Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Synod 2020. Number 15. HORRIFIED: Lay led parishes.



Meetings for the "listening " stage of the Synod continue around our diocese in parishes and various groupings. I attended an excellent talk on the "Social Mission of the Church" at St Charles', in Liverpool last night given my Mgr John Armitage, Rector of the Shrine at Walsingham. The Real Faith explained in a down to earth way - I think that can be described as an experience as rare as hen's teeth!

I did hear some other less welcome news. That there is talk that after the Synod we might be introducing lay-led parishes. To say that I feel strongly on this issue might be an understatement, but bear with me.

If this is even being considered, I would argue that:
- there are overwhelming practical difficulties to achieving this; 
- it is a completely Protestant conception;
- it would be replacing one legitimate hierarchy, hallowed by tradition and instituted by Our Lord, for a completely illegitimate hierarchy, seen only in groups that have protested against the Catholic Church, and not instituted by Our Lord.

What training would there be for this role for this role? Given that priests take six / seven years to Ordination and then serve a curacy.

Would said Leaders live in the Presbytery? Would they be paid? More than priests are paid? What would be the relationship with the parish priest, nominally in charge (I presume)?

Besides these practical difficulties, at the heart of Catholicism, as Mgr Armitage said last night, is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (and I give it that title deliberately), for it is the act that turns our human suffering (which is always unpleasant and evil) into sacrifice, which is an act of love (we sacrifice for who and what we love willingly - as Christ did on the cross).

Any Catholic community needs to be lead by the Eucharist, centered on the Eucharist, gathered for the Eucharist. By practical necessity a lay person cannot lead the Eucharist, cannot gather us to the Eucharist, cannot make the Eucharist present among us. (And I mean here, the practical ability to confect the Mass, not that a lay person cannot teach others or be an example to others of Eucharistic love in a most powerful way.) 

The whole idea of parachuting priests in to become sacrament machines is so antithetical to post Vatican II thinking that I can hardly believe it is even being considered. But, of course, for the even more sacred cow of lay empowerment (with all its concomitant heresies such as the ordination of women and lay-led Eucharists) any principle can be sacrificed. Joining in with these bright ideas rooted in secular liberalism is no more than walking into a euthanasia clinic of our own making. Look around, the world of secular liberalism in which we live is lost, spiritually and morally; divided, rudderless and without effective leadership. Is it really a model we want to follow?

I think such an idea would be a practical disaster, condemning our Catholic communities to a slow and painful death. 

The number of priests in relation to people coming to Mass is actually not that bad - if I recall the data presented at our own Synod gatherings not so long ago. That is, comparing it to the past in this particular diocese and indeed, from my reading, even compared to other "Catholic" countries, such a Malta.

Yes, some of our churches are in the wrong place. Yes, we perhaps built too many churches in the days of plenty before the 1960's. If such a radical and unnatural scheme as lay-led parishes is seriously being considered, I would hope that other alternatives would be looked at as well.

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I understand that keeping a presence at the most local level is an ideal that we probably all subscribe to but not at the cost of that presence being  an emaciated and dying one, for that is no witness at all to lead us or anyone else to glory.

A hundred years ago, Catholic churches were far fewer than they are now, yet without much public transport and with no cars, people still got to Mass every Sunday (more than do so now). Perhaps the time has come to consolidate our parishes in a bold and deliberate way? Looking to an ideal of one parish in each town (or area of a city). So closing many parishes - yes. At the moment, we have far too many Masses - still a choice of times in many parishes where the church is never full. A hangover to the days when several Masses were needed to simply accommodate the number of people coming to Mass. Theologically, one Sunday Mass in one community is the ideal. We could approach that ideal much more reasonably in these days.

What has been happening heretofore is failing communities/parishes suffering death by a thousand cuts. First the school goes, then the parish centre, next it looses it's priest and is merged with the neighbouring parish, now we are to suffer being led by the longest standing Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion? If we are to be radical in facing the challenges of the time, let us do so with courage, not with ever-fading, increasingly blurry photocopies of what was once a thriving community.

Certainly, many practical matters would need to be taken in hand. Arrangements would need to be put in place for transport assistance for those who found it difficult to travel - car-sharing, mini-buses, liaising with local bus companies... whatever. Not impossible, surely.

Imagine every Catholic Mass in the Archdiocese on a Sunday would have a full church! Quite a witness to anyone chancing to call in.

The churches closed would not necessarily need to be all sold off and our presence lost.

Halls and premises could be utilised to keep the Catholic presence alive. Not in some fake way of imitating Protestants with lay led services but by the real work that the Second Vatican Council calls lay people to: active witness in the world, where those outside the Church look on and say, "Wow! Why is that person doing that?" They will know we are Christian by our love. Premises could be put to community use: a large  Presbytery  could be offered to groups such as L'Arche. Whether it would be places for the homeless, day centres for the elderly,  credit unions or food banks. If we have this spare money to pay lay people, let's put it to better use than making Christ's Priesthood redundant. 

Priests to lead the Church. 
Lay people to lead the world.
Is this so wrong?

I'm not suggesting this as THE answer, but merely postulating that that other models are available - apart from 1970's ones and Protestant ones.

3 comments:

Kenny said...

Thanks Simon a very thoughtful reflection and I am in total agreement. I find it difficult to understand that those who proclaim Vat11 are to keen to mingle the roles of priest and the lay people they both have very defined and distinct roles. I always understood my role as a priest is to feed the Lords flock sacramentally in order that they could then feed the world with the Gospel. The witness of a layperson in the workplace, home or school is so powerful. As a priest I have many times been humbled by the witness of so many people whose presence radiates the love of God. The one common factor they all have is their love of the priesthood, I have always felt so supported by such people. I already question the use of funeral ministers for the reasons you stated the lack of formation, and also that the death of a loved one is a wonderful opportunity to evangelise the family of the desseased. The presence of a priest is the presence of Christ in whose name we act, the good shepherd who brings comfort and peace. The good holy people of God the ones who actually practice their faith would be horrified by lay led parishes. As an aside my friends dad who was a daily mass goer would joke,the women are saying the Mass,when it was replaced by a Eucharistic service he would then take himself off to the Blessed Sacrament shrine, am sure this would be the response of many of our people.

Anonymous said...

amen father - priests are to be priests - fathers and shepherds and that is why we have not got the number we need - the church is trying to reinvent itself - becoming what we think we should be - sing a new church into being coz we don't like the one we've got! theres a tune for that to be sung to i am sure


a concerned christian

Jack said...

The online survey for Synod 2020 appears to be structured around Gaudium et Spes, the Vatican II ‘Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World’ – the Latin text actually says ‘de Ecclesia in mundo huius temporis’ rather than 'the Modern World’(official Vatican translation), an expression which is susceptible to ideological manipulation. English is not the best language for doing theology. The English term ‘world’ does not distinguish between mundum and saeculum, for example, and both are used in GS and which have very different theological meanings. As Fathers Simon and Kenny imply, the primary role of the laity it to show forth the charity of Christ in the world of everyday life (‘Caritas Christi eluceat’ is a maxim which some Liverpool veterans may recall) and to reshape it so it conforms more to Gospel imperatives. The role of the priest is to strengthen us sacramentally for that task, and I hope priests are strengthened and affirmed when they see the laity active in the world, but it is a task which is becoming increasingly difficult, and at times impossible, for a multitude of complex reasons which we haven't even begun to address as a Church.

Vatican II is rightly a point of reference for Synod 2020. However, we, the laity, must educate ourselves about the intentions of the Council, about what the Council Fathers intended. In the diocese of Liverpool we are fortunate as Archbishop Heenan has left us a published account of his experience at the Council, which he attended as our archbishop. I'd like to suggest that before the synod meetings we read chapters 24-26 of John Carmel Heenan, A Crown of Thorns: An Autobiography 1951-63 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1974). On p. 382 Heenan stated that 'the Church in this country was saved by the good sense of the laity'. May good sense prevail at the synod!

As for the lack of clergy, the French Academician (and Cardinal) Jean-Marie Lustiger argued that the lack of vocations to the priesthood is a consequence of the spiritual poverty of a particular church. Build up the Church spiritually and vocations will increase. See Jean-Marie Lustiger, Dare to Believe (Slough: St Paul Publications, 1986). The following chapter, entitled ‘Renewal cannot be programmed’ is also worth reading for its prudent observations. At one point in the late 1990s the diocese of Paris/Lustiger was ordaining more priests per annum that in any other year since the French Revolution.

Thank you, Father, for posting about the synod.