Whatever Happened To The Priesthood?editor
To the man in the street, even the most indifferent to religious questions, it is obvious that there are fewer and fewer priests, and the newspapers regularly remind him of the fact. It is over fifteen years ago since the book appeared with the title “Tomorrow a Church without Priests?”
Yet the situation is even more serious than it appears. The question has also to be asked, how many priests still have the faith? And even a further question, regarding some of the priests ordained in recent years: are they true priests at all? Put it another way, are their ordinations valid? The same doubt overhangs other sacraments. It applies to certain ordinations of bishops such as that which took place in Brussels in the summer of 1982 when the consecrating bishop said to the ordinand, “Be an apostle like Gandhi, Helder Camara, and Mohamed!” Can we reconcile these references, at least as regards Gandhi and Mohamed, with the evident intention of doing what the Church intends?
Here is the order of service for a priestly ordination which took place at Toulouse a few years ago. A commentator starts off, introducing the ordinand by his christian name C., with the words “He has decided to live more thoroughly his self-dedication to God and to man by consecrating himself entirely to the service of the Church in the working-class.” C. has worked out his “pathway,” that is to say, his seminary training, in a team. It is this team who present him to the bishop: “We request you to recognize and authenticate his application and ordain him priest.” The bishop then asks him several questions purporting to be a definition of the priesthood: Do you wish to be ordained a priest, “to be, with the believers, a Sign and a Witness of what Mankind is seeking, in its striving for Justice, for Brotherhood and for Peace,” “to serve the people of God,” “to recognize in men’s lives, the action of God in the ways they take, in their cultural patterns, in the choices open to them,” “to celebrate the action of Christ and perform this service;” do you wish “to share with me and with the body of bishops the responsibility that has been entrusted to us for the service of the Gospel?”
The “matter” of the sacrament has been preserved in the laying on of hands which takes place next, and likewise the “form,” namely the words of ordination. But we are obliged to point out that the intention is far from clear. Has the priest been ordained for the exclusive service of one social class and, first and foremost, to establish justice, fellowship and peace at a level which appears to be limited to the natural order only? The eucharistic celebration which follows, “the first Mass” in effect, of the new priest was, in fact, on these lines. The offertory has been specially composed for the circumstances. “We welcome you, Lord, by receiving on your behalf this bread and wine which you offer us; we wish to show by this all our work and our efforts to build a more just and more humane world, all that we are trying to bring about so that better living conditions may follow…” The prayer over the offerings is even more dubious: “Look, Lord we offer you this bread and this wine, that they may become for us one of the ways in which you are present.” No! People who celebrate in this manner do not believe in the Real Presence!
One thing is certain; the first victim of this scandalous ordination is the young man who had just pledged himself for ever without exactly knowing to what, or thinking that he knows. How can he not fail, sooner or later, to ask himself certain questions? Because the ideal that has been proposed to him cannot satisfy him for long; the ambiguity of his mission will become evident. The priest is essentially a man of faith. If he no longer knows what he is, he loses faith in himself, and in his priesthood.
The definition of the priesthood given by Saint Paul and by the Council of Trent has been radically altered. The priest is no longer one who goes up to the altar and offers up to God a sacrifice of praise, for the remission of sins. The relative order of ends has been inverted. The priesthood has a first aim, which is to offer the sacrifice; that of evangelization is secondary.
The case of C., which is far from being unique, as we know of many examples, shows to what extent evangelization has taken precedence over the sacrifice and the sacraments. It has become an end in itself. This grave error has had serious consequences.
Evangelization, deprived of its aim, loses direction and seeks purposes that are pleasing to the world, such as a false “social justice” and a false “liberty.” These acquire new names: development, progress, building up the world, improving living-conditions, pacifism. Here is the sort of language which has led to all the revolutions.
The sacrifice of the altar being no longer the first end of the priesthood, it is the whole of the sacraments which are at stake and for which the “person responsible for the parish sector” and his “team” will call upon the laity, who are themselves overburdened with trade unions or political tasks, often more political than trade unions. In fact, the priests who engage in social struggles choose almost exclusively the most politicized organizations. Within these they fight against political, ecclesiastical, family and social structures. Nothing can remain. Communism has found no agents more effective than these priests.
I was explaining one day to a Cardinal what I was doing in my seminaries, with their spirituality directed above all to the deepening of the theology of the Sacrifice of the Mass and towards liturgical prayer. He said to me, “But Monsignor, that is exactly the opposite of what our young priests now want. We now define the priest only in terms of evangelization.” I replied, “What evangelization? If it does not have a fundamental and essential relationship with the Holy Sacrifice, how do you understand it? A political evangelization, or social, or humanitarian?”
If he no longer announces Jesus Christ, the apostle becomes a militant and marxist trade unionist. That is very natural. We quite understand it. He needs a new mystique and he finds it this way; but loses that of the altar. We must not be surprised that, completely bewildered, he gets married and abandons the priesthood. In France, in 1970, 285 ordinations; in 1980, 111. And how many of them have returned or will return to civil life? Even the startling figures we have quoted do not correspond to the actual decline in numbers of the clergy. What is offered to young men and what it is said they “now desire” evidently does not satisfy their aspirations.
The proof is easy to demonstrate. There are no more vocations because they no longer know what is the Sacrifice of the Mass. In consequence, one can no longer define what the priest is. On the other hand, where the Sacrifice is known and respected as the Church has always taught, vocations are plentiful.
I have witnessed this in my own seminaries. All we do is to affirm the everlasting truths. Vocations have come to us of their own accord, without publicizing. The only advertizing has been done by the modernists. I have ordained 187 priests in thirteen years. Since 1983 the regular numbers are from 35 to 40 ordinations per year. The young men who apply to enter Ecône, Ridgefield (USA), Zaitzkofen (West Germany), Francisco Alvarez (Argentina) and Albano (Italy) are drawn by the Sacrifice of the Mass.
What an extraordinary grace for a young man to go up to the altar as the minister of Our Lord, to be another Christ! Nothing is finer or greater here on earth. It is worth the cost of leaving one’s family, of giving up having a family, or renouncing the world and accepting poverty. But if there is no longer that attraction, then I say frankly, it is not worthwhile, and that is why the seminaries are empty.
Let them continue on the lines adopted by the Church for the last 20 years, and to the question “Will there still be priests in the year 2000?” The answer must be, “No.” But if there is a return to the true notions of the Faith, there will be vocations, both for seminaries and for the religious orders.
For what is it that makes the greatness and the beauty of a priest or a nun? It is the offering up of oneself as a victim at the altar with Our Lord Jesus Christ. Otherwise the religious life is meaningless. The young men are just as generous in our times as they were in former times. They long to make an offering of themselves. It is our times that are defective.
Everything is bound up together. By attacking the base of the building it is destroyed entirely. No more Mass, no more priests. The ritual, before it was altered, had the bishop say, “Receive the power to offer to God the Holy Sacrifice and to celebrate Holy Mass both for the living and for the dead, in the name of the Lord.” He had previously blessed the hands of the ordinand by pronouncing these words “so that all that they bless may be blessed and all that they consecrate may be consecrated and sanctified.” The power conferred is expressed without ambiguity: “That for the salvation of Thy people and by their holy blessing, they may effect the Transubstantiation of the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood of thy Divine Son.”
Nowadays the bishop says, “Receive the offering of the holy people to present it to God.” He makes the new priest an intermediary rather than the holder of the ministerial priesthood and the offerer of a sacrifice. The conception is wholly different. The priest has always been considered in Holy Church as someone having a character conferred by the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Yet we have seen a bishop, not “suspended,” write, “The priest is not somebody who does things that the ordinary faithful don’t do; he is not ‘another Christ,’ any more than any other baptized person.” This bishop was merely drawing the conclusions from the teaching that has prevailed since the Council and the liturgy.
A confusion has been made with regard to the relation of the priesthood of the faithful and that of priests. Now as the cardinals said who were appointed to make their observations on the infamous Dutch catechism, “the greatness of the ministerial priesthood (that of priests) in its participation in the priesthood of Christ, differs from the common priesthood of the faithful in a manner that is not only of degree but also of essence.” To maintain the contrary, on this point alone, is to align oneself with Protestantism.
The unchanging doctrine of the Church is that the priest is invested with a sacred and indelible character. “Tu es sacerdos in aeternum.” Whatever he may do, before the angels, before God, in all eternity, he will remain a priest. Even if he throws away his cassock, wears a red pullover or any other color or commits the most awful crimes, it will not alter things. The Sacrament of Holy Orders has made a change in his nature.
We are far from the priest “chosen by the assembly to fulfill a function in the Church” and still more so from the priest for a limited period, suggested by some, at the end of which the official for worship–for I can think of no other term to describe him–would take his place again amongst the faithful.
This desacralized view of the priestly ministry leads quite naturally to querying priestly celibacy. There are noisy pressure groups calling for its abolition in spite of the repeated warnings of the Roman Magisterium. We have seen in Holland, seminarians go on strike against ordinations to obtain “guarantees” in this matter. I shall not quote the names of those bishops who have got up to urge the Holy See to reconsider the subject.
The subject would not even arise if the clergy had kept the right understanding of the Mass and of the priesthood. For the true reason appears of itself when we fully understand these two realities. It is the same reason for which Our Blessed Lady remained a virgin: having borne Our Lord within her womb it was perfectly right and fitting that she should remain so. Likewise, the priest by the words he pronounces at the Consecration, brings down God upon earth. He has such a closeness with God, a spiritual being, spirit above all, that it is right, just and eminently fitting that he also should be a virgin and remain celibate.
But, some object, there are married priests in the East. However, let us not deceive ourselves: it is only toleration. The eastern bishops may not marry, nor those holding important positions. This clergy respects priestly celibacy, which forms part of the most ancient Tradition of the Church and which the apostles had observed from the moment of Pentecost. Those who like Saint Peter were already married continued to live with their wives, but “knew” them no longer.
It is noticeable that the priests who succomb to the mirage of a so-called social or political mission almost automatically get married. The two things go together.
People would have us believe that the present times justify all sorts of licence, that it is impossible under present day conditions to live a chaste life, that the vows of virginity for religious people are an anachronism. The experience of the last twenty years shows that the attacks made on the priesthood under the pretext of adapting it to the present time are fatal to it. Yet a “Church without priests” is not to be envisaged because the Church is essentially sacerdotal.
In these sad times they want free-love for the laity and marriage for the clergy. If you perceive in this apparent illogicality an implacable logic having as its objective the ruin of Christian society, you are seeing things as they are and your assessment is correct. Source
Do you agree with Archbishop Lefebvre’s assessment of “the new priests”? What advice would you give to any young man considering the priesthood today?