Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The Pope on the role of bishops and priests **updated**

In some remarks to the French bishops, the Pope had some important things to say on providing access to the Traditional Mass, the importance of vocations, and the pastoral role of bishops in relation to their priests.

Summorum Pontificum

Some traditionalists have gone into a bit of a tailspin, putting a narrow and negative interpretation on the comments the Pope made on the plane to France, urging tolerance of traditionalist aspirations which I've previously reported on. There can be no doubt however about the strong message he is sending here to the bishops, which amounts to, just do it! He said:

"Liturgical worship is the supreme expression of priestly and episcopal life, just as it is of catechetical teaching. Your duty to sanctify the faithful people, dear Brothers, is indispensable for the growth of the Church.

In the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, I was led to set out the conditions in which this duty is to be exercised, with regard to the possibility of using the missal of Blessed John XXIII (1962) in addition to that of Pope Paul VI (1970).

Some fruits of these new arrangements have already been seen, and I hope that, thanks be to God, the necessary pacification of spirits is already taking place. I am aware of your difficulties, but I do not doubt that, within a reasonable time, you can find solutions satisfactory for all, lest the seamless tunic of Christ be further torn.

Everyone has a place in the Church. Every person, without exception, should be able to feel at home, and never rejected. God, who loves all men and women and wishes none to be lost, entrusts us with this mission by appointing us shepherds of his sheep. We can only thank him for the honour and the trust that he has placed in us. Let us therefore strive always to be servants of unity!"

Priests are essential

He also reiterated the central role of the priest in the Church:

"It can never be said often enough that the priesthood is indispensable to the Church, for it is at the service of the laity. Priests are a gift from God for the Church. Where their specific missions are concerned, priests cannot delegate their functions to the faithful."

He urged priests and bishops to do their best to foster priestly and religious vocations, even if there are no immediate results - he used the analogy of Peter fishing all night and getting no bites until the Lord came.

Bishops must help priests live up to their vocation

But I think the most important thing in these remarks relates to the active role bishops should play in the lives of their priests. He said:

"Dear Brothers in the episcopate, I urge you to continue helping your priests to live in profound union with Christ.

Their spiritual life is the foundation of their apostolic life. You will gently exhort them to daily prayer and to the worthy celebration of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation, as Saint Francis de Sales did for his priests.

Every priest should be able to feel happiness in serving the Church. In the school of the Curé d’Ars, a son of your land and patron of pastors throughout the world, constantly reiterate that the greatest thing a man can do is to give the body and blood of Christ to the faithful and to forgive their sins.

Seek to be attentive to their human, intellectual and spiritual formation, and to their means of subsistence.

Try, despite the weight of your onerous tasks, to meet them regularly and know how to receive them as brothers and friends (cf. Lumen Gentium, 28; Christus Dominus, 16).

Priests need your affection, your encouragement and your solicitude. Be close to them and have particular care for those who are in difficulties, sick or elderly (cf. Christus Dominus, 16). Do not forget that they are – as the Second Vatican Council teaches, quoting the magnificent expression used by Saint Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Magnesians – “the spiritual crown of the Bishop” (Lumen Gentium, 41)."

***update**The bishops respond....?

The Pope's remarks seem to have fallen on fairly unreceptive ears. Cardinal Vingt-Trois, bishop of Pris and President of the French episcopal conference reportedly said (in La Croix, via Rorate Caeli):

"...the relationship between the pope and the bishops "is not a servile relationship of subordination".

The relationship of the pope with the bishops is not a boss/employee relationship (true. But the obedience owed to Peter is rather stronger than a subordinate owes to a boss!). He is not the CEO of a multinational corporation who is coming to visit a branch office. We have welcomed him and listened to him as a brother who has come to reinforce the faith of those with whom he works and with whom he is in communion. We are in a relationship of communion, of affection, and of collaboration. (ahh, collegiality. When will the heretical version of it finally die? It just needs an extra word to be a correct statement - namely obedience.) And when we have things to say to him, we say them."

I suppose one has to give the French points for honesty and sheer gall (pun intended) - preferable in my view to those who say one thing but do another. Still, no wonder the Church in France is in such dire straits....Perhaps there is a case after all for that French tradition borne of laicisme associated with Madame La Guillotine!


Marty said...

A very good Pastoral visit from B16. Probably one of the most important visits in the last 50 or so years.
I just can't get over the blatant disrespect of the French Bishops though....Just shows how stuffed France really is.
We should always look to France to get a feeling of reflection of how the Church is doing and..well...yeah.

Peter said...

Perhaps Pope Benedict can borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill:

"the heaviest cross I have to bear is the cross of Lorraine".