Sacramentum Caritatis 24: The Eucharist and Priestly Celibacy

Many Catholics find the celibacy discussion tiring not because they oppose it, but often enough because certain folk seem to overstate the case for it. Or stir up confusion in its application, be it same-sex attracted, ordained persons, or Eastern Christians.

People are right to critique the modern world for a certain obsession with sex. The Church is hampered by it too, though not quite in the same way.

Celibacy is a good thing, and in its oldest organized form, was a monastic discipline. Seminaries are set up to be quasi-monasteries. These days we ordain priests only to send them into a lonely eremitic lifestyle. Not exactly how they were formed to live. Let’s read a bit, then comment some more:

The Eucharist and priestly celibacy

24. The Synod Fathers wished to emphasize that the ministerial priesthood, through ordination, calls for complete configuration to Christ. While respecting the different practice and tradition of the Eastern Churches, there is a need to reaffirm the profound meaning of priestly celibacy, which is rightly considered a priceless treasure, and is also confirmed by the Eastern practice of choosing Bishops only from the ranks of the celibate. These Churches also greatly esteem the decision of many priests to embrace celibacy. This choice on the part of the priest expresses in a special way the dedication which conforms him to Christ and his exclusive offering of himself for the Kingdom of God. (Cf. Propositio 11)

And yet no mortal human can offer exclusivity to God. The priests I know and have known have friendships, hobbies, vacations, infatuations, days off–activities fruitful and sometimes indulgent and sometimes damaging. They come back from time off refreshed, energetic, and hopeful. An abbot would never allow a brother an exclusive focus he could not maintain in good spirits. Why diocesan clergy?

The fact that Christ himself, the eternal priest, lived his mission even to the sacrifice of the Cross in the state of virginity constitutes the sure point of reference for understanding the meaning of the tradition of the Latin Church. It is not sufficient to understand priestly celibacy in purely functional terms.

And yet, the function of celibacy is still an expectation. Young seminarians are expected to make that commitment, often in their early twenties. Celibate human beings need the support of a community. Saint Benedict knew this, and wrote it into a Rule.

Celibacy is really a special way of conforming oneself to Christ’s own way of life. This choice has first and foremost a nuptial meaning; it is a profound identification with the heart of Christ the Bridegroom who gives his life for his Bride.

This is a fine and valuable metaphor, but it does not always get lived out, especially by men who have little concept of what it means to be a bridegroom, except from primarily a child’s perspective in a larger family. Of course, that gets flipped because most lay people call most priests “father.” Not “husband.” A more helpful metaphor might be that of a shepherd.

In continuity with the great ecclesial tradition, with the Second Vatican Council (Cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 16) and with my predecessors in the papacy, (Cf. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia (1 August 1959); Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Sacerdotalis Coelibatus (24 June 1967); John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis 29; Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia (22 December 2006)) I reaffirm the beauty and the importance of a priestly life lived in celibacy as a sign expressing total and exclusive devotion to Christ, to the Church and to the Kingdom of God, and I therefore confirm that it remains obligatory in the Latin tradition. Priestly celibacy lived with maturity, joy and dedication is an immense blessing for the Church and for society itself.

With some exceptions not acknowledged here, we aren’t likely to see movement on this practice for at least a generation. Likely more.

This document is copyright © 2007 Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Sacramentum Caritatis 23: Eucharist and Holy Orders

This section and the three that follow treat the subject of The Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Obviously, an important link, especially for the author of the document, as it was his experience of the Eucharist for the majority of his life. We begin with a consideration of the presidency of the cleric as “in the person of Christ the head (of the Church),” or In persona Christi capitis. This is an ancient tradition of Christianity, and Pope Benedict spells out hcurch teaching faithfully and accurately:

23. The intrinsic relationship between the Eucharist and the sacrament of Holy Orders clearly emerges from Jesus’ own words in the Upper Room: “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). On the night before he died, Jesus instituted the Eucharist and at the same time established the priesthood of the New Covenant. He is priest, victim and altar: the mediator between God the Father and his people (cf. Hebrews 5:5-10), the victim of atonement (cf. 1 John 2:2, 4:10) who offers himself on the altar of the Cross. No one can say “this is my body” and “this is the cup of my blood” except in the name and in the person of Christ, the one high priest of the new and eternal Covenant (cf. Hebrews 8-9).

This isn’t to say the notion of an ordained priesthood, the image and presence of Christ, and the notion of ministry aren’t fodder for discussion. It happened early in the poast-conciliar years:

Earlier meetings of the Synod of Bishops had considered the question of the ordained priesthood, both with regard to the nature of the ministry (Cf. Synod of Bishops, Second General Assembly, Document on the Ministerial Priesthood Ultimis Temporibus (30 November 1971)) and the formation of candidates. (Cf. John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis 42-69)

Pope Benedict offers what is “given” in theology:

Here, in the light of the discussion that took place during the last Synod, I consider it important to recall several important points about the relationship between the sacrament of the Eucharist and Holy Orders. First of all, we need to stress once again that the connection between Holy Orders and the Eucharist is seen most clearly at Mass, when the Bishop or priest presides in the person of Christ the Head.

It might seem to go without saying, but the truth is that priests come in all sorts of sizes and flavors. Not every cleric emphasizes liturgy as the clearest personal expression of ministry. That’s not to say that more than a minority find the liturgy insignificant. Not every ordained person has the best gifts for worship.

Could lay people preside at the Eucharist in the absence of a priest? Here the answer is a decisive “no.”

The Church teaches that priestly ordination is the indispensable condition for the valid celebration of the Eucharist. (Cf. Lumen Gentium, 10; CDF, Letter on Certain Questions Concerning the Minister of the Eucharist Sacerdotium Ministeriale) Indeed, “in the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, High Priest of the redemptive sacrifice.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1548) Certainly the ordained minister also acts “in the name of the whole Church, when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the eucharistic sacrifice.” (Ibid., 1552)

What is occasionally missing from priestly ministry is a sense described here:

As a result, priests should be conscious of the fact that in their ministry they must never put themselves or their personal opinions in first place, but Jesus Christ. Any attempt to make themselves the center of the liturgical action contradicts their very identity as priests. The priest is above all a servant of others, and he must continually work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord’s hands.

Such centrality occurs regardless of rite, style, form where it is indulged. I’ve gotten into strong discussions for over two decades on various sites when I suggest the 1962 Missal or a traditionalist sensibility is any sort of a cure-all for priest-centered worship.

I want to draw out the four points of emphasis here:

This is seen particularly in his humility

  • in leading the liturgical assembly,
  • in obedience to the rite,
  • uniting himself to it in mind and heart,
  • and avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality.

Leadership suggests that the assembly takes its rightful role. Obedience, obviously, a faithfulness to the rubrics. Point three involves infusing a devotion to liturgy into one’s spiritual life. Personality expresses itself naturally in public places, Especially in leaders. It can be difficult, and here, introverts are not naturally immune to the challenges of public liturgical leadership. I could easily preach this to my lay colleagues, especially those in music. In fact, regardless of their favored genres, musicians might be the most vulnerable to a lack of humility.

I encourage the clergy always to see their eucharistic ministry as a humble service offered to Christ and his Church. The priesthood, as Saint Augustine said, is amoris officium, (Cf. In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, 123, 5) it is the office of the good shepherd, who offers his life for his sheep (cf. John 10:14-15).

Saint Augustine gets the last word. A good place to pause. Thoughts?

This document is copyright © 2007 Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Sacramentum Caritatis 22: Eucharist and Anointing

A few words on The Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick 

22. Jesus did not only send his disciples forth to heal the sick (cf. Matthew 10:8; Luke 9:2, 10:9); he also instituted a specific sacrament for them: the Anointing of the Sick. (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1499-1532)

Some reformers looked at the New Testament and fussed that Jesus didn’t explicitly institute in the written record. But we do know that the Lord focused much of his public ministry on healing. That should be enough of a connection for the modern Christian.

The Letter of James attests to the presence of this sacramental sign in the early Christian community (cf. 5:14-16). If the Eucharist shows how Christ’s sufferings and death have been transformed into love, the Anointing of the Sick, for its part, unites the sick with Christ’s self-offering for the salvation of all, so that they too, within the mystery of the communion of saints, can participate in the redemption of the world.

This is one of the more useful reflections in this document. The sick are not passive recipients of charity. They have a role in the saving mission of God. What might that mean for the individual believer? This is not an area well-studied in theology. It’s a matter of discernment, even if it is a quiet witness to the Gospel: praying for others and developing the charism of intercessory prayer.

A word on end-of-life:

The relationship between these two sacraments becomes clear in situations of serious illness: “In addition to the Anointing of the Sick, the Church offers those who are about to leave this life the Eucharist as viaticum.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1524) On their journey to the Father, communion in the Body and Blood of Christ appears as the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection: “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54). Since viaticum gives the sick a glimpse of the fullness of the Paschal Mystery, its administration should be readily provided for. (Cf. Propositio 44)

And a reminder that the care of the sick is a calling of the baptized. Not the clergy alone:

Attentive pastoral care shown to those who are ill brings great spiritual benefit to the entire community, since whatever we do to one of the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to Jesus himself (cf. Matthew 25:40).

This document is copyright © 2007 Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Messing Up Important Words

A social media friend posted somewhat negatively on this article from last week’s OSV. Another friend, a lay colleague in liturgy, commented:

It really is important that the priest gets the minimum words right! God’s mercy is not bound by the sacraments, but the guarantee of the Church’s ministry is. We take care to get the matter the Eucharist correct, why not also the words?

If I were a confessor, it would be a ministry to honor by taking great care. Not out of a sense of personal scrupulosity, but because of the gravity of the situation, even when the sins presented are venial. The words are important. There is no reason to vary from them.

I also wonder if Our Sunday Visitor was the wrong place for this essay. Maybe it belongs in this publication instead. Father VanBerkum acknowledges care might be needed in correcting a priest:

However, as with any time we correct one of our brothers in Christ, we must be sure to speak truly out of charity for the priest, which includes stopping to consider whether he is in an emotional and mental state to receive the correction in love.

I noticed from his byline he is a parochial vicar. I wonder about the reception of older priests when corrected by a younger colleague.

Anyway, a good thing to remind people about. Will it cause more good than harm?


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Sacramentum Caritatis 21: Pastoral Concerns

One would expect bishops to double down on the tried and true where Reconciliation is concerned. Pope Benedict devotes some attention to Some pastoral concerns. These include the usual suspects: forms and place for the sacrament, catechesis for it, and indulgences. Let’s read:

21. The Synod recalled that Bishops have the pastoral duty of promoting within their Dioceses a reinvigorated catechesis on the conversion born of the Eucharist, and of encouraging frequent confession among the faithful.

If people aren’t going to confession, is it really a failure of catechesis? The suggestion that believers can be “educated” into orthopraxis is easy to repeat, but is it really the route ahead? I have doubts.

A Church with fewer priests and more sacramental penitents would dramatically alter the workload of many clergy, especially the ones serving large parishes. A colleague once lamented few confessions. I pointed out his ideal of monthly celebration for three thousand eligible parishioners meant about a hundred a day. Two or three minutes each meant four hours, about half a workday. It would be worthwhile for serious Catholics, but would he be ready for that level of generosity and commitment? Maybe it turned out to be an occasion of sin for him–wishing his people didn’t swarm his confessional.

Pope Benedict also counseled competency:

All priests should dedicate themselves with generosity, commitment and competency to administering the sacrament of Reconciliation. (Cf. Propositio 7)


In this regard, it is important that the confessionals in our churches should be clearly visible expressions of the importance of this sacrament.

In a few parishes where I served, well-appointed reconciliation chapels were easy to locate near the church entrance.

We have the oft-repeated caution against form III:

I ask pastors to be vigilant with regard to the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation, and to limit the practice of general absolution exclusively to the cases permitted, (Cf. John Paul II, Motu Proprio Misericordia Dei (7 April 2002)) since individual absolution is the only form intended for ordinary use.

That said, there’s probably a wider place for the use of form III, even beyond the situation of a universal pandemic. Under the previous two popes, there was little interest in pursuing such avenues. And the caution against “cheap grace” is well taken.

(Together with the Synod Fathers I wish to note that the non-sacramental penitential services mentioned in the ritual of the sacrament of Reconciliation can be helpful for increasing the spirit of conversion and of communion in Christian communities, thereby preparing hearts for the celebration of the sacrament: cf. Propositio 7)

These liturgies of the Word are something to be considered, but many modern clergy across the ideological spectrum are skeptics when it comes to efforts that don’t “give” the people something. And many lay Catholics, too.

Given the need to rediscover sacramental forgiveness, there ought to be a Penitentiary in every Diocese. (Cf. Code of Canon Law 508)

Hyperlink mine. The canon reads:

508 §1. By virtue of office, the canon penitentiary of a cathedral church and of a collegial church has the ordinary faculty, which he cannot delegate to others, of absolving in the sacramental forum outsiders within the diocese and members of the diocese even outside the territory of the diocese from undeclared latae sentential censures not reserved to the Apostolic See.

§2. Where there is no chapter, the diocesan bishop is to appoint a priest to fulfill the same function.

And everyone’s favorite topic, indulgences:

Finally, a balanced and sound practice of gaining indulgences, whether for oneself or for the dead, can be helpful for a renewed appreciation of the relationship between the Eucharist and Reconciliation. By this means the faithful obtain “remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.” (Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina (1 January 1967), Norms, No. 1) The use of indulgences helps us to understand that by our efforts alone we would be incapable of making reparation for the wrong we have done, and that the sins of each individual harm the whole community. Furthermore, the practice of indulgences, which involves not only the doctrine of Christ’s infinite merits, but also that of the communion of the saints, reminds us “how closely we are united to each other in Christ … and how the supernatural life of each can help others.” (Ibid., 9) Since the conditions for gaining an indulgence include going to confession and receiving sacramental communion, this practice can effectively sustain the faithful on their journey of conversion and in rediscovering the centrality of the Eucharist in the Christian life.

Indulgences: it means overcoming a lot of misunderstanding and the popular perception that they contributed to disunity in the Church. Far deeper than the project of this blog post. Otherwise, comments?

This document is copyright © 2007 Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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The Path of Lent

This morning’s Psalm Prayer struck me:

Lord Jesus,
early in the morning of your resurrection,
you made your love known
and brought the first light of dawn
to those who dwell in darkness.
Your death has opened a path for us.
Do not enter judgment with your servants;
let your Holy Spirit guide us together
into the land of justice.

Picking up on yesterday’s notice of a campaign of Christian service, today I find a pilgrimage into a land of justice. Let the walk continue, friends.

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I’ve latched onto the coming season as a retreat. Other Christians have their own favored terms.

As one who leans to pacifism, I don’t care much for the military imagery in religion, but I was struck most by this text at Mass this morning:

Grant, O Lord,
that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

So, MR3: good job on this predecessor to the prophet Joel.

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Sacramentum Caritatis 20: Eucharist and Reconciliation

What about a look at The Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Pope Benedict XVI offered some thoughts on Their intrinsic relationship. Let’s read.

20. The Synod Fathers rightly stated that a love for the Eucharist leads to a growing appreciation of the sacrament of Reconciliation. (Cf. Propositio 7; Ecclesia de Eucharistia 36) Given the connection between these sacraments, an authentic catechesis on the meaning of the Eucharist must include the call to pursue the path of penance (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

I think it might be more accurate to say the link between them is Baptism.

We know that the faithful are surrounded by a culture that tends to eliminate the sense of sin (Cf. John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 18) and to promote a superficial approach that overlooks the need to be in a state of grace in order to approach sacramental communion worthily. (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1385)

I’ve never been convinced of this as something special for the post-conciliar church/world. At best, I think it offers an incomplete analysis of what is the human condition, including the clerical culture. Often enough, we want to omit our own sins. It’s easier to notice and carp on the faults of others. It has always been so.

Frequent confession is often touted. But name a bishop or diocese that has offered more than one liturgy of sorrow for the sins and omissions of administration. A good amount of testimony on sin involves bishops and others telling the laity they are sinners. Here follows the suggestion that confession is “helpful to the faithful,” but something more may be needed: help for the clergy, and especially bishops.

The loss of a consciousness of sin always entails a certain superficiality in the understanding of God’s love. Bringing out the elements within the rite of Mass that express consciousness of personal sin and, at the same time, of God’s mercy, can prove most helpful to the faithful. (For example, the Confiteor, or the words of the priest and people before receiving Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Not insignificantly does the liturgy also prescribe certain very beautiful prayers for the priest, handed down by tradition, which speak of the need for forgiveness, as, for example, the one recited quietly before inviting the faithful to sacramental communion: “By the mystery of your body and blood, free me from all my sins and from every evil. Keep me always faithful to your teachings and never let me be parted from you.”)

Pope Benedict is correct to counter the notion that Eucharist and Reconciliation are for the me-and-Jesus universe.

Furthermore, the relationship between the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation reminds us that sin is never a purely individual affair; it always damages the ecclesial communion that we have entered through Baptism. For this reason, Reconciliation, as the Fathers of the Church would say, is laboriosus quidam baptismus; (Cf. Saint John Damascene, Exposition of the Faith, IV, 9: PG 94, 1124C; Saint Gregory Nazianzen, Oratio 39, 17: PG 36, 356A; Ecumenical Council of Trent, Doctrina de sacramento paenitentiae, Chapter 2: DS 1672) they thus emphasized that the outcome of the process of conversion is also the restoration of full ecclesial communion, expressed in a return to the Eucharist. (Cf. Lumen Gentium 11; Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 30)

This document is copyright © 2007 Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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The Human to Angel Conduit

I noticed a comment on a social media thread seeking musical suggestions for the funeral of an infant:

I don’t quite get a song about angels for this kind of service, though it’s a lovely hymn. Angels are an entirely separate order of creation from human beings; despite the powerful draw of lore of popular culture (e.g, the character Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life), human souls do not become angels in heaven, and I am not sure I’d want to encourage equivocation on that point.

The next comment included:

I doubt that anyone thinks a human soul could *become*
an angel, I’ve never heard that suggested.

Which suggests that one church person isn’t at all connected with popular culture of the past century or so. The premise of the Capra flick repeats often in movies of lesser vintage and quality.

On the other hand, at least one Christian minister makes a case for it here.

I suspect that the pre-Clarence popular image of angels goes back centuries. At least to Raphael. It makes the angel a bit more palatable to people than the Biblical reality that they invoked fear and concern.

I once worked with an associate pastor who was devoted to angelology. He had more bits of information about those beings than I thought were possible. He definitely did not advocate for the baby look.

Rolling back to the idea of funerals and their music, one of the superior points of post-conciliar reform is that infants now merit a funeral Mass. The liturgy has a particular option for a Psalm they don’t offer for “adult” funerals, the 148th, and an alternate text for the Song of Farewell:

I know that my Redeemer lives:
on the last day I shall rise again.

R. And in my flesh I shall see God


R. On the last day I shall rise again.

I shall see him myself, face to face;
and my own eyes shall behold my Savior. R.

Within my heart I hope I cherish:
that in my flesh I shall see God. R.

I find it interesting that the more conservative musicians in Catholicism run to hymns as a given for the celebration of Mass. Not the Psalms, like the 42nd, or the 134th. My thinking is that automatic selections like “O Sanctissima” or “Adoro Te” run the risk of programming music as decoration–muzak, if you will–for the setting of more important stuff.

And hymns, if one must choose metered music, there certainly must be some text in the new Office for the Dead to pick at.

Posted in Liturgical Music, Order of Christian Funerals | 1 Comment


Above is the first sacred image I encountered in a church, a reproduction of the Lourdes grotto in my home parish. These were the “two girls in a cave” I thought to myself, making my way back to the sixth grade rows with my classmates.

My parish is celebrating anointing of the sick at Mass today and tomorrow. It seems fitting to have that link, something of which I was entirely unaware for my early months as an aspiring Catholic, then a neophyte.

I can think of two pilgrimages in the world I would dearly love to make. One of which would be to walk between the grotto in Lourdes and the basilica dedicated to Saint James. I have probably far fewer years of ability ahead of me than in my past.

As I grow older, it is perhaps a regret I was so unaware of pilgrimages around the world. If I were to drop about thirty or forty years into the past, I wouldn’t be a glutton about walking the world. Just give me Guadalupe and Lourdes, and I would feel happy.

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Sacramentum Caritatis 19: First Eucharist

In discussing Initiation, the ecclesial community and the family, Pope Benedict highlights the importance of First Eucharist for children. That importance is of concern and impact to the family as well as the parish community.

19. It should be kept in mind that the whole of Christian initiation is a process of conversion undertaken with God’s help and with constant reference to the ecclesial community, both when an adult is seeking entry into the Church, as happens in places of first evangelization and in many secularized regions, and when parents request the sacraments for their children. In this regard, I would like to call particular attention to the relationship between Christian initiation and the family.

Attention here not only for parents and siblings of children, but also spouses and children of a candidate for adult initiation.

In pastoral work it is always important to make Christian families part of the process of initiation. Receiving Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion are key moments not only for the individual receiving them but also for the entire family, which should be supported in its educational role by the various elements of the ecclesial community. (Cf. Propositio 15)

“Education” is often a limiting word. One implication is that sacraments are administered after a personal intellectual assent. Formation is a more appropriate term for the expectation: that a candidate is not only taught, but also mentored and apprenticed in Christian action–not only charity and justice, but also prayer. When relying on classroom teaching alone, these aspects may never take deep root in the life of the Christian. These areas are where the personal encounter with Jesus often takes place.

Here I would emphasize the importance of First Holy Communion. For many of the faithful, this day continues to be memorable as the moment when, even if in a rudimentary way, they first came to understand the importance of a personal encounter with Jesus. Parish pastoral programs should make the most of this highly significant moment.

This document is copyright © 2007 Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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On Inclusivity and Love

Bishop Barron is a good guy who, I think, wants to be a better guy. He seems to struggle with the basics of synodality here

Earlier today I posted a commentary on a friend’s social media stream along the following lines. Before the man was ordained a bishop, he was a seminary rector. On the side, he makes films and writes. That’s all good stuff. But his ecclesial environments have been seminaries, chanceries, and a hand-picked apostolate of reaching out to the churched. Nothing wrong with any of that; this is all good stuff. He wants to make good Catholics better. Young men heading to priesthood, and the priests and deacons in his direct fatherly care, and the administration now of a diocese. But the focus of his ministry has been and continues to be people who are already solidly Catholic. The occasional celebrity convert, yes, I suppose. But not the rank and file nones inhabiting the world today.

Speaking of synodal work, he wrote:

I found myself increasingly uneasy with two words that feature prominently in the document and that dominated much of our discussion—namely, “inclusivity” and “welcoming.”

If one’s environment is an office building or a highly selective school of theology or a film studio, being inclusive and welcome aren’t the highest priorities. And that is okay, mostly. The hope is that when the Diocese of Winona-Rochester hires someone, it is a matter of Equal Opportunity Employment where possible. Or if staffing a seminary, women and men both are considered for teaching positions. Or if seeking staff writers, post-production people, researchers, and such for a film project, that people of color are included for consideration. And once hired, they are welcomed into the fold. That’s not a matter of uneasiness, but common sense administration. 

I know Bishop Barron’s ministry Word on Fire has stumbled lately with the treatment of women. If his awareness is drawn to those two words, perhaps the Spirit was tickling something of importance for his personal attention.

He wonders about a “precise definition” of the terms inclusivity and welcome. But he seems to have some affirmative answers for the basics:

What exactly would a welcoming and inclusive Church look like? Would it always reach out to everyone in a spirit of invitation? If so, the answer seems obviously to be yes. Would it always treat everyone, no matter their background, ethnicity, or sexuality, with respect and dignity? If so, again, the answer is yes. Would such a Church always listen with pastoral attention to the concerns of all? If so, affirmative. 

So far, so good. These examples cite the situation for pre-evangelization, the attraction of persons to Jesus through the human qualities of Christian communities. He continues:

But would a Church exhibiting these qualities never pose a moral challenge to those who would seek entry? Would it ratify the behavior and lifestyle choices of anyone who presented him or herself for admission? Would it effectively abandon its own identity and structuring logic so as to accommodate any and all who come forward? I hope it is equally evident that the answer to all those questions is a resounding no. The ambiguity of the terms is a problem that could undermine much of the Synodal process.

Here is where my neighboring bishop stumbles a bit. The Church can be very selective in its challenges. Some of that is the human condition: not only do we have blind spots, but we treat ensconced members of our own tribe a bit differently than others. And when we sin, we don’t always make public our contrition. Sometimes we haven’t even bothered with being sorry. So if we judge a newcomer knocking has some objective sin, like being a tax collector or prostitute, we’re not giving good example on that front for the how-to of conversion. We are discriminating in the sins we recognize in ourselves and our institution. This is the stuff of … wait for it … discrimination. It’s why we fail the smell test with many people these days. Not just young same-sex oriented, remarried folks.

The simplest solution is just to ask people promoting welcome and inclusion what they mean and how to do it. And perhaps, learn something helpful.

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Sacramentum Caritatis 18: Ordering the Initiation Sacraments

As hinted in section 17, The order of the sacraments of initiation remains a contested piece for contemporary Roman Catholicism. The theology is important, and the draining away of baptized persons from active faith suggest some flaws in our approach. Don’t get me wrong: confirming infants or seven-year-olds isn’t a panacea for the phenomenon of nones. But it does suggest adjustments might be needed in our pastoral approach.

Speaking of pastoral practice, Pope Benedict isn’t naive about the importance of this. He may have been a few decades removed from diocesan ministry, but I take his awareness as something he knows is important for the present and future practice.

18. In this regard, attention needs to be paid to the order of the sacraments of initiation. Different traditions exist within the Church. There is a clear variation between, on the one hand, the ecclesial customs of the East (Cf. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 710) and the practice of the West regarding the initiation of adults, (Cf. RCIA, General Introduction, 34-36) and, on the other hand, the procedure adopted for children. (Cf. Rite of Baptism for Children, Introduction, 18-19) Yet these variations are not properly of the dogmatic order, but are pastoral in character.

We can say there’s nothing objectively wrong with infant baptism, or with RCIA, or with established practices, even a delayed Confirmation.

Concretely, it needs to be seen which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the center, as the goal of the whole process of initiation.

This is important, and I know: the point of this document. More concerning for the present day is the neglect of Baptism and its vocation in the life of all the faithful, perhaps including many priests. Another topic for another document.

In close collaboration with the competent offices of the Roman Curia, Bishops’ Conferences should examine the effectiveness of current approaches to Christian initiation, so that the faithful can be helped both to mature through the formation received in our communities and to give their lives an authentically eucharistic direction, so that they can offer a reason for the hope within them in a way suited to our times (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).

This examination is directed mostly to active believers. Many Christians do not participate in the Eucharist, so the “direction” mentioned here may not apply. If we have confidence Baptism leads to the Eucharist, then perhaps we need to do all we can to examine our practices of Baptism and the expectations we give regard that sacrament and its character.

This document is copyright © 2007 Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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The Latest on FP

Father Frank Pavone.jpgThe piling on of Frank Pavone continues: sexual misconduct added to blasphemy and disobedience, and one of the best summations I’ve read:

Thus Pavone was a priest meant for the age of Trump. He became a Republican political hack who did far more to harm than help the Catholic Church. Imbued with an unearned sense of his own importance, he portrayed his organization as an urgent and irreplaceable voice, needlessly bucking a hierarchy whose position on abortion is well known and striking a heroic pose amid clerical ranks where pro-life priests are everywhere to be found.

I used to be a proponent of the notion that no age is particularly more virtuous or more depraved than any other. I don’t have experimental data. I admit it’s just a feeling. Now, I’m worried we live in a crazier age than normal.

Misconduct against women irks me. Women in my family, women I dated in school, my own daughter’s misadventures in foster care. I continue to see it in church too, and that is a double dose of bother. A friend was once relating some divorce proceedings that were going particularly south and I opined this would be a good case for pulling a guy’s man card.

Frank Pavone, too. Priests have demanding lives, to be sure. But some things I worry about are no worries to them. Employment. Retirement. Vacations. Annual retreats. Lots of gifts and help in time of need. Lots of priests have special apostolates (not vocations!) to do something above and beyond their main calling. Being a trumpkin isn’t really one of the choices.

Think about it: Priests for Life is just one of many organizations that sends faxes and emails and asks for money. Frank Pavone was one priest among many clergy who can be easily identified as pro-life. Did he ever make a real difference?

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Sacramentum Caritatis 17: The Eucharist and Christian Initiation

Three numbered sections treat briefly the links between Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist, how they relate, how they are arranged in the life of the believer, and other concerns for children, youth, adults, and people arriving from other religious traditions. Pope Benedict reminds us of The Eucharist, the fullness of Christian initiation and yet Roman Catholic practice isn’t always consistent in that regard.

17. If the Eucharist is truly the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission, it follows that the process of Christian initiation must constantly be directed to the reception of this sacrament. As the Synod Fathers said, we need to ask ourselves whether in our Christian communities the close link between Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist is sufficiently recognized. (Cf. Propositio 13)

The first and last of these are claimed easily enough. Indeed, much of Christendom has some level of agreement about their importance and relationship. Confirmation is where we continue with much hand-wringing in the West. Some of Western Christianity doesn’t recognize it. And even Catholics neglect it, or at best, place it as a celebration or process involving a rite of passage. At worst, not even recognizing its importance for discipleship. Instead, it becomes a box to check for persons wishing to marry or enter seminary. The modern RCIA does its best, but when confronted with people between the ages of seven and eighteen, often crosses its fingers and parts from the linkage of Confirmation with Baptism and Eucharist.

It must never be forgotten that our reception of Baptism and Confirmation is ordered to the Eucharist. Accordingly, our pastoral practice should reflect a more unitary understanding of the process of Christian initiation.

Theoretically, the traditional order makes the most sense, but Pope Benedict acknowledges that pastoral practice might not be aligned. So it will take time.

No problem with Baptism as the gateway to the other six:

The sacrament of Baptism, by which we were conformed to Christ, (Cf. Lumen Gentium 7) incorporated in the Church and made children of God, is the portal to all the sacraments. It makes us part of the one Body of Christ (cf.1 Corinthians 12:13), a priestly people. Still, it is our participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice which perfects within us the gifts given to us at Baptism. The gifts of the Spirit are given for the building up of Christ’s Body (1 Corinthians 12) and for ever greater witness to the Gospel in the world. (Cf. ibid., 11; Ad Gentes, 9, 13) The Holy Eucharist, then, brings Christian initiation to completion and represents the center and goal of all sacramental life. (Cf. John Paul II, Dominicae Cenae 7; Presbyterorum Ordinis, 5)

And yet, Confirmation is often set adrift from the Eucharist. No connection there, not pastorally. I served in a diocese once that made it a practice to confirm at a Liturgy of the Word. Celebration of Mass wasn’t allowed.

This document is copyright © 2007 Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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