07 January 2010

Musings About Priesthood

It was HJMW, here, who articulated better than I had that I was disturbed by what I might describe as a leaning towards liturgiolatry: a devotion to the performance of the Liturgy rather than the veneration of the Liturgy as an eikon of Christ's sacrifice. An MC reminding a server in private after Mass about the order in which to light and put out the candles on the altar is a good example of the latter; two middle-aged men complaining that it isn't being done properly five minutes before Mass starts could be an example of the former.

My musings have taken me off in another direction, however: why does Newchurch so eschew the term "priest" to describe the man at the center of the liturgical action? Minister, Celebrant, President, Pastor - why not Priest?

I speculate that the reason is not that the NO Mass was to become as like a Protestant service as possible, as some always try to argue, but that the notion of "priest" was foreign to the minds of the reformers, who considered it a relic of mediaevalism.

The Priest at Mass doesn't just re-present Christ's sacrifice: he stands in the line of priests who stretch back through the Old Testament and whose job was to offer sacrifice by slaughtering animals on God's Altar. Even if Christ's Sacrifice is once and for all, and the activity of the priest no longer encompasses such sacrifices, it nevertheless remains the fact that sacrifice is what priests do.

It is hard to think of the way in which sacrificial priesthood is being made manifest by the President of a communal meal. And while I am sure that most priests still believe in the Real Presence, if they do not have an adequate conception of priesthood and sacrifice, then their belief about the change in the species effected by the words of consecration turns them into magicians: the Eucharistic Prayer becomes one long "Abracadabra", and the opening greeting ought to be "You'll like this". And all of a sudden it's no longer difficult to imagine: that priests have no need to be set apart; that their nature is unchanged by their ordination; that celibacy is irrelevant to their condition; that they should necessarily be masculine; for their function has changed. They are no longer sacrificial priests.

"Save the Liturgy, Save the World"; "Do the Red, Say the Black"; are, I'm afraid, inadequate as rallying cries.

"Priests: Be Priests!"


Simon Platt said...

Celebrant: "You'll like this"

People: "Not a lot"

Simon Platt said...

Actually, I didn't follow the second part of the last paragraph, specifically the bit about masculinity. Perhaps the multiple negatives confused me. What were you trying to say here?

Ttony said...

Too many negatives: "All of a sudden it is possible to think that being masculine is not something necessary for a priest".

Rita said...


Very well said. I do worry that many priests are terrified of the notion of priesthood, but not in a holy St John Vianney way. They are terrified to the extent that they try to block out what it is and try to minimalise its significance. Unfortunately, these priests are the ones that end up Deans.