Sunday, February 14, 2010


I have been pondering the words of the Holy Father to the Bishops of England and Wales, in part because they sum up a vision for our Church, as well as criticism of it. In a way it is a examination of conscience.

What I am having difficulty with is what he has to say aboout "functionalism".

"Help them [the laity] to avoid any temptation to view the clergy as mere functionaries but rather to rejoice in the gift of priestly ministry, a gift that can never be taken for granted."

Are we clergy in E&W, especially, seen as "functionaries", compared to clergy elsewhere? I think that one of the frustrations often voiced by priests is that they tend feel diocesan offices lay on them a great deal of "bean counting", in truth a lot of it is the result of government "elfin safety" legislation.

I am not sure that we are especially concerned with "doing" rather than "being".

Earlier he had said:

I urge you to hold up to your priests his example of dedication to prayer, pastoral sensitivity towards the needs of his flock, and passion for preaching the Gospel. You yourselves should set a similar example.

Again, I am not sure that we priests are especially lacking in these areas. Perhaps priests and bishops could be accused of not have a great "passion for preaching the Gospel", especially as the Pope's remarks are set in the context of proclaiming the Gospel in a secular age and society.
Is the Pope possibly suggesting we concentrate too much on maintanence or management rather mission? The shortage of priests perhaps results in a mentality that wants to "manage decline", rather than get on with Christ's commission to preach to the nations. In his address to the Scottish Bishops he speaks of the distinction that should be made between lay apostolate and ministry.

Hand in hand with a proper appreciation of the priest’s role is a correct understanding of the specific vocation of the laity. Sometimes a tendency to confuse lay apostolate with lay ministry has led to an inward-looking concept of their ecclesial role. Yet the Second Vatican Council’s vision is that wherever the lay faithful live out their baptismal vocation – in the family, at home, at work – they are actively participating in the Church’s mission to sanctify the world.

A renewed focus on lay apostolate will help to clarify the roles of clergy and laity and so give strong impetus to the task of evangelizing society.

Is the Pope perhaps suggesting there is a tendency in E&W that we are confusing the roles of priests and laity and neglecting the Apostolate that springs from our baptismal vocation, "in the family, at home and at work"? According to Lumen Gentium the role of the clergy, principly the Bishop, is to teach, sanctify and govern, recent statements from Catholic Education Service might suggest a certain lightness of touch in the teaching and governing realm, allowing Ms Stannard to usurp the role of the individual Bishops and committing them and their diocesan Churches to policies some Bishops would find inimical to the faith.

In the parish it is possibly easier to gauge commitment not by the depth of holiness in family life but by the number of names on the ministry rotas.

It seems the Pope is saying to the Scottish bishops that they have clericised the laity, is he saying to English bishop that they have in some way laicized the clergy?


Volpius Leonius said...

I believe that is exactly what he is saying Father, and he is correct in his assessment.

George said...

'According to Lumen Gentium the role of the clergy, principly the Bishop, is to teach, sanctify and govern, recent statements from Catholic Education Service might suggest a certain lightness of touch in the teaching and governing realm....'

I love your choice of words Fr Ray - '... a certain lightness of touch'... That's just priceless!!!

God Bless you in your Apostolate because for sure you are NOT a manager of decline!!!!

Anthony Dickinson said...

Father, splendid analysis and not far off the mark methinks.

I went for the first time in several years to my Sacramental Home Parish. I still live within its boundary but in principle cannot attend. I was amazed at the changes. The once relativley thriving catholic community is now as dead as the proverbial Dodo. Even though those involved the various ministries would argue otherwise.

We are managing decline "leaving safe harbours" around here. Church built in 1865 but records go back 100 years earlier. Since 1865 the Parish has had only eight priests (3 since 1997!) The first orthodox and died in 2003, the second orthodox and a bit unstable (was hounded out by the Tabletista types for being too orthodox), this one is neither orthodox or stable and preached, last year, on his desire to see a female priesthood. If you listen carefully you will hear six out of his seven of his predecessors all turning in their graves.

When asked what his Archbishop would think or say he replied "who cares!"

There you have it - in a nutshell.

fidelisjoff said...

I have seen marriages and family life suffer as some women have viewed a contrived "ministry" as the high point of their life rather than their vocation to marriage and motherhood. In E & W half the congregation are imbued with the idea that they are fulfilling a minesterial role one step away from being a priest. Giving out hymn books, photocopying, telephoning etc are not ministries they are just tasks that assist the priest. Special ministers is a misnomer. They are the extraordinary ministers not of the Eucharist but of Holy Communion. They are rarely used as they should be and create a false sense of the role of the
laity. Yes in E & W, as a whole priests have created a loss of their own identity. I certainly have no desire to attain the
ridiculous title of minister because I help with the collection
or give out a news sheet.

George said...

Fidelisjoff makes some good points and says, 'Yes in E & W, as a whole priests have created a loss of their own identity'.

Somehow it seems to me that only the Latin Mass reinstates the Priest to his rightful position within the Parish and removes that spiritually damaging 'familiarity' which has grown out of the misinterpretation or 'spirit' of V2.

Jacobi said...

A good analysis Father

I am an unashamed “conspiracy theory” type. I believe that many in the Church over the last fifty years wished to change Catholic doctrine, and what better way than, indirectly, through liturgical practise. Well that’s the way I would do it!

Lay readership obscures the priest's teaching role, EMHCs encroach on the Priestly Ministry, routine reception of Communion standing, in the hand, and in both species, by many who have not confessed in years, diminishes belief in the Real Presence, and that same downplaying of Confession leads to a denial of sin, with the profound implications that has. The list could go on, and is no accident! So many of the clergy are retreating to management and that core of the Mass they believe (hope?) is sacrosanct.

Hence the reason the Holy Father, unlike so many of our bishops , is worried.

If our bishops wished they could relatively easily deal with the laicisation of the clergy. But as for the lay apostolate, the problem is the sheer ignorance that so many have of their faith after, two generations of
so-called “Catholic” education in our schools.

Dominic Mary said...

exactly right : I have commented on the same phenomenon myself, recently - there is an alarming lack of understanding amongst an entire generation of English Catholics of the most elementary aspects of the Faith; and without the fundamentals, what hope is there of the laity defending (or even caring about defending) the details ?

georgem said...

Great heavens to Betsy, Father. I recognise every single EM in your pic.
Can't say I know the church, though.
I never felt the same about lay participation after the middle-aged reader at my father's funeral sported track suit bottoms and trainers.
Nor about the priest who might have (ought to have?) said "no".
Thanks, as ever, for your take on the subject.

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