Letter to Ann T. Clerikuhl continued.
On to another thrilling episode in an ongoing disquisition on what’s wrong with the Catholic priesthood, but first; a grammar lesson.
Verbs can have a number of moods. Some verbs are in a good mood, others are in a really lousy mood. I’m joking of course. No, the moods, or modes, of the verb are as follows: The declarative mood states a fact: “I blather on endlessly.” The subjunctive mood states a possibility or contingency: “I may blather on endlessly if no one shuts me up;” or “I may choose to blather on endlessly.” The optative mood express a wish (or a hope) “May spiders nest in your bouffant hairdo and finally cause you to change it.”
In English, a strange and convoluted language that was once spoken in the United States, one uses the word “may” to denote the subjunctive or optative mood. The word “can” always expresses a fact. It is always in the demonstrative mood. All this is a prelude to a discussion of the minister of the sacrament.
- Any Christian CAN validly baptize. Only a priest or deacon MAY licitly baptize except in the case of real emergency.
- Only a bishop CAN hear confessions or an ordained priest who is delegated by his bishop.
- Only a bishop or priest CAN confer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
- Only a bishop, or a priest specifically delegated by a bishop CAN confer the Sacrament of Confirmation.
- Only a bishop MAY validly ordain a priest or another bishop. Even if a bishop is not the ordinary bishop of the diocese, he CAN ordain, but MAY not without the permission of the ordinary diocesan bishop. A bishop CAN, but MAY not ordain a bishop without the express delegation of the Pope.
- Only a bishop or priest CAN validly offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist. A priest MAY be the principal celebrant of the sacrifice in the absence of the bishop, though he MAY NOT, or at least should not, be the principal celebrant if a bishop is also celebrating the Mass with him.
- A Bishop, priest or deacon CAN NOT confer the sacrament of marriage. The ministers of the sacrament of Matrimony are the bride and groom. The bishop, priest or deacon stands as witness for the Church. If there is no possibility of a bishop, priest or deacon being present, a delegated layperson MAY be the Church witness to a marriage. This is very exceptional. It only happens during plagues, persecutions or on deserted islands. Though the bride and groom are the ministers of the sacrament, they MAY NOT and usually CAN NOT marry expect in the presence of an ecclesial (Church) witness.
Well, that should clean things up! Let me summarize the whole thing. There are 7 sacraments. A bishop CAN confer six of them, all but marriage. A presbyter is a sort of stand in bishop for Confirmation, Holy Eucharist and Confession
Now pay attention.This part will get really confusing.
A deacon is a sort of stand in bishop for Baptism and as a witness for Marriage. The priesthood and the diaconate are the two arms of the bishop. The priest is the icon of Christ the shepherd, and the deacon is the icon of Christ the servant. The bishop is both the head deacon and the head priest of a diocese.
I believe that in well run parishes where people are really desirous of the sacraments, a deacon should baptize new Christians young and old, and should be the witness to marriage, leaving the priest free to say Mass, hear confession and anoint the sick. Things like visiting the sick, feeding the poor, conducting wake services and such, CAN and MAY be conducted buy any baptized believer. Bishops, priests and deacons CAN and should feed the poor and console the bereaved, not because they are clergy, but because they are baptized Christians. These works of mercy are the job of the believer, not the clergy. I hope you understand me. I’m not saying that the clergy are off the hook, but they are not the only ones responsible for the works of mercy and the life of the Church.
Here is an example: I offer Mass. I stand in the vestibule. People come and want to arrange a marriage in 30 seconds while small children are tugging at my chasuble and people are trying to greet me and a sobbing penitent wants his confession heard right there in the vestibule. Meanwhile, the St. Dymphna Guild is having their annual baked groundhog dinner in the basement. Someone comes upstairs to tell me that both the St. Dymphna Guild and the baked groundhog casserole are getting cold and are waiting for you, Father, to come down and offer the traditional baked groundhog blessing. You finally dismiss the last suppliant who was telling you in real time about his Bible Cruise to Alaska, you run to the sacristy, rip off your vestments, charge down to the basement to be greeted by a hungry mob saying, “Where have you been????”
I tell them, “You should have started without me!”
“Oh no, Father! That would have been impolite, and besides, only a priest can say the annual groundhog prayer of blessing, or it will not come with the traditional indulgences.”
Again, I can feel my coronary arteries tightening in preparation for the ingestion of groundhog gravy.
The point I am trying to make is that it’s over. Done. Finito. Kaput. If the laity don’t understand that they CAN, MAY and SHOULD exercise their legitimate ministries in the Church, things like the joyous celebration of St. Dymphna and the groundhog casserole will soon go the way of the dodo and the wooly mammoth.
Here’s an example of something that’s going well. In my parish I say Mass every morning. Mass is followed by the Prayer to St. Michael, the Rosary, the Litany and the Divine Mercy chaplet. I lead none of them, though I sometime stay for them, schedule permitting. Were I to lead any of them, those devotions would stop when I was not present and when I am done with this vale of toil and tears and they send some new fellow, those devotions would stop entirely.
You see, my job is to say Mass and preach a sermon. None of the rest is my job. It is yours.
“But Father, it’s so much nicer when the priest is there.”
No it’s not. The clericalism of the past has caused Catholicism to become a sort of spectator sport for most people who call themselves Catholic.That era is ending. And it’s ending fast. My job is to pray and preach and to make sure the sacraments are validly and licitly administered. It is not necessarily to bless groundhog gravy.