Presbyterorum Ordinis 16: On Celibacy

(Celibacy is to be embraced and esteemed as a gift). Perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, commended by Christ the Lord and through the course of time as well as in our own days freely accepted and observed in a praiseworthy manner by many of the faithful, is held by the Church to be of great value in a special manner for the priestly life.

I don’t think any sensible person could argue against it. The real debate would center on the notion that mandatory celibacy is better for the diocesan priesthood, and celibacy is better for every priest.

It is at the same time a sign and a stimulus for pastoral charity and a special source of spiritual fecundity in the world.

Are priests catechized to see celibacy in this way? Or does the clerical subculture see it as a sacrifice? A sacrifice can certainly have value as a sign and symbol. But this briefest understanding implies that a celibate is able to turn his or her emotional life to the exercise of the virtue of charity. Additionally, celibacy is meant to be generative. Does every diocesan priest have a grasp on this? Namely, that their exercise of celibacy is meant to bear fruit, not nonly in their own spiritual lives, but in the spiritual aspect of the world.

For the whole priestly mission is dedicated to the service of a new humanity which Christ, the victor over death, has aroused through his Spirit in the world and which has its origin “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man but of God (Jn 1:13). Through virginity, then, or celibacy observed for the Kingdom of Heaven,(Roman Pontifical on the ordination of a priest, preface) priests are consecrated to Christ by a new and exceptional reason.

Maybe not so new. Celibacy was part of many pagan traditions. The exceptionality of celibacy is dependent on the cooperation an individual gives to God’s grace. And the sad truth is: Western culture sees celibacy as more deviant than exceptional. The sign value to those outside the Church has been much diminished.

They adhere to him more easily with an undivided heart,(Lumen Gentium 28) they dedicate themselves more freely in him and through him to the service of God and men, and they more expeditiously minister to his Kingdom and the work of heavenly regeneration, and thus they are apt to accept, in a broad sense, paternity in Christ.

Yes. If, however, priests are actually disposed in this way. Celibacy can also be an excuse for misanthropy. As long as the emphasis is on the external promise of celibacy at ordination, there comes with it a false freedom to disengage. Is celibacy used for selfish ends? Sometimes it is. And with these priests, celibacy should be renewed in light of what it should be. Some priests could learn a lot from religious in that regard.

In this way they profess themselves before men as willing to be dedicated to the office committed to them-namely, to commit themselves faithfully to one man and to show themselves as a chaste virgin for Christ and thus to evoke the mysterious marriage established by Christ, and fully to be manifested in the future, in which the Church has Christ as her only Spouse.

The metaphor driving the practice instead of the practice evoking metaphor.

PO 16 reiterates the legislation of mandatory celibacy, though with an acknowledgement that insofar as perfect continence is thought by many men to be impossible in our times, to that extent priests should all the more humbly and steadfastly pray with the Church for that grace of fidelity, which is never denied those who seek it, and use all the supernatural and natural aids available.

The section concludes that we pray it will always be so:

This holy synod asks not only priests but all the faithful that they might receive this precious gift of priestly celibacy in their hearts and ask of God that he will always bestow this gift upon his Church.



About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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