Friday, 27 April 2012

Vatican II and the Crisis in Priestly Identity

If the time after the second Vatican Council changed the experience of the laity, it brought about a deep rift in the heart of the Priesthood.

We know that something happened because the numbers of men entering seminary collapsed and men left the Priesthood in unprecedented numbers.

So what influences were there?

Some were the same as the laity. Why would a young man enter the Priesthood when he no longer knew what it stood for? A Priest offers Mass – but now Mass was goodness knows what and some even denied the need for the Priesthood anyway.

Other reasons were to do with a change in how the Priesthood was viewed: no longer a man of cultic sacrifice, but now an enabler, a facilitator, a counsellor in the religious realm. Frankly, and I mean this in no way against the laity, anyone can do all that – why give your life to the Priesthood and so give up your chance to have a family and earn money to serve the Church when you can do it all of that as a member of the laity and have it all? All theology of the Priesthood was bound up with his celebration of Mass. This theology of Priesthood no longer existed because the theology of Mass no longer existed.

Now this was bad enough, but how must these changes have affected the heart and soul of a Priest who now had to turn his back on the Mass and faith which had been his only identity and have to say not only that it had all changed, but that what had sustained and nourished his religious life, channelled his vocation and fed his soul was in some way defective. And that in the only logical conclusion. If what we have now is ‘new and improved, the best ever’ then what we had before was not the best ever and was in need of improvement. And these good Priests did it for the best of reasons and through the best of motives: namely Holy Obedience. But this obedience would lead to the shift in his very identity – even, I would say, the betrayal of his very identity.

And let’s be honest, it was probably the last time that the Bishops could wield the cudgel of obedience, because at that moment it died for a generation of Priests. Not all, of course. And probably for the vast majority tried to continue as they always had. But as time went on, they did not obey the rubrics at Mass. They did not promote the teaching of the Church against artificial contraception. Some publically, others privately, approved of the ordination of women, married clergy, abortion in certain circumstances, gay rights etc., etc., etc.

The ‘habit’ of obedience had been broken. It was broken for the laity and it was betrayed for the Priest. And the true place where the Priest found his identity, in Mass, was no longer there to bring him back to faithfulness. And, let’s be honest, the New Mass just was not capable of doing it.

The Priesthood had been chopped off from its roots and we cannot be surprised when it began to sway when the storms came. The Bishops said that it had new roots, that the Priesthood would find its strength and defence in the Episcopacy.

Well that really worked, didn’t it!
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