From CNA comes this account of the Holy Father’s ad limina with Brazilian bishops:
Priests cannot be replaced by the laity, Pope Benedict explains
Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Sep 17, 2009 / 10:27 am (CNA).- In an audience this morning with bishops visiting from Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI advised them on how to respond to the lack of priests, emphasizing that the shortage cannot be solved by having lay people substitute for the clergy.
The Holy Father began his address to the Brazilian prelates by pointing out the difference between the identity of priests and the laity. While the lay faithful share in the "common priesthood," they are not ordained ministers of Christ and His Church. "Hence," the Pope cautioned, "it is important to avoid the secularization of clergy and the ‘clericalization’ of the laity." [repetita iuvant]
Fulfilling the lay vocation, he explained, involves working to "give expression in real life – also through political commitment – to the Christian view of anthropology and the social doctrine of the Church." [anthropology... which must include a Catholic and natural understanding of the dignity of human life applied to that political commitment.]
On the other hand, "priests must distance themselves from politics in order to favor the unity and communion of all the faithful, thus becoming a point of reference for everyone," Benedict said. [This doesn't mean that priests and bishops must be silent about the issues. They must not be partisan, in the sense of engaging in party politics. But they must address the moral, ethical, doctrinal implications of social problems and proposed solutions. Also, the only way priests and bishops will be a source of unity is if what they say is consistent with what the Church holds.]
When dioceses are faced with a lack of priests, the Pope emphasized that they should not resort to "a more active and abundant participation of the laity" since it could take away from their own calling. [This is particularly important in the Church's worship.]
"The truth is that the greater the faithful’s awareness of their own responsibilities within the Church, the clearer becomes the specific identity and inimitable role of the priest as pastor of the entire community, witness to the authenticity of the faith, and dispenser of the mysteries of salvation in the name of Christ the Head," Benedict XVI stated.
"The function of the clergy is essential and irreplaceable in announcing the Word and celebrating the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist," he insisted, saying that for this reason it is "vital to ask the Lord to send workers for His harvest; and it is necessary that priests express joy in their faithfulness to their identity."[More on this below.]
Looking to the future, the Pope made it clear that "the shortage of priests must not come to be considered as a normal or typical state of affairs." [When people are starving, it is perhaps a better plan to figure out how to plant crops rather than how to die together.]
He exhorted the bishops resolve the crisis by combining efforts to "encourage new priestly vocations and find the pastors your dioceses need, helping one another so that all of you have better-trained and more numerous priests to support the life of faith and the apostolic mission."
As the Church celebrates the Year for Priests and the 150th anniversary of the death of the "Cure of Ars," Pope Benedict pointed to the French priest as a model for priests, "especially in living a life of celibacy as a requirement for the total giving of self." This total gift of self is "expressed through that pastoral charity which Vatican Council II presents as the unifying center of a priest’s being and actions," he reminded.
The Holy Father ended his address on a positive note, assuring the prelates that "many signs of hope" exist for the future of particular Churches. This future, he said is one that "God is preparing through the dedication and the faithfulness with which you exercise your episcopal ministry."
Above, we read:
"The function of the clergy is essential and irreplaceable in announcing the Word and celebrating the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist," he insisted, saying that for this reason it is "vital to ask the Lord to send workers for His harvest; and it is necessary that priests express joy in their faithfulness to their identity."
I have said many times that the Holy Father has what I call a "Marshall Plan" for helping to rebuild a Church devastated by the conflicts created by "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture". A key element of his plan is a revitalization of the Church’s worship. Another key is a revitalization of the identity of priests. The two are inextricably bound together. This is one of the reasons why Summorum Pontificum will be one of the most important contributions of this pontificate. By learning the older forms, younger priests especially will come to know more about who they are as priests, and what they are doing at the altar, what Holy Mass is, and who the true Actor in the sacred liturgy really is. Congregations will benefit from this.
Also, the Holy Father’s remarks about the "essential and irreplaceable" role of the Sacraments calls to mind my reaction to the Notre Dame scandal, when what is supposed to be a Catholic university determined to bestowed the high honor of a doctorate of law on the most aggressively pro-abortion president we have ever seen. I had the same reaction after the funeral of the late Edward Kennedy, the dedicated pro-abortion but Catholic Senator (D-MA). My response to both:
More than ever, we must have what the Church really says, what Holy Church really has to offer.
We are not getting the fullness of the Church’s teachings from Notre Dame or other, now lesser, water carriers of the secularist agenda. We are not getting it from very many of our leaders in the Church.
I urge all priests and bishops who read this blog with any slight quaver of resonance or benevolence, to consider this with care:
If you sense that something quite serious and important is going on right now, for the love of God rethink your approach to how you foster Holy Church’s proper public worship.
Do all in your power and through your influence to foster a worship of God which conforms not to worldly goals – as praiseworthy as they may be in a world still dominated by its dire prince – but rather to the real point of religion: an encounter with mystery.
Our worship must become more and more focused on the one who is Other. Seek what is truly above in your rites and raise people to encounter mystery.
You will be challenged and reviled, blocked and attacked as you do. You will be worn down and afraid under the weight of resistance.
But I think that to save the world we must save the liturgy.
Sunday reaffirmed this for me.
They can’t compete with the fullness of Catholic liturgy and sound preaching.
Reforming the liturgy along the lines Pope Benedict has proposed may be the most loving and effective option we have in these ever hotter times.
People will have to keep working very much in the sphere of the secular. Of course! Our inward Catholic Christian identity must find outward expression and bring concrete fruits.
But I think the real work now – where we will make some effective headway – must be done at the level of our public worship.
In the present circumstances, we are not going to argue most people out of danger or error. But together we can draw them in and along and back through worship.
So long as we remain doctrinally faithful and active in works of mercy both spiritual and especially temporal, if we get our public worship together we will have a strong bastion against error.
Holy Catholic worship will be an attractive force for conversion.
We need to foster worship which stuns, which leaves the newcomer, long-time practicing Catholic, above all the fallen-away simply thunder stuck. Worship must at some point leave people speechless in awe. We need language and music and gesture which in its beauty floods the mind with light even while it swells the heart to bursting.
The more people encounter mystery through liturgy, the more hollow will clang the false or incomplete messages of those who have strayed from the good path, either to the left or to the right.
Our goal must be that which is good and beautiful because it is true, that which reflects what is of God, not man’s image merely. Give us mystery, not fabrications smacking of the world, fallen and transitory.
Fathers, and you Reverend Bishops, if anything of alarm has sounded in your hearts and minds of late, rethink your approach to our worship. Examine your approach with an eye on the signs of the times. Take a new approach.
The approach we have had least last few decades isn’t getting it done. Really … it isn’t.
Going neither left nor right along the road toward the Lord, even as He comes to us, take the flock now deeper, now higher on that path, but always to encounter the mystery which distinguishes truly Catholic liturgy… and therefore true Catholics.
Lines are being drawn, sides taken, choices made.
More than ever we need what Christ, the true Actor of our liturgy, desires to offer us through Holy Church’s worship.