Tag Archives: Roman Rite

Celibacy is essential to the Priesthood of the New Covenant

by Br. Alexis Bugnolo

There has been, since the time of Vatican II, a lot of spilt ink on the possibility of opening the priesthood to married men, or even of allowing the ordained to marry. And in this regard there have been some notable defenses of the immemorial practice of celibacy in the Roman Rite for its priests.

It is not my point to review them or enter into the debate, but only to make some observations which are as necessary to be made as they are often forgotten, and this especially now when Bergoglio is about to attempt to destroy the celibate priesthood forever.

The first is that celibacy is not merely a question of discipline. This is one of the fundamental errors of the entire debate and often made on both sides.

As a Franciscan, whose spirituality directs us to contemplate the Lord Jesus and imitate Him up close, I have always found it rather incomprehensible that anyone can frame the discussion of celibacy as one of discipline.

  • Our Lord was perfectly chaste and never married. This is the soteriological fact that should be in the forefront of our minds at all times, when we think about this argument.
  • A priest by his ordination receives a sacramental character which conforms him to Jesus Christ, the High Priest.

It follows, then, that there is a fittingness (convenientia, in Latin) between chastity and the priesthood. And this fittingness is inherent in the essence of the priesthood.* For as Saint Paul says, priests are ordained to be Ambassadors of God and Dispensers of the Mysteries of God.  Being an ambassador means that one exists to represent God and His will. Being a Dispenser, means that one is responsible not only for what is given out but the cleanliness of how it is given out.

Second, since the Mysteries of God, the Sacraments, are all Holy, it follows that the man who Dispenses them should be all holy. “Holy” in Scripture means set apart, dedicated.

For those who understand the spiritual life, then, it is quickly recognized that the one vice which distracts from being holy, from the Holy and from the will of God and a unique dedication to That alone, is the vice of impurity. Which certainly can be fostered outside of marriage, but which is rather impossible to extract oneself from in marriage, where, thankfully, it does not produce mortal sin necessarily if kept within bounds of nature and the Sacrament, though it nevertheless is just as distracting.

So for a priest to have his mind on God at all times, it is essential that he be chaste, and thus, the discipline of celibacy is an essential requirement to fulfill that duty.

This does not mean that the clergy of the Byzantine Rites, who are married men and then ordained priests, are any less priests, but it is much more difficult for them. Which may be why God gave them such an inspiring Liturgy which is so powerful to attract the attention of the mind to heavenly things.

In the West, however, our Liturgies were always more simple. But the discipline of celibacy was more common and became obligatory, after the Church saw how awful was the consequence of omitting the practice.

A truly celibate priest, therefore, is truly chaste. There is no possibility that one who identifies as a sodomite or who consents to impure pleasure of any kind, is a holy priest, or can be a holy priest. It is an ontological impossibility in the order of things supernatural.

Defend and support chaste priests and defended always the practice of celibacy. These are from God and we cannot value them too little.

Third and finally, what the Church needs is not the end of celibacy but the spread of celibacy. I mean to say, the Church needs to revive the minor orders and invite men to accept them in a celibate life. By extending the concept of the clergy back to its traditional sources of porters, exorcists, lectors, acolytes, subdeacons, deacons, priests and bishops, the Church will evangelize the world more effectively by promoting the notion that with God’s grace and love of Christ, celibacy is a powerful witness to the supernatural and frees a man to work in Christ’s vineyard like no other discipline can do for him.

CREDITS: The Featured Image is Adriaen Ysenbrandt’s, The Mass of St. Gregory the Great, which depicts a miracle during the Mass said by the Saintly Pope. The image is in the public domain in the USA according to Wikipedia. The actually painting is now in the Getty Museum, which is worth visiting to see this Masterpiece alone!

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* For those students of scholastic philosophy and theology, I use here the term essential in its proper sense (essentiale as meaning essentiae), but in the title I used it in the referential sense (essentiale as meaning ad essentiam). The former is what belongs to the essence of the thing, the latter is what regards the essence of the thing, such as being helpful or fitting or defensive.

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Priestly Solidarity and the Altar

Immagine 052Signs and Symbols are not reality, they signify or indicate it.  And a good sign or symbol indicates in a manner understood by all, that which it was intended to indicate.

There are many such signs and symbols in the Ancient Roman Rite which are not so easily understood today.  Part of this has to do with the great cultural changes which have taken place since the time of the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution.  In the second, just mentioned, phase of cultural change, the slogan of the day was, “Equality, Liberty, Fraternity”.  In the name of a slogan, often what happens is the opposite of the slogan.  In the French Revolution, the slogan was practiced as if it meant, “Superiority for the Revolutionaries, Liberty to do as we please to our enemies, and Fraternity in homicide and the destruction of the State and Church.”

Egalitarianism is one of the doctrines which are consequent to the slogan of the French Revolution, “Equality!”.  So deep is this only-apparent value in French Society today, that you must beware when taking a train, because the first class car is not the first car in the train, it can be positioned anywhere among the many coaches.  When I happened to be in France a few years ago, I asked a Frenchman the reason for this bizarre practice, and he said, “We are a nation that abides by equality for all.  If the first class car was always first, it would mean that all others were second class citizens!”  To which I wryly remarked, “Well if equality is so important to the French, tell me, why is it that the First Class car is still called “First Class”?”

Egalitarianism seeks as a philosophy to affirm the equality of all, by means of symbols, which are not so apt; they are not so apt, because as a philosophy, Egalitarianism is not really about equality, it is about disorder.  Right order requires, as I mentioned in my previous post on the Short Treatise to Order and Disorder, a relation among superior and inferior, before and after, father to son, etc..  When you affirm that all should be equal in dignity or rights, then you are affirming that there should be no order.  That is why the slogan of the French Revolution was the slogan of a chaotic political movement which pushed the slaughter of thousands of noblemen and clergy and anyone else who decried its own barbarity.

In the recent history of the Catholic Church we have seen the pervading influence of modern culture, the culture in which we live, find its way into proposals regarding how the Church should be or is conducting its Mission in the world.  Some of these proposals have taken root in the manner in which the liturgy is conducted.  And one of these regards where the priest stands when offering the August Sacrifice of the Mass.

Now, to be a priest, is to be a mediator, and to be a mediator is to stand between the two things among which one mediates. As Aristotle remarked, a means participates in both extremes.  And commenting on this observation of the great Philosopher, St. Bonaventure drew out its conclusion regarding Christ’s own Priesthood:  to be our Mediator, the Son of God became man, so that having assumed a singular human nature, the Man Christ, the Eternal Word could occupy, as it were, a middle position between the Eternal Father and sinful humanity.

The Incarnation, therefore is signified by an intermediary position.  And thus, the priesthood’s proper role as mediator can rightly be signified by an intermediary position.  The Redemption, too, is signified by an intermediary position, because it is precisely when God become Man is put to death as a criminal, that the Son of God as Mediator takes the absolute position between the All Holy God and sinful humanity.  The position from which the great prayer of Christ upon the Cross obtained the Redemption of the world!

This is what, I believe, is signified in the ancient practice, found in all the liturgies of East and West, known in popular terms, today, as the position Ad Orientem.

When a priest offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass he must stand at the Altar.  If he stands at the Altar facing the people, the Altar is between him and the people.  If he stands Ad Orientem, the people are at his back, and he is between Altar and people.

Priestly Solidarity, that is the solidarity a priest should have with his people, as mediator for them with God, is signified well when he stands at the Altar and faces Ad Orientem, that is, toward the Tabernacle, the Aspe of the Church, the liturgical direction of God. Doing so, makes him take an intermediary, and hence sacerdotal position, the position of a mediator, who prays for AND with his flock, to God, supplicating Mercy, seeking pardon and grace.

Ad Orientem, therefore, can be seen as the optimum position for the priest offering sacrifice, for the mediator, for the sacerdos who wishes to stand together with Christ, in the most significant physical position possible, with the One who offered Himself on behalf of mankind to the Father, and who now offers Himself again for the flock gathered in prayer with His priest on earth.

In such wise, the Altar no longer divides priest and people; the priest no longer looks down upon his flock, but rather, with them, looks up to God. — Seen thus, it is easy to understand why the alteration of the position where the priest stands to offer the Sacrifice, affected the architecture of churches and the desire of architects to depart from the classical forms of Catholic church design (But I’ll leave that topic for another post).