Monday, May 18, 2009

A Good Priest

Today the Canon Law Society`s newsletter arrived in the post. I had a quick glance through it after Mass. In an article by Fr Jerry Pokorsky of the diocese of Arlington in the USA about the financial administration of parishes I came across this which I liked:

As parishes expand [this bit doesn`t apply here!] and the number of priests decline, there is a great temptation to downplay the priest`s sacramental role and to accept his managerial functions [except that in some places some laity want to take on the managerial and sacramental roles, so what is a priest meant to be then?]. Instead of defining himself as the primary teacher of the faith and mediator of Christ in the celebration of the sacraments, he defines himself as the "enabler in lay ministry" [ This was the vision of the priesthood I remember being given at Ushaw by a now senior cleric back in the 1980`s!]. Instead of preparing parishioners for the sacraments (conducting baptism classes, marriage preparation etc) and visiting sick, he organises teams of "lay ministers" for the jobs.
Hence, the definition of a "good priest" is a man who knows how to delegate his sacramental duties to the laity and is a great administrator and fundraiser. Conversely, the definition of a "good Catholic" narrows to include only those who "do ministry" rather than those who bring Christ to their homes and workplaces as virtuous parents and employees. But anyone who has studied the documents of the Second Vatican Council realizes that this is exactly the opposite of the Church`s intention. It is critical to the mission of the Church not to disassociate priestly ministry from a priest`s personal administering of the sacraments.
Three cheers. This explains why I always feel to say the least uneasy when we hear that "lay ministry" is to be promoted. Minor orders would be fine but that isn`t what is usually meant. I am quite happy to recruit lay people to help with sacramental preparation and believe it is particularly useful when dealing with marriage but I believe that the priest must be involved too and guide the whole process. There is always a somewhat neglected Vatican document On Certain Questions Regarding The Collaboration Of The Non-Ordained Faithful In The Sacred Ministry Of The Priest of 1997.


Discreet Observer said...

"Instead of defining himself as the primary teacher of the faith and mediator of Christ in the celebration of the sacraments, he defines himself as the "enabler in lay ministry" [ This was the vision of the priesthood I remember being given at Ushaw by a now senior cleric back in the 1980`s!]."

I remember reading an article about Ushaw College in the Northern Cross about that time (mid 1980s). A student was interviewed (clutching his guitar)and he was asked about his vision of the priesthood. He said the role of the priest was to be "the coordinator of the parish gifts." It was a chilling phrase that stuck in my memory. I have wondered occasionally whether he is in a parish and whether he is still coordinating 'the gifts' in the parish. Unfortunately, this kind of destructive nonsense took deep root and is is still widespread. Thankfully, the growing awareness of the traditional liturgy, especially among many of our younger priests, is slowly restoring the view of a sacrificial priesthood; it will take time but the impetus is inexorably moving in the right direction.

madame evangelista said...

I think you're right to be uneasy. I can see how a shortage of priests leads to the lay congregation taking on more responsibility, but it seems obvious to me that this would also contribute to a vocation shortage.

A culture that emphasises that laity are ministers as part of their daily life can't at the same time really be conducive to fostering the abandonment to God that I imagine priesthood requires.

berenike said...

The unspoken assumption behind the lay-people-onto-the-sanctuary (literally or metaphorically) attitude is that priesthood is somehow a fuller way of being a Christian than just being a mere layperson.

I came to this conclusion living in an Edinburgh parish. Of the priests in that parish, only one seemed to have any clear idea of what the *point* of being a Christian might be, why anyone should bother in the first place and why one should continue to bother, and he was the only one not of the punters-into-priests persuasion, from what I could tell from my place in the pews.

That is a two-sentence summary of what should be an essay! But it seems to make sense that if you're not convinced of the Wow! This Is It! factor of the faith, then it might be hard to see why the laity aren't somehow "less" than the clergy. Once you've encouraged everyone to "become" priests, however, there's not anywhere else to hide from the question "why should we all bother to be 'priests'?".

if that makes sense.

madame evangelista said...

Berenike, I think what's funny is that even when it is trying to impose a view of egalitarianism, the church is still hierarchical. So lay people are encouraged to 'find their ministry', and all that happens is that another layer is created between those with a perceived ministry and the rest of the congregation. It's that old thing that bureaucracy breeds bureaucracy; whereas the priesthood should be a sacred space, not an administrative function.

berenike said...

ME - what church is trying to impose a view of egalitarianism? Who's "the church"? (according to you in your comment)

madame evangelista said...

Berenike, that would be the catholic church... No, I do take your point. In my comment above, the people are the church - bishops, priests and lay people - who I have heard on many occasions doing exactly as I have said above. The most recent classic example of this being the final RCIA session, a reunion Mass, which was followed by one of the helpers giving a brief recruitment talk on the various ministries.

I suppose I do sometimes use the word 'church' to mean the ecclesiastical hierarchy, but as above, I more usually use it as an inclusive term to include all active members - including those that some catholics don't like to acknowledge as catholics, eg catholics who use contraception or vote for Obama. I don't believe the church exists simply in hierarchy, vatican documents or the work of theologians, living or dead.

berenike said...


Sorry for being annoying. But as you say yourself, "the church" in your previous comment meant "folk doing stuff wot I don't like". Which is often what is meant, in fact (cf. the papers, passim). People chuck labels around and it ain't helpful.