Sunday, April 4, 2010

Breaking castes

The sight of 20 plus concelebrants processing to the altar at  this year's Easter Vigil set me to thinking again. All right, I admit it's an issue that's worried me  ever since I read Aidan Kavanagh's Elements of Rite a very long time ago. Apart from the practical aspect of whether they would have been better saying Masses for communities 'going without' this Easter there is an even more pastoral question of what message, even subliminal, is this putting across to all the faithful, especially the clergy themselves, at this time. Now the arguments for concelebration with the bishop are stronger. Those for purely priestly concelebration are problematic. There is also little doubt that it's a great and pastoral concession for those priests who could not say Mass in any other way. Yet it's general application amongst groups of priests is one of the loose ends that need to be tidied up.

The application of the norms is not consistent across the Catholic world. In some places it has been a mark of orthodoxy amongst the clergy, in others it has the been the sign of liberal solidarity. In some places it has been virtually required of clergy normally celebrating the Usus Antiquior (as a sign of general good will) in other places these clergy stay away from the Chrism Mass not even 'sitting in choir' to avoid offence on both sides of opinion. In some places it has been a convenient way of 'hiding' problem clergy whilst still collecting a stipend. I suspect an unhealthy hankering for 'respect' from all sides is creeping in. Christianity is not essentially  respectable.

But at the moment, and possibly for a longer time, there is an underlying problem which needs to be addressed. One suspects that, internally at least, the practice has solidified the notion of a priestly caste- apart from not within the whole of the Church- which must stand together, must protect itself from outward assault, or criticism, at whatever the cost. The rites of concelebration, and 'priestly solidarity' are often a convenient smoke screen to hide behind allowing abuses to go unchecked under the general cloak of fraternal charity.

Now the priests of the Church are a distinct group- their salvation is worked out in a somewhat different manner in their pastoral ministry. The non sacerdotal, who are equal members of Christ's faithful, 'work out' their salvation in the participation and support of the ministry of the Church. Surely at the moment it is time to consider whether we should be emphasising the unity of all believers rather than just one group, albeit it a special one, that make up the whole of the Body of Christ.

Of course the internal problem it not just the problem of those working largely within the revised rites. Whilst one of the greater criticisms of the traditionalist movement is it's rather heightened clericalism, certainly more than when the traditional rites were the norm, causing a distance in pastoral ministry which is very awkward. This is not purely the fault of the clergy but of an embattled laity with nostalgic ideas of what the 'good old days' were actually like even if they had not actually lived through the 'good old days' were like. I imagine the greater part of traditional clergy and laity never actually lived through the 'good old days'. The expectation that the clergy will, or should,  keep a lofty distance, does not tally with the traditional value of a pastor amongst his people consecrated to a special purpose amongst the faithful- not apart from them.

One small example. I find clerical dress a burden because of my own sinfulness and weakness. The snide remarks in the street and occasionally outright attacks are a fact of modern life in our 'nick of the woods'.  Yet the Church has repeatedly taught this to be a necessary sign and I observe the discipline. I draw the line when I am going to the gym. Call me old fashioned but a clerical collar doesn't seem to go well with my sweat gear and runners. Yet one of the 'neo-con'  faithful decided to take me to task over this foible of mine. 'How I can I respect you if your don't wear your collar' he opined. 'I don't need your respect' I snapped back rather petulantly. I then explained where I was off to. He hasn't spoken to me since. He may well have been right.

Is not at least part of the problem that the clergy have been placed on too high a collective pedastal and that ritual actions that seem to over emphasise a malaise within the Church at the moment- that is of a group that is above question and reproach, need to be seriously reconsidered?  My original selection of a photo for this entry, as a sort of homage to a noble Monsignor now deceased,  was of a rally in a certain Continental city, between 1933 and 1945. Considering the remarks of a Roman ecclesiastic during the week I thought it better to go for a more 'conservative' illustration. Oh I'm a dreadful coward!


  1. The snide remarks in the street and occasionally outright attacks are a fact of modern life in our 'nick of the woods'. Yet the Church has repeatedly taught this to be a necessary sign and I observe the discipline.

    Your perseverance reminded me of a line from Rostand's Cyrano, spoken by the eponymous hero,(the Hooker translation, I think.)

    "The officer does not lightly resign the privilege of being a target."

    Thank you for your witness.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

  2. Ah, that noble Monsignor - sadly missed.


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