ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
16. The study of sacred liturgy is to be ranked among the compulsory and major courses in seminaries and religious houses of studies; in theological faculties it is to rank among the principal courses. It is to be taught under its theological, historical, spiritual, pastoral, and juridical aspects. Moreover, other professors, while striving to expound the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation from the angle proper to each of their own subjects, must nevertheless do so in a way which will clearly bring out the connection between their subjects and the liturgy, as also the unity which underlies all priestly training. This consideration is especially important for professors of dogmatic, spiritual, and pastoral theology and for those of holy scripture.
In 1955 the eminent American Catholic Historian Monsignor John Tracy Ellis stirred up considerable controversy in the U.S. Church with a published criticism of the poor state of Catholic scholarship in the United States. As a graduate student at Catholic University around 1930, Ellis was so disillusioned with the poor quality of instruction that he sought to complete his work at the University of Illinois. Later he would write, “Historically Americans have been wary of their scholars, and it is doubtful if there is a major nation in the world whose history reveals more suspicion of its academicians than our own.” To the contentions of the American Ellis, I can add recollections of famous European theologians such as Hans Kung and Bernard Haring who found seminaries in Rome to be woefully insipid, as a rule. The Redemptorist Haring, you might remember, preferred the foreign missions to taking a Roman doctorate in moral theology after World War II.
Section 16 probably resonates with the reasonable expectations of most readers as the normal and proper way to run a railroad, so to speak, when discussing the scholarship necessary in Catholic colleges and seminaries to produce leaders appropriate to the age. The document itemizes both the wide variety of theological fields to be mastered as well as the unity of the different parts of religious study. Para. 16, of course, is part of a teaching document on the sacred liturgy, but notice how the instruction strives to incorporate the systematic, historical, spiritual, pastoral, and judicial aspects of theology into the study of liturgy. After the Council, liturgical scholars would attempt to include interdisciplinary subjects including art, aesthetics, semiology [the science of symbols], and multicultural diversity into the study of liturgy.
All policy or law is purposeful, a response to a perceived problem. Para. 16’s text gives us a fair idea of the problems of theology in the pre-Vatican II Church. Liturgy was not a major focus of seminary training. That a priest comprehended the rites of the Tridentine Missal and the appropriate precepts of Canon Law was acceptable enough; there was no perception of liturgy as a living entity where much might still be discovered. There was little sense of unity in seminary curriculums between the theological disciplines, and most egregious was the limited emphasis upon Sacred Scripture, which was employed primarily as proof texts for key points of Church doctrine.
The training of priests at the time reflected the Church at the time: in counter-Reformation mode, and later in defense against modern trends of thought, the Church’s stance on nearly all aspects of its life was permanence and stability, two qualities that while highly commendable, were not a fertile feed bed for the academic curiosity we cherish today in all areas of education. In one aspect para. 16 extends its concern to Catholic education in general, not just advanced students and/or seminarians and priests. The Council did issue a decree on Seminaries, Optatam Totius, (“the best in everything,” roughly translated) which reinforced many of the principles cited here.
The priests educated about decade ahead of me were supposed to be taught their courses in Latin. As one of my friar colleagues put it, “my professors taught in English, but every now and then they would get scrupulous and try teaching in Latin again, but it was too hard for them.” No surprise there, as even the revered New England patriarch Cardinal Cushing boycotted the second session of Vatican II because he couldn’t understand the Latin of the debate. Previously, he offered to pay for a simulcast translation system for all the bishops, but the Curia preferred the confusion, or so the story is passed down.
In our own United States, the emphasis in seminary education was pastoral, as that was understood in the first half of the twentieth century. There is a well-documented explosive growth in the Catholic population via immigration and the baby boomers after World War II. Los Angeles, around 1950, was opening a new Catholic school every 90 days or thereabouts. The need, then, from seminaries was more parish priests, and not so many academics. The exceptions were the fields of Canon Law, which spelled out all matters of Church discipline and order, and morality, or more specifically, the case study of the moral manuals, the “manualist era.” Catholic seminaries fell under Ellis’s criticism of moribund academic vigor.
The implementation of para. 16 in American Catholic life is complicated to summarize. I was directly affected, and favorably. In the mid to late 1960’s the major religious orders in Washington, dissatisfied with their own major seminaries or the theology school of Catholic University, formed a charter to create the Washington Theological Coalition in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1968. I studied there during the years 1971-74 and received my M.A. The faculty consisted of the best scholars in each respective religious community, and the arrangement saved the member orders (about a dozen, I believe) the expense of running separate schools of divinity.
I found my three years there as undoubtedly the best academic years of my life. I sometimes think that doing the Café blog entries is motivated by my curiosity to answer questions the WTC awakened in me. I have referred to my liturgical professor and Franciscan brother Regis Duffy, O.F.M., on many occasions; he was typical of the gifted and imaginative scholars who passed through the Coalition (later Union) during my years and beyond. I feel that the spirit of para. 16 was implemented by the religious orders who established this enterprise.
However, there were other forces at work after the Council that created obstacles for the implementation of this Vatican II Constitution. The first was the declining number of vocations to the priesthood. The fiscal struggles to maintain the small independent/regional seminaries began to take a toll almost immediately. My school closed in 2015. And, as seminaries closed or consolidated, rectors or sponsoring religious orders had to contend with more bishops of a conservative bent who demanded a somewhat more institutional outlook in the classroom. Perhaps the best single example of such pressures was last Monday’s post on Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor in 1993, which singled out seminaries as places where theological novelties might be hurting the Church.
I would add, too, that many priests today—including the recently ordained—continue to be pastoral pragmatists, living by the saying of the late medieval spiritual writer Thomas a Kempis: “I would rather feel compunction than know its definition.” Again, I can only go by impressions, but we seem to be returning to an age of simpler piety at a time when there is a desperate need for inventive and insightful theological thought to address the challenges of our times. This tendency is most noticeable in homilies and the educational programs offered at the parish level. The irony of our times is that as priests shy away from theology, the laity and religious women have embraced all branches of theology—including liturgical theology—with great vigor, a factor very evident in the publishing news of our major university presses.
Liturgy will be as compelling as our understanding of what we do.
I am taking spring break next week to catch up on my reading; the next Saturday Sacrament post will be April 1.
I don’t normally comment on “current news” in the Café posts, for the simple reason that Catholic commentary on issues is available all over the internet—though more from the Catholic Right than the Catholic Left. My vision of the Catechist Café embodies the site as a reasonably well-researched niche for readers who take the longer view of things, those searching for the “why?” as much as the “what?” with the help of the best of the Catholic publishing world, old and new.
Today I am going to switch hats and devote one day to sheer commentary on a very recent news story, an interview of Pope Francis with the German magazine Die Zeit where the Pope expresses openness to ordaining married men in some cases. As the issue was released just yesterday (Thursday March 9), I have not read the original, but CNN seems to have done its reporting homework quite well, and I included a link to the conservative National Catholic Register as well. A somewhat different take on the interview is expressed by the National Catholic Reporter. (Both NCR’s do a poor job in policing their reader response blogs, in my view.)
The gist of the Pope’s remarks center around the idea that “viri probati,” married men proven in faith and virtue who could be ordained to the priesthood, is a “possibility” that “we have to think about.” The interview goes on to speculate that such priests would be particularly useful in “remote communities.” I hasten to add here that during Vatican II the same argument was made for ordination of married men as deacons in third world nations where clerical presence was nearly nonexistent, but in practice the highest number of married deacons came to be found in the United States.
Pope Francis (as CNN accurately points out) is not proposing the practice of ordained priests getting married after ordination. Moreover, the actuality of such a change in the Church’s discipline would require consultation with the world’s bishops in an exercise in collegiality. But this is an opportunity to begin the theological, historical, economic, and social research and discussion of the implications of such a change in the Church’s ministry.
If perchance you are a first-time visitor to the Café today, I should begin with the biographical note that I was a Roman Catholic priest who served as pastor of three parishes for about 20 years. Then I was successfully laicized under Pope John Paul II in 1998, and I have been happily married since then and have worked as a psychotherapist for the last 25 years. My opinions, then, are shaped (maybe skewed) by my history. Caveat Emptor. (“Let the buyer be aware.”)
My considerations would apply only the United States Catholic experience, If the rationale for ordaining married men is a shortage of priests to celebrate sacraments and administer parishes, one of the safest assumptions to make is that these men will be busy. There are a number of careers that ask more from a man than the priesthood—a police officer or a serviceman on active duty has a much harder job than a priest in terms of intensity and risk. However, the life of a parish priest carries its own unique pressures. In my experience the expectations of parishioners of their pastors is high and unrelenting: this is true of public events such as Sunday Mass, weddings, funerals, etc. as well as private services such as confession, counsel, and particularly the pastoral care of the sick. A pastor’s responsibilities are spelled out in Canon Law.
What the law cannot describe is the relationship of a pastor to his people. It is unimaginable for a Catholic that “his” or “her” priest would not be available for comfort at a time of great stress. In my years as a pastor my sick and hospitalized members would pass on the services of the assigned chaplain so that they could receive my ministrations. Every parish organization deemed the presence of the pastor at their routine meetings a “good housekeeping stamp” on their efforts and were often offended if I sent a representative.
I don’t recall this to complain about the responsibilities of pastoring, but I would be lying if I denied that parish priests were and are on duty 24/7. I have no doubt that there are married viri probati who would serve very successfully under these pressures. As Joe Scarborough put it this morning on “Morning Joe,” married priests would be more understanding of the problems of their married members. I would need to see some hard research from our Protestant brethren on that frequently-made assertion, but I can tell you that as a pastoral I did the clear majority of my pastoral and married couples counseling after 6 PM. So, my concern would be: what about the wives of married priests? Married to men with unpredictable lives and virtually always on call, would their (the wives’ lives) be seriously disrupted.
The ordination of married men to the priesthood introduces a new figure into the Catholic lexicon, “the pastor’s wife.” Here we have a treasure trove of information from Protestant couples, including many in my own clinical files. There are unique aspects of ministerial marriages that as Catholics might surprise us. Aside from the internal time struggles I mentioned earlier, the role of “pastor’s wife” has a semi-official status in Protestant settings; the wife is expected to assume considerable pastoral responsibility, particularly among the women of the congregation, and often without compensation. She is an object of scrutiny, and her demeaner in the local church is something of an unspoken factor in the evaluation of her husband by “pulpit committees” or elders.
Would Catholics take to the wives of their pastors? I have always suspected that something of the mystique of Catholic life rests upon the solitary heroism of the man who forsakes family and is “always there for us.” Pope Francis himself has described “accompaniment” as a major quality of a good pastor. This question spills over into the economic realm: the cost to a parish of maintaining a pastor with his wife and children in some measure of fiscal security and privacy. That a family should live in a residence on the church site, perhaps the existing rectory, is not even physically safe, let alone a healthy private setting option for a family.
Then there is the matter of the priest’s training. A married man who has earned his degree in a profession and enjoyed a fair measure of success at it, will need to take a minimal 4-6-year hiatus to complete the theological studies now required of a single seminarian in his 20’s. I can imagine a temptation to “fast-track” older men and ordain them with less preparation than currently required, which even now is rather minimal.
At the end of the day, the overriding question is always the good of the Church. No one is happy with the present day level of Catholic fervor, and we have been scrambling around all my life, at least, to find ways to stem the exodus from the Church. The assumption underlying the ordination of married men is that with more priests in circulation the spiritual health of the Church would be restored. It may come as a shock that in many mainstream Protestant traditions there is a glut of pastors because of the departure of so many members. The issue today is Christianity in a world that perceives religion as irrelevant, when it thinks of religion at all.
So, when we begin as a Catholic Church to discuss the question of married clergy more closely, it is critical that we do so from all angles. There are very good reasons to do so and we can think them through, but making a radical departure from a long custom calls for significant theological reasons. It is not a band aid solution.
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
15. Professors who are appointed to teach liturgy in seminaries, religious houses of study, and theological faculties must be properly trained for their work in institutes which specialize in this subject.
Segments 15, 16, and 17 all address the nature of priestly formation or training for the celebration of sacraments in the philosophy of the Constitution’s earlier principles posted here in previous weeks. Two things appear obvious: first, the Council fathers recognized that there were in existence a number of schools renowned for their excellence in liturgical scholarship at the time of the Council. The “liturgical changes,” then, were not invented in the fall of 1963 but came about as the fruit of at least a century of theological and interdisciplinary scholarship, though virtually no inkling of this work received attention in the world of American Catholicism.
Second, this segment follows the instruction that the success or failure of worship reform would fall significantly upon priests. There is a timeline here that would prove to have significance for those of us alive and worshipping in the 1960’s, and for decades to come. In 1963 Sacrosanctum Concilium is signed by Pope Paul. Priests are instructed to become formally trained in the liturgy, also effective in December 1963. The first approved ritual for any sacrament, in this case the Eucharist, does not appear until 1970. What resulted was a seven-year (probably longer) period of learning on the fly, experimentation, and expressions of strong passions for and against the changes initiated by Sacrosanctum Concilium.
I had a front seat for this period. I lived in a major seminary where the Mass was celebrated daily by doctors of theology teaching and writing in the Washington hub of Catholic University and religious order seminaries. These men were at ease with the new rites, which were in circulation for local use and acclimation before the formal release of the Mass of Paul VI in 1970. They were also at ease with themselves, steeped in the underlying history and theology of the changes, and used to the pressure of public scrutiny. I cannot recall many major difficulties in my own major seminary regarding Sacrosanctum Concilium.
However, as a musician I always had weekend work. For five years, I was part of a combo that provided the folk music for the Saturday Vigil Mass at the church for Arlington National Cemetery (Fort Myer). Nothing phases the military, and the chaplain/officers I worked with over the years had Viet Nam War experience and were able to make the liturgical adaptations for base Catholics in a genteel fashion as befitted the atmosphere of that base. (I am grateful to those chaplains for five years of Saturday night dinners at the officers’ club, too.)
On the other extreme, I worked in two parishes during that time span—one in old downtown Alexandria, VA, and the other out near Andrews Air Force Base. In both cases I got more than a taste of liturgical upheaval. In Alexandria, my tenure coincided with the most intense years of the Viet Nam War protests, and once a protester did take my mike. In reply, a man’s voice from a pew rang out, “Go to hell, you commie bastard.” (The first PG-13 Mass, on my watch.) My impression of most of the celebrants I worked with during those two years was of men on the edge of nervous exhaustion. Alexandria was an interesting if bipolar placement: a highly-educated constituency demanding challenging preaching and faster liturgical implementation, coupled with the old Southern traditional resistance to change.
I suspect that books have been written about the sufferings and accounts of priests during the years immediately following the Council. It is hard to describe the adjustments they had to make. In 1960 a priest could be categorized as “fast” or “slow” in terms of the length of time he took in saying Mass. Today, the personality of the priest celebrant matters a great deal, perhaps too much. The new rites of 1970 required eye contact with the congregation, an engaging body language, greater attention to voice modulation, and maybe hardest of all, an engaging, imaginative, and thoughtful sermon every Sunday.
Put another way, the priest who for years devoted his Mass to rites of the altar and reverence of the Eucharist was now told, in Sacrosanctum Concilium, that his personality was key to the sacramental experience. The introvert priest, for example, would need become an actor. Some priests stopped saying Mass publicly; many more pushed manfully through the mother of all midlife crises. It would be interesting to know why so many priests left the priesthood after Vatican II. The common assumption is that most were liberal in terms of theological persuasion and left the priesthood (and sometimes the Church) to marry and/or engage in more innovative forms of Christian work. One should wonder, though, if at least some priests despaired of living up to their new sacramental identities.
I don’t want to leave a skewed memory of history. Many priests of my acquaintance welcomed the sacramental and disciplinary changes of the Council. For them, Vatican II vindicated what their pastoral hearts had been telling them for years. For several decades after the Council these priests attended countless summer school or institute programs for renewal of their seminary theology, particularly in the area of liturgy and worship. Through the 1980’s, the Diocese of Orlando where I worked would offer a very healthy continuing education stipend as part of its compensation package.
As early as the 1990’s discussion of the shortage of priests to teach in Catholic seminaries was appearing in public, even from the USCCB itself. Such a shortage would frustrate the directives of Section 15. One easy explanation is the declining number of U.S. priests, period. But beyond that, since the Council, large numbers of lay men and women have received advanced degrees in all branches of theology, including liturgy and worship. Many of the experts in Catholic theology today are lay, and this includes many women theologians. Rumor has it that there is an unwritten bias against accomplished Catholic women teaching seminarians; if true, this is symptomatic of the sexism and clericalism that infect the institutional Church to this day.
I looked up the liturgy courses available today to seminarians and others at our Florida regional seminary. I have listed the three I could identify by code:
THY 610 LITURGICAL THEOLOGY CREDIT HOURS 3: “The study of the liturgy from a theological, historical and anthropological dimension so as to give the student an appreciation of both divine revelation and mystery as expressed in the liturgy of the Roman Rite. This includes a familiarization with both historical documents and sociological contexts in light of current magisterial teaching on the sacred liturgy.”
PFS 700 LITURGICAL PRACTICUM I CREDIT HOUR 1: “An introduction to style of celebrating sacraments, respect for theology and directives contained within the ritual books: practicum for the Sacraments of Baptism and Marriage; an understanding of the ministries of lector and acolyte, practicum for the care of the sick and the dying, burial, Eucharistic devotions, and ritual of blessings. This class is scheduled to meet two hours per week, and is for one credit. Only seminarians may register for this course.” [Sic]
PFS800 LITURGICAL PRACTICUM II CREDIT HOURS 2: “This course provides lectures and practicum experiences to prepare the student for the liturgical roles proper to the priest. The course will explore the theology and directives contained within the liturgical books and will offer practicum experience in the seminary’s pastoral languages for the sacramental and liturgical responsibilities proper to the presbyter: the celebration of the Mass (including some of the special issues relating to RCIA and Holy Week) and the Sacraments of Anointing the Sick and Penance. Only seminarians may register for this course.” [Sic]
Compared to Sacrosanctum Concilium, rather thin gruel. Imagination, and women, need not apply