Friday, 24 February 2012

Neo-clericalism and Lent

There is a great article over at First Things by George Weigel (yes I do like some of his stuff!) on the problem of clerical narcissism. 

The effects of priestly narcissism, as others have pointed out can take many forms.  It is one of the roots of the abuse problems that have infiltrated the Church, but also manifests its effects in many other destructive ways.

And the solutions, as an article just out by the excellent Dawn Eden suggests, need to go beyond addressing the immediate short term solutions if we are truly to bring healing first the Church, and then to society more broadly.  Ms Eden advocates the adoption of a 'theology of suffering' that leads to the embrace of the Cross that we can see reflected in the lives of the saints, and drawn out for us in a series of catecheses by the Holy Father. 

That sentiment fits neatly with today's Matin's readings, which remind us that it is not enough to not hate our enemies, but rather we are required to do the perfect, and actually love them.

Do the red, say the black (and no ad libs please!)

Weigel puts his piece in the context of Lent by suggesting that Lent is a time when we struggle with ourselves, when we should be trying to put bad habits to rest.  And so he particularly invites priests to make a resolution to 'do the red and say the black' - and quit with the ad libs and random variations on the texts set for Mass.

It is a call that I for one would strongly endorse!

I actually ended up going to my local parish Mass on Ash Wednesday, and it was actually quite well attended (9am not being a problem for a predominantly elderly congregation I guess).  Not only did we get a series of casual ad libs disrupting the flow of the Mass, but for a moment I thought we were in danger of getting an invalid sacramental (at least I assume it's one reserved to priests, but these days who knows...!), as the priest sought potential laypersons to distribute the ashes (fortunately he perhaps realised in time why no one would admit to having done it before and decided to do it himself)!

But the problem I think goes beyond the words and rubrics of the Mass and associated rituals, and to a broader question of attitude.  It goes to this question: do parish priests and community chaplains actually see their main task as helping the laity in their charge get to heaven?  Because it has to be said, many of them don't seem to act as if that were their preoccupation! 

The origins of priestly narcissism

Weigel's article suggests that the roots of modern priestly narcissism lie in the priest facing the people rather than saying the Mass facing the same way as the people, towards the altar.  There is certainly something to that!

When you deliberately move the tabernacle out of the central place in a Church, and install mini-thrones for the priest to sit on where it used to be instead; when you make the priest the centre of attention rather than the ritual itself; when you provide multiple options for how a mass can be said so that each celebration of it has chances for invention, you have an obvious recipe for disaster. 

When you lose the idea of the sacrifice as the central element of the Mass and substitute instead some pseudo-psychology about community building, it should be no surprise that things fall apart.

To many traditionalists of course this problem has long been obvious, one of the key reasons for EF communities existing.   But there can be a problem in overreaction in the opposite direction as well: the problem with errors is that they do not just affect those caught up in them, but their infection spreads in subtle ways.

Genuine outreach

Dawn Eden's article focuses on solutions in the 'theology of suffering' being promoted by Pope Benedict XVI.  She points out that for all of the discussion on the victims of sexual abuse, and all the aid to victims, very little has been done by way of outreach aimed at helping those victims - whether of priests or parents or others - to return to full life in the Church.

Yet Pope Benedict XVI, she argues, has put before us the examples of saints like St St. Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947), "...who was kidnapped as a child, sold into slavery, and forced to undergo brutal “tattoos” that left her with 144 scars, resonates deeply with victims of childhood sexual abuse."

Eden argues that 'the greatest sufferings of abuse victims are not physical, nor even psychological. They are spiritual..".  She suggests that:

"There is a slavery of external chains, and there is a slavery of the heart. Many victims of childhood sexual abuse, long after the threat is gone, remain shackled by the weight of resentment. Benedict, speaking in his current series of Wednesday catechesis on prayer, observes that man needs to be saved from the sorrow and bitterness that cause him to forsake God. For this liberation to take effect, “transformation from within is necessary, some foothold of goodness, a beginning from which to start out in order to change evil into good, hatred into love, revenge into forgiveness.”

The theology of saints helps those who have suffered childhood sexual abuse find that “foothold of goodness” through the witness of those who, after experiencing the deepest sorrows, were yet able to turn their eyes toward heaven and be saved."

Similar principles apply, I think to other, less well recognised forms of abuse.  Do go and read the whole piece, and perhaps add your prayers to this cause this first Friday in Lent!


Antonia Romanesca said...

I did notice at a Cathedral a couple of years back, that the Ashes were given out by laity and that those chosen seemed frightfully pleased [beaming], which did make me wonder if something rather risque was occurring! [As in 'we are getting away with this!'] The Administrator of that Cathedral is an ultra-Dissenter, so I guess the above occurrence is no coincidence. I could not see that the numbers attending were so huge that the priest needed 'special help' from the laity. Does this make one a narrow minded fuddie duddie? It certainly felt like 'the thin edge of the wedge'.

A Canberra Observer said...

I attended the Canberra Cathedral this Ash Wednesday.
The Archbishop was the celebrant.
3 acolytes assisted with the distribution of ashes, and with the distribution of Holy Communion. These was quite a large crowd.

By the by, the Archbishop3 also couldn't seem to help himself from a little ad libbing at the very beginning of Mass. I guess it has become so ingrained.

In the Australian church I think the concept that the priest is doing something quintessentially sacerdotal in these situations has been so completely lost that it will take a long time to get it back. The rot began with lay readers 40 40 years ago.

And while I support the principle of the new translation from the accuracy point of view, having seen it in action for a while I don't think they achieved a very satisfying product to speak or hear.

A Canberra Observer said...

On your other points, yes I do think the effects spread in strange ways, perchance even into the EF communities you suggest exist as a reaction to the enthroned presider of the OF.

Bernie said...

According to Bishop Peter Elliott's 'Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year', 'Priests and deacons normally impart this sacramental, but instituted acolytes, other extraordinary ministers or designated lay people may be delegated to impart ashes, if the bishop judges that this is necessary.' (pp. 94-95)

The priest in any case has already blessed the ashes, so presumably this would suffice for 'validity' of the sacramental.