04Nov Priesthood has to continue evolving and developing

Recently my wife and I were visiting a rural parish church, we go there from time to time and are known by the locals. It was the 2nd of November, All Souls Day. The parish priest, a man of 77 years, the same age as myself,  began Mass by saying that he would have to celebrate 5 masses that day, each one for a different community all of whom are separated by long distances as his parish is spread over a very large area. He looked tired even before he started mass.

As I listened to him I said to myself will the day ever come when a man like him will have the liberty to ask me to help out, which I would do with the greatest of love, good will and dedication. He is a good man, a good priest but is hampered by canon law.

I believe that some day in the future  celibacy will become optional, that married priests will be called back to public ministry and that we will have women priests.

There are those though who just cannot imagine anything other than male celibate priests , they  have great difficulty in considering other models of priesthood. These people see Celebrations of the Word as a solution to the priest shortage. By doing this they are separating the Lord’s Day, Sunday, from the Eucharist. They are separating these two things when in fact they should be and are one. The sad thing about this thinking is that if it catches on then over a period of time people will get so used to Celebrations of the Word that they will give up looking for other solutions to the shortage of priests.

What is it that makes changes to church life and practice so difficult and why does change happen so slowly? Life though is not static, life is dynamic and this implies evolution, growth and maturity.

One gets the feeling though that there are those who feel that a great loss will happen if new forms of priesthood are introduced.

Our Lords words: “Be not afraid. It is I, fear not” are not part of their vocabulary.

We could have a church where celibate and married priests work together side by side for the good of the Christian community. They can have so much in common, the common desire and love of serving people. At the same time they should not try to be the same as each other in order to avoid comparisons, yet both are possible.

A few years ago I read an article  written by Bishop Fritz Lobinger, retired bishop of Aliwal, South Africa. He wrote: “As a bishop of the diocese, I would visit Mmusong once a year, listening to the community and solemnly blessing its leaders. Each time I went home with the same painful question in my head. “Why can I only give a blessing to these leaders? Why can I not ordain some of them? When will the day come when I can ordain proven leaders of our communities”? I am not alone. There are hundreds of bishops who feel that renewing the ancient tradition of ordaining local leaders who were married, who received a brief training, who were chosen by the local community, but had proven their worthiness over some time, is the only solution”.

These words of Bishop Lobinger are prophetic and courageous  and could be used as guidelines towards a possible solution to the priest shortage. They echo Saint Paul’s advice to Titus (1 : 5) that he “should appoint elders in every town”

 

Brian  Eyre: Married Catholic priest, Recife, Brazil

 

6 Responses

  1. Mary Wood

    Not only priesthood is involved. Some wish to enlarge the church’s embrace of marriage possibilities for all sorts and conditions of folk.

    Maybe by the 25th century the RCC will be dragged into the 21sr.

  2. Chris McDonnell

    There will come a time when those who cling to the “necessary principle” of celibacy for priesthood will wake up, and will realise that there is not much future in holding to the past without a considered and reasonable view of where we are now.
    There are parishes throughout England where priests who have married sit in the pews week by week, discarded by the Church from their priestly function because of their love for the woman who sits next to them. At some point we will wake up to reality. Let’s hope that our waking from sleep will not be too late.
    Chris McDonnell Secretary
    Movement for Married Clergy UK

  3. Soline Humbert

    …. And the desert will bloom…https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/vatican-consultant-absolutely-favours-women-priests-1.1989855

  4. Cornelius Martin

    The most notable feature of this article concerns the 77-year-old priest saying the five masses. I have estimated the time this would take in my rural area. I made three assumptions: 1. Each Mass lasts forty minutes. 2. The time interval between leaving one altar and arriving at another is twenty minutes. 3. There are no delays or hitches. In other words the Masses could start on the hour every hour between 9.00 and 13.00 hours, concluding at 13.40. The time taken – 4.5 hours.

    Very few priests would buy this impractical scenario. It would be unfair to expect a priest to undertake it.

    It helped me imagine the relevant timescale facing the 77-year-old priest. I have observed such activity in Africa, where the minute hand on the clock does not dominate the culture and transport is very slow. It must have taken more than 8 hours.

    The mind is then drawn to the profound religious principles, the faith and love and heroic virtue that drove such an effort. In all probability the faithful realised the extent that this self-sacrificing endeavour was truly for “the praise and glory of His name, for our good and the good of all His holy Church.”

  5. Eddie Finnegan

    Chris@2 omitted the punchline of that joke, but I know he didn’t think it necessary to labour the point. For those who may have missed it, let me elaborate a little:

    “There are parishes throughout (southern) England where priests who have married sit in the pews week by week, discarded by the Church from their priestly function because of their love for the woman who sits next to them, while the priest ministering at the altar before them knows that the wife he (probably) loves is at home making him a full English breakfast with the full blessings of the late saintly Basil Cardinal Hume and Santo Subito Pope John Paul II, or alternatively this lucky celebrant may be celebrating con gusto a Latin Mass blended with the comforts of his old Anglican patrimony, rejoicing in the plenary blessings of Pope Benedict XVI, the enabling nod of Cardinal-to-be Vincent Nichols, and the embarrassment of that good man, the embattled Rowan Cantuar, simply because he couldn’t bear the thought of serving in his old Anglican diocese with the prospect of a female bishop just around the corner.”

    [ps. But lest I be accused of wild generalisation, I know a few good Anglicans who have “come over” for the purest of motives and, on the principle of “to dig I am unable, to beg I am ashamed, and my wife is happy to continue working”, what on earth else would they be doing except what they know best?]

  6. Prodigal Son

    My purpose here is not to dwell on the merits/demerits of clerical celibacy or women priests. I disagree with Brian on two different points.

    In relation to Bishop Fritz Lobinger, it must be remembered that the vocation to the Catholic ordained priesthood has to be discerned. Recent negative history shows how important it is. Bishop Lobinger’s proposal as outlined is inadequate. In 2012 the diocese of Lincoln in Nebraska (97,000 Catholics) had 49 seminarians engaged in such discernment. On average, only one in four of applicants for the seminary itself were accepted. By contrast, selection on foot of one’s neighbours’ votes followed by brief training is a form of reductionism of the nature of the ordained priesthood and the formation required.

    Low priest populations thwart regular celebration of the Eucharist by the laity in some parts of the world. Many greatly miss the gift of the Eucharist and Holy Communion. But it is unlikely that this would lead to the abandoning of efforts to foster vocations which Brian speculates. The “Mass rock” period in Ireland and a similar epoch behind the Iron Curtain demonstrate this.

    The impact of deprivation of the Eucharist depends a lot on the disposition of the person deprived. For instance older people who cannot attend Mass often compensate with the rosary and other devotions. “Our Lords words: ‘Be not afraid. It is I, fear not’ are [very much] part of their vocabulary.” The graces of spiritual communion are important here. On the other hand people who deliberately stay away from Mass are prone to develop weakness in faith.

    It would be much preferable if people didn’t have to go for periods without Mass and Holy Communion but this lack of opportunity does not preclude growth in holiness. One doesn’t necessarily start blocking God’s process of changing and transforming one into a new person.


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