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Clericalism and the Liturgy
Whatever became of the ‘new Pentecost’?
Apr. 05, 2010
By Paul Philibert [OP] [Fr. Paul Philibert is a Dominican friar living in Raleigh, N.C., where he is freelancing as a lecturer and writer after many years as a professor of theology. His translation of Yves Congar’s liturgical writings, At the Heart of Christian Worship, will be published this summer by The Liturgical Press.]
For the three years preceding the Second Vatican Council, and all during that council, Roman Catholics added to the prayers after Mass (does anyone remember those?) [of course… I do them all the time…] Pope John XXIII’ s “Prayer to the Holy Spirit” for the council’s success. Day after day the church prayed, “O Holy Spirit, renew thy wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost.”
Pope John dreamed that through the council the Holy Spirit’s gifts would flow abundantly upon the whole church for the benefit of the entire world, because the Spirit alone has the capacity to change hearts from within, not by external force but by interior persuasion.
Today, however, the church is divided over just how much of a Pentecost Vatican II actually turned out to be. [Sure is.] It is likewise divided over what kind of church we are. This article will explore some of the consequences of this ambiguity.
The church’s focus
Now, 45 years after Vatican II (1962-1965), this Easter season has reached its climax. We transition from celebrating the new life of Christ’s resurrection to celebrating the new life poured out upon the world by the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is the church’s movement from mystagogy to vocation, from contemplation to mission. [You can tell that the writer is wholly committed to "spirit" of Vatican II.]
The first Pentecost ushered in the age of the church in which the Holy Spirit turned Christ’s disciples into missionaries. The Spirit is the church’s living memory, anointing believers in faith to allow them to live the events of their salvation in the present. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “The paschal mystery of Christ is celebrated, not repeated. The celebrations … are repeated, and in each celebration there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that makes the unique mystery present [to us].” (#1104). Consequently every one of the faithful becomes a dynamic source for the Spirit’ s contact with and action upon the world.
This is an essentially apostolic vision of the church. We find its origin in the Acts of the Apostles, where the gift of the Spirit immediately led people to bear witness: Acts 2:4, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability”; and Acts 4:31, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.”
Reflecting on the unmistakable energy of the Spirit revealed in these passages, Pope Paul VI asked, “In our day, what has happened to that hidden energy of the good news, which is able to have a powerful effect on [our] conscience?” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 4). The answer, in part, is that our church’s leadership has shifted its focus from mission to maintenance, from evangelization to ritual sanctification. The active players are no longer (or not often) imagined to be the baptized, but the ordained. [I was sorely tempted simply to cut some of that dross for the sake of keeping this entry shorter rather than make it burdensome. In the end, I leave it in to show how clerics of certain generation still cling to the liberal narrative of Vatican II. For the last year, there is a rising effort on the part of liberals to regain control of the narrative about Vatican II, and all its various promises, and all its pomps. Therefore, when we find this tired old story book hauled out and dusted off, we will inevitably also hear and read some cliches from decades past. Let’s see what we run into down the line….]
The return of clericalism
[And our first cliche is….] A type of clericalism has been revived over the last 20 or 25 years that is subduing the apostolic vision of the church sketched by Vatican II. It is overemphasizing the part played by the ordained in the life of the church. There are many symptoms, from cardinals unpacking their 15-foot trains of scarlet silk — cappa magnas (ceremonial capes) — to seminarians and young priests living full time in cassocks; [GASP!] from the disappearance of inclusive language in church texts and preaching, to the nearly exclusive focus upon clerical vocations in diocesan letters. [Because that is where the energy is needed.] Seminarians are in short supply, and officials fear ["fear"] that the generalized secularization of the culture and particularly the promotion of laypersons to ministries of service in the church will have the effect of discouraging vocations to the ordained priesthood. [And they will. And it is an old liberal canard to suggest that people who don’t advance their horizontal, role blurring agenda, are "fearful" of the … I dunno… promptings of the "spirit", etc.] The consequent demotion of the spiritual dignity of the faithful and a chilling of social relations between clergy and people are all too clear among some church leaders. These details are debatable; they vary from place to place. Far more significant is the underlying vision and practice of what goes on in the local church. [Chilling? Based on what evidence? Wherever I go, to various more traditionally inclined parishes, the rapport of clergy and parishioners is wonderful!]
I am trying to describe here an implicit popular theology of the church that appears to be widespread. [Go back and read that vague sentence again.] These ideas represent not only people’s general understanding of what the church is about, but also much in pulpit preaching and in church documents as well. Here is a brief description of the problem:
(a) In this popular theology, the priest represents Christ, while the people represent those to whom Christ ministered. During this “Year for Priests,” we have heard lots about how important the figure of the priest is. However, I have yet to hear anyone echo the clear teaching of St. Paul that each of the baptized is an alter Christus — another Christ — and has a vocation to share the church’s mission through an apostolic life in the ordinary world. [Sigh… this is the Year of the Priest. PRIEST. Not the Year of the Baptized. Right? I hope there is no confusion in the writer’s mind about the qualitative way priests are priests and the way the baptized share in Christ’s priesthood.]
[Here is another liberal sign post… ] (b) In this popular theology, the ordained presbyter (priest) [when you see "presbyter", start reading closely] is understood to be the one who is active in the Eucharist as the agent of reenacting Holy Thursday and Good Friday, [another cliche coming] while the people are sacramentally passive as recipients of the priest’s sacred action. [The writer has a rather narrow understanding of "active participation" it seems.] Some of those who [note how condescending his following description is…] buy into this vision of the Eucharist are hungry to hear Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony and Latin texts while they are edified by the priest’s awesome rites. [Gosh… whose ideas might he be attacking here?] This reduction of the laity to passive bystanders instead of active participants in Catholic worship is the most characteristic manifestation of clericalism. [On the other hand, what the writer fails to grasp is that when you "clericalize" the laity, when you instruct them to do what is proper to the priest and deacon, installed acolyte or lector, you are telling them that they – in themselves – aren’t good enough. Their affirmation comes from them aping what clergy do. I think that is a far worse clericalism, for it denies that lay people have their own real dignity unless they are doing what clergy are to do. And his notions of active participation are simply worn out.]
(c) One additional aspect of this implicit popular theology has to do with the Holy Spirit. It imagines that if the Spirit is bestowed on the faithful, it will come exclusively through the ministry of the ordained. It presupposes that the faithful are directly dependent upon bishops and priests for their sanctification. This ignores the rich teaching of Romans and First Corinthians that baptism gives the faithful the power to live and act under the impulse of the Holy Spirit and to be powerful witnesses to God’s action in the world. [Uh huh. And we can all tell when the Holy Spirit is at work.]
The Vocation of the faithful
[If you had any doubt that we are walking through a theological and liturgical Jurassic Park…] Speaking through the council fathers, the Spirit at Vatican II left no doubt [?!?] that all three of these theological manifestations of clericalism are wrong. [Boy… he sure has those fear-filled Spirit-rejecting clericalizing baddies on the run now!] In the “Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests,” we read: “Jesus gave his whole mystical body a share in the anointing of the Spirit with which he was anointed. In that body all the faithful are made a holy and kingly priesthood, they offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ … therefore there is no such thing as a member who does not have a share in the mission of the whole body” (Presbyterorum Ordinis 2). Put another way, each of the faithful, positioned in some way at the church’s periphery, has the potential to initiate a more dynamic expression of the living church, calibrated precisely to the real existing possibilities for life that are always emerging there. [Let’s decipher this: lay people have a role to play.]
To the idea that the priest celebrates the Eucharist and that the faithful are nourished from afar, the council insisted on the contrary: “The eucharistic celebration is the center of the assembly of the faithful over which the priest presides. Hence priests [must] teach the faithful to offer the divine victim to God the Father in the sacrifice of the Mass and with the victim to make an offering of their own lives” (Presbyterorum Ordinis 5). [The same Spirit filled Council Fathers, in a much weightier document, also mandated – surely under the influence of the same Spirit – that pastors of souls make sure that their flocks can sing and speak the parts of Mass pertaining to them in both the mother tongue and LATIN, that Gregorian Chant and polyphony (which the writer takes to be marks of the presence of clericalism) have pride of place. Why does the writer think that only his favorite passages of the documents were inspired by the Spirit. And… big question here… who says that the documents were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?] By offering themselves and their apostolic action in the world, the faithful bring the fruit of their baptismal priesthood (which is essentially non-liturgical and lived out in the world) to the church’s fundamental act of sacrifice and self-offering to God at Mass. When this role of the faithful is denied, then Sunday Mass becomes the place where people assemble not as a priestly people offering their lives to God, but as individuals praying private devotions as they watch the priest offer sacred rites on a distant altar. [I think that their proper role is denied more sharply when they are presented with confused ideas about their role. Should they be made to act like faux-clerics? Should they be allowed to be lay people with their own dignity?]
To the idea that the faithful are sanctified uniquely through the ministries of the ordained, the “Constitution on the Church” clearly says: “The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all their Christian activities they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the marvels of him who has called them out of darkness into his wonderful light” (Lumen Gentium 10). In other words, the vocation that the church offers to the faithful is not a secondary role as clients of clerical ministries, but a [Here we go again…] Spirit-filled participation as pioneers in the church’s role as herald of the kingdom of God. [Yah… right. Okay. I think that the proper role of lay people is to shape the world around us and that clerics should give them the spiritual support they need in that role. Instead, liberals want the lay people to do the priestly liturgical and sacramental things and want the priests to be social workers. The result is that, too often, few people – confused lay people and clerics alike – do anything all that well.]
Thoughts for reflection
The three examples of clericalism just given are never articulated in these terms. However, before offering this essay for publication, I checked out these ideas with a number of people to see if they ring true to their experience. All of them assured me that this is what they see in the new clericalism, expressed not in so many words, but in actions and attitudes. The fundamental problem with clerical condescension is that it appeals to and reinforces a passive clericalism on the part of the laity who are used to being put down and quite unused to being reminded of or commissioned for an apostolic role.
The laity is supposed to be the link between the church and the world. ["link between"… hmmm] Pope Paul VI describes laypeople as those whose vocation places them in the midst of the world, in charge of the most varied temporal tasks. He goes on to say: “Their primary and immediate task is … to put to use every Christian and evangelical possibility latent but already present and active in the affairs of the world. Their own field of evangelizing activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, but also the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 70). A church that forgets this and fails to commission the laity to this irreplaceable dynamic role in the culture has let go of the great commission that Christ left to the church as his last mandate: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark16:15; Matt 28:19). It is a church that has forgotten that it is baptizing and confirming missionaries “to make the church present and fruitful in those places in circumstances where it is only through them that it can become the salt of the earth” (Lumen Gentium 33). [Which means we don’t clericalize them and we don’t confuse our liturgical roles. It also means that when they come to church for revitalizing worship, something that actually explains why they do what they do for their vocations, they should an an encounter with the transcendent.]
Finally, we should also note that there has never been a moment in which the irreplaceable role of the ordained minister has been more important. [Whenever I hear the term "ordained minister" I get red flags and sirens in my head. In the ultra-liberal hole of a seminary I was in we were pretty much forbidden to use the word "priest" (the P-Word). We had to refer to ordained ministers and non-ordained ministers. After all, everyone’s a minister, right!?] We need a ministerial priesthood at the service of the common priesthood of the baptized (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1547), we need presbyters [priests… let’s keep the sacrificial dimension in this…] who can teach the faithful to offer their own lives along with the divine victim in the sacrifice of the Mass (Presbyterorum Ordinis 5), we need ministers of the Gospel who recognize that “the distinct character of [their] activities is the aim to proclaim the Gospel of God” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 68) in ways to draw people effectively to the heart of Christ. But this ordained ministry cannot be the condescension of a patriarchal master, [a penchant of liberals, who clericalize the laity] but only the loving service of an apostolic brother. The very nature of the church demands it. The parish is not about giving passive Christians spiritual comfort; it is rather the recruiting center for an apostolic priestly people. The Spirit is waiting. The people are waiting. What are you waiting for?
An instructive piece.
I admit I have been a little hard on this presentation. But I think we need to keep our ears tuned for certain currents of old ways of thinking about the Council… ways that really didn’t work.