Catholic Herald Op-Ed: “We need a sharper divide between priests and laity”

From The Catholic Herald, the UK’s best Catholic weekly, comes this opinion piece, with my emphases and comments.     

We need a sharper divide between priests and laity

Dominic Scarborough presents a plan for recovering a true understanding of clergy and lay roles

11 December 2009

One of the most popular themes for Hollywood films over the years has been the so-called “body swap” film where parent and child exchange bodies and live the other’s life for a while, invariably “with hilarious consequences”. In the end both find that although each has learned a great deal about the other’s life, ultimately each is happier and more fulfilled as they were. A similar phenomenon can be found on our television screens with the familiar “life swap” genre.

Something similar seems to have been happening in the Catholic Church over the past few decades as many priests have started mimicking or even idolising the lay lifestyle while in many parishes it is the laity which increasingly populate the sanctuary. I know of one priest who decided he had to commission more Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion [Remember: they are not Ministers of the Eucharist.] to do his weekly sick calls because his time was being so taken up with the parish accounts (needless to say, one of these new Extraordinary Ministers was an accountant). The tragic element to all this (which outstrips even the comic element) is that there is more than an element of “role-play” escapism or flight from reality in this behaviour. The time may have come for the Church to realise that a clearer delineation of roles might be timely [Nay rather, long overdue.] and that the Church needs to be rooted in reality and not indulging the secular fantasies of its clergy.

As is so often the case, the Holy Father is only too aware of this situation. In a recent speech to the bishops of Brazil during their ad limina visit to Rome he made the following remarks: “Do not secularise the clergy and clericalise the laity … 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.”  [I consider the purposeful clericalization of lay people by priests and bishops to be a particularly nasty type of "clericalism".  What lies at the bitter root of that weed is the false notion that lay people are not worthy unless they are doing things that priests or deacons do, that they are somehow not adequate unless they imitate priests.  We have to grant that most clerics who fall into this trap are well-motivated, but it is a trap nonetheless.]

Of course Vatican II sent out a rallying cry to the laity to recognise that they are the “People of God” and to be co-workers with the clergy and religious and not mere consumers of religion. The laity were called to discover a new sense of their sharing in the Priesthood of Christ by virtue of their baptism. But the primary task of the laity in sharing in the sacrifice of Christ was to be their emphasis on making a sacrifice of their own lives in how they lived them out in the world as a living witness and as a means of evangelisation. [We might see it this way: the clergy are to shape the lay people who shape the world around them.] How frequently, though, have these sentiments been interpreted by those with a very narrow and clerical view of the Church who seem to consider that one is not really doing something important in the life of the Church if it is not liturgical? This ideology, more than any decline in priest numbers, has led to the legions of Extraordinary Ministers and superfluous servers we now see crowding our sanctuaries.

One step towards sorting all this out might helpfully come from Rome. An important document, the significance of which even to this day is not fully understood in the wider Church, was Pope Paul VI’s Motu Proprio Ministeria Quaedam of 1972. This document abolished the clerical minor orders of porter and exorcist and re-designated the hitherto clerical orders of lector and acolyte as “instituted lay ministries”. It also abolished the tonsure and delayed the entry of the seminarian into the clerical state until diaconate (the sub-diaconate having already been suppressed). Sadly, the passage of time and the benefit of hindsight could both question the effectiveness of this previously untried system. While no seminarians are likely to feel particularly deprived at not being made a porter, [This could be an interesting point of discussion.  In the ancient Church there were many types of ministry to deal with concrete exigencies.] many seminiarians are required by their seminary staff (quite properly, according to the document) to continue to consider themselves laymen even after the reception of the lay ministries of lector and acolyte which they receive at the seminary, until the day of their diaconate when suddenly the clerical state hits them like a train. The old staged progress through tonsure, the reception of the cassock and collar, the saying of the Office and the milestones of the minor orders has given way to literally waking up the morning after diaconate as a celibate cleric.

Similarly, the appetite among the laity for these new “instituted lay ministries” has been entirely absent from the post-conciliar Church. As a policy initiative they have completely failed to take off in the western Church and I would be surprised if the total number of instituted lectors and acolytes in the entire Catholic Church (excluding the seminarians transiting through these lay ministries) would be enough to fill a village hall. Lay people happily fulfil the roles of lector and acolyte as lay people just as they sing or take up the collection but do not feel the need to be “clericalised” to do so. Indeed, according to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal 2002, where an instituted lector and acolyte are present at Mass they should always take precedence in that role. [Which could help with the problems we have in the distribution of Holy Communion as well as helping us to a more solemn liturgy.] The paradox of this is that if it were followed to the letter it would mean no lay person would ever read or serve at Mass again, given that the priest is likely to be the only person present who has been “instituted” in both of these lay ministries. Where the test of time has preserved these roles is in their proper place, in the seminaries, as steps to priesthood. In my view it is high time that the Church looked at this purely disciplinary issue again with the benefit of hindsight.

Where the laity can and should participate in the liturgy they should be proud to do so as lay people and in roles which respect the dignity of that state. Those aspects of the liturgy which pertain to the sanctuary and in a particular way to the ministerial priesthood should be reserved to clerics or to those lawfully deputising for clerics out of real necessity. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?] These “instituted lay ministries” should be quietly dropped, again, motu proprio and, at least in the case of acolyte, should be restored as an instituted role pertaining to the clerical state to which only clerics can be admitted. [Not sure about that… but this is worthy of discussion.] It would help to re-emphasise the different but complementary roles which clergy and laity have in the life of the Church and might result in more priests taking Communion to the sick and more laity helping with the accounts.

Dominic Scarborough is a lay Catholic from the south of England. A qualified barrister and former Civil Service Principal, he has a degree in Modern History from Magdalen College, Oxford. He is a regular commentator in the press and on the internet on Catholic affairs

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  1. Allan S. says:

    Well, it might be a good start to require those in a clerical state to dress like clerics.

    I once had a nice conversation with a fellow, only to learn at the end that he was a Jesuit priest. And then I learned that there were several other Jesuits at the same conference. All were “business casual”.

    I think a good argument could be made for asking permanent deacons to refrain from wearing clerical garb on the street, but the rest should be appropriately attired.

    Besides…I would never had told THAT joke had I known it was FATHER next to me ;)

  2. Kaneohe says:

    Fr. Z. could you please explain exactly what is an “instituted” lector and acolyte and “how” one become instituted?

    In my parish it appears anyone who volunteers to read or serve Mass is bingo – instituted. Everyone uses the word but no one can either explain it or say how it works. We need your input and suggestions as to how to limit these flash in the pan titles and rights.

    Many thanks!

    A very interesting article.

  3. Bill Haley says:

    If we began calling distinguishing between those who take Communion to the homebound from those who distribute Communion during Mass, that would be a place to start. I would recommend the terms “Extraordinary” for the former and “Unnecessary” for the latter.

  4. Father S. says:

    There is an issue at hand here that seems very often overlooked by all parties. For the priest, in order for him to get to Heaven, he needs to fulfill his role as priest as fully as he can. Also, the priest brings something to works of mercy than no one else brings. While an EMHC could certainly assist with deliverng Most Holy Communion, for the priest to avoid this is a great scandal. The priest brings the Church with him to the sick bed. He brings the sacramental power of Christ with him. The pastor, in particular, should have great paternal solicitude for all of the sick, as he stands for Christ when he visits them. This applies to other things, too.

    At Holy Mass, the desire for expedience has trumped nearly all other desires. The sense of sacred space and sacred time are almost non-existent. The priest needs to examine whether or not he encourages a dismissal of the Divine by how Holy Mass is conducted.

    As for clerical dress, there are few situations when not wearing clerical dress are ever appropriate. It seems that we can so far as to say that the priest has a duty to be identifiable. There is a reason why police officers wear badges and soldiers wear camouflage; so that we know who they are! When I visit the hospital, I am usually making rounds to those who have asked for a visit. Oftentimes, people will ask for a visit simply because they see me in the halls. The nurses will find me and say, “Father, do you have a few more minutes to see so-and-so?” If I were to wear street clothes in, the same effect would be impossible.

    In the article above, the key word, it seems to me, is “complementary.” The priest ministers to people. The people receive what the priest has to give and support the work of the Church. One without the other is senseless. We do not have a husband without a wife or a parent without a child. As we know, difference in function has nothing to do with dignity. Even though some want to say that dignity is tied to function, that certainly is not the case. The layman has no more dignity because he stands in the sanctuary. He has no less because he sits in the pew. What both cleric and layman should have overall is a better sense of their own duty, always with an eye on salvation.

  5. Deacon Nathan Allen says:

    Here’s a thought: instituted lectors (in cassock and surplice during Mass) in each parish who feel a sense of connection and loyalty to the Bishop who instituted them and really understand their role as being devoted to the Word of God, meditating on it, proclaiming it with reverence and intention, and instituted acolytes who are steeped in an understanding and devotion to our Eucharistic Lord and are available (in cassock and surplice) to assist on the *rare* occasions when the celebrant and deacon are not sufficient for distributing communion to the huge crowds that swell the nave, standing room only (in my parish, three clergy are sufficient for even the largest crowds, but then we use the altar rail…). As it is, the only insituted acolytes and lectors I know who are not clerics are men who left the seminary before diaconate.

  6. Jono says:

    A major reason why instituted lectors and acolytes did not catch on is because these insitutions are restricted to men. However, women may fulfill the roles of these orders. When ministers female ministers may be “commissioned,” parishes sought to avoid being “exclusionary.”

    The role of the acolyte is essentially fulfilled by any altar server, save that the acolyte may place and remove items on the altar and functions as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. There are many uses for an Acolyte (especially for more complex rites, as during Holy Week). These acolytes may fulfill their functions besides distributing Holy Communion, doing the latter only if there is a real need.

    The big problem is that I have heard of only a few dioceses who are willing to institute acolytes or lectors. If we did go down this route, we may find people more committed to their specific liturgical ministries, rather than people who have just volunteered, showed up at a parish liturgical ministry retreat, and were comissioned.

  7. Paula says:

    I think dioceses purposely avoid instituting lectors and acolytes to avoid
    the issue of women’s roles. In my parish, the majority of lectors are
    women. Of course, then the question comes up, “If they can read/assist at
    Mass, why can’t they be priests?” Most fellow parishioners I’ve talked to
    seem to think that women’s ordination will (and should) be coming

  8. Laurinda1230 says:

    Some of my family members suffer from the what I call the “helping at Mass means participating” syndrome. I live away from home currently and when they visit they have always asked why I am not more involved. Well, I volunteer at the Food Pantry, the Respect Life ministry and I am a catechist so I wouldn’t exactly call myself lacking. Anyway, I’ve had to say several times, ” I do participate every day at Mass, I sing the hymns, I respond when appropriate, I pray aloud with everyone, I fast, I go to confession and I receive the Eucharist. I participate in the way I believe a layperson should.” This usually is accepted with some comments because I am obviously telling them that I don’t approve of their ways of participating.

    So, are there any resources that I could point out to them? I so dearly want them to understand my point of view and why I do not appreciate what they are doing. I catch myself repeating, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions!”

  9. ttagert says:

    Question regarding this, and the EMHCs. We have a Sunday mass at my parish where there will be 2 deacons present along with the priest. The deacon that preaches sort of “slips out” after the homily… Then, we are left with 1 deacon, 1 priest and 2 EMHCs at the people’s communion. Shouldn’t the deacon stay through the mass? This happens everytime I attend this mass, so it is not like an emergency has arisen. Seems very odd to me. And if you have 1 or 2 deacons and a priest in a normal size parish, do you really “need” 2 EMHCs???

    While I am on this subject, we always make an effort to receive from the ordained priest or deacon, not the EMHC (as we see this as an abuse.) Is this proper? I don’t like to feel like I am taking part in this practice, as i don’t feel it is right to “bend the rules” in this way in order to make vocal minorities in the church “feel important.”

    Anyway, we are always “ushered” to the EMHC when we are trying to make our way to the Pastor – and it sort of feels pushy… Are we being too “strident” or “scrupulous.” Should we just go along to get along? Thoughts?

  10. Flambeaux says:

    A reversal or undoing of Pope Paul VI’s Motu Proprio Ministeria Quaedam would be a very good step in the right direction. But the impetus for that will have to come from the “ground” up.

    The lack of instituted lectors and acolytes is a failure of the bishop to properly teach, govern, and sanctify his flock and of pastors to properly catechize the souls in their care as to the necessity of these things.

  11. tired student says:

    I’ve always thought that the current spate of EMHC’s and lectors derives from human personality and temperaments. Some people are demonstrative and reason emotionally. That’s okay. We need people of different tempraments to build the Kingdom, and some laypeople do better than others in certain charitable works.

    I’m convinced that the demonstrative types are the ones that feel “left out” if they’re not up on the altar. It’s very difficult to communicate that they a valued part of the Mass even if they’re not in the spotlight. I suspect that a lot of pastors don’t bother to discuss the true meaning of “active participation” and interior contemplation because some people have difficulty grasping a nuanced view of “active”. It’s hard to say, “these are the roles of the laity, and these are the roles of the clergy” without “hurting the feelings” of the demonstrative types. Hence pastors probably dread the idea of curtailing EMHC’s, even if they are redundant or even liturgically abused.

    Then there are reasonable types who realize that the sacrificial act is more important than “getting to do something”. I also realize that the clergy bear a different cross than I do, and that liturgy should be acted out of service and humility, not narcissism. I’m sure we’ve all seen Fr. TV Host who tries to entertain; this only contributes to a false notion of active participation. This wholesale misunderstanding of the delicate balance between the roles of clergy and laity is one of the many reasons I started going to the TLM exclusively.

  12. JARay says:

    I am an Instituted Acolyte. The Archdiocese of Perth, Western Australia has had Instituted Acolytes for over thirty years and it was said (probably correctly) that our Archbishop at the time (now, long deceased)decided to institute Acolytes because he “was not going to have women on the altar in his Archdiocese”. What happened of course, is that his successor introduced Extraordinary Ministers.
    As it happens, also, I did receive Minor Orders when I was at Seminary but I left my studies there after three years.
    As it happens, also, I have filled in many, many times over a number of years, by conducting a Liturgy of the Word when, for some reason, our priest was away from the parish.
    I think that when I was instituted by the Archbishop in the Cathedral, there were around 90 men instituted at that ceremony.

  13. JARay says:

    By the way, we dress in Alb and Cincture when on the altar

  14. Tom in NY says:

    In the USA, Father is fund raiser, manager of plant and people for the plant, the data base administrator. If he’s studied theology, scripture and philosophy, he may not have studied accounting and management. Paying for three people who can make financial cheating unlikely, even including Father, may be a heavy burden.
    Vianney spent hours in the confessional as well as shopping occasionally for church goods. How in practical life can we get Father at his computer for homiletic research and his calendar of pastoral visits rather than for temporalities?

  15. everett says:

    In recent years I have lived in four dioceses. In only one of them were the minor orders discussed, and that was because I was in the seminary at the time and watched friends go through them. In the other three, the minor orders are completely ignored. No one cares that the seminarians there are instituted as lector or acolyte. I think the key is what another poster mentioned – this era of inclusivity (shudder), the fact that women can’t be instituted has left people preferring to have “commissioning” instead so that the women don’t feel “left out.” If proper catechesis was performed, this wouldn’t be a problem. As is, most laypeople have never even heard that there is a difference between an instituted acolyte or lector and merely performing their duties.

  16. Lee says:

    Tired student writes, “I’ve always thought that the current spate of EMHC’s and lectors derives from human personality and temperaments. Some people are demonstrative and reason emotionally….

    “I’m convinced that the demonstrative types are the ones that feel “left out” if they’re not up on the altar.”

    In all friendliness, tired student, liberals are the only people who can really pull off psychobabble :)

    I volunteered to be a lector a number of years ago so that the congregation would have at least a few minutes of clear, intelligible English at Mass, as opposed to an entire Mass every week with English mangled by a succession of Polish, African and Indian priests. (Thank you, Fathers, for coming over here, and for all your efforts. By the time you left us, you were pretty fluent.)

    Generally, I have found that people step forward to be lectors because they are good at it and feel that they can make a useful contribution to the liturgy and the life of the parish. Perhaps they heard the gospel about not burying their talent or hiding their light under a bushel.

    Another motive is that the preparation gets me into the word of God much more deeply.

    It, above all else, is a service to Our Lord.

    If your lector does a good job, be sure to tell him and to thank him, and if you know people who can read well, encourage them in that direction. I doubt very much that instituting lectors will improve the liturgy, whereas the variety of voices, male and female, young, middle-aged and old definitely keeps the attention and interest levels higher.

  17. Tom A. says:

    I must disagree Lee. I feel that most “volunteers” for lector merely like to hear themselves talk. I do not think the average Joe and Mary Catholic in the pew is even listening to them. As far as interst levels go, most are asleep and are only there out of obligation or a personal attachment to the pastor. I know this sounds cynical, but most of the faithful do not prepare for Mass with prayer or studying the readings prior. Knowing the readings prior to Mass as well as reading the antiphons and propers is the active participation I think Vatican II called for. If one prepares for Mass prior, it matters not if the Mass is in English, Latin, or Swahili.

  18. gmarie says:

    “not indulging the secular fantasies of its clergy.”

    OR not indulging the clerical fantasies of its laity.

  19. gloriainexcelsis says:

    I recommend reading Pope John Paul II’s CHRISTIFIDELES LAICI, On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and In The World. We, the laity, are to be out laboring in the vineyard, in our families, our work, and in the world. Our pastors have their role, which should not be diminished, and we have ours, which is extremetly important.

  20. The trouble we now have is that we have created a sense of entitlement on the part of those who “serve” at Mass, such that if asked to stand down, they feel as though their “rights” are being infringed.

    And I put scare quotes around “serve” because I think part of true service is a willingness to be dismissed.

  21. Oneros says:

    Bring back the minor orders and then give them to (potentially married) men of the parish. If a man is a “reader” he might as well be ordained Lector, or even a Subdeacon for the Epistle (though the obligations on the latter might have to be changed as regard Breviary and celibacy). If a male is an “altar server” or sacristan, he might as well be made an Acolyte. If a man is an usher, he might as well be made a Porter. If a man directs RCIA or is involved in baptism prep, he might as well be a made a Minor Exorcist. If a guy is in the Choir (especially if he is the music director/cantor), he might as well be First Tonsured and buy a cassock and surplus to wear during the liturgy.

    Even after Trent, the Minor Orders traditionally admitted married men up until the 18th century (and, unlike the major orders, you could get married even AFTER receiving them without losing the clerical state). They wouldnt have to involve much training (maybe a couple classes or week-long summer course). Seeing as we have married permanent deacons now, this might be the next logical step.

    The way to transcend both Clericalism AND Anti-clericalism is to make MORE clergy, not to involve the laity as perpetual substitutes in clerical roles. This would help create a continuum extending from the priesthood down to the laity, yet without blurring the strict distinction between Lay and Clergy.

    Dont make the “instituted ministries” Lay! Keep them as Minor CLERICAL Orders. Clergy, as public ecclesiastical persons, are really the only ordinarily appropriate enactors of public prayer. A lay person can pray for themselves, but a Cleric can speak in the name of the Church. I therefore question if a lay person’s “liturgical” action is ever more than pseudo-public.

    Ordain more men to the Minor Orders!!! Bring them back!!! And get women out of the sanctuary!

  22. ScitoTeIpsum says:

    Who on hear has XM radio? I have had the luxury of having it in my rental car, and now and then I tune to the Catholic Channel. Unfortunately someone could tune to the channel during some shows and never know its Catholic. Okay…I may be embellishing a bit but I cringe at some of the commentary. But this isn’t my point. I happened to tune in tonight and the Busted Halo show was on. As part of the show they introduced a guest caller. It is the Bishop of Rochester, New York – Bishop Matthew Clark. The conversation is about his new book, which is out or about to hit the shelf, which elaborates on the vital role of lay ecclesial ministers. Now before I move on – I have seen and understand the importance of the faithful who offer their gifts and talent for Holy Mother Church. But Bishops Clark conversation was not about the generous people who pray for others, teach our children or raise a family in the practice of the Faith etc. On the contrary, it is always seems to be about “empowering” people (mainly women) to assume the role of the priest – thus attempting to blur the distincion between cleric and laity among the faithful (and sadly among priest). They (promoters of such ministries) know that if they push this hard and long enough it will become the “norm”. It doesn’t matter if its wrong or right or destructive – its the “norm”. The arguments are so typical of the spirit of Vatican II era. The first thing that must be done is to triumphantly recount the liberation from the chains of Trent. After the chains have been broken free, the liberated man (err…Human) can finally walk out the cave towards the light. Liberated and in the light, they finally can confirm what they have known all along – that they are not creating a new “model” but simply restoring what was lost from early Christianity.
    As Father Rutler from the Archdiocese of New York once said (or something similar) – “We don’t have a vocation crisis, we have a listening crisis”. God calls men to follow Him in His priesthood. He also calls men and women to be the best mother/father/religious they can be. So, while the push is on for “lay ecclesial ministers” I would recommend to these promoters to stop and look around. Look at the destruction of the traditional family. Pray for the wisdom to better understand and have faith in the Holy Eucharist. And see that not only do we need solid families, but we need solid priest to feed His flock.

  23. So true. Allow me to add that the Murphy’s Law of parish personalities still holds: if there is one iota, one nanobyte of remote possibility that someone will misunderstand even the most delineated, clarified and stratified ministerial mandate, they will. Another form of the “listening crisis” is the “comprehension crisis”.

    That said, I have often wondered why the subdiaconate was abolished. Perhaps the time has come again for subdeacons to be brought back into being.

  24. moon1234 says:

    The loss of the minor orders for the “non-traditional” seminaries has led to a great loss in the church. Now the minor orders really only exist in the SSPX, ICRSS and FSSP societies. These groups still have ALL of the minor orders.

    Wouldn’t it be great to have a local son of the parish publically given his casock during Mass when he chooses to enter seminary to discren a call to the priesthood. The whole parish would visibly see and know the young man. They could help support him as he receives his minor orders. What a wonderful way to both catechize and support the local boys who we hope to see as priests.

    So many people today do not know what has been lost.

    A good description of all orders is here:

  25. I hesitate to throw in my worthless ‘two cents’ into this discussion…but alas, I must…
    I heard the late Michael Davies speak about the indult of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion as a missionary-oriented thing; in other words, those who would be deprived of Holy Communion for a long period of time could receive Holy Communion at the hands of an instituted catechist/extraordinary minster when they would not, for legitimate reasons, be able to participate at the Holy Mass…Africa, Asia, etc.
    So far, in the Western hemisphere, unless there are a thousand people at Mass, no available deacons or acolytes, this really does not apply. Maybe too strict an understanding, but it works for me.
    An instituted Lector (male, of course) and Acolyte (Ibid.) are the only things that make sense to me if the understanding of the indult of women serving at Mass is an exception, rather than the rule. But, I realize this is not the case throughout this country (USA) and others.
    I would like to see this happen in the future; reinstated minor orders, male (not necessarily for seminarians only) in order to regain a true sense of the authentic tradition of the Roman rite.
    Should lay women and men take Holy Communion to the sick and shut-in on Sundays and holy days?
    Sure, why not? There is precedence for this in the ancient Church.
    But in the sanctuary, there should be a return to the ancient tradition of male ministers, minor and major. My humble opinion.

  26. Central Valley says:

    This article was written in England but what the author describes happens in ninety percent of the parishes inthe diocese of Fresno, Ca. Most go along because their celeberty priest or thier Elvis impersonator priest tells them the bishop and Rome approve of everything they do. Holy Father, help us.

  27. moon1234 says:

    Should lay women and men take Holy Communion to the sick and shut-in on Sundays and holy days?
    Sure, why not? There is precedence for this in the ancient Church.

    How very sad to hear this from a priest. I am very thankful that we have such wonderful priests in this area who make it a personal mission to visit all of their flock when they are in the hospital. It is such a comfort to see Chirst’s representative in his cassock come to visit those who can not come to him.

    A layman is just not the same. I sure whish all priests today would visit those in the hospital, especially on Sunday and Holy Days.

    It is sad today when a Priest will announce before Mass that there will be no homily so that everyone will hav time to get home before the football game starts. (Including the Priest) How improper are those priorities?

  28. Oneros says:

    “Should lay women and men take Holy Communion to the sick and shut-in on Sundays and holy days?
    Sure, why not? There is precedence for this in the ancient Church.”

    Or, given that bringing communion to the sick is in some ways THE defining role of a deacon…just make the men deacons!!!

    Given that the deacon is specifically minister of the chalice, I’d say do like the Orthodox and have deacons distribute the host with golden tongs (which I suppose would also be a way to avoid contact when using lay ministers…)

    But why make permanent deacons go through all this training…only to have lay people fill most of their roles anyway as EMHC’s, “pastoral associates,” etc??!? At that point…why not just make the men deacons!?!

    It is, frankly, absurd. But it is the fault of clericalism among the current hierarchy. It is still rampant. The fact that they allow all these “lay ministers” now is not a sign of a loosening of clericalism, exactly because these are still LAY ministers. The hierarchy is still VERY much jealous of the clerical state strictly so called, of Holy Orders itself, and they are obviously very much concerned with keeping it a closed club only for those who have gone through the proper hazing, even as they hand out more and more of its prerogatives…

    A similar question can be asked of some deacons as regards the priesthood: if he runs a “communion service” 3 out of 4 Sundays a month because there arent enough priests in some areas…at that point, why not just make him a priest? He would be married, and he would be part-time, not paid…but his effort commitment would be the same. If you’re leading a “communion service,” you could celebrate Mass if they’d just ordain you. If you are already, many times, administering the parish, doing spiritual direction, visiting the sick, baptizing, leading weddings and memorial services, etc…why not ordain the guy and just have him be able to actually celebrate Mass, hear confessions, and anoint the sick?? The “best” reason you’re going to get is “because he’s married”…and, well, there is the twisted logic of it for you. The hierarchy is absolutely OBSESSED with maintaining their old boy’s club, even when obvious solutions are staring them in the face.

    If men can dedicate time to be lay ministers, they could be at least minor clergy. And most permanent deacons could easily just be volunteer part-time priests.

    The logic is insane: “We dont have enough people to preform certain clerical functions,” “Well, there are lots of men willing, why not ordain them?” “No, they’re married, besides, they dont have 5 years of theology, etc”…”Ah, well then, what are we going to do?” “Hmm…well, we’ll just let them preform all the same tasks, but NOT ordain them!” “Perfect solution!!!”

    It’s absurd. A permanent deacon in some parishes does EVERYTHING a pastor can do except instead of celebrating Mass he leads a “communion service,” instead of hearing confessions, he just does spiritual direction, and instead of anointing the sick, he just visits them and brings them communion. All without pay. And yet, for some reason, those three “upgrades” (ie, actual Mass, confession, and anointing of the sick) require being celibate and going through a long live-in seminary process. SUUUUURE. Methinks they’re really just afraid of being exposed as unnecessary. If they could get their hands on real Orders, married unpaid volunteers could handle everything, and then they’d be out of jobs.

    I’m an orthodox, traditionalist Catholic…but it’s sort of a scam, and hardly the way I think it worked in the early Church, where it’s clear a much greater percentage of the parish population was clerical, and where everyone but the Bishop himself was an unpaid volunteer…

  29. mfg says:

    oneros: Oh, you forgot, a much greater percentage of the parish population was martyred! How would that suit you, Orth-o-doxx, tradd-ittion-allistt, Cath-o-licc?

  30. rinkevichjm says:

    Oneros: a deacon can’t perform confirmation either, so new converts have to go to another church to enter the Church and be confirmed on Easter Sunday. But the years of theological study are important and very few priests should be ordained without them. One bad priest can ruin the bucket: see Martin Luther or worse Bishop Milingo and setting high standards in morality and theology is a good idea.

  31. markomalley says:

    Similarly, the appetite among the laity for these new “instituted lay ministries” has been entirely absent from the post-conciliar Church. As a policy initiative they have completely failed to take off in the western Church and I would be surprised if the total number of instituted lectors and acolytes in the entire Catholic Church (excluding the seminarians transiting through these lay ministries) would be enough to fill a village hall.

    I asked about “instituted lector” and “acolyte” and was informed that those were reserved for seminarians, only (yes, I realize…but if that’s what the hierarchy tells me then that’s what they tell me). So to me it seems that there is a little disconnect. The minor orders have been eliminated for seminarians and the instuted lay ministries have not been implemented for the laity. Sounds like a situation guaranteed to fail (and to keep the women with the practical haircuts and pantsuits in the sanctuary).

  32. asperges says:

    Good to see the Herald these days quite changed from its previous sate of pro-episcopal sycophancy. This is a good article.

    There is a difference between the UK and the States in use of laity. I have witnessed dreadful liturgies in Canada and the States where the group of “performers” (priest and lay) all troop on together and stay together as though they were equals, even standing at the altar throughout the canon. No wonder there is no incentive to take Holy Orders. Here we suffer from the endless procession of readers and others, all waiting in the wings like a rather poorly done prize-giving at school.

    The use of laity (and even deacons for that matter) taking the Blessed Sacrament to the sick and housebound is that they cannot hear confessions, and I have often wondered how many embarrassed recipients – particularly those in hospital – know they ought to go first to confession but could not possibly admit to this to a layperson (and why should they?) and so receive unworthily in a state of sin.

    For many of course bringing the Blessed Sacrament is a great service, but quite properly all matters pertaining to the administration of Communion must be in the priest’s charge. A delegated layman might be of use, but should never suppose himself fit to make decisions on such important matters.

    The article is correct: we should now courageously revisit many decisions made in the last 40 years, appraise them and if necessary, revoke or revise them. Just because they were born of Vatican II, however obliquely, that is absolutely no reason to assume their inviolability or permanence.

  33. irishgirl says:

    This was a good article.

    Ah, Bishop Clark and his ’empowering the laity’ as ‘ministers’….give me a break!

    And how many more days till he submits his resignation….?

  34. ScitoTeIpsum says:


    Of course I agree with you!! To a point…I think that you are painting with a very “wide” brush stroke. As with many situations, I think we have to find a solid middle ground. I don’t know if this is the same thing but there is obviously a middle ground between being a fool (i.e. rushing into every situation like a crazy person) and a coward (i.e. running away from every situation). This middle ground could be called courage. In my thought process, I apply this to the situation of home visitations by priest. If it is practical then I too feel that the priest should (joyfully!) visit those whom cannot come to mass. On the other hand, I know that situations do arise that make it very difficult for a priest to accomplish this week in and week out. As with most of my thoughts – I have a disclaimer. I realize that some priest do take great liberty in allowing lay persons to “fill their shoes” so to speak. And if they want to make this the “norm” then they will. Therefore I do not wish to make excuses and I agree with you almost 100 percent.
    As a side note, I was just rereading what I wrote and I would like to elaborate on my word choice above, in which I said “if it is practical.” This seems very open ended (subjective). To clarify, I would hope that a priest would order his life so as to fulfill his office as priest to the very best of his ability. If this is being done and he still cannot visit everyone, then I would hope that he and the community would feverently pray/seek out vocations to the priesthood. There is also the possibility of seeking out vocations to the diaconate, so as to have an ordained minister visit those who cannot physically come to mass.

    God bless.

  35. worm says:

    I recommend reading Pope John Paul II’s CHRISTIFIDELES LAICI, On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and In The World. We, the laity, are to be out laboring in the vineyard, in our families, our work, and in the world. Our pastors have their role, which should not be diminished, and we have ours, which is extremetly important.

    I haven’t read that one. But it also appears right in Vatican II:
    What specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature. It is true that those in holy orders can at times be engaged in secular activities, and even have a secular profession. But they are by reason of their particular vocation especially and professedly ordained to the sacred ministry. Similarly, by their state in life, religious give splendid and striking testimony that the world cannot be transformed and offered to God without the spirit of the beatitudes. But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer. (LG 31)

  36. Father S. says:

    “Sure, why not? There is precedence for this in the ancient Church.”

    I think that a bit has been read into the comments of “Nazareth Priest.” To say that lay people should never do this would be too narrow a rule. We have to keep in mind that the law covers the Church throughout the world. So, for example, you may note that in some mission lands there are very few priests. There are times, then, that it seems reasonable that someone would assist the priest in taking Holy Communion to those in need, especially those near death. To say that this substitutes for the priest is foolhardy. The priest, as I mentioned above, (and the pastor, in particular) stands in the place of Christ in a particular way, having been confirmed to Christ sacramentally via Holy Orders. I cannot speak to the precedence for this in the ancient Church, but it certainly seems that this possibility is within the mind of the Church today. What needs to be avoided is the abandoning of this work by priests or even the sharing of this work to the degree that the two types of visits are considered to be the same.

    The invitations to read “Christifideles laici” are very fine. The focus of the laity must be the world. Too often, we have convinced folks that they fulfill their Catholic duty by participating at Holy Mass in a way that, though intended to be extraordinary, has come to be thought almost essential.

  37. At the very least, could EMHCs not wear such inappropriate clothing like in that second picture?! I’m pretty sure that’s a strapless top that bears a bit of midriff. That’s not church attire.

  38. Oh, and as someone who volunteered as a “reader” (i.e. not an instituted lector, but a replacement for such), I did it for two reasons: my love of Scripture (and the Mass in general), and my desire that the Word be proclaimed by someone who accepts that duty responsibly (preparing beforehand, speaking clearly and slowly enough to be understood, etc.). It has nothing to do with a desire to “do something” at Mass, or a love of my own voice.

  39. An American Mother says:

    It really does bother me to see lay people (overwhelmingly the bossy older women of the parish) crowding the altar. It’s the one thing in our parish that really jars me.

    Back when I was an Episcopalian, nobody set foot inside the altar rail in street clothes (even the Daughters of the King a/k/a the Altar Guild had special purple smocks that they wore when preparing the flowers etc.) When a priest had a lay chalice bearer assisting, that person wore a cassock and surplice and had gone through a ceremony of receiving his vestments before the congregation.

    I haven’t had the nerve to bring this up . . . I’m a bossy older woman, I suppose, but I’m in the back with the choir, and we aren’t in street clothes either.

  40. Oneros says:

    “my desire that the Word be proclaimed by someone who accepts that duty responsibly (preparing beforehand, speaking clearly and slowly enough to be understood, etc.).”

    A noble intention, but one I worry too often becomes a sort of self righteousness.

    I know many Catholics, generally neocons, who are “personally uncomfortable with” EMHC’s and communion in the hand…who then, bizarrely, volunteer to be EMHC’s for that very reason. Because, they tell me, they want “to make sure a responsible, informed person is doing it…” or something like that.

    That sounds like the logic of doctors who “personally dislike abortion,” but also “dont want it done dangerously in some back alley” and so go into abortion practice!

    It also sounds self-righteous to me. Like, “Well, if some lay person is doing it, better me than some ignorant unworthy person”.

    It is not personal ignorance or responsibility that matters. No offense, but I’d rather a Lector in minor orders (or “instituted” in the Novus Ordo) do the reading stuttering and lackadaisically…then even a super holy lay scripture scholar. Because it’s not about the quality of the performance or the performer.

  41. Girgadis says:

    Jeffrey Pinyan

    Thank you for the approach you take to your role as a lector. To me, a lector who prepares for the readings AND reads with humility is all one could ask for. It drives me to distraction to see a lector barge into the sacristy two minutes before Mass begins and subsequently mispronounce names and places, insert words where none exist while omiting others and worse yet, read as though they were part of a stage performance. The best lector in our parish doesn’t have a particularly pleasant voice, but he is always well prepared and acts appropriately, not like he’s auditioning for a part in the school play.

  42. Oneros says:

    “But the years of theological study are important and very few priests should be ordained without them. One bad priest can ruin the bucket”

    But my point is that the laity or permanent deacons are doing everything priests used to do anyway already…except for Mass, Confession, and Anointing the Sick (and, yes, confirmations at the Easter Vigil, but that’s a once-yearly type of thing).

    And in that situation, if one bad priest could ruin the bucket, so could one bad permanent deacon, or one bad lay person.

    If we were to be honest, and to look at the Church through the eyes of a sociologist…it would be obvious that the reason they feel the need to put so many “controls” on priests…is because priests are going to be PAID. In a way it’s a sort of moral blackmail. The current old boys club can hold the Eucharist and Absolution from sins “hostage” as it were, so we have to employ them.

    If all sorts of men willing to be priests on a part-time Volunteer basis got ordained, there’d be a lot less of a role for the full-time paid celibates (though, surely, there’d still be use for some for Daily Mass at regional hubs and Emergency “on-call” sacraments). At the same time…we’re getting a lot fewer celibate full-time vocations now…yet a lot of married lay volunteers willing to commit a few hours a week. Maybe God is pushing us towards a different model.

    It’s not without precedent. In the Ethiopian Church (well, the Orthodox one, at least…I believe the Catholic had this tradition squashed, sadly)…50-100 men from the parish might be priests, but they all take just 1 week a year to do the priestly duties…in a similar fashion to the Jewish Temple Priesthood (remember St Zachary).

    The idea of priests being celibate and highly trained in advanced scholastic theology is a nice ideal. But is it really necessary for what the priests do on a PRACTICAL level??? Obviously not. Because we’re having lay people and permanent deacons do almost all that stuff ALREADY…for lack of priests!!! It’s ridiculous. And the few things still absolutely reserved to priests…arent exactly rocket science…

  43. Thank you, Fr. S. for your comment.
    Moon1234: I want to assure you that I do not believe the role of the priest should be handed over to laity so that he does not have to visit the sick. I am sorry if my comment about taking Holy Communion to the sick and shut in scandalized you; I think that this possibility is something good, as long as the priest does visit the sick for Confession, Communion, and prayer on a regular basis.
    That being said, of course it is the role of the deacon to do this and this, alas, escaped my mind.
    As to the early Church, from my understanding, before there were Churches, it was customary for the faithful to take the Blessed Sacrament into their own homes and communicate throughout the week. Now, granted, this was in time of persecution and with no Church building; it is a practical way to deal with this. I am not proposing that THIS practice be reestablished.
    The point I was trying to make was that in order for those who cannot receive Communion at Mass because they are infirm, giving this to laity, after assessing the real needs and the presence of priests and deacons who should do it, is a way to bring the Lord to them on a regular basis.I have heard from many who have been ill or shut in that this ability to receive the Lord in Holy Communion has made a great impact in being able to suffer and to accept their Cross. That’s just my opinion. Sorry if I ruffled any feathers.

  44. worm says:

    If the priesthood is defined purely by its functions of confecting the Eucharist and absolving sins, then your suggestions makes a great deal of sense, but I think there is much more to the priesthood and the suggestion would reduce it much less than it is.

  45. Agnes says:

    Priests must be available to hear the confessions of the shut-in and possibly administer Last Rites, and so that availability should be the highest priority after the daily Mass and regular Confession schedule. It’s fine for Deacons and Acolytes, maybe even seminarians, to distribute for those who desire Communion daily, but for a priest to come out monthly or even every two months to hear Confession and administer Communion shouldn’t be too much to handle!

    Just a laywoman’s opinion. I’d feel slighted if asked to do something too priestly – not that it’s *beneath* my dignity, but it’s just not *my* dignity. My dignity resides in the rearing and education of my family (and as a catechist, others). *My* hands have never dripped with holy oil. The Eucharistic Lord is not mine to give, but mine to receive as directly as possible. I have been given the ineffable (there’s that word) power and joy of receiving! And what we give to the world is the witness of our lives lived for the Infant Christ.

  46. Oneros says:

    “If the priesthood is defined purely by its functions of confecting the Eucharist and absolving sins, then your suggestions makes a great deal of sense, but I think there is much more to the priesthood and the suggestion would reduce it much less than it is.”

    But that’s a sort of clericalism that persists.

    Because priests are not the same as consecrated religious, and yet we treat our presbyters like consecrated persons in the West. Bishops are said to be consecrated, but simple presbyters are not.

    The liturgical ministries, the liturgical orders, including the priesthood, exist to carry out their function for the community. An acolyte is to be “seen not heard”…he is really nothing more than a candle-stand, a bus-boy at the sacred table. It is a ministry of service to the community in the liturgy, a practical, functional role. Being an acolyte doesnt imply a whole consecrated life. The whole point of the secular clergy…is that they are secular.

    This “setting apart” of secular priests, in some ways offends against their secular nature. It is a different calling than consecrated religious life.

    The ministry of a secular priest really does, in many ways, exist to be a “sacrament dispenser” and nothing more. Because his is a ministry of service to the community, providing that service, even while remaining secular.

    If bishops called men to preform that Service for their community…not on a full-time paid basis as if they were consecrated persons whose whole life was dedicated (because they’re not)…but as secular individuals (it is, after all, the SECULAR priesthood) who would do it part-time on a volunteer basis as a service to their community…well, that’s a lot closer to the model used in certain Eastern Churches, certainly, among the secular clergy.

    This does not denigrate the priesthood. But it recognizes that the Priesthood is not the same as the Consecrated Life. That the priesthood IS a FUNCTIONAL ministry of SERVICE, the service of providing sacraments to the community as a deputy of the bishop. Just as the diaconate and the minor orders are ministries of service: functional practical roles. We put our priests on too much of an institutional pedestal.

    It makes no sense that a permanent deacon who does “Communion Services” 3 out of 4 weeks a month, for lack of a priest, couldnt just be ordained. Keeping the priesthood an exclusively paid, celibate, “institutional” closed-society with this whole naive mystique surrounding it…besides being rather a facade…is not worth depriving the people of Mass 3 out of 4 weeks a month. It just isnt.

    All someone really needs to be a priest is a Baltimore Catechism level of orthodoxy, a liturgical Practicum, and maybe a course or two on Pastoral Counseling. This could be done through night courses, courses one weekend a month for a year or two, summer intensives, a year of school, or an apprenticeship of sorts. There are SO many options that could be tried if they’d think outside the box. Certainly a permanent deacon, with his training, could easily say Mass and hear confessions, it isnt rocket science.

    But merely tweaking the details is NOT going to radically change the dismal status quo.

    The Church changed the wrong thing. It wasnt the liturgy that needed changing, it was the Institutional structures and internal political dynamics, which have remained as bureaucratic and feudal as ever. Bring back the Old Liturgy, but deconstruct the Old Boys Club!

  47. Father S. says:

    This conversation at least brings up the question of the possibility of the simplex priest. It may be a worthwhile discussion to have.

    I do have two comments to make about the post just above mine. There is one sentence that is wholly inappropriate. “The Church changed the wrong thing.” I mean this without any sarcasm at all, but if the writer had the same “Baltimore Catechsim level of orthodoxy” he would have a better understanding of the weight of an ecumenical council. I would direct him to read “Lumen Gentium” and then rethink his comments.

    The other sentence which draws my attention, as a secular priest, is: “The ministry of a secular priest really does, in many ways, exist to be a “sacrament dispenser” and nothing more.” This could not be further from the truth. I spend very little of my day doing administration. I spend a good portion of my day with Holy Mass and Confession. But the work that I do (and that other secular priests do) is primarily about spiritual fatherhood within the context of being conformed to Christ the head. I wonder if the author above really knows any priests who are devoted to their life and work. If so, it seems impossible that he could make this assertion.

  48. ScitoTeIpsum says:

    Father S,

    Thank you for commenting. I was disturbed, to say the least, at the comments of Oneros. I sense some bitterness or misunderstanding.

  49. Oneros says:

    ““The Church changed the wrong thing.” I mean this without any sarcasm at all, but if the writer had the same “Baltimore Catechsim level of orthodoxy” he would have a better understanding of the weight of an ecumenical council.”

    There is nothing unorthodox about what I said. An ecumenical council in union with the Pope is an act of the extraordinary magisterium comparable to the extraordinary magisterium of the Pope himself, though more complete and a fuller sign due to the participation of the world’s bishops.

    Ecumenical Councils are Infallible, they are NOT positively Inspired. I cant stress that enough. Infallibility is a negative protection; it guarantees that Popes and Ecumenical Councils won’t promulgate any heresy as dogma. It isnt a positive inspiration or “oracle” however. A council doesnt “channel” the Will of God in any special way beyond His Providence over history and the Church in general. It is guaranteed to not teach heresy or totally sink the ship, that is all, and I dont think Vatican II did.

    However, disciplinary and prudential administrative decisions…are not dogma. And hiding behind the legitimacy of an Ecumenical Council to claim that their “hands are tied” 40 years later…is disingenuous on their part. Decrees of a Council are not the Voice of God, especially not the disciplinary ones. They are protected by God from containing heresy, definitely. They are not, however, any sort of positive divine mandate.

    Speaking of “what the council wanted” is cognitively meaningless anyway, as the council was made up of thousands of bishops who probably intended different things and interpreted the texts differently even then. It is not inspired Scripture with one Author. When the Pope or bishops act as if they are “bound” to implement “what the Council wanted” they are making an idol of the council. What a group of bishops wanted 40 years ago based on a 1960’s conception of “modernizing”…really doesnt have to effect us today if the Pope decides that times have changed and that he wants something different.

    Far from trying to turn back the clocks or go to a time before the council…my generation, the young generation…is increasingly antsy to just move BEYOND it. Imagine if the Republican party kept harping over Abolitionism, or the Democrats over Bimetallism because they felt that their hands were tied by the party platforms of the 19th century. Imagine if we still felt bound to implement that 10th Crusade that the Council of Vienne called for but which never happened. Certainly, 40 years down the line, continuing to hold to a platform/agenda based on being relevant to “youth” who are now in their 60’s, and cozying up to American culture as an ally in a Cold War that has been over for 20 years…is hardly helpful anymore. It’s outdated.

    There is something superstitious about continuing to use Vatican II as the reference point for everything the Church does today, as if it were inspired scripture or the sole source of legitimacy for the current regime. That bespeaks a revolutionary mindset on their part, as if the Council was Year 0. And yet even as Benedict condemns such a hermeneutic of rupture…he continues to constantly refer everything back to Vatican II. I remember a recent document came out, after the Anglican provisions, that said, “Vatican II teaches that celibacy is a beautiful vocation” or something like that, and I just had to think, “Uh, no, JESUS and the Gospels, and the Apostles, and the Church Fathers, and the Theologians, and all the other Popes and Ecumenical Councils and Saints throughout history taught that!” And yet it is Vatican II’s authority which was invoked. I also find it odd that they keep referring to Vatican II in the present tense, as if it were Scripture, “Vatican II teaches” instead of “Vatican II taught”. Same thing with John Paul. It’s all in the present tense, “Teaches” not “taught” as if this is a perpetual reality like the sikhs guru granth sahib. That’s much less common to see for older ecumenical councils and Popes, who are almost always now referred to in the Past tense.

    Cardinal Ratzinger himself said, “Not every valid council in the history of the Church has been a fruitful one; in the last analysis many of them have been just a waste of time”.

    “This could not be further from the truth. I spend very little of my day doing administration. I spend a good portion of my day with Holy Mass and Confession. But the work that I do (and that other secular priests do) is primarily about spiritual fatherhood within the context of being conformed to Christ the head. I wonder if the author above really knows any priests who are devoted to their life and work. If so, it seems impossible that he could make this assertion.”

    You misunderstand me. I am not asserting that priests as people only exist to be sacrament dispensers. I am asserting that the priestHOOD, as such, the presbyterate in itself…exists to provide sacraments to the community.

    Spiritual Fatherhood I think is very important (taking much of my inspiration from the East)…but, again, this is the sort of confusion between the Secular Priesthood in itself, and Consecrated Life, which I was discussing.

    A spiritual father need not be a priest. Holy monks, etc, who are not priests, are known to be spiritual fathers. Permanent deacons act that way towards people. Not to mention the role female superiors take in regard to their nuns.

    I dont deny that many secular priests take on pastoral roles. In fact, my whole suggestion is that the conflation of the two is the problem. The priesthood, as such, exists to provide sacraments. That in the West we have for a long time made our priests pastors and our pastors priests…is definitely true. But it’s not the only possible model.

    The Bishop (or abbot in a monastery, etc) is the real Head of the community. The presbyters are his deputies for the distribution of sacraments.

    My whole point was that we could have married men ordained to the rank of something similar to the old concept of, yes, “simplex priests” who arent necessarily in a pastoral or preaching position (already many priests arent pastors, in curial positions, in monasteries, etc), since we already have many non-priests (permanent deacons, especially) functioning in a pastoral/ministerial role. Of course, many permanent deacons already preach and pastor, and have the training to do so, and I see no reason why they shouldnt just be given the powers to actually say Mass instead of leading a “communion service” week after week. It isnt rocket science, especially not the new Mass.

    Priests may be pastors, yes, and many do wonderful work. But non-priests often function wonderfully in a pastoral position now, too. And, likewise, not all priests are in a position of pastoring or spiritual fatherhood.

    Separating what is essential to the priesthood as such, from what has become accidentally historically connected with it, may go a long way to helping us solve the mess the clergy is currently in.

  50. Oneros says:

    By the way, I found this interesting quote from Ratzinger shortly before he became Pope too, from Whispers in the Loggia (

    “On vacation in Regensburg two or three years ago, he stated to Catholic journalists: ‘If the Church can not guarantee the Eucharist in all parishes, she has to modify the conditions for access to the priesthood.'”

    Maintaining the old boys club, celibate, paid, and institutionalized…is not worth depriving people of Mass or having parishes be huge conglomerates of 10000 people.

    Saying “We dont need married priests, we just need more celibate priests” is a non-answer…as the whole problem is that, in practice, we arent getting enough. It’s like saying, “We dont need welfare, we just need the rich to be more charitable voluntarily”. The whole point is how to deal with things pragmatically when the Ideal doesnt happen. Catholics let the Perfect be the enemy of the Good when it comes to this question.

    There are 30000 permanent deacons in the United States who already have the faculties to Preach, do spiritual direction, and lead “communion services,” who baptize, who lead weddings. On a volunteer basis mainly. Would it really be so horrible to simply ordain them (unpaid, part-time) priests?

    Likewise, there are plenty of ushers, EMHC’s, readers, altar servers, etc…clearly willing to volunteer for a few hours a week. Would it really be so terrible to actually ordain them to the corresponding Minor Orders? Or even some of them as Priests Simplex without the faculties to preach or spiritually direct or do counseling, but who could say Masses and anoint the sick. There are 20,000 laicized priests in the US, most of them married, who I would have no problem seeing brought back as Priests Simplex as long as they demonstrated they had at least Baltimore Catechism orthodoxy. I’d even see no problem with letting these Priests Simplex hear confessions and Absolve (not previously allowed for Priests Simplex) as long as they were told to not give too much Advice and simply limit themselves to handing out penances from a Penitential Manual that could be prepared with penances pre-assigned by the bishops conference/local synod (as used to be the norm).

    Sometimes, professionals are over-employed. They do things that arent exactly rocket science, but are limited by entry-access restrictions that require perhaps more training and commitment than is needed to do some of the most basic common tasks of their profession. And sometimes, para-professionals are a solution that can lighten the workload for the professionals.

    For example, Alaska has recently started allowing Dental Health Aide Therapists to fill cavities in rural areas where there arent enough actual Dentists to do it. You can learn to fill a cavity easily without 4 years of dental school. So having such para-dentists seems reasonable. But, let me tell you, the dentists are furious and opposed to the idea: They have “official” arguments against it, but it’s obvious that they really just feel threatened by the idea that could be made largely unnecessary, could be “under-sold” by people who havent had to make the same sacrifices they have to earn the “right” to practice dentistry.

    I worry that the same dynamic may be going on with a hierarchy so opposed to the idea of married, volunteer priests simplex. It says something about their priorities and attitudes that they were willing to so blithely destroy the traditional Roman Rite…but are so protective against the idea of married priests…

  51. Lee says:


    All very thoughtful comments, Oneros. I have often thought along the same lines. My guess,too, is that there are plenty of men in the Church yet who may be in their late sixties or seventies, who received excellent Catholic university educations, who with a year or two of further instruction could still offer the Church ten or fifteen years of priestly service, albeit at a very basic level, and maybe at a higher level, for that matter.

    I have a priest friend who is now 102 yrs old and still going full blast. Aging isn’t what it used to be, and this had made me realize that at 67 I may well have 30 yrs left…so I am going for a grad degree in Biblical Studies. Maybe something will come of it.

  52. JuliB says:

    Oneros –

    “I know many Catholics, generally neocons, who are “personally uncomfortable with” EMHC’s and communion in the hand…who then, bizarrely, volunteer to be EMHC’s for that very reason. Because, they tell me, they want “to make sure a responsible, informed person is doing it…” or something like that.”

    LOL – I’ve written that here myself! Well, I’m not uncomfortable with EMHCs, but I do know it to be ‘incorrect’. So I volunteered to keep someone who might be somewhat heterodox from doing the job. And, if we should be let go, I will publicly praise Father’s decision.

    I’m also a reader – not a lector, but a reader. I did it because there was a need for more people, and I knew I could do the job. Getting up in front of a lot of people to do the readings doesn’t faze me one bit. Would I prefer an instituted lector? Yes. Would I prefer just priests and deacons distributing Holy Communion? Yes. Is either going to happen in my parish in the foreseeable future? No. So I make the best of it and help where requested – since the laborers are few, I help by making myself a ‘waater girl’ for the laborers.

    You’re making a lot of assumptions about those who do volunteer, and I think the attitudes not nearly as common as you think.

  53. Supertradmom says:

    When priests, (including religious), in some seminaries in the States wear lay dress, what kind of message to being given to the hundreds of seminarians, priests-to-be, on appropriate clerical dress? As to the distinctions between lay and clerical, it is about time. Those who do not want the distinctions, do not really want the priesthood, but a protestant paradigm of church.

  54. JayneK says:

    I’m another one of those “self-righteous” people that Oneros described taking Communion to the sick, while disapproving of the practice in general. I would be very pleased if this role were not being given to the laity. But it is my bishop’s job to make this decision, not mine. I am indeed very concerned that if I do not do this job it will be done by someone who does not realize that the Communion really is the Body and Blood of Christ. From all I have read, a large proportion of Catholics do not accept the doctrine of the Real Presence so there is a significant possibility that someone like this will be given this role. I am concerned that a person who did not realize the truth might desecrate the Blessed Sacrament.

    It is not that I think that I am a better person than the people who do not hold the correct doctrine, just better catechized. So I don’t think that this counts as self-righteous. You could probably make a case for arrogant, though. :)

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