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

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in post-conciliar catechetical documents, Sacramentum Caritatis. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Sacramentum Caritatis 24: The Eucharist and Priestly Celibacy

  1. Liam says:

    “And yet no mortal human can offer exclusivity to God. ”

    But celibacy offers *practical* exclusivity to … parishioners and …. to diocesan bishops, who can freely move celibate priests around, for reasons ill and good. In practical terms – putting aside sacramental theology – ordaining widowed/celibate women would be far easier to effectuate than ordaining married priests (deacons, not being permitted to be principal celebrants of Mass and of confession or anointing, don’t present the same level of practical challenge). Catholic layfolk and bishops would need to adjust centuries of expectations about what it would mean for their parish priests to be married. I don’t think that’s a sufficient reason to remain stuck where we are, but it is a level of discussion that is almost entirely absent from the trenches on either side of the divide.

    • Todd says:

      Agreed. My mobility is assisted by my status as the primary breadwinner. Layfolk and bishops are certainly more used to church employees being the #2 income in a family.

      That said, if you gave rural or inner city parishioners a choice between closing or having Mass once a month and engaging a non-celibate non-male as a pastor, we all know what they would choose. It’s just that bishops and popes don’t like the idea so much.

  2. Jean Marie B says:

    Please put me on your mailing/notification list for new posts.

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