I have attended a spiritual recollection of cathechesis assistants of ___. The augustinian frater who led the sessions concentrated on the Vatican II, said in his presentation about the SC constitution: “We all celebrate the Mass, the priest presides”, as if we the lay folks were taking part in the job of the priest, actually. Since this was not a place for a debate, I did not respond, but I am seriously thinking about some reaction now. There were about 50 people present. I would be most grateful for a response or suggestion from you.
If the Augustinian told you that there is no difference between what a lay person does in offering spiritual sacrifice at Mass and what a priest does, then what he told you is wrong.
There is a sense in which “presider” can work well for an ordained person at Mass. Say, for example, a priest is saying Mass and a bishop is present in choir. The bishop can, in a sense, “preside”, though the priest is saying Mass. When John Paul II could not say Mass easily anymore, he could preside while another said the Mass. Otherwise, a person might “preside” at a Communion service or the recitation of one of the liturgical hours, which is a true liturgical service.
When it comes to Mass, we can use “celebrate” for laypeople in an equivocal way. What the priest does at Mass is entirely different. We can loosely use “celebrate” for both lay and priest, but let’s not get confused into thinking that what they do is the same.
There is a qualitative difference in how all the baptized participate in the priesthood of Christ the High Priest and how the ordained priest participates in Christ’s priesthood (Lumen gentium 10). The sacrament of Holy Orders confers a qualitatively different priesthood on the man ordained. Holy Orders changes the priest ontologically. The baptized offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God because they participate in Christ’s priesthood in their way. But what the priest does is different.
Put in blunt terms, when the priest says Mass, transubstantiation takes place. This takes place whether the priest is alone or there are other people present. A lay person, saying the same words over bread and wine, effects no change whatsoever. A hundred, a thousand, a million laypeople saying the words does precisely nothing. What lay people can do is, with all their mind, heart and will, unite their spiritual sacrifice to what the priest is doing. The priest renews Christ’s saving Sacrifice. Laypeople participate in that renewal by uniting themselves with what the priest does. That is a real participation, too!
Let not the dignity of how laypeople offer sacrifice be denigrated by trying to dumbdown the concept of the ordained priest’s role. And, similarly, let not the dignity of laypeople be besmirched by the condescending permission some cleric might grant them to do something that he should be doing. That is the worst sort of clericalism there is. The dumbing down of the priest’s role to that of a mere presider is the flip side of the same coing.
When you hear of this blurring of distinctions between the priesthood of the baptized and the priesthood of the priest, remember that if there is no priest, there is no Mass.
We should avoid the description of priest as mere “presider” when it comes to Mass. “Presider” can mean just about anyone running anything. “Priest”, however, is connected inextricably from the concepts of sacrifice. Priests are for sacrifice. No priest. No sacrifice. No need for sacrifice, no need for priesthood. Priests exist for offering sacrifice. That is their primary purpose.
When liberals start talking about the priest as mere “presider”, you can bet that they either don’t believe in or they are dangerously deemphasizing the sacrificial nature of Holy Mass.
Yes, the priest is a “presider” in the sense that he stands as the head of the body of the congregation. Fine. But he is the head of the body of the congregation because he is the mediator who offers sacrifice. That is a special role. Remove the concept of sacrifice and make the priest into a mere “presider” then you remove the need for ordained priesthood. No renewal of Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary? No need for ordained priests. Anyone can stand up there and say the prayers. Indeed, it makes no difference at that point if the person is male or female. A community could pick any person whom they deemed to be competent or appropriate at that moment. It would hardly make a difference, since Christ’s Sacrifice would not be the point of why they were there.
When you hear “presider” instead of “priest”, your metal sirens should sound.