Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Full Priesthood and "People's Priests"

While the title of this article may sound like something taken from the marxist ravings of some liberation theologian, it is not. I have distilled the title from a portion of Cardinal Ratzinger's response to Peter Seewald in "Salt of the Earth" (pp.198-9).

In the larger context, Seewald is pressing Ratzinger for his views about the possibility of married priests in the Church's future (pp. 194-200). For some reason Seewald, like others in our world today, has a fixation on an optionally married priesthood as a "solution" for problems in the Church. Ratzinger doesn't exactly agree with him, and cites two synods of bishops for support; both marriage and the priesthood today are in crisis due to a crisis of faith, a lack of vibrant believers.

After insisting that "celibacy is not a matter of compulsion", and truly that is a caricature foisted on us today by certain chatty Pornocrats (to use a term of Fr. Hunwicke), the Cardinal continues, asking, "That is now the question: How deeply do priesthood and celibacy belong together? And is not the wish to have only one [without the other] a lower view of the priesthood?" He then makes a brief review of ministerial service in Protestantism, Orthodoxy and Catholicism:

[I do not think] that in this matter it's enough simply to point to the Orthodox Churches and Protestant Christianity. Protestant Christianity has per se a completely different understanding of office: it is a function, it is a ministry coming out of the community, but it is not a sacrament in the same sense; it is not priesthood in this proper sense. In the Orthodox Churches we have, on the one hand, the full form of the priesthood, the priest monks, who alone can become bishops. Alongside them are the "people's priests", who, if they want to marry, must marry before ordination but who exercise little pastoral care but are really only liturgical ministers. This is also a somewhat different conception of priesthood. We, on the other hand, are of the opinion that everyone who is a priest at all must be so in the way that the bishop is and that there cannot be such a division.

In the light of the promulgation on Nov. 4, 2009 by Benedict XVI, in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, of the juridical structure called a Personal Ordinariate, in this case destined for people with ties to Anglicanism, it is interesting to contemplate future such Ordinariates in the light of the distinction Ratzinger makes above regarding Orthodox priesthood: monk's priests vs. people's priests, celibate vs. married clergy.

In the immediate aftermath, it has been heart-warming to hear and read of the reception by Anglicans of that action made by the Pope, especially when one realizes how deft an initiative by the Holy Spirit it has been: the hopes of many have been raised high! And, as is fitting, many of the reflections are of the sort "what now", "what do I/we need to do now to respond to this?" In the vanguard, it seems to an outsider, are those Anglican clergy who have the most to lose by "crossing the Tiber", in the sense that being already in possession of certain "livings" (in the English sense of that word) and honors due to them for their service, they remain open to the possibilities of full reunion with the Mother Church.

Outside that group, among Roman Catholics, the popular imagination honed in immediately, and with the apparent intensity of Peter Seewald's questioning of Cardinal Ratzinger, on the matter of priestly celibacy, and whether or not this was a way of introducing married clergy into the otherwise celibate Catholic priesthood. Roman Catholics have always been known for the depth of their doctrinal acuity! As Patrick O'Brian would have said of them, they are true "sea lawyers". And who knows, the sea lawyers may be right; perhaps in the future the whole world will become accustomed to knowing that there are Catholic Priests of the Latin Rite (Anglican Use) who are comprised of (some) married clergy. If so, blessed be God! For a while, there will be those Catholics who shun the Sacrifice of the Mass offered by such priests, or if present at the Mass, who will seek to receive Communion at the hands of another (celibate) priest. I have seen the same little maneuver amongst "traditionalist" Catholics attending Mass in the Extraordinary Form, who would prefer to wait longer on the Communion line rather than to receive Our Lord at the hands of a married Deacon! St. Augustine used to speak (following the Apostles) of the parvuli and the perfecti, the babes and the adults.

The only point I wish to make here is this. The long and glorious history of the Anglican Patrimony, dating back to the times of the Anglo-Saxons, includes not just many treasures of an ecclesiastical-aesthetic interest, but also a very apostolic, missionary, thrust. One need only think of the great evangelists of the northern Germanic tribes, such as St. Boniface, from the south of England, Apostle to the Saxons (Tolkien did, in contemplating the purpose for the writing of the great epic Beowulf). And also, the great cloud of English martyrs of the Reformation period, who strove mightily to wrest back Mary's Dowry from those who would squander it. Devotion to Our Lady is very, very, very English. We English-speaking Roman Catholics must rejoice together with our soon-to-be brethren in the reconnecting of the Anglican Patrimony to its primal source.

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