by Michael Davies

------------------------------ Chapter X

Blurring the Priesthood

One contemporary trend which this book should have made clear is the tendency to blur the distinction between priest and layman, to minimize those powers of the ministerial priesthood which distinguish it not simply in degree but in essence from the universal priesthood of the faithful. In addition to the unofficial, but usually uncondemned, writings of Modernist theologians; the elimination of sacrificial language from the ordination rite; the convergence of ordination rites; and the Agreed Statements; some mention must also be made of the officially approved changes in the Mass liturgy. This has been done in detail in Pope Paul's New Mass and will be touched upon only briefly here.

Firstly, it is a most instructive exercise to go through the traditional Mass and make a note of all the prayers which distinguish the priest from the congregation, in which he acts in a personal capacity, in which he speaks in the first person. It will be found that, the Orate Fratres excepted, from the Introibo-----" I will go", to the Placeat tibi at the end of the Mass, almost every such prayer has been eliminated. Note, for example, that at the beginning of the new Mass the priest simply joins in an act of penitence with the congregation, as opposed to the double Confiteor in the traditional Mass. Even the Orate Fratres was falsely translated in its English version. The official English text reads: "Pray brethren that our sacrifice . . . "

Where Eucharistic Prayer Number II is used it is possible to see the Mass almost as a concelebration in which, at certain points, the priest acts as no more than a spokesman for a congregation of concelebrants. In keeping with this concept, unofficial developments are now taking place whereby some priests allow the congregation to join with them in pronouncing the words of the Canon.

  In a book intended to defend the liturgical reform, Dom Guy Oury goes as far as conceding that it is a matter for regret that the new prayers do not differentiate between priest and laity as in the old liturgy. However, he tries to justify the change by pointing out that the Roman Canon is still available as an option and that this distinction is made within the Roman Canon. He insists upon the reform being assessed as a package, and a package which contains the Roman Canon. 1 It does not say much for the new liturgy if its only redeeming feature is what remains of the old.

The distinctive nature of the priesthood is further diminished by the following features: the introduction of lay readers; the presence of lay people apart from acolytes within the sanctuary; the fact that sacred vessels, which only a priest was formerly allowed to touch, are now handled indiscriminately by anyone; the introduction of Communion in the hand, which makes the consecration of the priest's hands in ordination meaningless; and above all, the appointment of lay ministers to distribute Holy Communion.
This latter practice was given an enthusiastic welcome by Fr. J. D. Crichton, one of England's most enthusiastic apologists for the liturgical reform. Writing in The Tablet on 28 April 1973, he rejoices that the laity "will now be able to exercise their priesthood in a way that perhaps they had never envisaged." They will "not only visibly share the priestly office with the clergy, but will assist him in a wide variety of functions in the work of the Church." He regrets that "it may be presumed that there will be at first a certain amount of resistance to the new arrangement. People no doubt think that the giving of Communion is a peculiarly priestly act."

Although Fr. Crichton clearly does not consider the distribution of Holy Communion to be "a peculiarly priestly act", St. Thomas Aquinas most certainly does. In the Summa Theologica he writes:

I answer that, the dispensing of Christ's Body belongs to the priest for three reasons. First, because he consecrates as in the person of Christ. But as Christ consecrated His Body at the supper, so also He gave It to others to be partaken of by them. Accordingly, as the consecration of Christ's Body belongs to the priest, so likewise does the dispensing belong to him.

Secondly, because the priest is the appointed intermediary between God and the people; hence as it belongs to him to offer the people's gifts to God, so it belongs to him to deliver consecrated gifts to the people.

Thirdly, because out of reverence towards this Sacrament, nothing touches It but what is consecrated; hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest's hands, for touching this Sacrament. Hence it is not lawful for anyone else to touch It, except from necessity, for instance, if It were to fall upon the ground, or else in some other case of urgency. 2

Apologists for the liturgical reform attempt to explain away the blurring of the distinct nature of the ministerial priesthood by defending each change in isolation. Even so their case is very weak, but those concerned with upholding traditional teaching on the Mass and the priesthood must not allow them to evade the issues with this tactic. The changes cannot be considered in isolation: the reform must be considered as a whole. The new Mass, new ordination rite, Agreed Statements, Communion in the hand, lay ministers of Communion, the writings of Modernist theologians-----all are interlocking components of a coherent and coordinated whole. This unified movement must, in its turn, be set within the prevailing atmosphere in which so many priests (less so in Britain and the U.S.A. than in most western countries) are dressing in lay attire, abandoning weekday Masses, mixing with the laity on terms of unbecoming familiarity-----"Don't call me Father, call me Fred."

To give just one example, a friend from the United States has sent me a number of tapes of what is called a "Folk Mass" broadcast at 8.00 a.m. each Sunday from the Paulist Centre, 5 Park Road, Boston. What takes place appears to be a combination of Pentecostalism and the discotheque, with a few musical hall and circus acts thrown in for good measure; not even the official Eucharistic Prayers of the new Mass are used. The most bizarre compositions are recited, some of which the President appears to make up as he goes along. As the "Folk Mass" is broadcast each Sunday it must clearly have episcopal approval. One feature of the proceedings is the giving of testimonies, in Salvation Army style. Members of the congregation come forward and say what a Wonderful sense of community, liberation, etc. the Centre provides. One good lady explained how overwhelmed she felt at the fact that since coming to the Centre she had been made "co-chairperson" of a committee and was "going to be giving out the bread with Jim".

Equally serious is the increasing involvement of some priests in "community" work which is often unrelated to the specific needs of their parishes, to the detriment of their specifically priestly function of offering Mass, hearing confessions, and preaching sound doctrine. It is not surprising that when priests are seen to attach continually diminishing importance to their specifically sacerdotal function, so does their attachment to the priesthood diminish-----all too often the friendly, dynamic, socially conscious priest ends up by abandoning the priesthood for marriage.

This process was well summarized by Malachi Martin in 1972.

In the area of activism, we are at grips with the chief manifestation of the malaise which afflicts twentieth-century human society. The activism into which clerics, nuns, religious, and lay folk are plunging has no professedly or professionally Christian intent, purpose, or scope. It only means that there will be more politicians, more civil-rights workers, new Congressmen, fresh Presidential speech writers, more anti-Vietnam war demonstrators. Nor can it be construed as a carrying out of the clerical or religious injunction and undertaking to spread the Gospel of Jesus as professionals. It is a reduction of the Church's role to a purely secular one. The secular has transformed the religious role into being part of it. 3

In making this point, Dr. Martin was no more than echoing a warning issued in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, that most percipient of popes. In his Apostolic Exhortation Menti Nostrae he warned:

During these years which have followed the long and dreadful war many priests have spent themselves, under the leadership of the bishops, in relieving material and spiritual distress. They were inspired by love of God and man; and We commend them as they deserve. But there are others for whom We must express Our anxiety; those who, to meet the peculiar circumstances of our time, have all too often become absorbed in the whirl of external activity, to the neglect of their primary duty, namely their own sanctification. As We have already publicly declared, It is necessary to correct the error of those who dare to suppose that the salvation; of men can be procured by what has been truly called "the heresy of action"; action, that is, which does not rely on grace and disregards the means of sanctification appointed by Jesus Christ. 4

The Reverend Colin Buchanan, an Anglican theologian, has noted the manner in which a process beginning with the appointment in the Church of England of laymen to the office of "Lay Reader" has developed to the extent where it is seriously argued that any distinction between minister and layman is meaningless. He writes:

This step recognized, regularized, and finally promoted the ministry of the word by laymen. And, although the steps to the present position were slow and halting, yet it is from that beginning that we have lately come to the point where a layman can officiate at Morning and Evening Prayer, can preach at any service, and can assist the celebrant with the administration at Holy Communion. There comes a point where the practical distinction between minister and layman is the ability to say one prayer at the communion service. And when the question gets put that way, it is not surprising that there are voices to say the distinction is meaningless. 5

It scarcely needs pointing out that this is precisely the point which has been reached in the Catholic Church, but for the fact that hearing confessions is still reserved to the priest.

The most alarming aspect of the present situation is that when young men with a vocation note the extent to which priestly functions are being taken over by laymen, and the increasing secularization of the priesthood itself, the less point they will see in making the sacrifices still required of anyone entering the Catholic priesthood. If they want to be community workers or social leaders, there are more direct routes than via the priesthood.

I am sure that I speak for every faithful Catholic when I say that the more closely our priests conform themselves to the essential nature of their priesthood, the more certain they can be of the love and the loyalty of the laity. There is no shortage of politicians and social workers. What we need are men to absolve us from our sins, preach sound doctrine in season and out of season, and, above all, to offer the most holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the living and he dead. No one has explained what the Catholic expects his priest to be more perfectly than Pope Pius XII in his Apostolic Exhortation Menti Nostrae. God grant us priests who will conform to this ideal.

A priest is called by God, appointed to a Divine office and endowed with Divine grace. He must collaborate diligently with Jesus Christ, the one, eternal Priest. He must follow and imitate Him whose ruling intention during His earthly life was to demonstrate His burning love for the Father, and to bestow on men the infinite treasures of His Heart.

The main motive force actuating a priest should be the determination to attain the closest union with the Divine Redeemer and to accept with docility the precepts of Christian doctrine in their fullness, and at all times to practise them so earnestly that the Catholic faith shall be the guiding light of his life, and his life shall in turn reflect the glory of the faith.

With the brightness of faith to guide him, let him continually keep Christ before his eyes. Christ's commands, actions and example he should follow most assiduously, in the conviction that it is not enough for him to submit to the duties by which the faithful are bound, but that he must at a daily increasing pace pursue the perfection of life which the high dignity of a priest demands, according to the canon: "The clergy should lead a holier life interiorly and exteriorly than the laity and be an example to them by the standard of their virtue and right conduct" (Code of Canon Law, canon 124).

The priestly life takes its origin from Christ, and to Him, therefore, it should at all times be wholly directed. But Christ is the Word of God who condescended to assume a human nature, lived an earthly life to obey the will of the Eternal Father, shed around Him a sweetness as of the lily, lived in poverty, "went about doing good and healing all", (Acts 10: 38) and finally offered Himself as a victim for the salvation of His brethren. Beloved sons, you have before your very eyes, so to say, the sum of this wonderful life. Strive with all your might to reproduce it in yourselves, remembering the incentive offered: "I have given you an example, that as 1 have done to you, so do you also." (John 13: 15). 6

1. La Messe de S. Pie Va Paul VI (Solesmes, 1975), p. 61. The distinction between the clergy and the congregation in the Roman Canon can be found in the prayer Hanc igitur which precedes the Consecration and the prayer Unde et memores which follows it. The clergy are referred to as God's servants and the congregation as His family or holy people. (The clergy are referred to in the plural due to the antiquity of the Roman Canon which envisages a papal concelebration). The prayer Nobis quoque peccatoribus at the conclusion of the Canon is also a specific reference to the priest at the altar.
2. ST, III, Q. LXXXII, art. 3.
3. Three Popes and a Cardinal (New York, 1972), p. 277.
4. Menti Nostrae, Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Pius XII on the Sanctification of the Priestly Life of 23 Sept. 1950, C.T.S. edition, p. 25, para. 58.
5. LPE, pp. 13/14.
6. Op. cit., Note 4, pp. 9/10, paras 12/15.


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