In this month`s Northern Cross there is a letter from Fr Gary Dickson on the question of priestly identity. I reproduce it here with Father`s permission:
I rely heavily upon laity undertaking Catechesis, Baptism Preparation, Accounts, Health & Safety, Pastoral Planning via the Pastoral Council etc., and hoped to see Deaneries co-operating by each parish taking responsibility for one such task (presuming the laity engaged were formed in the Catechism rather than theological opinion of dubious merit). Sadly, by forming clergy as coordinators of such lay engagement, we failed to promote a right understanding of presbyters as sacrificing priests who teach, sanctify and govern in the person of Christ and fellow workers with the Order of Bishops as taught by Vatican II’s Presbyterorum Ordinis, and a right understanding of the laity with their authentic, irreplaceable vocation of mission in the world as taught by Vatican II’s Apostolicam Actuositatem. We therefore all but eliminated the splendour of the priesthood as well as the striking apostolic witness of the Legion of Mary in their door-to-door evangelisation and the inspiring active charity of SVP. These failed to attract because they were not ‘power-sharing’. Now, and unsurprisingly, seminaries are closing –after all, why spend one’s life as a celibate facilitator (priest) when one can be married and a community (lay) ‘leader’?
Of particular concern is the idea that we must retain parishes without a resident priest as ‘Eucharistic communities’ by promoting lay-led Services of the Word with Distribution of Holy Communion. This implies the community is more important than the Eucharistic Action, yet the community springs from that Action as the source and summit of all that we are, so it is essential to be part of that Action rather than simply hear the word and receive Holy Communion –which does not, in fact, fulfil our Sunday Obligation. Perhaps we need to amalgamate parishes to help re-dignify the lay and priestly vocations –and restore the Mass to central importance.
Fr G Dickson
It does bother me that we are told as priests that we should be delegating all we can to lay people. It seems to deny the priest a pastoral role except as a sacrament machine. And what does the priest do when he has delegated all responsibility for the pastoral and financial life of the parish to committees? Parish councils occasionally pop up who have the idea that they have an executive role whereas it is very clear in the church`s law a parish council exists to advise the priest.