In June and into July, many newly ordained priests have reported to their first assignment as associate or assistant (as my old pastor used to say, “The first three letters are the same”). These days we hear often the fancy term “parochial vicar”.
After the excitement of ordination, the grace-filled bliss of Masses of Thanksgiving, hearing confessions for the first time, visiting classmates for their ordinations, things settle down to the quotidian life of being a priest.
For some the transition is easy. For many there are difficulties.
I’ve been getting a number of emails and messages this week from men who were ordained this year, complaining, and/or asking questions about how to handle their pastor.
- One pastor refuses to let the newly ordained priest make use of the “fiddleback” vestments his family gave him as an ordination gift.
- Another new priest must do a “commissioning” ceremony for EMHCs that seems odd to him (and to me).
- Another one must figure out what to do with the Children’s Liturgy of the Word.
- Yet another pastor is telling the new priest that he’s no longer “allowed” to hang out with seminarians, and that he should only befriend priests and certain select laypeople that the pastor has picked out!
I’ve also been in contact with a couple older priests who are concerned that, in this time when liberals (read “fascists”) have the Big Mo, the younger guys who grew up in the time of John Paul II and who tried their vocations during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, are worried about the younger men, who’ve had a relatively easy time of it. As a matter of fact, with one of my priest friends I have spoken about this often.
In the bad old days, when seminaries were rife with heretical teaching, banal preaching, and bizarre liturgical experimentation, newly ordained priests developed a pretty thick hide for craziness. For many, their first assignment seemed like a breath of fresh air, since they were no longer under the close scrutiny of a staff rabidly seeking out any semblance of orthodoxy or tradition. Even if the pastor was liberal and the parish music program was stuck in a jingle jangle morning of adulterated folk music, the freedom of being out of the seminary made the zaniness tolerable by comparison.
In the past two decades, however, in most places monumental work has been done to clean up seminaries. Let’s be honest, seminaries aren’t perfect and some are better than others. But the vast majority of seminaries are head-and-shoulders above where they were 20 years ago! Heretical professors retired, solid young priests were assigned to the formation faculty, sacred music and liturgy programs were brought closer in line with… well… the Catholic Church. All well and good.
But now, there are a couple new problems.
First, newly ordained priests have not had to spend the past six to eight years struggling in a miasma of fascistic liberal dissent and liturgical silliness. Also, most parishes have not improved their liturgical and doctrinal landscape at the same pace that seminaries were cleaned up.
Many of the liberal priests who made seminaries so unbearable ten or twenty years ago, once removed from their positions of tyranny over seminarians, became pastors of the larger parishes which have enough numbers to merit the assignment of new priests as parochial vicars. Some of these heterodox depots sit on personnel boards which advise the bishop on priestly assignments (and, let’s face it, many of these boards actually do the assignments, with the bishop merely giving a rubber stamp). As an example of the worst sort of clericalism, many of the priests who failed in their role on seminary faculties – priests who are latent or open homosexuals, priests who tolerated or practiced liturgical disobedience, priests who discouraged faithful orthodox seminarians from pursuing vocations while promoting guys who would eventually bring shame and embarrassment to the Church – instead of being retired to quiet lives of prayer and penance for their misdeeds, ineptitude, and villainy are given plum parishes.
Enter the newly ordained.
Our newly ordained priests are often unprepared to deal with the liturgical abuse, bizarre behavior (in some cases moral depravity), heterodox preaching, and strong pressure from their pastors to shun the traditional things they came to appreciate during their years in the seminary. Stories abound of pastors forbidding seminarians from wearing certain vestments because they’re “too traditional,” or requiring the young associate to preside over made up rituals that are in fact rites cobbled-up years before by Sr. Randi and GRE that became parish “traditions.” Even a young priest’s social interactions are scrutinized in an incredibly invasive way.
Hardened veterans of a 1980’s seminary might be prepared for this abuse. Thanks be to God seminaries aren’t the hell holes they once were, but today’s new priests haven’t the scaly armor and battle scars.
What is Pater Infans to do?
Pray, of course. Don’t let the habits of prayer you developed in the seminary slack off now that the bell doesn’t ring at 6:00 AM (I was literally the bell-ringer one year in my seminary in Rome) and now that no faculty member checks to see that you are in for evening prayer. Keep close to Our Lord and Our Lady. Actually, ramp up your prayer: you now are a priest of Jesus Christ. Obligations come with that. Find a good confessor and GO TO CONFESSION (perhaps at least every two weeks).
Maintain regular contact with your classmates and other young priests (and some older ones, too – they’re not all bad). If there are a good number of guys you in your area, arrange occasional get-togethers to pray, eat good food, drink a little, smoke cigars, complain about your pastors (but not too much – don’t be a whiner, be a man!), and talk about your plans for when you become pastor of a parish (or wind up in the chancery for your sins).
Keep a decent journal/calendar, especially if the pastor makes unreasonable requests of you, or you think something darker might be afoot. A written record can be invaluable if (God forefend) it’s ever needed. Scripta manent. It will also serve as a good reminder in future years of what not to do when you are pastor with a young assistant.
Pick your battles wisely. Unless the pastor asks you to attempt the consecration of pumpkin bread, or use the 47th Eucharistic Prayer that he and Sr. Kitty wrote while on retreat together in Cancun, the wisest course of action is usually to comply. He doesn’t like your new “fiddleback” chasuble (as he wrongly calls it)? Keep it on reserve for your future pastorate. He wants you to spend time with his country club friends instead of the homeschooling family of 12 that keeps asking for an Extraordinary Form Mass? Put in a little hard time at club, nod and smile when batty old Mrs. Onagaz starts harping on women’s ordination, and then sneak out to spend time with your delightfully orthodox friends.
In parish liturgical life, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good… or, more honestly, the mediocre be the enemy of the horrid. The music will probably be awful. You might have altar girls. There may be a “children’s liturgy of the word”, when the kids are kicked out of church for ten minutes for no other reason than they need to cut a dinosaur out of construction paper and sing, “This Little Light of Mine.” If you fight the pastor on liturgical matters, you will doubtlessly condemn yourself to years of unpleasantness, close supervision, and suggestions from the personnel board for psychological counseling or in-patient treatment.
Although as an assistant you just barely have the right to Christian burial, and while suffering can be redemptive, the Lord didn’t call you to the priesthood in order to make your life a living purgatory.
Your term as parochial vicar will, in most dioceses, be short; a few years at most. Keep your head down. Do your job. Ask your liberal pastor for advice and pretend to take it seriously. Thank him for his “wisdom”. Do these things, sonny, and your pastor’s buddy on the personnel board will recommend you for a pastorate in relatively short order.
Due to the “Biological Solution” (to which we are all subject) liberals will lose their grip on chanceries, personnel boards, and larger parishes in due time. There simply are not enough liberals in the under-50 gaggle to replace them. You, by enduring a couple years of difficulty with patience, grace, humility, and humor, will become part of the solution.
Everyone, pray for priests, especially for priests in difficult assignments.
A very stringent moderation queue is ON.