Who needs priests?

Who needs priests?

Which is the better way to deal with fewer priests in a diocese? Have fewer Masses available, including weekday Masses and even rotating the location of Sunday Mass among parishes? Or allow laypeople to regularly preside at Communion services, even during the week?

It looks like the Archdiocese of Westminster, which serves the London area, has decided on the latter.

In the future, full-time lay ministers could live in clergy houses in parishes where the priest is no longer resident and routinely preside at weekday services using pre-consecrated communion hosts. Lay people have often been regarded as secondary to the clergy and the re-organisation of the country’s “mother” diocese, initiated by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, could result in a sea change.

Traditional Catholics are likely to resist the changes. But Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, who is the Archbishop of Westminster as well as head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said the Church should encourage “the gifts of all the baptised”.

This is the problem with the idea. It can and will create a confusion of the roles of the priesthood and the laity, making them seem interchangeable. A priest is not merely a sacramental minister. The ministry of the priest and his gifts extends beyond merely making the sacraments present. By being a spiritual father to his parish, he represents the fatherhood of God to them in a way that no parish administrator or lay minister can do.

In Latin America, there are many places where one priest serves a parish the size of some US states and can only get to some of them once per month to celebrate Mass, not always on a Sunday. It’s also true in Asia and Africa. They seem to be able to deal with a shortage of priests effectively without confusing vocational roles, so why can’t First World countries do so? I’m not saying the Third World model is ideal, but it’s better than debasing the priesthood to irrelevance.

In 1997, the Vatican issued the document Ecclesiae de mysterio, subtitled: “On certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the Sacred ministry of the priest.” It details the common priesthood of the faithful and how that differs from the ministerial priesthood, the indispensable role of the priesthood, and how laypeople can work with priests without substituting for them.

There is no denying that there was a certain excess of clericalism in the past such that all matters of faith and evangelization were left too much to clergy, but now we are seeing a swing of the pendulum too far, so that the uniqueness of the priesthood is being trampled by an excess of emphasis on the “gifts of all the baptized.”

Some conspiracy theorists may be tempted to ask if the decline in the number of priests was planned by someone’s agenda all along in order to set up the situation where we’d need laypeople, most likely women, to take over their “jobs.” I don’t know about that, but even if it wasn’t a conspiracy, it has the same effect.

Meanwhile, will parishes in London become like so many donut franchises with priests in some central Eucharist factory churning out the Blessed Sacrament in manufacturing Masses for distribution to all the little sacrament shops? Don’t laugh, it could happen.

  • Don’t laugh, indeed!  As the Bishop’s program Vibrant Parish Life (Cleveland Diocese) worked out in the sessions in my parish, this is about what was being proposed.  The concept held by the Eucharistic Minister at my table was that we can function quite nicely without priests.  The laity will simply take over.  When I reminded him that we are a sacramental faith and we need priests for the Sacraments, he dismissed my concern and refused to add it to the other concerns being raised by my small group for presentation to the larger body.

    Re conspiracy theory—I have no doubt that this is the work of the Chief Conspirator—the disembodied one who whispers in the ears of his cooperators in order to accomplish his purposes.

    Yes, we are a priestly people as Pope Paul VI told us.  But what that amounts to is that we can pray directly to God and He will listen.  We do not strictly require an intermediary who speaks for us.  Yet there is no denying the efficacy of the ordained priesthood who can speak in the Person of Christ Himself in pleading to the Father for the laity he cares for.  There is no substitution for the ordained priesthood.  The sacraments of Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Confirmation, and Holy Orders all require an ordained priest.  The laity cannot substitute, and when there are no priests, the laity must do without.

    To destroy the priesthood is to render us incabable of practicing the faith.  “Manufacturing Masses” are no substitute for parish priests!

  • I have never understood the popularity of the communion service.  If people are sick, they should be given communion.  If there is another parish within a few miles with mass people should go there.  If the parish wants a parish service on weekdays in the absence of the priest they should do lauds and vespers with a short message.

    Certainly on Sunday communion services should not be permitted where Catholics have access to a mass.

  • If there are not enough priests to say Mass in every parish, they need to shut some parishes down.  Parishes should not remain open without priests.

    People must connect these two ideas in a gut-feeling way:  get vocations, have a parish.

    I refuse to go to a Communion service.  We have them here occasionally but just a few miles away is a real Mass!  They are generally a show-off event for a layperson with an axe to grind……

  • How are communion services sliding by the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday?  Has there been some sort of dispensation granted?

  • My first thought was, “why not use deacons?”  But that’s the point.  Restoring the permanent diaconate was the previous scheme to address the “problem”.  Now they’re trying “lay ministers-in-residence”.

    If they’re already doing this now, how much worse will it be if married men are allowed to be ordained priests?  Will the continued lack of vocations encourage dioceses to reduce the standards of quality they have for ordinands?  Will the four-to-eight years of formation be reduced to a six-month certificate in diocesan ministry? Will married priests be allowed to keep their day jobs?  Will they get five weeks’ vacation and better pay?

    When will we wake up and realize that the problem is the failure of men and women to follow Christ on the Way of the Cross?  That the fact that we can find no dearth of women religious to pretend to be priests is because they don’t want to do the harder work of taking care of little ones all day, or nursing the sick, or living in poverty?  That the fact that we can’t find men (married or otherwise) willing to stand for ministry under whatever conditions the Church declares is, again, because the Church requires her ministers to carry the Cross?  I would gladly be a deacon if I could a) marry after ordination and b) stick to preaching the homily and the Gospel, and avoid having to obey anyone, or serve any widows and orphans, poor, sick or homebound, at least when I’m tired or reading Bettnet.  My terms!  We’ll all happily live Jesus’s life, except for 40 days in the desert and one stretch of time from a Thursday to a Saturday.  Yet what fun would there be in being Catholic without Lent and Holy Week? 

    Heart!  Heart!  I’m talking to you, heart!  Heart, on the Cross! 

  • Carrie, as priests the laity can offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.  The supreme example of this is when we offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to the Father!  For it is not merely the ordained priest who offers the Sacrifice, but all the faithful with him.  This is why we assist at Mass, not merely attend it. 

    Communion is a wonderful rite, but it is only the merest fraction (no pun intended) of the entirety of the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.  Without a consecrated, ordained priest, we the common priesthood of the faithful are severly limited in our own priestly functions. 

    So say to your fellow priests in Cleveland: “fulfill thy ministry”! 

  • Sadly, this doesn’t surprise me. I think Cormac has been working towards this for some time. He is pretty rubbish at taking real, hard decisions such as closing parishes. In UK this ‘shortage’ of priests still works out at one priest for every 780 laity – not good but not bad either. The issue is really, all those Parishes which were set up in the 60’s and 70;s (like my own) in the expectation of growing birth rates and a steady flow of vocations. As we now know; didn’t happen. So we have priests spread too thin (in London anyway).
    Better use could be made of the Permanent Diaconate. In some parishes they are used very well, in others it is not so good. There is also a certain resistance to Deacons in far too many parishes
    Cardinal Cormac is also expecting a flood of disenchanted Anglican Priests (married and otherwise) to cross the Tiber and help him out in the nick of time by reordaining in the Catholic Church.

    I don’t think that the Holy Father will endorse Cormac’s policy. Cormac will be 75 in about two years time. I would be surprised if Benedict turned down his request to retire. I expect our own Archbishop of Southwark (London south of Thames, and all Kent) Kevin McDonald, to get the job.

  • Will the lack of the Pope’s endorsement halt Cormac’s policy, or will he just go about doing his own thing claiming “collegiality” in the process, as some American bishops might?

  • (Irreverant part)I can see the commercial now:

    Tired priest staggers into the church: 

    Time to consecrate the hosts..

    Of course, we only talk of the celebration of the Holy Mass, and reception of Holy Eucharist.  Thus, once again, we forget about the Sacrement of Reconciliation.  What follows this???

    Confession on Wheels?
    Reconciliation Chat Instant Messaging?

    (Reverent Part)Of course, how many of us are truly in Communion with the Holy See to begin with? 

    Remember the precepts of the Church?  Here are a few:
    1.  To assist at Mass on Sundays an Holy Days of Obligation.
    3.  To confess ones sin’s at least once a year.
    4.  To receive the Holy Eucharist during Easter Time.


    Notice:  It doesn’t say Mass when you don’t have to travel more than 15 minutes, Communion from a lay person every week, & Confession NEVER!

    It’s MASS EVERY SUNDAY, CONFESSION ONCE A YEAR, EUCHARIST DURING EASTER!  This means Mass without Communion fulfills a precept, while Communion without Mass does not.

    Vivat Jesus!!!!

    P.S.  Don’t forget confession.  If you’ve not been in a year, NO COMMUNION!

    Now, was I redundant enough?

  • Aside:  Hey Carrie, I flew in and out of Cleveland last week.  Visited Maranatha Springs.  Interested in your take on “Holy Love”.

  • I don’t know if these failures of the church are part of a thought-out planned conspiracy, but I realize that we are now living in the apostacy which was preidicted in the Bible and also by Our Lady of Fatima in her revelations.
    We all have to pray.  Sincerely and with conviction. 
    And with hope.

  • Hi Dorothy! No, not a conspiracy; just fallable men at work as usual. grin

    Well, I hope that London doesn’t turn into some sort of Sacramental factory. But if this thinking is the result of the ‘At your Word’ programme that they are running up in Westminster Diocese then am I ever glad that Southwark passed on the opportunity! God Bless to you all.

  • This is the first I’ve heard of Maranatha Springs, though the name Maureen Sweeney has come up a time or two.

    The bishop’s statement appears to be reflected in this letter:

    http://www.apparitions.org/bishop/ch_1clev.gif which includes the comment “official diocesan stance is that Maureen Sweeney and the Holy Love Ministry have ‘no diocesan approval and are not recommended in any way.’ “

    Since the ministry is non-denominational, it would incur the condemnation of “indifferentism” and thus not be worthy of belief.  I hardly think Christ and the Blessed Virgin would be encouraging the faithful to believe that all churches are equal, meaning that there is nothing special about the Catholic Church.

    Personally, I wouldn’t go near it.

  • I accidentally deleted one of Carrie’s replies when I meant to click on the link to reply to it myself. Here is what she wrote:


    If this is the same as the program you are speaking of


    It’s the same package with a new name that we had in my old liberal parish that turned me into a refugee looking for a place to worship.  I think at one time it was called “Gift” at my former parish, and one similar to it had another name that I’ve forgotten.

    Whatever these programs are called, they seem to be generating the idea of house churches sans priest.  Pentecostalism/charismatic renewal will fit nicely into this picture.  Gnosticism will as well.  The sacraments won’t.  Ultimately we are talking about another church entirely if this ever gets moving and takes over.

    The history of the Early Church indicates this has been around since the beginning of Christianity, and has always been a problem for the Church of Christ to deal with.  It usually gets labeled “heresy.”  These days, what it’s being called is anybody’s guess.

  • Hello Dom, yes, exactly that programme.
    Wot it doing down here in Southwark? Must be because Parish is served by priests of the Canon Regulars Lateran ????!!!
    Yep, Cardinal Cormac has gone quite overboard for ‘At your Word, Lord’. When it first started (3 years ago) there were many unhappy people in Westminster. Accusations of parishes being ‘forced’ into the programme and much rumour of pressure being applied to ‘out-of-line’ priests and parishes. now everyone seems to have accepted it as a ‘done deal’.
    You might be right; a model of small groups (cell groups) without the priesthood being floated here.
    I don’t think it will be labelled as heresy by the Bishop’s Conference for England & Wales. more likely – a good move by management; and efficient use of resources grin

  • Renew.  Yup thatnbsp; In that context itnities.  In our parish, the pastor has two other jobs:  school teacher and university chaplain.  We do have communion services during the week on the days when Father is in school.  No one confuses them with the sacrifice of the Mass.

    “The Apollos Project is sponsored by Aquinas Institute in partnership with Lilly Endowment Inc., a private foundation based in Indianapolis, which awarded the school a $1.7 million grant.”

    Maybe sour grapes, but in our Archdiocese, part of the funding comes from a second collection held once a year.  The bulk of the funding comes from the deacon candidates themselves.

    “Catholics in the pews have become passive,” said Fr. Charles Bouchard, O.P., president of Aquinas Institute. “They are accustomed to having priests provided for them. This project should remind each of us that the Church belongs to every Catholic, and we must concern ourselves with identifying and supporting lay leaders who will work collaboratively with priests to keep our parishes viable and spiritually nourishing.”

    It’s worth mentioning that when the local daily newspaper contacted Archbishop Burke about this, he responded that none of the parishes had contacted him about it.  With good reason.  He would never go for it.

  • His views on homosexuality and the Church are equally enlightening.  Papa Ratzi, please send this Prince of the Church to the pasture where Thomas Reese grazes.