where people are commissioned/ordained for just a couple of the functions as and when needed.

    Jack Feehily #65 I believe we need to reassess our whole notion, of what it means to choose some baptized men to serve their respective communities as leaders, teachers, and sanctifiers

    Dale Rodrigue # 64 Realistically, ordaining older men Viri P. will not work, as some have suggested, because it will create a second class group of priests who because of their age will not be able to serve long

    My past experience as model for the future

    In the early 1980s I was part of mostly voluntary pastoral staff of a medium size parish. That group of talented laity had been formed to pick up the slack when the parish lost its associate pastor to the priest shortage.

    1. Diversity of backgrounds is key to future parish leadership: we had men and women of diverse spiritualites (marriage encounter, cursillo, etc.) and diverse life experiences (losing a daughter to suicide, union shop steward, newspaper, African American public grade school teacher, etc).

    2. Non-permanent parish leadership is the key to the future: we all enjoyed doing this although it took a tremendous amount of time; however we all felt called to move on after about five years. In my case, the experience transformed and re-energized my vocation in the public mental health system and leadership in empowering mental health consumers.

    3. Most of the parish leadership will be voluntary (i.e. unpaid) including not only deacons by priests.

    We Christians are called to serve both in the church and society. In most cases that service is best accomplished by cycling among them, sometimes emphasizing the family side of our lives, sometimes the work side, sometimes the church community side.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #70:

      Re-visioning my past in terms of the future model

      When I was on pastoral staff, most of my fellow members quietly and separately suggested I become a deacon. They wanted me to preach, something that I have no desire to do. To which I responded “I am a former college professor; surely you do not want an hour lecture each Sunday.” However in retrospect I think they were on to something, and that in collaboration with them I could have developed a style of preaching that would have been very different from most preaching and from college lectures. People often perceive our talents more accurately than we do.

      I have often wondered if I had been ordained a deacon what would have happened when I moved to Cleveland. Given my role in this county in the public mental health system I would have preferred to be a roving preacher who helped parish communities understand mental illness and support people who are mentally ill. I think doing so would have been a powerful witness in my public life. Most of the people in the mental healh system understood the personal religious motivation that was the basis of my emphasis upon the dignity and empowerment of the mentally ill. What people did not perceive was that this was endorsed by the Catholic Church.

      As I prepared for retirement, I studied for a master’s degree in theology. In the process of reimaging my life as it would be lived in a future church, I would probably have been ordained a priest at retirement, not just to serve a particular parish by to provide my particular talents to the diocese at large.

      The future parish. The leadership of the parishes needs to include priests, deacons, and lay people. Most of the leadership should be non-permanent. There would be much circulation among parishes and between church and society roles.

      The office of pastor would be a primus inter pares elected for a time limited basis by the local community with the assent of the bishop. Pastors might be chosen from married priests in the parish, or nearby parishes, or from celibate priests who rotate around the diocese.

      One way of understanding my model of the future of parish is to translate the word ecclesia by network. Church is a community of religious networks (family, neighborhood, work, parish, schools, diocese). These networks are always growing and changing.

  40. Jack, I have doubts about having no permanent parish leadership. My uninformed conjecture is that moving pastors from parish to parish every six years has contributed significantly (on top of the sexual abuse scandal) to the alienation of parishioners from clergy, and to the lack of community.

    1. @Claire Mathieu – comment #72:
      Claire, it doesn’t have to be a problem. Look at the LCWR model of leadership: they have a past-president, a president and a president-elect. Between the three of them, they provide constant renewal at the top, yet also continuity. The faces always change, but they change gradually.

      In the model where the parish organisation is provided by a number of people, the priest will be one of them, and will not set the tone of the parish all by himself. The gradual turnover of staff will keep the energy flowing, but will also provide continuity. In addition, with a number of people all keeping their eyes on each other, the probability of any single person getting away with abuse for long is reduced.

      It’s a possible antidote to clericalism.

    2. @Claire Mathieu – comment #73:
      Moving priests every 6 years is not mandatory, they can serve a second term of 6 and when a priest reaches a certain age, 65 I believe, they can stay on indefinately. Community is one thing that is developed and reworked through time, the formation of a community is always ongoing. A parish does not benefit from a priest staying 20-40 years, those transitions are always hard and the people of those communities usually scatter when the new priest comes to town. A 6 to 12 year commitment usually makes for a stable community and remember the priest is human also. There is only so much a person can do to influence during the tenure. A volunteer leadership can work, it saves the parish money and also makes the parishoners commit themselves to the parish.

  41. The current discussion here should be the public discussion in each diocese,
    allowing all the issues to be critically examined.
    It does no harm to air the arguments and is informative to all taking part.
    Is it too much to ask that a Bishop has the courage to set up such a forum?

  42. Claire Mathieu : Jack, I have doubts about having no permanent parish leadership. My uninformed conjecture is that moving pastors from parish to parish every six years has contributed significantly (on top of the sexual abuse scandal) to the alienation of parishioners from clergy, and to the lack of community.

    Actually, I think that’s something that a lot of us can agree on.

  43. There is another factor in recent years for the reduction in priestly callings. For centuries, the priesthood was a legitimate and honorable professional alternative for men who felt less called to the Married With Children lifestyle. Under guidance of Pope Francis, who are we to judge?

    Yet just as the Church works to expunge many such candidates and seminarians, the World is opening doors and noting its acceptance of such men. A small group perhaps, but one parish without a priest is one too many.

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