Pope Benedict on priests – Fr. Z on worship

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.  

And so…

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. james says:

    Powerful post. Top-drawer. I especially appreciate this:

    “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.”

    The Latin Mass is a beautiful place to encouter such

  2. Jayna says:

    Just put the link to that article on the Year for Priests page I made for the parish website. It would drive the loony lefties over the edge if they ever read any of that stuff. As it stands, I think most of them are trying to ignore the fact that it is the Year for Priests.

    Aside from that, it’s a great speech. Well, based on what we get in the article (though I’m sure it is great as a whole). I hope the Vatican website posts the full text.

  3. Tom in NY says:

    According to press reports, certain aspects of Pentecostalism mean competition for the Church in Brasil and elsewhere in Latin America. With God’s help, the faithful will recognize “the real thing.” And Father Z has long commented about the effect of proper worship on priestly psychology.
    Salutationes omnibus.

  4. Sid says:

    Thanks to Tom for the reference to Pentecostalism. Two observations:

    1. Pentecostalism runs on emotions. The great enemy of all emotion is time. So Tom is correct that “the real Thing” will come in time.

    2. For a Pentecostal, and perhaps for an Evangelical in general, it is important that he feel his faith. Alas, some feelings and emotions come from a source not exactly “washed in the blood of the Lamb”. Sadly we must remind Pentecostals of this.

    The numinous, the mysterium tremendum et fascinans that we experience in liturgy (when its well done) has “feelings” with a better Source and a longer shelf life.

  5. RichR says:

    Amazing post. I hope those who read it have eyes to see and ears to hear. Our Holy Father speaks the truth, and so does Fr. Z.

  6. Prudentius says:

    Great Post!

    I often feel that the great wisdom this the Holy Father will sadly not be fully realized until after he has gone. His words are not wishy washy but powerful and direct yet also measured and calm.

    I can reacall as a young man considering the Priesthood until I met my wonderful wife of 10 years and settled down to raise two young chidlren. Despite being very happy I often felt for a longtime that the Church was missing out on so many devout young men like myself until my Priest simply pointed me in the direction of the Holy family. The laity have a distinct role and vocation of their own, as the Holy Family teaches us.

    I think some of the problem is the fact that many lay Catholics no longer seems themselves as a people set apart or in any sense at all a Royal Priesthood.

    It is also amazing to think that even today after all these years we struggle with understanding the roles of the laity and Priesthood. Modern thinking seems to be very polarized and dualistic so that something is either enirely good or bad with no sense of a “Higher calling”. An example being Celibacy were we have had sects like the Tolstoyans, Cathars ect…who say that everyone should be celibate contrasted with the Protestants who insist that everyone, even the clergy must be married.

    I have seen the term “Priest envy” more than a few times on this blog which I think sums up the total misunderstanding of those seek to undermine the role of the clergy. Yet often they are the same people who are so strongly opposed to a traditional liturgy in which the celebrant “leads” us and draws our focus towards the eucharist as individuals.

  7. shoofoolatte says:

    A very calm and reasoned letter from the Holy Father, clearly delineating the different and complimentary roles of clergy and laity. This is helpful. I also like that he is drawing the line between the secular and the religious spheres – the Church and the State. Priests should not be political. I am finding Benedict to be a very wise leader and father.

    I disagree with Fr. Z’s response to Notre Dame’s honoring of President Obama, and the funeral Mass of Ted Kennedy – I think that both were appropriate and fruitful Catholic actions – but I do agree with his hope that mystery might be encountered through liturgy.

    For me, I have always longed for a very simple and stark liturgy, one in which the symbols are so bare (and raw?) that they truly do become that which they represent.

  8. ThomasM says:

    shoofoolatte. Are you a White House plant? I am a Notre Dame graduate, and I will NEVER give that anti-Catholic university one more dime! Ted Kennedy should have been excommunicated decades ago. You are a fake Catholic and should really consider a faux church like Episcopalinism where you can believe anything and still be a member of the
    “church.” Tom

  9. ThomasM says:

    One more thing, shoofolatte. If you don’t believe that fake Catholic Father Jenkins of Notre Dame wasn’t being “polical” in having Abortion King at Notre Dame then I have some swamp land in Florida to sell you. Tom

  10. Roland de Chanson says:

    JP Sonnen, in his indispensable Catholic blog (http://www.orbiscatholicus.org/2009/09/ritval.html), has this cite from a sublime writer, a lover and expounder of history, philosophy, theology, a sceptic seeking Truth and atarxia, a man facing his God on his feet, not his knees:

    In every great religion, ritual is as necessary as creed. It instructs, nourishes, and often begets belief; it brings the believer into comforting contact with his God; it charms the senses and soul with drama, poetry and art; it binds individuals into a fellowship and a community by persuading them to share in the same rites, the same prayers, at last the same thoughts.

    [from The Story of Civilization, Vol. IV (The Age of Faith) Will Durant, 1950]

    This Frenchman raged with Voltaire, wagered with Pascal, taught with Abélard, and loved life and mankind with Bernadette. May his eternal soul find peace in the bosom of the Virgin Mother of God as his mortal body found solace in the bosom of his Ariel.

  11. ssoldie says:

    Wonderful Post Fr.Z, God bless the Holy Father, God bless Father Z and all like minded.

  12. shoofoolatte says:

    ThomasM – a white house plant? Like ivy or something?
    Why do you guys keep trying to kick me out? I’ve been a Catholic all my life. Heck, my ancestors literally brought the Catholic faith to the shores of this country, and I have a long history of priests and nuns in my family. In the 1700s two of my great-great aunts who were Benedictine nuns were imprisoned in France. The letters that they sent home to the family in Maryland are now archived in the Georgetown University archives (my cousin who is a Benedictine priest documented all of this). For much of my life I have attended daily Mass. My confessor doesn’t seem to think that I’m fake, why do you?

  13. shoofoolatte says:

    P.S. My grandmother would roll over in her grave if she thought somebody were trying to tell me I wasn’t a real Catholic.

  14. Bruce says:

    Shoofoolatte, how is honoring Obama at ND a fruitful Catholic action?

  15. shoofoolatte says:

    The honoring of President Obama at Notre Dame built a bridge between Catholics and the rest of America.

    Obama was honored for the community organizing work that he did in Chicago after he graduated from Columbia University. Working for a minimal salary, he offered his time and talent to change and better the lives those who are trapped in poverty. This is Catholic social justice action, and rightly deserves to be honored a Catholic University.

  16. Prudentius says:

    Perhaps it would be better if the expression” you are not a real catholic becuase…” is never used, I get that all the time too, it’s very un-helpful.

  17. Obama offered his time and talent to ACORN.

  18. shoofoolatte says:

    Obama worked for DCP – Developing Communities Project. A group of Catholic Churches on the South Side of Chicago funded this organization, which worked in the tradition of community organizing that was founded by Saul Alinsky.

    It is true that some of Alinsky’s principles are unethical, specifically the use of charity donations to promote politicians who will work for the benefit of the poor.

    If you are going to fault Obama for his association with Alinsky, then, if you are honest, you must fault the Catholic Church as well.

  19. Frank H says:

    shoofoolatte said – “The honoring of President Obama at Notre Dame built a bridge between Catholics and the rest of America.”

    Perhaps. But it demolished any thin strand that may have connected pro-life Catholics with “seamless garment” (ie pro-choice) Catholics.

  20. Jordanes says:

    While the faith and devotion of shoofoolatte’s ancestors is irrelevant to the quality and status of his faith (just as the Baptist and Jesus told the Jews that having Abraham as their father can’t save them) — and I think it’s doubtful his ancestors would look too kindly on his support for Obama — nevertheless ThomasM’s “fake Catholic” talk is . . . unhelpful, in my opinion.

  21. Frank H says:

    Jordanes, shoofoolate is a “her”. Click on her name. She has some interesting blogs/websites of her own.

  22. irishgirl says:

    Kudos to the Holy Father-and to Fr. Z! And I’m almost tempted to say, ‘Father Z for Bishop!’ [a la St. Ambrose]

    I went to a ‘min-retreat’ at a shrine near my home; well, it wasn’t my intent to do so, but one of the staff members I’ve become friends with pulled up in her car and invited me to go over. One of the priests on the shrine staff did the retreat, which included Mass.

    Since I go to the TLM exclusively, I rather cringed. The priest likes to ‘ad-lib’ the Mass, and he uses a ceramic chalice for the Precious Blood. There were moments when I felt like yelling, ‘Padre-say the black, do the red! No ad-libbing!’ I didn’t stay for the rest of the retreat, having slipped out of the place where it was held after lunch.

    There was no ‘Mystery’ in that Mass. Why is the NO so ‘bland’?

  23. Jordanes says:

    Jordanes, shoofoolate is a “her”.

    Ah. I see. I don’t usually click across to commenters’ websites. Well then, let me correct the pronouns, and apologise to Beth for calling her a him.

  24. mpm says:

    Hence,” the Pope cautioned, “it is important to avoid the secularization of clergy and the ‘clericalization’ of the laity.

    Personally, I think these two false mentalities, secularization of the clergy and clericalization of the laity, are 2 sides of a single coin. I also think that in a given individual BOTH exist together somehow, if EITHER is found. When one has a proper understanding of the Church (eg., the actual text of Lumen gentium, not spurious interpretations of it), what Fr. Z speaks about as “Catholic identity” takes on a sharper focus, both for clergy, and others. Each Christian vocation takes on a very specific character.

    Although I hate to always be using Bishops as whipping-boys (especially since most of them probably do not deserve it), let me use the mentality of a bishop as an example. If Bishop MPM believes that the most important thing in the world is that everybody be just like him (after all, he possesses the fulness of the priesthood as a bishop, and isn’t that what it’s all about?), of course he’s going to encourage everybody to see the liturgy as the place of their “actualization”, and have a tendency to overlook “liturgical abuses” (or be blind to them) since he’s thinking “poor things, let’s be generous and give them their 15 minutes of “being Church”. BUT, when it comes time to address the serious secular problems out there, Bishop MPM is also going to think, “this is too important to leave up to those poor dears, I must be the leader and spokes(person).”

    That’s the exact opposite of what Lumen gentium is saying.

    Now to give on an example of a layman possessing this same bogus mentality, let’s take the case of Mr. MPM, investment banker. Because he has never understood what Lumen gentium is actually saying, he labors under the impression that “it doesn’t matter” how he exercises his profession, in fact, since its not HIS REAL SELF, what he does professionally has almost no impact on his “being Church”. So, he lies, cheats, steals, commits fraud, or character-assassinates because that’s how the other guys get ahead (again not all, but enough), and has virtually nothing of value to offer regarding the direction (in a moral sense) of his profession. Then, in his parish, he “serves” on the Board of Trustees, the Liturgy committee, and as an EMHC (when needed) at Mass, and views THAT as the realm where he is “saving his soul”.

    Again, the exact reverse of what Lumen gentium is saying.

    It’s fine if we can see the difference between the good and deficient mentalities with respect to the clergy, but it is excellent when we also see that the real problems of the secular world are a direct call by Christ to their professional engagement there in the spirit of Christ.

  25. Jordanes says:

    Thomas Dunbar said: Obama offered his time and talent to ACORN.

    Shoofoolatte responded: Obama worked for DCP – Developing Communities Project.

    I’d read that he once led ACORN training seminars. Anyone know for sure?

  26. shoofoolatte says:

    I think that this article from the NYTimes from October 2008 comprehensibly explains Obama’s involvement with ACORN.


    “Lewis Goldberg, a spokesman for Acorn, said Mr. Obama conducted two leadership training sessions of roughly an hour each for Acorn’s Chicago affiliate over a three-year period in the late 1990s. He was not paid for that work, Mr. Goldberg said.”

  27. shoofoolatte says:

    I also advise anyone concerned about ACORN to go to their website to see exactly what ACORN is:


    ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is the nation’s largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families, working together for social justice and stronger communities.

  28. shoofoolatte says:

    ACORN: Poor people trying to better their lives.

  29. Tim Ferguson says:

    It’s difficult to see how a thread begun on the premise of the Church’s need to refocus on the realities of worship has devolved to a discussion of ACORN. Like we need more nuts.

    I hope this rabbit hole dies a natural death and the conversation can refocus on what Pope Benedict and Fr. Z are trying to get us to talk about – the need for priests to be priests, especially liturgically, and the need for the whole Church to allow the true mystery of liturgy to surround us, infiltrate us, and raise us to the sublime level where civil politics are seen in their proper light – at best, a means to enable the Kingdom of Christ to be realized in our world; at worst, (and sadly, most frequently) a cesspool to distract us from our true, otherworldly destiny.

  30. FOLKS: ACORN a rabbit hole, as Tim Ferguson points out. ACORN… bury it.

  31. catholicmidwest says:

    Excellent. Priests are not politicians, psychologists, social workers, factory workers, scientists, grandparents, entertainers or anything of the like. They’re supposed to perform their own function, not ours!

  32. catholicmidwest says:

    We’re not talking about your grandmother here. You’re the one typing.

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