200th post – reflections on expressing faith and devotion in the liturgy

This post is the 200th post on this blog, and mostly coincidentally, there have been to date a total of 400 comments on 80 of those posts — thank you to all who have contributed to various discussions!

I have noticed in celebrating liturgy myself, and observing it celebrated in various places, that celebrating the Mass and other sacraments with actual, evidenced faith and devotion, and showing noticeably attention to the meaning of what one is saying, is a significant factor in disposing persons to participate in the liturgy with their hearts and minds, and to gain the most fruit from it. Although the celebration of the Eucharist, as a sacrament efficacious ex opere operato, when validly celebrated confers grace regardless of the holiness or devotion of the priest celebrating it, more grace is received according as the recipient is better disposed to receive it. And the manifestation of the priest's celebrating Mass with faith and devotion contributes a great deal to helping the persons attending the Mass to be disposed to celebrate well and receive the grace of the Mass. Unfortunately many priests give the impression of just getting through with the job of reciting their parts, at any rate, do not clearly manifest faith in and awe for the mysteries they celebrate. This is not a judgment or even an opinion about their habitual or even hidden actual faith with which they celebrate, but only about its visibility or lack thereof.

On this general point there might even be some general agreement between those who favor traditional celebration of the liturgy in Latin (preferably according to the usus antiquior), and those who favor the celebration of the liturgy in the vernacular and with practices that more readily allow the manifestation of personal faith and devotion (e.g., the use of free formulations where they are allowed, as they can more readily manifest actual personal faith than formulations given in advance can). The disagreement regarding this point, I think, mostly concerns one of two things:

(1) There is disagreement concerning the relative importance of the liturgy's disposing the people attending liturgy to acts of faith and devotion in comparison with its objective suitability to express the mystery being celebrated; some would hold that the objective suitability is much more important, and therefore adaptions, including almost all of the changes made in developing the Novus Ordo of the Mass, are at best tolerable for the sake of persons indisposed to appreciate the traditional Latin Mass; others would hold that the suitability of the liturgy to dispose the people present to partake with their mind and heart is by far the most important thing.

(2) There is disagreement regarding the way in which faith and devotion is best or most surely manifested. Some are of the opinion that actual faith and devotion is manifested precisely in the observance of relatively detailed rubrics such as those prescribed for the Traditional Latin Mass; the idea seems to be that only genuine and actual devotion will keep someone carefully following all of those rubrics rather than sloppily or carelessly celebrating the Mass. Others are of the opinion that actual faith and devotion is manifested especially through gestures, facial expressions, tones of voice, and the like; that though faith and devotion are not emotions, they are especially revealed in a manner quite similar to other emotions, through tone of voice and body language.

I have a lot of sympathy for the positions taken on both sides of these issues, and do not simply side with one over the other. It would not be possibly for me to do so honestly, and in any case my more greater concern is to help those on either side of such disagreements to better appreciate the true and valid points of those on the opposite side.

What occasioned these reflections now was my attending an ordination where the bishop towards the end of his homily remarked that it is ineffective to proclaim the Good News, the Gospel, with joyless faces. Yet, he himself did not really show joy in his face at any point of the liturgy, not even while speaking about the Church's joy on the occasion, but was formal and stiff, except where he showed vigor and sternness in attacking ignorance and errors regarding the priesthood that were prevalent in the late 60s, when he entered the seminary, and are still present today. The dissonance at that point between his statements about joy and the lack of joy on his face was so great it was somewhat humorous, though still somewhat saddening.

Priestly Motto

“The greatest of these is love!” (1 Cor 13:13)

Each Christian has his or her own gifts and vocation in the Church. But it is love alone that gives life to our vocation and makes it bear fruit. This verse, which I have chosen as a motto for my priestly min­istry, designates the priesthood as a service of love, a ministry springing from love and aiming at love. As a priest I am called to make visible the saving love of Christ in the Christian community, to accompany and assist all in living their vocation to love.

Priestly Ordination

On the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, June 15, 2012, I was ordained to the priesthood by  Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, together with five other men, in St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna.

6 new priests, with cardinal Schönborn and the rectors and religious superior.

More photos and downloads are available at www.priesterweihe.at.

Please say a prayer in thanksgiving for the grace of this vocation, and that the Lord make us holy and good instruments of his work!

Garrigou-Lagrange & Communicating Under Both Species

St. Alphonsus thinks it not improbable that more grace is given in Holy Communion under both species, and all theologians agree that if the ardour of charity is increased by receiving the second species, then greater grace is conferred accidentally by reason of the better disposition. Therefore a layman who wants to become a priest in order to communicate under both species so as to receive this greater grace is not to be dissuaded. (Garrigou-Lagrange, The Priest in Union with Christ, "The Priest's Communion", emphasis added)

I'm not sure exactly why Garrigou-Lagrange draws this rather strange conclusion (I highly doubt that St. Alphonsus would hold it), but it's perhaps a sign of some problematic approachs or views in many modern scholastics: an ultra-formal way of speaking about things; in regard to the moral life, an excessive concern with tidily categorizing all kinds of actions; in regard to the priesthood and other sacraments, a tendency to over-reify (admittedly, this last tendency was not limited to scholastics, nor were all subject to it).

Also striking is that he draws this conclusion despite remarking that in general nothing is lost by the fact that people only receive Christ's body under the species of bread, and not the Sacred Blood.

"Nothing is lost by this (that is, by the body being received by the people without the blood): because the priest both offers and receives the blood in the name of all, and the whole Christ is present under either species" (Summa Theologiae, III, q. 80, a. 12, ad 3). Under the species of bread there is also present, by concomitance, the precious blood. Thus the faithful are not deprived of any notable grace, and a fervent Communion under one species is far more fruitful than a tepid Communion received under both species.

Ratzinger et al. called for reexamination of clerical celibacy

I've translated the 1970 letter of Ratzinger and eight other theologians to the German bishops, which was republished in Pipeline 2/2010, under the title "A reminder to the signatories" (Den Unterfertigten zur Erinnerung), and which has been in a number of newspapers in the past few days.

Some of the parts of the letter that the newspapers for some reason or other aren't citing… :

I. … We are convinced that the freely chosen state of remaining unmarried in the sense of Matthew 19 not only presents a meaningful possibility of christian existence, one which is at all times indispensable for the Church as a sign of its eschatological character, but that there are also good theological grounds for the connection of the freely chosen unmarried state and the priestly office, since this office brings the officeholder definitively and completely into the service of Christ and his Church. In this sense we affirm what was recently said in the “Letter of the German Bishops on the Priestly Office” (See n. 45, par 4; n. 53, par 2). And in this sense we are also convinced that whatever the outcome of the discussion, the unmarried priesthood will remain an essential form of the priesthood in the Latin Church.

V…

Such a positive stocktaking and working through of the problem must also occur because the reality of celibacy itself in the conditions of present-day publicity and society must be presented in an understandable and meaningful manner—so far as possible—granting all knowledge of very clear limits of this endeavor. It will remain a “scandal”, but this does not excuse one from promoting and recommending it with the best reasons, in the event that an examination is seriously undertaken and can arrive at positive results (see above, section 1). If we know that celibacy is primarily a fruit of spiritual experience, we must still, as representatives of the science of theology, draw attention to this positive, clarifying, and unavoidable function of an examination.

Read the whole letter

Empirical Comparison of Celibate and Married Clergy

In the article "Religious Differences Between Married and Celibate Clergy: Does Celibacy Make a Difference?" in Sociology of Religion (1998) (full text available to members of subscribing libraries or universities), Don Swenson attempts to make an empirical argument against some of the reasons advanced by the Church for clerical celibacy. While the experiment itself is poorly constructed to the point of being ludicrous, the idea is an interesting one, and I am of the opinion that this sort of empirical study could be profitably employed more within the Church (as it often is within large organizations).

Basically the idea of the study was to take a sample of married clergy and a sample of celibate clergy, measure devotion to Christ (religiosity) and the ability to devote oneself to parishioners, and see whether there is a significant statistical difference between the married and celibate clergy. Devotion to Christ was measured through responses made to questions about "thanking, talking to, loving, taking time with, worshiping, feeling close to and listening to God, reflecting on the Bible, acting on what I believe God is saying, achieving insights in prayer, sensing a divine presence, and experiencing peace" and the time spent in prayer. The ability to devote oneself to parishioners was measured by the amount of time spent in ministry.

The responses to the survey indicated that "there was no significant difference regarding MEDITATION [measuring religiosity and devotion to Christ] and PASTORAL COMMITMENT", while the priests spent more time in prayer and prayed more frequently than the married, evangelical clergy. The author argues that the "experiential religiosity" which the study aimed to measure is a better measure of devotion to Christ, and thus there was no significant difference between the two groups in terms of that devotion.

While the stated conclusion, "The results of this study are substantially consistent with the hypothesis that there are no significant differences in dimensions of religiosity and parochial commitments between celibate priests and married clergy" (emphasis added) is formally true, it is also true that the results of the study do not significantly support that hypothesis. The practical conclusion of the paper, "The implications of this study are that there is some empirical basis to argue for a change in the present law of clerical celibacy. In regards to one's devotional life and time for ministry, celibacy does not appear to matter" is therefore unwarranted. (Update: It was also pointed out in a comment that the study indicates that unmarried clergy spend more time in prayer and pray more frequently, and that this is itself in fact a reason for clergy to remain celibate, a point that the study ignored, as though prayer was of no value — or at least, that the question of prayer was basically irrelevant for the life of clergy.)

The study, in fact, has several glaring problems of which the author is apparently heedless. The two groups of clergy differed in multiple significant ways other than being celibate or married: (1) the one group was evangelical, the other Catholic (this was apparently the actual principle of division, since one group seems to have included all evangelical pastors, whether married or celibate). (2) One group (the evangelical) was taken as a sample from all over Canada, the other from only two dioceses. (3) The average age of the evangelical ministers was 44, while that of the priests was 60, a difference that the author points out, then proceeds to ignore. Lesser, though still significant problems, are that the response rate of priests was significantly lower than that of evangelical ministers, and that the total number of responses from priests was 80.

Was the author of the study clueless about what is necessary in order to establish a general statistical relationship? Or was he blinded by a bias with which he approached the study? It is not possible to say. But one thing is clear. If this kind of evidence is to be used to propose a change in the Latin or in the Oriental discipline, it should be collected much more soundly.

Year for Priests

As many readers may know, last Friday, the feast of the Sacred Heart, began the year for priests, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the patron saint of parish priests, John Marie Vianney's birth into heaven. (It was entirely by coincidence that priestly ordinations here were on the same date; the ordinations were scheduled before the announcement of the year for priests.) Both in his letter proclaiming the year for priests, and in his homily on the opening day, he cited the saint's words, "The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus," words which reveal the tremendous gift of the priesthood, "tremendous" both in its original sense of awe-inspiring, and in its present sense of great.

As the Pauline year draws to a close, Pope Benedict drew a connection between St. Paul and St. John Marie Vianney: To let oneself be totally won over by Christ! "This was the purpose of the whole life of St. Paul… the goal of the entire ministry of the Holy Curé d'Ars." The effective ministry of priests depends not in the first rank upon study, upon pastoral or theological formation, but upon the "knowledge of love," the knowledge that is learned in the heart to heart encounter with Christ

The Church needs holy priests; ministers who can help the faithful to experience the merciful love of the Lord and who are his convinced witnesses. In the Eucharistic Adoration that will follow the celebration of Vespers, let us ask the Lord to set the heart of every priest on fire with that "pastoral charity" which can enable him to assimilate his personal "I" into that Jesus the High Priest, so that he may be able to imitate Jesus in the most complete self-giving.

The Congregation for the clergy has also set up a special website for the Year for Priests: www.annussacerdotalis.org

Priestly vocation, holiness and service

Can the desire "to become perfect," to grow in holiness, be one's motivation for being ordained a priest? On first consideration, this might seem totally inappropriate, as the priesthood is not given in the first place for a man's personal perfection, but in order for him to serve Christ, as his representative. Thus, St. Alphonsus Ligouri, while he describes the right motivation for religious life as "to bind oneself more closely to God, or to correct the transgressions of one's past life, or to fly from the dangers of the world," describes the right motivation that is a sign of a vocation to the priesthood differently, saying that one should desire "to serve God, to spread his glory and to save souls."

This difference between religious life and priesthood, namely that religious life is directly ordered to a personal and real conformity with Christ, to perfection in love of Christ, and thereby to the service of the community and building up the Church in love, while the priesthood is directly ordered to a sacramental and representative conformity to Christ, to the service of the community in Christ's name, is a real difference, and does imply that one's motivation for the priesthood in a certain sense cannot be primarily for one's personal perfection in the Christian life.

However, this sharp division (personal perfection in Christian life, service of the Church, etc.) is not the concrete way in which a vocation is usually experienced. The Apostles did not know in all specificity what they were being called to when Christ said, "Come, follow me." They were attracted by his person or inspired by his mission, and they followed him both to be with him and to accompany him on his mission. In most cases, a person perceiving a vocation cannot define his motivation to embrace that way of life in terms of a very precise single goal. He chooses the way of life as a whole, with all that is included in it.

Now, is a special call to perfection included in the priesthood? It is. John Paul II, in Pastores Dabo Vobis, says that priests "are called not only because they have been baptized, but also and specifically because they are priests, that is, under a new title and in new and different ways deriving from the sacrament of holy orders" (n. 19). And Vatican II says, "Since every priest in his own way represents the person of Christ himself, he is endowed with a special grace. By this grace the priest, through his service of the people committed to his care and all the People of God, is able the better to pursue the perfection of Christ, whose place he takes" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 12). The awareness of this special calling and grace, often concretized by experience of holy priests, can be included in the discernment and decision to offer oneself for the priesthood, to seek ordination. Whatever the special aspects of priestly life that initially attract one to it, what is essential is that it be embraced in its totality. E.g., one person might, prior to any thought of the priesthood, be drawn to celibacy, to devote his life to the things of God, and through this desire come to desire the priesthood in particular. Another person might not at first be particularly drawn to celibacy, and first find his vocation to it in his desire to serve others in the ministerial priesthood, which in the Roman Rite is connected with celibacy. (In this latter case it is nonetheless important that he come to appreciate the proper value of celibacy and to embrace it freely, and not only as a extra obligation he has to submit to in order to be a priest. But that's matter for another post.) Similarly, the "path to perfection" of the priesthood might be for one person an important aspect of his initial aspect desire for it, while for another person it is not, and only in his desire for and commitment to living a good priestly life that he sees in that way of life his path to perfection.

Related: Priesthood and Perfection and The Priest in Union with Christ by Garrigou-Lagrange