Pope Francis says that the training of priests must be a “work of art, not a police action…We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the people of God. This really gives me goose bumps.”
Pray Tell has heard increasing reports in the last few years about difficulties with some recently ordained priests. There are divisions in some parishes because some younger guys are more traditional or conservative or legalistic than much of their flock. This seems to be an important issue that needs addressing. To get the conversation going, Pray Tell went to some folks we knew in diocesan offices and asked them to reflect on the issue as constructively as possible.
The three contributors writing below have asked to remain anonymous. Given the highly sensitive nature of this issue, and the possibility of hurt feelings within dioceses if the writer were known, Pray Tell has agreed to their request for anonymity. We hope this puts the focus on the message rather than the writer.
We asked the contributors, “What is a positive, constructive way to deal with young priests who have good zeal, who want to do the right thing, but what they do sometimes doesn’t build up the church and instead causes ill will? What good attitudes are needed? Is there a need for better education and formation? Is it an issue of maturity, and can we be hopeful that the crucible of life will polish rough edges in young people’s temperaments?”
We hope that younger priests will come to Pray Tell, feel respected, and hear the loving challenges presented them. And we welcome them, and you, to join the conversation!
The last several years, I have increasingly found it difficult to engage in a positive and constructive way with many of our newly ordained priests. My role as the diocesan director of the Office of Worship allows me to work with these men directly during their seminary formation for ordination planning, and often more indirectly after they are ordained. While I can handle the criticisms (the type of censer we use or the style of vesture, etc.), lay ministers in parishes are having more difficulty coping.
I often receive calls in my office from lay ministers and parishioners regarding actions by these men. The issues include rigidity, unwillingness to receive people where they are, offending messages during homilies, confusing interpretations of rubrics, very lengthy processes of purifying vessels at the altar, and making changes to parish practices, though they are valid and licit, because of his personal preference. My encouraging lay ministers and the faithful to speak with the priest about these issues doesn’t seem to work. They are afraid or unwilling because of a perceived lack of openness on the part of the priest, or a very real fear of being fired for speaking up.
To be fair, I am sure that problems can be seen in all generations of priests. I would imagine that a generation or two ago, the older priests were lamenting the younger priests’ ideals and actions. Among those being ordained now, there are certainly those who have good pastoral qualities, leadership skills, and sensitivity to community. However, there are also many who seem to have “all the answers.” Because of this, these men are perceived as caring more about their interpretation of the rubrics than the Mass, unwilling to engage in conversation, overly critical of the people they serve, and unwilling to receive feedback.
With all this being said, newly ordained priests are a gift to the Church. We can learn much from their passion for Christian discipleship, reverence for the Eucharist, energy and seemingly fearless desire to evangelize. When one has been in ministry a long time, new energy helps to remind us why we once started serving in church ministry. My question is this: what is the community’s role in helping to develop better leadership skills with those newly entering ordained ministry? I hope for a fruitful dialogue.
When I was about to begin ministry in parish liturgy a long time ago, I prepared to encounter the people of my parish with great confidence. I had a fine educational pedigree, was respected by my peers, and had an excellent skill set. Give me five years, I thought, and this would be the best parish in the diocese!
I quickly fell from the pedestal I had created for myself. People didn’t particularly care where I was educated. They didn’t know my peers and didn’t care what they thought of me. My skill set didn’t seem to have nearly enough tools.
That was lesson number one of a long series of lessons I have had over the years. I’ve learned from accomplishments and failures, from wise ministers and crabby sacristans, from compliments and insults, from bishops and pastors and from the average Catholic in the pew. Ultimately, of course, God was the wise master teacher who presented these lessons.
With that in mind, I would like to offer a little advice to newly ordained men who are beginning their own lifetime of learning.
1. Open yourself up to a wide range of pastoral experiences. You only have a short time as a parochial vicar, so take in as much as you can. Many pastors complain to me that some associates think that celebrating Mass and hearing confessions are their only real commitments as a priest. Don’t fall into that trap! Attend parish events and school concerts, endure parish council meetings, visit the sick, say Mass in the jail, learn what other staff members do, ask lots and lots of questions.
2. Don’t make sweeping judgments about people. People are complex. Not every Catholic who likes to sing the Agnus Dei in Latin wants the parish to celebrate Extraordinary Form Masses. People who prefer contemporary music may also prefer fiddleback chasubles with maniples. Some feel called to contemplation while others to service and action. Don’t assume that you know everything about a person based on very few facts. Once we’ve called someone a “flaming liberal” or “right wing radical” we have compartmentalized them and they can be dismissed. There is a great diversity of charisms, talents, and experiences in our parishes. Harmonize them for the glory of God.
3. Don’t see everyone who disagrees with you as a “dissident.” This word is applied freely by many clergy and laity to anyone who disagrees with them. Do they prefer a Eucharistic Chapel to a front-and-center tabernacle? They are dissident. Do they genuflect before Communion? Dissident! Do they complain when there is incense and Mass parts are in Latin? Dissident! I have yet to meet the perfect Catholic (although I have met many people who think that they are). Remember, “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Mt. 7:1). Honest self-reflection is related to this. Sometimes the priest has to stand firm even when everyone disagrees with him. Sometimes, when everyone disagrees with him, he may be wrong. A wise person can tell the difference.
4. Seek out the lost sheep. I have heard many priests over the years dismiss Catholics who are marginal in their practice of the faith. I frequently have heard priests say that if this or that person doesn’t like what he is saying, they can leave the Church! Obviously the faith can’t be watered down, but everyone is made by God in his image and is deeply loved by God. Look to the Good Shepherd for guidance. He didn’t say, “Read this Catechism and fully believe it all, then come and see”! These marginal Catholics are the prodigal sons, the lost coins, the woman at the well. The liturgy tells us that Christ thirsts for their faith. As Pope Francis so beautifully says, don’t just tell them about the faith. Go out and meet them, walk with them, teach them, love them. Pope Paul VI eloquently summed up this idea forty years ago, saying “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41).
5. Follow the law of love. Love is sometimes viewed as weak and “soft Catholicism.” Yet, “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rm. 13:10). Loving another means that we are patient and kind towards every person regardless of who they are or what they believe. Love doesn’t jealously seek a higher position or more notoriety. The person who loves is neither arrogant nor a gossip. Love isn’t cynical, smirking at one’s superiority over those “pants-suit-wearing nuns” or those “Krazy Konservatives.” Love doesn’t call other people derogatory names. Love isn’t subordinate to the truth but complementary to it. Love ultimately unites rather than divides. Love is of such great importance that the Lord reminds us that we only will be recognized as his follower by our love for one another (Jn 13:35). God is love. If love is not present, we are not allowing God to be present. Where there is love, God is there.
Diocesan Official #3:
I would like to begin with an observation: this is an issue at both ends of the theological-political spectrum. While it may be more common now for new priests to be more “rigid” in their application of liturgical norms, we also have a history of those who have been much too “lax” in their approach to applying the same. Both would claim the “desire to do the right thing” as their motivation, and both—regardless of intention—can harm, and have harmed, the Church.
Is it an issue of maturity? On the one hand, there may be an inability to think outside of black-and-white categories, or a desire for security that is, in the end, illusory. If so, assuming that time alone will be corrective may be a dangerous assumption. Those attitudes may, instead, be perpetuated in the seminary environment. Such candidates need to be challenged early in their formation. In addition, a serious look needs to be given at how seminarians are selected and to the whole issue of minor seminaries, especially since affective and intellectual maturity seems to be increasingly delayed as adolescence becomes prolonged. On the other, immaturity may be manifested by an antinomian or rebellious attitude towards authority. I would think it less likely that one so predisposed would apply for the seminary, but such an attitude will have as much a negative effect on liturgical praxis as a more rigid attitude would.
Is it an issue of intellectual formation? On the one hand, what some individuals are taught in seminary may be “de-formative” – perpetuating a strident clericalism. Too often we place the ministry of priests and the ministry of others (deacons, laity) in a zero-sum relationship: one can be promoted only at the expense of the others. Such an attitude is nonsense, yet still gets play, and from both sides of the spectrum. If we are promoting clericalism in seminary (and deacon formation programs) or an anti-clerical attitude (in deacon and lay ministry formation programs), then we need to take a hard look at ourselves.
On the other, “truth” has become what one decides it is. Some seminarians are simply not open to formation, to being challenged. They have decided on the “truth,” based on certain websites or Internet personalities, whether on the “right” or on the “left.” If they encounter something different in the classroom or in their reading, it does not matter: the seminary faculty is always wrong. Sometimes, the candidates are dishonest and tell the formation staff what they think it is that the staff wants to hear; but, in other cases, bishops—desperate for warm bodies to staff parishes and to keep vocation numbers up—simply ordain such men and thereby allow such attitudes to persist.
Is it an issue of pastoral formation? Liturgy in seminary takes place in an environment quite different from that of a parish. On the one hand, I hope we could agree that it is good for seminarians to learn and to experience the Church’s liturgy as they are being formed. On the other, we need to ask if we are always celebrating the liturgy well in our seminaries, and if we are exposing our seminarians to the joys and challenges of liturgical ministry in parish settings in a way that helps develop their pastoral skills.
For example, how well are seminarians prepared to exercise the legitimate flexibility and adaptability found in the liturgical books in a pastoral fashion – that is, for the good of the community and not to push one’s personal agenda or piety? Is such an appropriate exercise of pastoral judgment distinguished from changes made to the liturgy that are idiosyncratic and contrary to liturgical norms? Are seminarians taught that while our starting point is to respect the rubrics and the texts found in the liturgical books (“do the red, say the black”), something more is needed to be an effective presider (SC #11)?
Is it an issue of spiritual formation? Whether on the right or on the left, the cleric who imposes “his” liturgy on the assembly has lost sight of the fact that the liturgy does not belong to him or to any single group, but to the Church. At the same time, that liturgy is also particular to, incarnate in, a specific place and time. I am certainly not suggesting that the community should be given carte blanche; there are plenty of parishes whose liturgical practices—often due to the “de-formations” imposed by earlier pastors—are in need of correction. There are plenty of communities in need of solid liturgical formation. But what is driving the priest who wants to make changes? Is it a lack of self-awareness or humility, a savior-complex or need to control, and/or a negative attitude towards the laity that fuels the desire to impose one’s way of doing things on a community? Or is he motivated by not just a love of God and of the liturgy (which can be abstract), but of this people? And does he have the skills and dispositions to pursue needed changes in a way that is pastorally sensitive; that distinguishes between the urgent, the important, and the tangential; that refuses to let the perfect become the enemy of the good?
Is it an issue of mentoring? While seminarians are exposed to a great deal of philosophy and theology, what is needed is the experience of putting such learning into practice. Ideally, the assigning of new priests to be tutored by a more experienced priest ought to help bridge that gap between theory and praxis. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Effective mentoring requires that mentors be properly formed in the liturgy (both intellectually and spiritually), have the skills to mentor constructively, and take the time to do so. Sadly, at least in my observations, such is rarely the case—and either the errors and idiosyncrasies of the elder priest get perpetuated or the errors and idiosyncrasies of the new priest go unchallenged and uncorrected. In the end, it is the parishioners who are the ones who suffer and are deprived of the Church’s liturgy.
The selection and formation of seminarians, a willingness to discern whether or not a given candidate has the proper dispositions to be a good priest instead of just playing a numbers game, preparation of effective mentors for those newly ordained; all of these are important issues that need to be addressed. But, perhaps the deepest problem is that neither our candidates nor our formators nor those in our parishes have fully internalized the truth that the liturgy is what we do together as the Body of Christ. It is not what a priest does alone with the rest of us watching or helping or doing our own thing. Without the whole Body, there is no liturgy. Until all of us live and breathe this truth, a distorted approach to the liturgy (whether clericalist or populist; whether driven by the conservative/traditional right or the progressive/liberal left) will persist.
Coming soon: a response from a young, traditionally-inclined priest.
Hi all – In case you’re curious, I had done most of the soliciting and collecting of these essays while I was editor in December, so Nathan and I agreed that I’d complete the editing now and put it under my name, but his initials indicate he signed off on it. And now I’ll go back to my sabbatical…
I look forward to your comments! I hope they will all be respectful and constructive.
It’s not only the new priests. There is a clerical mentality that cuts across all ages and formative experiences. I know of a 70-year-old pastor who, in the year or so he has been in a new parish, has 1) eliminated the names of the pastoral council from the bulletin; 2) attempted to cut pastoral council meetings from 10 to 4 per year; 3) installed a glass box for sacred oils in the Mary Chapel, while there us a perfectly good metal box installed within the sanctuary; 4) ripped up the sanctuary carpeting and replaced it with a marble floor; 5) closed off two of the four main exit doors to the church (one assumes without asking the Fire Department what it thought); 6) ignored suggestions that he hire a deacon; 7) reacts suspiciously, defensively, and often with an insult whenever you bring something to his attention. There is nothing new about clericalism It spans all ages and types. That is what Francis is trying to get at.
@Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #1:
Anthony, I really appreciate your initiating such a discussion. The issue is very real in certain places and our lay colleagues often find little avenues to explore attitudes that have developed in seminaries of which they have no contact. Good luck to you.
@Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #1:
I think dialogue is good. I know for sure that the first essay that was given here directly applies to how some priests see me. I have received a great deal of flack in my first few years of priesthood from a select few who grew up in a parish that was inundated with liturgical abuses, as the current pastor had alluded to. Everything I did was with his permission and in obedience to him, although we both celebrated differently, the pastor admitted that in the things I had introduced to the parish were healthy and in accordance with the spirit of the liturgy.
One of the reasons I believe that we, the younger generation of priests are what some describe as “rigid” and we might just describe as “faithful” to the rubrics is seeing the spiritual value of obedience to the Universal Church. You have to keep in mind that we grew up in a Church without the Traditional Latin Mass, without seeing priests or religious in visible unity through clerical attire or habits. We also have grown up in a generation that exaggerates personal freedom and expression to the point that every man is an island. We feel isolated and a lack of union with 2000 years of tradition, but also community. Unknown to many of us, much of our motivation is linked to a desire for fraternity that is not “abstract” but is sacramental or tangible, and this fraternity is best expressed when we do the same thing. We have to avoid confusing unity with uniformity, but there needs to be a recognition of a legitimate overlap in this regard.
I would also conclude with my own sentiments. Many of us have been influence by Pope Benedict’s love and reverence for God through the liturgy. If you want to connect with us, see our desire to worship God, giving him what is “Right and Just” as the first goal in any liturgical celebration. We sometimes feel as if this is ignored or put aside, and “participation” of the laity in a functional role is promoted in an…
@Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #1: Thank you for completing this. I think it speaks loudly of not just the priest, but all clergy and lay ministers. As a lay minister, I’ve had these characteristics and it didn’t matter that I had a passion and a zeal for our faith and a love for the Eucharist, in the end I was destructive and today I seek not to be. This is quite timely for me as I read it today, I’m humbled.
I thought Responses 2 and 3 were quite balanced in the main, particularly because they attempted to address both sides of the coin. Too often it seems that it is the ‘conservatives’ who are caught in the crosshairs for intolerance and dogmatic opinion. To be sure, more conservative approaches do lend themselves to more authoritarian models, etc. But one can also find dogmatic opinion aplenty on the ‘progressive’ side – and in this, I disagree with the comment of ‘fidelity vs. laxity’ because while a practice might seem ‘lax’, people can be pretty strident about imposing it. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but dogmatism is right here in some of the pastoral ministers and leaders who comment on PT, whose posts give the impression that they would not tolerate certain ‘traditional’ expressions in their own parishes. People on both sides react emotionally to slights, hurts, cold shoulders and impositions and experiences from the ‘other’ side. The need to attempt to give a sympathetic hearing to opposite views is paramount for everyone. So many small things have become contentious “issues” when they don’t need to be. I found the “Don’t make sweeping judgments about people” paragraph to be absolutely spot-on in this regard. The sad reality is that small things from tab collars to amices bring entire constructs along with them, that frequently don’t correspond to reality.
Priests should definitely be open to learning from their pastoral situations, and accommodate their own views especially when there is a majority and prevalent practice. But would it be too much in some circumstances to also ask people to include more conservative practices as expressions of ‘catholicity in praxis’ and equally legitimate at times? Or while asking more conservative clergy to take a look at whether their personal preferences are beneficial and warranted, to invite reexamination also on the part of opponents? Sometimes, it can be difficult – particularly if a conservative view is championed as the only correct method – but defensiveness on both sides has contributed to the situation that we now have.
I couldn’t assent fully to the conclusions of Response 1 because some things seem too ideological to me. Complaints about homiletic content – OK, I can definitely believe that. Complaining about purification of the chalice at the altar? I have yet to hear the average person in the pew put that on their list. It takes someone who is really liturgically-minded, and with an interest in such issues to care about that.
@Joshua Vas – comment #3:
Hey, We have to sit/kneel thru this elaborate washing “ritual” and we have complained. There is nothing liturgical about doing dishes and it does not help me pray-at all. It is an issue because it doesn’t make sense and it is a change from my last 45 years in this same parish.
@Letty Baker – comment #19:
“There is nothing liturgical about doing dishes […]”
These are the Sacred Vessels – they deserve attention. Attitudes like this are what young Catholics are rebelling against.
@Letty Baker – comment #19: The purification of vessels seems appropriate to include during the Communion Rite (prior to the postcommunion prayer) since the vessels being purified have contained the Sacred Body and Blood of our Lord. I am sorry if you feel this is somehow an affront to the dignity of the faithful, but I am honestly not sure how such an action can bear this interpretation. When I am not the one purifying the vessels, I use the time (whether it is accompanied by music or done in silence) I use the time as an opportunity to pray. There ARE some nice aids to making a postcommunion Thanksgiving in the back of the Breaking Bread Hymnal.
@Letty Baker – comment #19:
It may be unusual to your experience and requiring some patience, but it’s actually quite meaningful to the rite–since it’s really the Lord’s Precious Blood, it’s worth taking time to “do the dishes”, as it were. And the fact that there’s a prescribed method actually makes it less likely to be a matter of scrupulosity…the priest just does what’s supposed to be done without getting overly obsessive about whether he did it right. It just looks different from what we’ve been used to. It’s actually a *great* time to pray and reflect on Who we have just received and why He’s worthy of such care. The Old Covenant is revealed in the New, and in the Old Testament, quite a bit of care was given to the Holy of Holies and Temple worship. We’ve lost that. It’s good to get it back.
@Joshua Vas – comment #3:
You’d be surprised how often people mention how disedifying it is to watch Father “scrubbing out the chalice” when they are trying to make their postcommunion thanksgiving.
GIRM actually mentions this area three times, with an interesting progression of thought:
163 (Mass without a Deacon):
183 (Mass with a Deacon):
279 (General Norms for all forms of Mass):
It seems clear that the documents express a preference for this not to be done at the altar, and preferably after Mass when the people have left.
The Bishops of England and Wales in Celebrating the Mass say this (214):
@Paul Inwood – comment #27:
It would seem to me a reasonable compromise in instances where there are multiple vessels for the celebrant to purify after communion whichever chalice is elevated during the Canon and have the rest carried to the credence table to be purified later. Granted, I’m used to Masses that have a veiled chalice, and so one purified chalice is needed at the end.
It does raise an interesting question, though. Why are people looking at the priest during post-communion anyway? When I’m in the pews after communion, my eyes are either closed or looking down so as to focus intently on prayer.
@Shaughn Casey – comment #59:
Why are people looking at the priest during post-communion anyway? When I’m in the pews after communion, my eyes are either closed or looking down so as to focus intently on prayer.
Well, some folks close their eyes, some have them cast down, others are looking at the community making its thanksgiving, which is certainly appropriate if you consider Communion as a communal liturgical act rather than a personal devotion. All those people around you are Christ-bearers, tabernacles of the Lord.
But my first reaction to why people are looking towards the priest is that in a significant number of cases they are actually looking at a tabernacle that is placed, or has been re-placed at the behest of a bishop, at the back of the sanctuary area… The priest busily swirling, swigging and polishing behind the altar is simply getting in their sightline.
@Paul Inwood – comment #27:
I know one Priest who always purifies the chalice and patens at the altar because a woman accused him in a canonical format of desecration of the Blessed Sacrament. She insisted that he never puried them and was careless with large particles after Mass.
He was suspended for 3 months until it was resolved in his favor.
Now he purifes all vessals himself as a defensive measure, to ensure he not leave himself open to that charge again.
In my tribe of the OHCAC (LCMS Lutheran) we have almost exactly the same issues with our newly ordained Pastors, particularly graduates of one of our seminaries much, much more often.
How much of this formation is due to recruitment/discernment? How much to the particular faculty of the seminary? How much to the idiosyncrasies taught in a particular program for how the Mass is to be done are enforced by the faculty after graduation and Ordination, whether formally or informally (by blogs, etc)?
This is likely multifactorial and will continue to be a source of frustration for parishes and judicatories for some time to come.
I think that one “root” cause of this phenomenon that has yet to be explored and, therefore, addressed is that it is – and most likely will continue to be – RC households or families of a more traditional/legalistic/black&white nature that will continue to produce vocations to the ordained priesthood as it exists right now. (Or, in some cases, this can be an overreaction to being brought up in an unhealthily permissive household.) My hunch is that Protestant churches may experience some of the same phenomenon as our society’s social progressive trend away from organized religion. (As it was expressed on “Family Guy” – “This is yoga. It’s where smart people go instead of church.”)
So, if these folks are coming from “traditional” households and their truly formative (childhood/adolescence) years are in that environment, AND they are being ordained into a system/structure with no real or concrete horizontal accountability – I’m thinking that the strategies need to keep on being very creative.
Thank you for the thought-provoking article. I connected with the contribution of Official #2 and feel that as a parishioner, I also need to examine my openness to a range of pastoral experiences. And I had to chuckle at the comments on the use of the word “dissident.” A very accurate portrayal of how we handle different preferences in my parish.
I wonder how the regular shuffling of priests plays into this issue. In my opinion, when everyone knows the relationship will probably only last about 5-6 years, there is little incentive to grow together, look for common ground, move toward long-term, deep-rooted change and goals, etc. For the congregation, the new priest is just the latest in a series of leaders, with his own good points to be enjoyed and/or bad (or just different) points to be endured or fought against. And maybe for the new priest the parish appears less as home and family, and more as just the next assignment on the list. I understand that one argument for priest-shuffling is that it works against an over-familiarity or complacency that could dull the sometimes difficult-to-preach gospel message. At the same time, though, that exact lack of long-term human connection and shared life can make it difficult for priest and congregation to view/interact with each other as human beings.
How different would the perspective be if on Day 1 a priest said “I have 20 years to improve the liturgy of this parish” rather than “I have 6 years to try to do something here.”
All of which to say: Maybe some of these young priests work faster than even they would like, because they feel intense pressure/zeal to “do something” in a very short time period.
Maybe seminary formation should involve lots of discussion about what some reasonable goals are in a 5-6 year timeframe (as much or more than a discussion about what the ideal parish will look like).
Adamantine approaches to liturgy certainly know no ideological or clerical/lay boundary, and are found across the spectrum. “This is the way we do things here” can be just as rigid (and expressed in equally passive/active aggressive ways) as “This is the way we ought to do things”. That said, the Tu Quoque type of interventions should mostly serve to remind us that we should first strive to see in ourselves what we complain of about in others.
One question elided in the post: are these recently ordained priests pastors or not? If they aren’t, then it would seem the pastor is missing from the mix. Given the shortage of priests, it is becoming more common to encounter recently ordained priests who are being appointed as pastors much earlier in their priestly ministry than was formerly the case. They thus are more likely to lack seasoning, as it were, or, if they are “late vocations” they may have marinated in other kinds of seasoning than is optimal for priestly ministry. (I’ve certainly aware of pastors of this type who pride themselves on their former corporate smarts, as it were.)
In my experience, such as it has been for the past nearly 20 years, Catholicism on the Internet represents a *barbell* curve distribution of Catholic sentiments – inverse from the actual Catholic world. It tends to be a bunch of ghettoes of the like-minded looking for reinforcement, with some DMZs in between. Any priest who forms his pastoral ministry by marinating too long in Internet Catholicism needs to fast from it.
Finally, we always need to be aware of the insidious ways egoism hides in cognitive blindspots behind ideologically inflected rationalizations for this or that liturgical practice. This too knows no ideological or clerical/lay boundary.
I am around a good number of newly ordained priests on a daily basis and my experience is that while they may have more traditional tastes, they are generally very well formed liturgically and the guiding principle for them is to simply “do what the Church asks” by following the instructions of the Missal and other liturgical documents.
They may add a few more candles and wear albs with a little more lace, but I have never seen anything that would properly be called a pastoral difficulty or problem. I have found that those who are used to having Mass celebrated in a more relaxed, folksy style may find a change in practice jarring and define it as “cleric” or “rigid”.
To me, they key to avoiding so many problems boils down to providing the faithful with a thorough explanation and rationale during the process of making changes to liturgical practice. A little catechesis can go a long way!
Jay, thank you for your comment. I feel as though I must take issue with one thing you say: “They are generally well formed liturgically and the guiding principle for them is to simply ‘do what the Church asks’ by following the instructions of the Missal and other liturgical documents.”
Though they might not be explicitly saying it, part of what people are disputing here is whether being well formed liturgically requires more than knowing the rules. In fact in my opinion, it sometimes requires that one deviate from them. I would contend that most of our priests are well trained in how to follow the liturgical rules, but are not in fact well trained liturgically. The tendency for many seminaries to use canon lawyers or other non-liturgical specialists as the professors for liturgical classes in seminaries is one example of how problematic their training can be. Furthermore, the “liturgical” curriculum of many seminaries does not take up the guiding principles behind sacramental and liturgical theology as much as they deal with learning how to say the black and do the red. This means that many priests do not in fact know that the history of our received liturgical tradition has been muddled at best. For them, the aesthetics of celebration takes priority.
History does develop and things become required that were once not required, this means as a Church (not just the hierarchy or as individuals) we can and should discern what is best for us to require and not require in our liturgical celebrations. Being well trained liturgically means understanding that the liturgy develops and how it can and should develop. As an aside, the critique leveled by traditionalists against the Mass of Paul VI, that it is a product of liturgical historians and represents a break with the “organic development” of the liturgy, could be leveled against 1962, 1570, the Gelasian Sacramentary, ApTrad, and all the other early Church orders, i.e. the whole liturgical tradition. I mention this because as a Church, priests and lay alike, we seem to forget that doing the red and reading the black has meant different things in different eras of the Church. The black and red change, often because of pastoral needs and often initially without approval. The complicated history of the Roman Breviary is one example of pastoral needs shaping and reshaping liturgical celebrations. Another is the incorporation of the Sanctus, words of institution, and epiclesis into Eucharistic Prayers due to theological controversies around the 4th century.
All this to say that our liturgies become static when our priests insist on narrowly interpreting the red and black. Good liturgical training often requires one to question and sometimes depart from the red and and black in order to celebrate the liturgy in the “proper” way. A failure to do so leads to many of the unhealthy practices of the medieval period.
In my opinion, the declining number of professional liturgists inside and outside of seminaries is alarming. As is the tendency to equate good liturgical training with knowing how to follow the rules. I would be remiss if I did not express that opinion.
@Nathan Chase – comment #43:
Nathan Chase: Good liturgical training often requires one to question and sometimes depart from the red and and black in order to celebrate the liturgy in the “proper” way. A failure to do so leads to many of the unhealthy practices of the medieval period.
I am not sure what you mean Nathan by “unhealthy practices of the medieval period”. It is true that in the medieval period, the Mass had disintegrated into just a source of revenue for some religious communities. Also Mass assumed the nature of a totemic act designed as a “spiritual transaction” which weakened the “living” in Mass as an offering for the living and dead. I pray that more priests take up the daily requiem Mass again, as well as offer more private Masses, but with the understanding that the first person plural of the verbs of the anaphora apply both to a metaphorical as well as physical congregation. I know from the first-hand experience of priests that many draw immense spiritual strength when alone with the awesome sacrifice to which they are entrusted.
Mass can never again be a charm to be memorized and mindlessly recited for a certain reward. No, priests must be well educated as you note, and this is one antidote to charm-telling. Yet, the modification of Mass for a certain tyranny of “the people” is likewise as serious a change in intention as slurred chantry Masses intended to gather up more gold and silver. A priest must never pander to the assembly, even under the cry of “we offer together”. When you say that the rubrics must be fungible to allow for certain circumstances, I do hope these changes are for the greater glory of God and not for emotional or affective reasons, even reasons designed to diminish the role of the priest at Mass.
The liturgy is performed well when the priest is truly ‘praying’. For knowledge (and ‘performance’ ) puffs up, but love edifies. The Laity as likened to the ‘wife’ in the metaphorical sense, feels and absorbs the ‘heart attitude’ of the priest. He can make a thousand mistakes, or none..and be drawn into rapturous love of her ‘husband’ the priest- loves her.
Are we forgetting that St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have patiently and charitably asked, for years and years, for obedience to the rubrics, reverence towards the Blessed Sacrament, and reconnection with our Catholic tradition? Thank goodness the young clergy, formed by these pontiffs, are taking their message seriously. The personal rough edges of youth will get worn smooth with time, as happens to all of us.
@Peter Kwasniewski – comment #10:
Excellent! Perhaps the best (and most succinct) of all the comments. These “new” priests are being taught properly and are applying what they have learned. Give them a few years to “fit in” and learn how to compensate for the different levels the laity has been educated. They will cope…..even with super-critical “diocesan officials”.
May we be fortified and inspired by their idealism! Thanks be to G-d!
All three responses tend to place the emphasis on what the congregation desires. Granted, if a traditionalist priest visits a parish and is told that he cannot say the Roman Canon (and especially say it in Latin), he should just swallow his pride especially if this is a one-time or very short assignment. salus animarum suprema lex often requires doing what one does not wish to do, layperson and clergy both.
I don’t think it is fair for a cleric to focus all of his efforts on placating a certain group of parishioners. I consider it entirely reasonable, for example, for a priest to say EF low Mass at 7:30 and say a versus populum, contemporary hymn Mass at 9. Certain popular holiday Masses, such as the Christmas vigil Masses and the Easter day Mass, should try to appeal to most parishioners. Outside of special circumstances, a minority of parishioners who have an ideological objection to the EF should be rightly accommodated according to the ordinary form, but not have the ability to bully the priest into ceasing the inclusion of the extraordinary form should he have the faculties of bination or trination.
Also, the selection of seminary candidates based on their “charisma” (translated: extroversion) is misguided. Introverted and even taciturn clergy are often not stern or unloving. They are merely not used or interested in being overly demonstrative. Often, however, these priests are compassionate and prudent in the confessional. I understand that more people are Feeling rather than Thinking, but even studious vicars should have their place on the pulpit.
During my years as director of worship, I was at a “teaching” parish, that is, we had both interns and newly ordained assigned to us. I had priests from England, India, Latin America and the States. Each came with his cultural, ethnic and personal backgrounds to serve in a multi-cultural parish. Each fell in one catagory or another (liberal/conservative) and each brought his gifts and experiences to the parish. The pastor, staff and community had to deal with each one and all of us tried to learn from each other and, like any family, put up with each other. When asked for advice or questions, I did my best to answer them. To all of them I gave the same advice as I did in the business world: Observe things; ask lots of questions; be open minded; do not attempt to change things or impose your views on others; and above all, remember all of us are servants to Christ, His Church and each other.
As far as formation, like any profesion, men choose priesthood for different reasons and not only for the right ones. I’ve seen and heard this first hand in the seminary I attended. We must pray for vocations and pray for all of those who are entrusted to recruit, train and form these men.
A colleague once described his experience of Mass in one of these situations, using language borrowed from Martin Kähler as “The rite of purification of a chalice with an extended introduction.”
Many years ago I learned NOT to pedestalize priests or any cleric for that matter. Clerics are human and it seems the higher they are the harder they fall. In reply let me say there are two categories of newly ordained: second career, older men with maturity and life experience and (2) those in their mid twenties who have not fully matured. The first seem more willing and able to smell like the sheep while the latter often seem intent upon bringing back a Church they never really lived in. In either case, our only response is to love them, lead them to places they perhaps do not want to go , and by all means pray for them. Totus Tuum ego sum.
At this the Pharisees said to him,
“Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?”
He said to them,
“Have you never read what David did
when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry?
How he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest
and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat,
and shared it with his companions?”
Then he said to them,
“The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.
That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
Take what you will from that.
It’s an interesting problem, isn’t it? Not unlike a family systems impasse.
The Christian community needs Father. What do you do in the family if Father is dysfunctional?
There’s typically a lot of denial, the attempt to spread around blame rather than confronting the problem directly, the making of scapegoats, depression, avoidance. But these too are dysfunctional responses. I’m convinced that we need to learn about family systems therapy in parishes.
@Rita Ferrone – comment #16:
And the common behaviors of people who come from families where addiction is an issue. Especially the codependency and black-and-white thinking part. And the role playing: especially the Hero, the Lost Child and the Caretaker roles.
@Rita Ferrone – comment #17:
I find your remarks so refreshing and on target. A parish is a spiritual/faith family.
@Rita Ferrone – comment #17:
I so agree with Rita @#17 above! When I converted I didn’t realize I had exchanged a dysfunctional family background (parental alcoholism) for a new dysfunctional family, but it’s true. Some attribute it to the 20th century influx of Irish priests, persecution, and alcohol-but it explains a lot. The secrecy, the defensiveness, the blaming, the denial, the unfriendliness and paranoia. The overall unwelcoming atmosphere. The sex abuse crisis. So much adds up. Definitely a lot of immaturity and dysfunction, and priests need to learn how to relate to people in a Christlike manner. I don’t think it’s too much to ask. I have PTSD from my home life and now from my church life as well.
What seems so odd about the discussions of these new, more traditionally minded priests and their “clericalism”, “rigidity” and “rubricism” is how does anyone think the liturgy was celebrated for hundreds of years prior to the New Mass?
It was (or was supposed to be) done with utmost care towards the rubrics because the rite itself was viewed as supremely sacred and oriented towards God and not towards people’s personal preferences.
In being more “rigid” or traditional liturgically speaking, I’d say these new priests are manifesting a desire to connect with the Church beyond the past 50 years and what has rightly been called a liturgical wasteland.
Yes, liturgical wasteland is strong language but if you don’t believe me, go ask the Orthodox.
We have a learner priest here. Happily he knows that Mass is something that pertains to the entire parish community and not just to the man at the front.
While he still has much to learn during this apprenticeship (mentioning the deceased by name and greeting the mourners at a requiem was an urgent bit of learning) , he is in return enriching our liturgical experience by for example, using some of the other eucharistic prayers, and beginning with the sprinkling of water when the readings suggest.
As to cleaning the vessels …. what is going on that it can cause comment? In our place eucharistic ministers do that during the post communion silence.
Only a few of us do not mellow somewhat as we grow older in the priesthood, but growing up is key. Much of what is being referred to here concerns emotional immaturity before limited theological perspective or a lack of pastoral sensitivity. The patient exchange of love and kindness works wonders if one can resist showing subjective frustration meanwhile. However, we are not saints (yet). So, at the same time as demonstrating sometimes heroic forbearance, calmly and objectively addressing any treatment of the people that is unacceptable, accountability is crucial to the growth of any young priest, however excruciating the growing pains for the young priest himself in that development. Love breaks through most impasses eventually because it ministers to the human vulnerability it manifests. Young priests are often zealous and can feel upset when it is presented to them that their ministry is not always helpful. The communicating of that revelation, however difficult, marks a start in the growing up process of a young priest who, incrementally, learns to own his actions. They are also often lonely and afraid and need affirmation as they adjust. I don’t underestimate the amount of energy the pastor needs to train a young priest in a parish effectively. Specific ‘reality checks’ rarely work for young priests, precisely because at that moment they rarely live in the reality to which they have been sent to minister, prior to a steep learning curve on the job and away from ideologies, whether of the left or of the right. Reality does pierce the marrow eventually of those who survive, but the pastor needs to know he is supported by his bishop in what he is doing by ensuring the young priest cannot run away to some utopian parish without these ‘challenges’. It was my privilege to work in parishes for more than ten years both as an associate and as a pastor, remember the difficult processes you are writing about and from hindsight, even more than at the time, I wouldn’t trade in that unique experience for anything!
I had the privilege of being involved in the training of young men for the priesthood for over a decade. Yes, the newer generation is more concerned to hear the CCC repeated than to consider speculative theology. That often arises from their Christian formation, overseen by a previous generation who might have grown disillusioned and lazy (or both) and simply turned to the CCC for every homily and in every situation. Which it is why it has become a summa, a vade mecum, and final word in all things, and has lost its role as catechism.
I was ordained before the CCC – and had my most valuable lesson from the pillars of the church in the third parish I served (where I am happily back at home), concurrently with the first two. It was South Africa 1992 and a “white” parish. The pillars of the church were men of influence in industry and local government. They sat me down (a mere 31 and 18 months a priest at the time) and said the following: “Father we know we have a reputation for being conservative and racist. It is not accurate. We know we have to change. Please, please, Father, lead us, don’t push us.”
That humble admission and plea lead me in my ministry in a changing society. It was one of those moments, after ordination, where you start becoming a priest.
I pray others may have the same experience.
@Martin Badenhorst OP – comment #25:
How I wish that were the case. I have lived in 5 different states and encountered as many as double that amount of new replacements after the elderly pastor has died or retired. In all but one parish they followed the clique of the previous pastor and only those persons seem to have influence with the parish and pastor. Hopefully Pope Francis will dissolve some of that “my way or the highway” attitude. There is security in being told what to do and be accepted but I question whether that is what Christ had in mind. Faith is what I depend on, not opinions.
I write as a lay Catholic social psychology professor. I was also once a politically conservative minor seminarian. Thanks for raising this topic. I was especially grateful for responses 2 and 3 as they emphasize the commonness across the spectrum of some difficulties.
To be a good shepherd you need to know your sheep as they actually are. Imagine a shepherd who has been herding one sort of sheep (and hanging out with other shepherds who herd that same sort of sheep) who now is asked to herd a different sort of sheep, one with very different habits. Difficulties will ensue from this, despite good faith efforts to be a good shepherd.
It is difficult for us all to understand that our knowledge of others is as partial as it is. We think we see them as they are. What we know is shaped by the subsample of human experience that we live. We interpret the world through confirmation bias, perceiving and creating a reality consistent with what we already believe. We hang out in like-minded groups and tend to share with them evidence supporting our prior beliefs rather than the evidence contradicting them, which makes our groups even more extreme. That’s true of all of us, priest or no, conservative, liberal, or other.
I find it useful to think of the difficulties with the young zealous priests as arising in part from their partial experience. If they have lived on Fox News and First Things that gives them just as partial a view of humans as if they lived on MSNBC and Commonweal. They will not see their flock as they actually are but as shaped by their formation.
How do we fight confirmation bias? Just telling people of it isn’t enough. Nor is exposure enough as we will interpret the other as consistent with our prior belief. One corrective has been to teach people to ask why the opposite of what they believe might be true. Young conservatives might ask how that liberal before them might be something other than what they anticipate. Young liberals might do the same when interacting with…
I have known several young priests assigned as parochial vicars. They all have their gifts and challenges, but some as of late have been lacking in humility. Whether implicit or explicit, some approach their brief parish assignment as, “I’m here to straighten this place out.”
If a young parochial vicar were to ask me for advice, I would suggest three points. First, the pastor is head of the parish and you are not. Changes to liturgical practice are his to decide and lead, not yours. Any attempt to go around the pastor with your reforms will backfire and you, as the junior person, will lose.
Second, anything in a parish that changes quickly without putting down roots can change back quickly. If you implement unpopular changes with no more explanation than, “this is the correct way,” those practices may snap right back into the old familiar way the day you leave. If you don’t bring along the hearts and minds of a majority of parishioners, which takes much longer than you might expect, your reforms will not take root and may quickly be forgotten when you are no longer there to enforce them.
Third, change comes to a parish not in hours and days, not in weeks and months, but in years and decades. If you have grand ambitions for changing the culture of a parish in just a few years time, cut those expectations in half and in half again, and realize that your successor may undue all of your progress.
@Scott Pluff – comment #26:
Indeed. May I add,
… and always remember that the parish was there before you arrived and will remain there when you leave. Your membership is temporary, unlike most of the parishioners.
@Alan Johnson – comment #27:
@Alan Johnson – comment #31:
One of the shocks in today’s Church is that the parish may not be there after the staff leaves. Or worse, even the parishioners have turned out to be termporary.
The greatest issue I’ve discovered with many of the newly ordained is they often seem concerned with determining who is not worthy of salvation rather than setting about bringing as many as possible under that sacred tent. It’s as if they are so convinced that they know what is right and proper in God’s eyes that they leave no room in their ministry to be surprised by how God actually works.
Thankfully, this is an affliction that most of us get over after a few years of ministry, although I do fear for the souls that are lost to God in the time it takes young clerics to get over themselves and begin to see that God is more powerful, charitable, and generous with His grace than we would think at first glance.
Fr. Tim Moyle
Diocese of Pembroke
I think what this article, the three responses and the following comments fails to mention is that worship of the Lord is not about you, the priest or me. It is WORSHIP, the showing of our love for the Lord. When we love someone we should never express love in any other way than that which the object we love asks. Christ established the Church to show us how He wants us to worship him. It is a daily sacrifice to chose that which he would prefer rather than what we are familiar with, what makes us feel confortable, safe. When we fail to worship him as we ought and rather as we like, we are trusting ourselves before Christ. Then we are the center of the worship and are fruits we be rotten because of it. Our parish will not grow, it will die because Christ is not seen as Savior, instead he will be just a party host, a community organizer for all of those who wish to promote their good deeds as they boast, “Look at the good I’ve done for all,” without a real intimacy in Christ. An intimacy that rather looks to the Cross and says “Look at what He has done for all.”
I am a priest 30 plus years on. When I was a young priest the ‘pastoral difficulties of newly ordained’ were liberal minded priests who often steamrolled their agenda on the people of God. The question of pastoral sensitivity goes to the heart of a vocation. St. Bernard had written on the walk of his cell the words ‘ Bernard why did you come here?’ Each day he had to remind himself of the why of his vocation. The chief motivation of any vocation to priestly or religious life must be Love. Love of God first and from that love of God a love of others. When we love God above all, and know our own sins and failings and from that love serve the people of God the priest young or old will be sensitive to the needs of the people. But there will always be unreasonable people who will fight a priest young or old at every turn. Without a devout love of God and a willingness to die to self daily, any priest is destined to continuous life of friction within and without.
One of the “new” priests at my parish does not like music. He explicitly tells our choir to keep the singing “short.” What can one say to that? So, we tell ourselves, “Patience. He’ll be re-assigned in two years.” Priests come and go. It’s the parishioners that make the parish.
@Vic Romero – comment #35:
Its not for him to decide unilaterally.
Surely we have outgrown “Father knows best.”
@Vic Romero – comment #35:
Discouraging as that is for the liturgical life of any parish, it is hardly a new problem. There have always been priests who didn’t like music and who wanted Mass kept short, no matter what. When I was a young priest, there was an older priest in the same parish who was known as ‘Speedy Gonzales’. He used to say the Saturday evening Mass and give 300 communions, all in 30 minutes. The difficulty, however worrying, is that the majority of the faithful who attended that Mass preferred things that way. We still have to convince people of why Holy Mass is to be celebrated rather than faced as something to ‘get done’. The implications of Sacrosanctum Concilium 8 “In terrena liturgia caelestem illam praegustando participamus […] celebratur” remain a comparatively well-kept secret, sadly.
For the past decade or so, our parish has been on the list of parishes considered suitable for newly ordained or inexperienced priests to get pastoral experience, and so we’ve had a number of them come through for assignments, and I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with them, both at mass and on other parish functions. Two main points:
* In my experience, most recently-ordained priests do not exhibit the problems with arrogance, rigidity and so on often attributed to younger priests. Most of them have had pastoral gifts, which they have shared with our community. I call this out because I wouldn’t want us to unfairly smear young or recently-ordained priests. Every priest deserves to be accepted (and reviewed/critiqued) on his own merits.
* Nearly all of the young priests who have passed through our doors have not been native to the United States, and English has not been their first language. What may appear to us lifelong Americans to be conservatism or arrogance may actually be rooted in cultural and linguistic differences, not to mention the self-consciousness, nerves and lack of confidence that beset someone thrust into a leadership position at a young age with very little by way of a support network.
The Rule of St Benedict has some advice which may be relevant here. Ch 61 says that a monk seeking to join a community should take its customs and the traditions as he finds it. Nevertheless, if, with due deference, charity, and humility, he points out some fault, the Abbot ought to consider it, since it may be that God has sent him to the monastery for that purpose.
Of course, newly ordained priests should be ready to listen and learn, but the most dictatorial type of priest can sometimes be the crusty old Mgr or Canon who has been ordained 30 years or more and who is too proud to admit that the younger generation has ideas which are worth listening to.
As a parishioner in the 30-40 age group, who cares very much about the liturgy because it’s our love expression, the conflicts I’ve experienced were with the older priests. In my experience, the older priests have been most judgmental and unwilling to listen. Whether it be simple requests for silence after communion or asking them to stop changing the Mass to their own words- all this gets dismissed as rigorism when it truly is not.
However, the younger priests are honestly inspiring to me. They burn with love for the Bride, the Church. They make me want to be a better Catholic. Young priests are a breath of fresh air, shaking things us as Pope Francis asks whereas the older ones want to preserve the status quo. Only problem is the status quo doesn’t work.
The Mass may not be the only duty of the priest but it is the pinnacle of his existence from where all his strength flows. It’s at the altar he experiences Christ’s profound love.These young priests are bridge-builders to a largely disenchanted and alienated generation, who desperately need beauty and meaning in their existence, for whom a modern liturgy does not speak. God bless them!
Letty, I understand you might find the purification of the sacred vessels to be unpleasant or distracting, but your claim that there is nothing liturgical going on here is rather confusing – considering this seems to be the concluding act of the priest who prepared the sacrifice, offered the sacrifice, and distributed the sacrifice to the people.
I don’t wish to make assumptions in your case, but I understand that many people in parishes today express hard feelings over the fact that the indult in the United States allowing Extraordinary Ministers to purify vessels expired nearly a decade ago.
In my humble opinion as only a mere lay person – seeing with my own eyes after communion the priest or deacon purifying the vessels impressed on me as a young boy that the Eucharistic elements were something important – something that were more than just ordinary food and drink.
Hi, I have to say, this was quite the entertaining article. There were a few times I actually laughed out loud. But it’s sad at the same time as I recall the book “Good Bye, Good Men.” It sounds to me like these new priests are orthodox, traditional, and Catholic. It also sounds to me like they are far less modernist than the generation that game before them, and apparently the readership of this website.
They are the answer to the apparent “vocations crisis,” but the people are not satisfied with God’s answer to their prayers. But it seems to me it is not these priests who are “rigid” when it is the parishes that are unwilling to change. It’s not the priests fault when he honestly admonishes wrong and people get offended and leave. And it’s not the priest’s fault if he reaches out to those who leave only to be rejected himself because he is viewed as “too rigid or traditional.”
If I were to become a priest I would definitely choose carefully the order I joined to make sure the people I would be serving actually wanted me.
I have never been through a course of priestly formation, but I do have the experience of formation for the diaconate and I would echo what Nathan says above about the need for something more than “say the black, do the red.” I recall in a liturgy class asking the professor what we should do if (when?) we find ourselves in parishes where the liturgical norms are not being followed. His reply was, more or less, “Show them the place in the GIRM where it makes clear that they are doing it wrong.” I responded, “But what if they say, ‘but we’ve always done it this way and we like it’?” He had no reply. In fact, it seemed that he did not understand my question. For him it was sufficient to tell me where I could find the relevant legislation so I could show it to people. He seemed unable to tell me 1) how to pick my liturgical battles or 2) how to bring people along by explaining to them the reason behind the rules.
I couldn’t help but think that seminarians must have come out of his class with a clear sense of what the rules were and where to find them, but little sense of how to deal pastorally with folks on questions related to liturgy.
It does seem to me that what is left out of this picture is the role of the pastor, his authority as pastor, to guide and form newly ordained priests. If the pastor wishes to bring the parish forward in a more traditional way then that is his prerogative but he too must be willing to submit to the desires of the bishop as the primary liturgist of his diocese as well. Paid lay leaders in both diocesan and parish settings are to represent the bishop or pastor not their own ideological concerns, likes, dislikes and the rest of it. It isn’t a power game either. It is clear where the exercise of ministry lies.
There is a sort of lay clericalism in diocesan offices as well as in parishes in terms of some well meaning and well educated lay staff. This too must be addressed especially with those who might have this proclivity to clericalism and are entrenched in their positions and don’t like their desires being undermined by the clergy.
I heard a young priest last year talk about his beginning in his parish. One day he was wearing a cassock, and a parishioner saw him and remarked that he ought to wear regular clothes instead, giving a reasonable justification. Another day shortly after that, he was wearing street clothes and a parishioner saw him and remarked that he ought to wear clerical attire instead, giving a reasonable justification. Another day he was wearing a black suit with a clerical collar and someone else made a remark. No matter what he wore, there was always someone ready with a criticism.
I really enjoyed reading – all the time to “scroll down”! And mentally reviewing my 60 some years in a great diversity of parishes, and working [musically] under the direction of a great variety of Priests, some who followed the rubrics, others who [quite intentionally] ignored them. Needless to say, as the junior partner in this dance, I did as I was directed. I have never been the recipient of “Seminary education” – but I like to think that I am “well read” and informed. Most days my job description has been that of Patrick Stewart on “Startrek” – “make it so!” And generally I have tried to be a “buffer zone” explaining to my singers at least, what we are being asked to to, and why. Blessed are the flexible, for they shall bend and not break. And to the best of our abilities we “pursue perfection” though we know it to be out of reach, and work with the people/parish where we are.
Wow, so many good comments, especially #22, #33, #38, #39, #42, #46 and #47!
First of all, these new younger, tradition-minded priests of are a blessing and a sign that the Holy Spirit is still at work in the Church! May their number increase!
Not sure what Diocesan Official #1 finds rigid. Stoppinf liturgical dancers, which would be being faithful to the rubrics. I wish there were more examples. The style of censer used, I can maybe see as being rigid. People have received flack for wanting to recieve Communion on the tongue and/or kneeling, this too is rigidity and a form of clericalism. Also, regarding complaints about offensive homilies, if it’s a hard truth of the faith that is rarely preached, especially appropriate to the context of the readings, I can’t fault the priest. Also how you say what you say can be an important consideration as well.
As for Diocesan Official #2, saying Mass and hearing Confessions ARE the most important things a priest does, and can’t be delegated away. It also is important for the priest to show up at parish events, council meetings, visit the sick and imprisoned too, but Mass and Confession are the most important, offering these Sacraments is the very reason we have priests and are the lifeblood of his ministry!
If priests make changes (like ad orientem or propers) it would be important to catechize about the why the change is occurring and getting buy in from the people in the pews instead of just dropping it on people all of a sudden. Maybe mentioning it in homilies including articles in the bulletin for a few weeks before intoducing the changes.
I am mystified about the complaints about purifying vessels. There are more distracting things post-Communion like being cajoled to stand or join a Communion song. One can close one’s eyes if watching Father “do dishes” is distracting.
@Jay Edward – comment #49:
The newish culture of rigidity is a response to the previous culture of laxity. Pendulum swings, while often inevitable and necessary, will bring with them those who overlearn the lessons. And everyone thinks they’re striking the right balance. I tend to think that overall, in the long term, there’s some sort of regression to the mean and we’ll all be fine even if nobody’s satisfied.
New brooms may sweep clean, but they can scratch the floor until the rough edges have worn off a bit.
Aphorisms aside, one thought I had is that Roman Catholics in particular consider “Tradition” as one source of wisdom. When someone abruptly changes what is “traditional” (small t) in a community, it can feel particularly jarring because it seems to go against a value we hold dear: tradition. And change in the Roman Catholic tradition is traditionally slow, so three weeks of catechesis and a few bulletin articles are not going to make changing the director of the presider (in either direction) “comfortable.” Our tradition offers us many licit choices in the liturgy, and this richness creates a tension about which choices we enact, and how we defend them.
I’ve been a member of a small community (organized out of the Augustinian community in residence) that gathers to pray the Office each morning. At this point, I’m the longest standing member of the group, I’ve seen a lot of changes of priors in that time. We have stood for the Benedictus, sat for it, chanted it and not, we have observed silence after each psalm, prayed the optional prayer, prayed for the dead of the province by name, invited/allowed lay people to preside and not. Each prior has made changes, never by “correcting” us, most always by simply stating, let us now try X for this reason (pastoral or liturgical). Gentle humor helps, one thing at a time helps, losing the language/attitude of correction, essential.
Since the title of this was pastoral, I will add that I’ve had a couple of appalling interactions with seminarians (now ordained) including one who lectured me when I was quite pregnant about delaying childbearing for selfish reasons. He had no idea I had been widowed very young, and only recently remarried and indeed, quite grateful to have been vouchsafed two sons while on the cusp of 40. I provided appropriate feedback in the moment, but pastorally, that was beyond awkward.
Obedience to the rubrics and canon law and the bishop can be done with the right or wrong attitude. But it should be done, with the right spirituality. Obedience is not something dry, or meaningless, there is a profound depth to it.
I also think that many would benefit, even to understand our mindset, if they read Pope Benedicts book on the Spirit of the Liturgy. I’m saddened when pigeon holed into a rigid stereotype because I am uncompromising on things that cannot be compromised on.
The judgement of this is sometimes subjectively discerned, which is a problem. Imagine a child who lives in a messy room (me) and he finally cleans it. To him, in contrast to what it used to look like is much better, but to his parents is still a mess. I think when things get tightened up, to many it might seem “rigid” when in reality it is just the basics.
Judging motives in this process is no good either. I don’t deny rigidity as a real trapping and danger, but we have to stop reacting to legalism to the point we become lawless. Many fail to see how the law is one of love and so they abandon it. All I want to do is we’d love to the law, and that means navigating between the extremes of rigidity and lawlessness. It’s a narrow path.
Nathan – Thanks for your reply. The many young priests I was referencing in my original post are extremely well formed liturgically, which I have found leads them to fidelity to the Church’s liturgical documents and instructions.
I appreciate your opinions –
“Good liturgical training often requires one to question and sometimes depart from the red and and black in order to celebrate the liturgy in the “proper”… and “…being well formed liturgically requires more than knowing the rules. In fact in my opinion, it sometimes requires that one deviate from them.”
– I am no expert, but in my simple mind this creates a very slippery slope and also flies in the face of Sacrosanctum Concillium 22?
I can only say that in every instance I have personally experienced of a priest deviating from what the Church asks regarding the celebration of the Mass, it is usually for an ideological reason and nothing good has resulted. Only confusion and distraction.
As a now married priest who had been in ministry 25 yrs and a religious for 33, I agree with many of the insights shared here. I learned, over those 25 yrs, much from experience, but also made many of the same mistakes as mentioned.
My wife of now almost ten years and I attend our parish where our parish administrator for the past year and a half is young and ordained 4 1/3 yrs ago. He fits many of the categories mentioned, but I said to parishioners, and still believe, that we will have an important role in training him in his role as a pastoral minister and pastor, and I have seen him grow in that role as he has gotten to know us and we him.
I find the notion that a parish should be closed because of clergy shortages utterly bizarre – tail wagging the dog etc.
I joined the church when I was 50. My neighborhood church was involved in a scandal. We had several priest in a row and they all came in and changed things to suit them. When we finally received a pastor, the priest who actually brought me into the Catholic Church, a very holy and older priest, I asked him what changes he was making. He said, I always wait a year to make any changes. I want to wait and learn my people. He mentioned the problem in his first sermon, and addressed our pain, everyone else had avoided any mention even though it was all over the news. What a relief to have a priest who loved and cared for his flock. He preached strong, moral sermons but always with great love. He is gone now but I miss him. He taught me the love and mercy of God and had great love for his flock.
Virgil’s shorthand wisdom is great pastoral advice: “Before we plow an unfamiliar patch it is well to be informed about the winds, about the variations in the sky, the native traits and habits of the place, what each locale permits, and what it denies.”
Seems to me that the problem these people are having isn’t with young priests, but with young Catholics, period. Most of the complaints seem to be that these young priests are not sloppy enough with the liturgy, but that is one thing that young Catholics (actually even those with progressive views) have no time for, is sloppy liturgy.
What we see here is a call for a smaller, less pure, grayer church.
@William Earl – comment #61:
I am gray and have no patience with sloppy liturgy — what does “pure” mean in this context?
And yet we return to the original post. Pope Francis says that the training of priests must be a “work of art, not a police action…We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters.”
Why would he make such a remark? Is the pope wrong in his assessment? Is he imagining a problem where none exists? Judging by some of your comments, this would seem to be the case.
Thank you Scott for bringing us back to the elephant in the living room.
“No, of course there is nothing wrong!” seems to be the refrain here, and the people who do see it, including Pope Francis, are deemed unreliable witnesses.
Animus against young Catholics in general, no. It was ever thus, no. The concerns are simply reactions because the laity are malformed, no.
I do think there is a lack of adequate vocabulary for describing the problem, however. Just like our voice #2 in the hilarious riff on the word “dissident” there’s an unhelpful tendency to call every application of standards and principles “rigidity.” I remember the days when liturgists were accused of this each and every time we made reference to what is in the liturgical books. Standing up for a principle isn’t the same thing as rigidity, but it is frequently labeled as such. Music directors, the same way. Can’t sing Danny Boy at a funeral, rigid! No singing pop songs at weddings, rigid! Well, the person who is non-rigid in giving every parishioner what they ask for is not doing his or her job.
But there’s another phenomenon at work here, in which people feel they cannot talk to their priest and get a hearing, or that if they raise a concern that’s important to them not only will they not be heard but they may (if employed) be fired or if they volunteer be removed. What’s the name for that? Autocracy? Tyranny? An extremely fragile ego for sure.
I’ve heard it said that the obsession with clerical clothes is another symptom of a fragile and threatened ego. Some of these guys rely on the clothes to tell them who they are, and to tell others who they are, because they haven’t got the inner self-confidence and spiritual and personal maturity to trust that they can be a priest and be accepted. It’s sad, really.
The biggest problem with the “little monsters” comment is the rather … er … “Tridentine” assumptions that (a) seminarians are children or adolescents whose characters have to be formed from scratch and (b) that formation is a passive process in which the seminarian takes no active part. Perhaps the Holy Father’s Jesuit background is in evidence here, but the briefest of visits to any diocesan seminary will show that students come from an enormous variety of ages and experiences and the merest glance at Pastores Dabo Vobis will reveal that the seminarian is nowadays expected to be “the agent of his own formation”. Of course affective maturity is an essential prerequisite for ordination, but the idea that traditionally minded young priests, or traditionally minded priests of any age, are intrinsically lacking in this quality, says more about those who make this facile assumption than it does about the priests concerned. We must avoid the “ultramontane” error of treating every papal obiter dicta as a complete and nuanced treatment of what is complex subject.
@Fr Richard Duncan CO – comment #65:
Of course affective maturity is an essential prerequisite for ordination, but the idea that traditionally minded young priests, or traditionally minded priests of any age, are intrinsically lacking in this quality, says more about those who make this facile assumption than it does about the priests concerned. We must avoid the “ultramontane” error of treating every papal obiter dicta as a complete and nuanced treatment of what is complex subject.
+1, with greatest respect. Thank you.
1. Does the priest leading the celebration look like he really believes what he is saying and doing?
2. Do the words of John the Baptist seem to be reflected in his actions and attitudes. “He [Jesus} must increase and I must decrease.”
3.Did you come out of Mass having a real Christian experience? Was the priest a big part of that because of his mannerisms and prayerfulness or was he an obstacle?
4.Can the priest give a sensible argument for anything he may do differently, even though you may not agree with his reasoning?
Sorry – Fr. Duncan, suggest that neither the post nor Rita or Scott are saying what you appear to allege – nor, IMO, are they making a facile assumption about newly ordained priests. Rather, the *elephant in the living room* are patterns and significant volume of experiences (e.g. statements, feedback, professional commentary) that have seen a pattern which creates concern; pastoral disconnects; etc.
There are many comments so far – most appear to be anecdotal which is fine but is quite different from what Fr. Ruff and his respondees are doing here.
Allow me to make a few distinctions:
– some comments equate newly ordained in the 1960/70s with newly ordained today. There are two significant differences – a) there were much larger numbers of ordinands in those decades compared to now; b) those newly ordained were called to implement the directives of VII and this did create change (sometimes welcomed and sometimes not) as opposed to today (e.g. pattern of traditionalism (not just liturgy, but ecclesiology, parish structures, sacraments, management styles)
Some conclusions – agree with an earlier comment that the decreased number of candidates and the recent papal/episcopal conservatism has created a reality that vocations do appear to come from more traditional families/groups and, given the smaller total numbers, these candidates are a larger percentage of those ordained (that alone can be a concern).
Solutions – some have made good comments but this is a complex issue.
Seminaries – again, every bishop and every religious order can choose where, how, and what seminary to educate their candidates. Thus, you have specific diocese/bishops who have chosen traditional seminaries, formation approaches, liturgy, etc. – this will only change over time with newer episcopal appointments.
Seminaries may provide good formation (e.g. affective personality development) but we also know that any bishop can choose to ordain and over rule a formation faculty non-recommendation.
USCCB has been toying with the idea of fewer regional seminaries that are able to focus on an agreed upon approach using the best faculty available (vs. the haphazard approach today).
Finally, some have commented on the role of pastors or mentors. Some dioceses have implemented structures so that newly ordained are initially placed with experienced pastors who know how to mentor (this gets beyond the conservative/liberal stance – it gets to how to mentor good quality pastoral skills and learning) – but this is few and far between. Too many dioceses don’t have the manpower to do this effectively and another reality is that the dearth of priests means that men are made pastors at a relatively young and, at times, inexperienced age.
A rocksolid prayer life is the answer to the majority of these problems. If we are more concerned with conforming ourselves to the mind and ways of God these things will melt away. Priests need to be men of prayer and discernment; The laity need to pray for their priest!!! To many times have I heard lay people complain about the priest, and when I ask if they have ever prayed or done penance for them, they just go away silent.
St. Francis Desales challenges us to examine our lives, and see if we are truly living the principle of: the vast majority of our success in ministry will come from prayer, not action. Do we reflect this on both sides of the communion rail?
I have met and worked with priests, both newly ordained and “well-seasoned”, liberal and conservative, that could very easily fall into the “rigid” category. In my experience, the closer one is to either extreme of the political/ecclesiastical spectrum, the more likely one is to be rigid and unpastoral. I have also met some wonderful, very pastoral priests who, for one reason or another, get painted with the brush of “liberal” or “conservative”, and are subsequently written off by folks who disagree with the perceived worldview.
I think it is a tendency in our present age to form our ideologies first, and our relationships second. This is not how family life operates in reality! If a priest is not particularly pastoral fresh out of seminary, it is likely that this stems from a wonderfully rigorous academic formation in the faith among like-minded people, and perhaps (hopefully) a decent spiritual formation, but without much exposure to forming relationships outside of that environment. But, this is not limited to the newly ordained. I know an older priest with a rather liberal bent who simply does not like anyone whom he perceives as having different opinions. It is the extremes of ideology without the relational component of faith that cause rigidity, either within the priest himself or how a parishioner perceives him. It seems to me that this is why Pope Francis calling for a renewed effort to “form hearts”. Hearts will not form in an ideological bubble, whether priest or parishioner, young or old, liberal or conservative. I have many friends and family members who are all over that map; sometimes we agree, sometimes we don’t. The important thing is that I try, with God’s help, to love them all, and at all times.
@Philip Spaeth – comment #71:
Thank you, Philip! Liked it all, especially this: “If a priest is not particularly pastoral fresh out of seminary, it is likely that this stems from a wonderfully rigorous academic formation in the faith among like-minded people, and perhaps (hopefully) a decent spiritual formation, but without much exposure to forming relationships outside of that environment.”
If the shepherd doesn’t know the sheep it is difficult to shepherd them well. The “like minded” people effect is terribly important to this, I think.
I’m inclined to think that Francis’ comments about formation of the heart are speaking to something important. Ultimately all of our hearts need forming all of our lives. How could this not be true of young priests as well?
Forming a heart would seem to involve finding a way to know *all* (not just the like-minded) as God knows them and to love them with that full knowledge. I’m sure there is diversity in the seminaries, as has been mentioned in this thread. But it is diversity within a narrow range. God’s children are even more diverse than the range of seminarians. How wide is the range of seminarians’ friends outside the seminary? Without those friends can they learn to know and love people outside the subset that would be comfortable in the seminary.
I recall hearing a youngish priest, a Legionary, iirc, whose beloved sister announced that she was lesbian. The priest spoke of how he understood the pastoring of gays and lesbians differently. He knew well a specific sheep, no longer just the theory of what sheep are like.
How to know people different from ourselves? It’s hard! I am confident that some of the younger priests have been badly treated as they do quite reasonable things. Rita makes an important point about the tendency to interpret application of standards as rigidity. Rough treatment can cause withdrawal from interaction. But somehow we all need to come to better know…
It is late, so I do not know who will see this, but after reading the post and the entire comment thread today, then I saw this… fascinating contrast. Newly installed as bishop of Vermont, Christopher Coyne. http://vimeo.com/118340201
@Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #75:
It does my heart good to know that someone like that is a bishop in our Church.
When I was commissioned a 2d Lieutenant in the US Army a grizzled old colonel from WWII and Korea spoke to us. He said: ‘We’ve taught you what we know. You’ve heard it from the veteran instructors and you’ve read it in the books. Now, get out there among the troops and learn what the Army is really all about.”
I wish every bishop would deliver some version of this instruction to each new priest.
As a parishioner, may I beg all priests, young and old, to work toward solemnity (any gestures which could strengthen reverence for and faith in the Mass itself and the Eucharist, in particular) and consistency of practice. It is confusing to go to communion, with some kneeling, some bowing, some side-stepping and seeming to ignore The Lord they’ve just received while saluting the altar, some receiving the Sacred Host on the tongue, some in appropriately poised hands, and others snatching. At the Our Father, we have some holding hands, others raising arms, some folding their own hands, some holding hands AND raising arms. Right before communion we have most kneeling (at our parish) and two or three of baby boomer age, who seem sure they “know better,” standing. It begins to border on the ridiculous. It would be helpful if a deacon or lay person at the outset of Mass could state–this is how we do this here, please help us by sharing in our postures for the sake of consistency. My preference would be receiving on the tongue, kneeling (as long as a kneeler is present–I’m too clumsy without one), not holding hands or lifting arms during the Our Father, and kneeling after consecration before communion–but people need to be reminded “it’s not about them.” Maybe the pastor could submit it for a vote–or at least the council and priest could decide. For those who feel they MUST kneel, maybe they could receive last, or first, so that their actions as a clump of people would seem more choreographed. What used to be an elegant ballet of worship under the strict rubrics of the TLM seems to have devolved in too many parishes into a school play stomped out clumsily by first graders.
I don’t know if any of you saw this… its a resposnse to this thread:
This comment is arriving incredibly late, with apologies. I want to add only that the Orthodox Church is experiencing a similar phenomenon/
I reflected on this important matter in my forthcoming book on liturgical reform. A few minor observations from an Easterner (and ordained deacon for 12+ years):
1) What motivates one to seek ordination? We hope it is the Holy Spirit, but sometimes, I worry that some young men are called to be active laity and mistake their passion as a calling to ordination. I also worry that some young men simply want to rule over people, especially in hierarchically structured churches.
2) Where do seminarians come from? Our parishes. What we do in the parish affects young men and women. We often complain about the men who exercise pastoral ministry in the parish, but are they not products of our lives in community? In contemporary Orthodoxy, the exception to this rule is becoming more significant as more and more clergy are converts whose primary pastoral formation comes from reading and seminary. The limits of this formation worry me deeply.
3) Would married priests change the landscape? For Catholics, they would in many ways because of the transition people would experience, but as an Easterner, I can tell you that some of our most vocal and brazen clergy – especially public ideologues – are married.
Great comments from all factions. Great that we are having this debate/ discussion. Well done to this forum for facilitating. It’s the only way the twain can meet – and try to take in what the other side is saying.
Le gach dea-ghuí,
Cathal (married lay chaplain)
Seems for some younger ones I’ve met I get the impression they’re arrogant. Just from my own observation they cut you off when you have an idea to share. Their idea is better. They don’t listen. Some, I’ve seen are judgemental. At least from my experience in life, those with higher education tend to gravitate toward this type of behavior. It seems they’ve got this attitude that “I know more than you and I know better”. Also, as the years go by with parishioners practically putting them on a pedestal over time they become narcissistic and just plain “full of themselves”. Please don’t think I hold this attitude for all Priests. There’s are some that are just walking Saints and I have the greatest respect for them and the Priestly Office. But there’s some younger one’s out there I just don’t like – because they’re so darn arrogant! And Jesus wept! Regardless, I will prayer for our men in black, they have a rough job. I’m glad it’s a calling for I would not want their job for love nor money.