January 29, 2017
So, we have seen that a study of the history of Lent led to a new understanding of Holy Week and a revision of the Liturgy for same to a new understanding of Baptism and to a new understanding of what it means to be Baptized: it is not just ‘non-ordained’.
This meant a new understanding of the Church itself. The Church is not an organization in which the lay people pay the clergy to administer Sacraments to them so that they can get to heaven. It is ‘the People of God’, formed by Baptism and existing in the world to show the world how God wants people to live together in this world, as well as in the world to come.
Two great ironies came along with this new insight into the ‘social’ definition of the Church. The society around us became utterly fascinated with individualism, consumerism and ‘spiritual’ introspection. And young men stopped applying for the priesthood in record numbers.
I.e. a social definition of human nature lost its luster almost before it began to shine and the generations that grew up in this culture lost interest in a socially defined church whose ministers were charged, above all, with teaching the baptized to recognize and live out their dignity.
We are still trying to figure out what the long-term effects of this will be, but there are some things that are clear already.
A shortage of priests has meant that more and more parishes have no resident pastor. This means that the care and maintenance of the parish properties must be seen to by a group of laity – often the same group who make certain that the church is open and warm and lit up so that all is ready when the priest arrives for Mass. Parish organizations and programs sometimes go on and thrive or sometimes die. Certainly, the recruitment and training of new participants in this ‘priest-less’ situation goes undone. This results in fatigue and resentment on the part of the doers and surprise on the part of the non-doers when the situation can no longer sustain itself.
(There is, or soon will be, a crisis amongst the clergy who find themselves without a real membership in any community. It won’t be because they have no center of power, but because they have no ‘home’ in any of the various parishes where they serve purely as ‘confectors of the Sacraments’.)
If parish-based Catholicism as we have known it and practiced it is going to continue it will be because the lay members of the parishes learn to reach out to their neighbors to keep them connected and involved in the life of the community – this would include work projects, catechetics and Mass-attendance, as well. This will not solve the clergy’s need for communal life, but it will keep them from getting spread so thin that they cannot do the things they were ordained to do.
An hundred years after the ‘great war’, we are still dealing with the realities it set in motion. More to follow.
Really and truly and hopefully yours,