Hypothetical Idea… Priests in the Common World?

Readers may remember my rant-like post a while back lamenting the inadequacies in the current clerical system.  While I think there might be a few ideas in there worth considering, the post was very rough and “off the cuff”.  It is clear to me that we do need to rethink our current approach, but no solid ideas have yet come forth to reform the system.  The revival of the Diaconate in the 1960’s and 70’s was a good thing in concept that has not been fully realized, as deacons are often relegated to little more than the ordinary “extraordinary ministers” liturgically.  Without the support of the abrogated minor orders (a true tragedy that should be reversed), the Diaconate has been left unsupported and surrounded by “extraordinary ministers” and a female-inclusive system of altar servers (which, as noted by Leon Podles, does wonders in driving young men from wishing to become priests).

One idea I’ve had is this:  Let’s say we ever get the Diaconate to be fully thriving and able to realize its potential to awaken young men’s “vocations” to serve the church.  What if we allowed local Diaconates to occasionally select a more senior and capable member from their number to be ordained as a priest (given the bishop’s permission).  Some of these men could remain as they are in the world, with whatever job they have, but be full priests sacramentally.  This could result in two “castes” of priests: the seminary ones paid by the church and the unpaid ones who could be called upon to give sacraments when the main priests’ hands are full.  Like the priests of ancient times, these men would walk in the world, dress as the laity under normal circumstances, and be unrecognizable as priests if met on the street.  However, they would be fully capable of all priestly functions.

Before I continue, I want to point out the monumental caveats with this proposal:

  1. You would need a healthy and well-established Diaconate in place before ever considering this.  This has yet to happen as far as I can tell.
  2. With the current restrictions in the Western Church against married priests, I am not in favor of using this as a workaround to “sneak married priests in”.  As long as the restriction persists I am in favor of keeping it and, if it is ever lifted, it should be done in a controlled manner and for the right reasons.  Until then, I am in favor of more exceptions being made (like in the case of the Ordinariates or an extremely capable and competent deacon with years of experience).
  3. Going off the last point, any men who are thus “promoted” should generally be single men or widowers, older and wiser men likely to be respected by the laity (much like St. Joseph, anyone?).
  4. There must be a competent instruction of these men in matters both liturgical and doctrinal.  We can’t pick these men haphazardly and expect good results.  Quality must precede quantity (as the “vocation-rich” and “vibrant” 1950’s full of priests who later turned out to be not up to par should have tragically should have demonstrated to us).  The foundation mus be firm before the house is built atop it.
  5. As there could be a proliferation of “impostor priests” (as tragically happened sometimes in some of the more independent and “off the reservation” traditionalist circles in the old days), we must keep track of these men to know who are and who aren’t actually priests.

As I have mentioned before, this idea is still only a hypothesis and based on a number of prerequisites.  We must remember that a progressive rushes headlong into half-baked ideas without fully criticizing them and working out the problems with it.  He puts all his hope in them and when it fails due to his lack of self-criticism, he must either repent his haste or retreat into self-denial (see also “Cardinal Mahoney”).  An ironclad conservative is allergic to anything that may upset the status quo and is afraid of an idea that seeks to disrupt it even as the decrepit order collapses around him.  We must avoid either extreme and be willing to try new ideas, but only after we are willing to accept its imperfections and implement it carefully.  It is clear something should be done and, in the absence of ideas, I am willing to propose my own though they shall likely fall on deaf ears.  They might not even be the right ideas, but I am willing to postulate and give voice to them nevertheless.  Maybe someone will come forward with an idea that can counter our current problems, but we will never know unless we begin a discussion that questions the existing system.

Let us neither deny what is broken nor break what is not broken.


5 thoughts on “Hypothetical Idea… Priests in the Common World?

  1. I have been thinking in a thoughtful, thoroughly and detailed reply, but it would be a futile attempt. It will suffice to say that, from my point of view, your proposal, which is interesting, could only be envisaged if we first take care of some problems which otherwise would make it impossible:

    – Clericalism: not only the fact that most priests still think they are the only and exclusive authority in matters ecclesiastical, but also that deacons have often become a way to enlarge the clerical caste. As in rural Spain (where my experience comes from), there are places where the laity will be alone in the near future. What can we do with that?

    – Deacons: as you rightly pointed out, there is the problem of a weak and disorganized diaconate nowadays. And there is in addition the problem of its clericalization, in the sense I pointed to before.

    – Minor orders: the subject which interests me the most. They MUST be restored (in their fullness both of ranks and functions), and they could be a way both to undermine the power of church ladies and to introduce some people to liturgical life while preparing some of them to a clerical ministery. But there is always the problem of clericalization of those people. An unworthy man like me, for instance, would be glad (but also aware of my unworthyness) to help my parish by performing a minor order role, but everybody would look at me as just another kind of priest.

    – Monasticism: this is a quite often forgoten topic, since contemplative life is often regarded as inferior in Tradistani milieus. But it is necessary to encourage its diffusion in order to consolide a truly traditional background to any restoration (understood in the breadest sense).

    Well, this are my chaotic thoughts. I hope to help you in any way.

    K. e.


  2. On the contrary, we appear to be on the same page about what must be done in the short-term:
    1. Restore the Minor Orders immediately.
    2. Foster the Diaconate more. Deacons – having one foot each in both the church and the secular world- could be a great bulwark to clericalism since they can act as the “go between”. There doesn’t need to be the “Priest vs. the lowly laity” seen in far too many Tradistani churches. My own father (a somewhat disillusioned and weathered convert to traditionalism) once remarked how it is actually Traditionalist churches that could use deacons the most (Think of how many fewer trips to give Communion to the sick priests would have to make in commuter-heavy trad churches! Think of the glorious Masses that could be done with all those deacons! Think of the sons looking at their fathers on the altars with the priests!).
    3. Encourage Monasticism. Now, my part of the country has been fortunate enough to have a thriving Solesmes Benedictine Monastery nearby. It is a moderately attraction for many looking for a retreat (and one I regrettably have not yet taken advantage of). That people are willing to drive for four hours one-way to spend a weekend with some monks is a good sign in itself.


  3. Pingback: The Home Church Movement | The Ecclesial Vigilante

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