Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Addressing the priest shortage, Part IV: Concrete measures

So I want to continue today with my series on what to do about the priest shortage.

The first step, I suggested was to accept that drastic, not incremental, change in the way we do things is needed.  The second is to build the case for change - put together the real picture of where we are compared to be where we want to be, and build support for the mission of the Church entrusted to it by Our Lord.

Building support

That second stage is vitally important.  It is really only by knowing what we are trying to achieve that you can design strategies and test them out to see what works.

Even more important is building a cohesive group of people who will back their bishops and priests who are trying to make the changes required to help counterbalance the naysayers. 

There will always be opposition to any significant change, no matter what it is. 

From priests and  people who are just set in their ways and so don't want to put in the effort to learn a new set of words for the Mass for example. 

From priests who see their power over the words and ability to ad lib their way through the mass as part of the 'pay off' of their position. 

Or from priests and people who are ideologically committed to a Church that is not Catholic in any real sense at all.

Incremental change as tools in moving forward

But the best approach to change is not just to talk about it, but actually do it.  Put in small, relatively concrete changes at first, and build up.

The changes you put into play first should not necessarily be the most important in terms of achieving your final objective.  Rather they should be things that help build support for change and provide ways of getting buy in.  A good example is the workshops being run around the country on new musical settings of the (new) mass translations - they may only involve a small number of people, but they are people who are active in their communities, and will have a vested interest in its implementation.

So what are the concrete changes that can be made that make a difference when it comes to priestly vocations?

Active discipleship

The first and most obvious point is that while you eventually have to focus on young men, vocations are a product of a community, not just an individual. 

While the odd person may be prepared to swim against the tide, if you want lots of vocations you have to create fervent communities.  You need existing priests to present themselves as a desirable role models; communities to value their priests; and parents, siblings and friends to support their decision.

And there are measures that can address the current problem that have been shown to work elsewhere.

An integrated strategy

I suggested above that you need to start from what you are trying to achieve and work backwards in terms of developing your strategy.

If you want to make sure that all those baptised are properly catechesized for example, then you probably need to have a system for regular follow up visits to parents.

You need to look at the quality of school RE programs, and the orthodoxy of those who run them.

But those kinds of things require resources and effort that may not make them the right place to start.

So where do you start?

1.  Institute regular Adoration. One of the most important things to do seems to be instituting regular, prolonged periods of Adoration (accompanied by appropriate catechesis to avoid the unfortunate phenomena I saw recently of altar girls and their parents not even bothering to genuflect or even bow to the exposed blessed sacrament as they busily prepared for mass...).  All the evidence is, it gets results...

Reassert priestly identity

Probably the other most important thing to tackle in my view are the subtle things that go to priestly identity.

Priests must sacrifice so much.  That sacrifice needs to be acknowledged.  And made something of - the right something of.

2.  Clerical clothing.  We need our priests to be proud to wear a collar or ideally a soutane!  To stand up and be witnesses in their very dress for the faith.  They will cop some flack from some.  But that should be regarded as a positive, a form of witness that in turns calls out courage from others.

3&4.  Conversely, get rid of those thrones sitting where the tabernacle should be and reintroduce ad orientem celebration!  There are a whole lot of features of the current design of churches and norms at a novus ordo mass that must surely discourage those who are not extroverts from becoming a priest, and positively encourage clericalism and narcissism.  The thronelike chairs perched up high where once the tabernacle sat in churches that invite the congregation to look  at the priest rather than focus on the sacrifice of Christ is one of them.  So too versus populum celebration - led the priest lead the people and face God together.

5.  No Altar girls.  Let us leave aside all the general arguments on this subject and just focus on simple sociology for the moment.  It is an observed reality that, despite modern ideology, men and women rarely participate equally in the same activities in the same way.  Workplaces, for example, rarely have fifty:fifty male to female ratios - they inevitably end up skewed towards one or the other (hence the need for the current equal pay case for female dominated professions).  So let in the girls, and the boys tend to drop out.  Yet it is the boys who need to be encouraged here...

6&7.  Get rid of extraordinary ministers of communion and encourage communion on the tongue.  Reassert that clerical hands only should touch the Eucharist - so encourage communion on the tongue via catechesis; cut out communion in both kinds except for the rare cases actually suggested in Sacrosanctum Concilium (such as monastic professions and ordinations); and spend the extra few minutes that it takes for the priest to distribute communion - a few extra minutes won't kill the congregation and quiet time for reflection at this point of the mass is entirely appropriate!

8.  Have all priests learn to say Mass in the Extraordinary Form.  Most will not want to say it on an ongoing basis perhaps.  But they should know the Masses permissible to their rite.  And there is a lot of anecdotal evidence at least that training in the Extraordinary Form affects how priests think about and approach the Ordinary Form.

There is of course nothing particularly original about this list, or particularly radical - it is pretty much lifted from the 'reform of the reform' agenda.  But there is a reason that agenda has the shape it does!

The problem of course is that most of these things aren't under the control of the laity.  Some - even most - of them will be hard to persuade certain priests to do, and congregations to accept. 

In the end it all comes down to leadership.

Bishops can lead by example.  They can encourage, persuade, cajole and ultimately legislate and enforce.

Groups of priests can get together and agree to act. 

And we can all pray, lobby and support.

Step three...

So the third stage in making change is finding the tools that help you make the changes in the right direction - the concrete steps that help change thinking and move us in the right direction.  There are obviously many more things that could be added to the list above in this regard.  But hopefully that is enough to get started with!

And you can read more on where this all takes us in the next part that concludes this series.


A Canberra Observer said...

RE: Extraordinary ministers and 'saving time' at Mass. From my observation I actually doubt if they do save time unless the congregation is very large. With smaller numbers I think that the quasi ceremonial of separate distribution to the EMs, invariably including the chalice, soaks up a substantial amount of time while the rest of the congregation look on.

RE: 'altar girls' it is my personal opinion that this disciplinary lapse by Pope John Paul II was probably the most egregious error of his pontificate.

GWB said...

Kate, your points are well taken. The line "so too versus populum celebration" (end of point #3)really deserves a discussion all by itself. Versus populum denotes the priest as presider, only slightly different than the laity. Ad Orientem denotes the priest as Priest, consecrated to offer sacrifice for himself and the people.
Basically, what you point out, and I agree completely, is that we have to go back to Tradition and jettison the innovations inspired by that revolutionary "spirit of VII". The massive change in lex orandi, lex credendi we have been subjected to is the major, if not the sole, cause for the state Catholicism finds itself in today. We need to hope and pray for a return to the basics. Please God!

Kate said...

GWB - You are quite right about ad orientem, so I've amended ti to make it clearer.

MC Man said...

I think all priests should learn to say Mass in both the EF and OF forms of the Roman Rite and that includes "traditional priests" they are both valid forms of the Mass that way they can serve all Catholics of the Roman Rite.

Kate said...

MC Man - I agree all Latin rite priests should know how to say the OF - but surely, just as we don't force priests to say the EF we shouldn't force them to say the OF?

The issue is not (for most at least) validity, but desirability.

Most traditional priests think the OF is inadequate in its theology, harder to make reverent, and thus does not encourage catholic practice. I tend to agree.

And if there is a shortage of priests, there is nothing to stop people attending the EF mass when no OF is available...