ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
76. Both the ceremonies and texts of the ordination rites are to be revised. The address given by the bishop at the beginning of each ordination or consecration may be in the mother tongue.
When a bishop is consecrated, the laying of hands may be done by all the bishops present.
It is somewhat surprising that Sacrosanctum Concilium says so little about priests, with para. 76 simply calling for a reform of the rites and the texts of ordinations, and later, some remarks on the priest’s obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, then referred to as “saying the office” or “reading the breviary.” In fact, an entire separate decree on the ministry and life of priests was produced by the Council, Presbyterorum Ordinis, promulgated two years after SC as the Council was drawing to its final dismissal in 1965. PO is a remarkable document that reads very well today. I linked the 1965 document so that you can at least get a flavor of its theology and pastoral applications.
In fact, one wonders how the priesthood would have fared in the United States had the full teachings of Presbyterorum Ordinis been put into force—or, in my seminary experience—even read. For that matter, how different would Catholic worship look today if the directives of Sacrosanctum Concilium had been adhered to. It is not uncommon to read critics of Vatican II argue that many of the “changes” after the Council go far beyond what the Council Fathers intended. While there is some truth to this, the claim is equally true that many did not grasp the serious need within the Church for a variety of reexaminations and reform, including an overhaul of the ordained ministry.
I am thinking about addressing Presbyterorum Ordinis as a separate entry, perhaps on the Friday stream. When one sees the idealism projected by the Council in PO, such as priests living in circumstances where daily fraternal prayer, meals and recreation provide support in the face of loneliness and trials, it is hard to understand how the priesthood has fallen into such hard times today. I spent the week before last visiting family up in Buffalo, which seems to have replaced Boston, Massachusetts, as ground zero in the tragic unfolding and cover-up of clerical abuse of minors and institutional cover-up. The tension among Buffalo Catholics is so great that I half expected to bump into the Boston crusading attorney Mitch Garabedian, portrayed magnificently by actor Stanley Tucci in the film “Spotlight,” drinking coffee in a local Tim Horton’s. [As it turned out, he was in Buffalo the following week.]
The Buffalo tragedy—repeated many times and in many dioceses—has caused many people to lose faith in the Church, or at least in its ordained leaders. While civil law enforcement is absorbing responsibility for investigation of Church wrongdoing, the next stage of recovery ought to be an assessment of how it happened. Again, I see traditionalists blaming Vatican II for the deterioration of priestly order, but their solutions—which seems to be turning some seminary students into unquestioned defenders of an older order that produced as many abusers before the Council as after—is simply a return to the clerical hubris that poisons every age.
The Fathers of Vatican II, or most of them, were certainly aware things were amiss in the hierarchy before the Council. Popes John XXIII and Paul VI were keenly aware that the Nazi scourge had emerged in Germany, in a primarily Lutheran and Catholic environment. They were aware that French political-church life had caused many Catholics to look to socialism and communism in the years after World War II as the best hope for its blue-collar workers. New missionary ventures to the alienated, such as the famous “Worker Priest Movement,” were suppressed by Pope Pius XII in the 1950’s. Many bishops came to the Council demanding to see a reform of the Roman Curia, a Herculean task that Pope Francis continues to face to this day.
Vatican II would never have lasted four sessions [1962-1965] without most of its participants being convinced that a malaise was afflicting the Twentieth Century Church. The documents put forward by the Council have been addressed over the last half-century rather selectively by every segment of the Church, but perhaps no more so than those in sacred orders, the bishops, priests, and deacons. So, I think it is important to look back at the Council writings to discern what the fathers hoped for from the clerical state in leading a reform of the Church in capite et membris.
Para. 76 is but a faint introduction to the riches of Presbyterorum Ordinis that would come forth two years later, but even here we see traces of reform to come. The very act of calling for new rites of ordination indicate that the old versions spoke of a vision of priesthood that Council fathers wished to reform. The directive that the address given by the ordaining bishop may be given in the mother tongue of the place is an indication of connectedness of the laity to the life and holiness of priests. Para. 76 invites all the bishops in attendance to lay hands upon the heads of those being ordained. Eleven years later, at my own ordination, all the priests in attendance laid hands upon us as a symbol of the unity of priesthood.
PO was written two years after para. 76, after the fathers had an opportunity to discuss and debate the full ministry of Apostolic Succession and to define the respective ministries of deacons, priests, and bishops. I will introduce PO on the blogsite in a different stream, as it strikes me that a fuller understanding of priestly life is desperately needed for the Church to nurture its members and energize its evangelical outreach.