Monday, March 24, 2014

A Reason NOT to Clericalize the Laity

I was reading some statements that Pope Francis recently made against clericalizing the laity. In one instance, a priest half-jokingly said that a certain layman should be ordained a deacon because he was so helpful. And here is one main reason given today in so many different forms for clericalizing the laity: they are helpful, i.e. it is convenient to do so. I heard the exact same-old stuff from an old Jesuit priest and theologian at a recent talk that I attended.

This is a huge argument for women priests: so many women are already running parishes and their administrations, sacristies, schools, hospitals, religious education, music, etc. So many women are just as good at public speaking if not better than men. So many women are just as educated if not more. So many women are x, y, x equal to or more capable than men at doing a, b, and c. But this is all on the NATURAL level. The priesthood is strictly governed by the laws of the supernatural.

In other places, the argument is made that there should be more extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion and female altar servers because there is some sort of shortage, i.e. it is convenient for them to help.

As an aside, here I think is a huge reason for the failing vocations to the priestly and religious life in the past 60 years: the liturgical reason. Yes, vocation directors may have been doing a poor job at defining what the religious or priestly lives are about (cf., but it may also be that once the external center of Catholic life, i.e. worship, becomes dictated by what is "convenient," then what appeal is there left to dedicate one's life to that? To convenience?

As with all clericalization, there is a fundamental premise: there is something "better" about being a priest that the layfolk do not have. Now, this "something" is usually presented as some form of power or influence. The cleric has the power to do things that the laity do not. And also usually therefore it is argued that the cleric can serve more than the laity.

But this premise regarding the power to do more or serve more is always disassociated from a more fundamental premise, one that upholds both the clerical and lay state alike, namely, the purpose for Church structure in the first place. The purpose of Church structure is directed by the nature of the Church herself and her mission, which is the salvation of souls, and the salvation of souls occurs only through the supernatural. All service in itself is meaningless for salvation unless it is in accordance with the New Law, which is the law of grace, which is the law that flows from God's inner nature of love, and this law, when applied concretely to our order, is necessarily hierarchical.

The hierarchy is "ordained" to salvation, and hence with respect to salvation, cleric and lay are equally vital for the life of the Church, considered as a whole (to deny this premise of equality with respect to salvation would open up the priesthood to women, among many other things). This premise of equality with respect to salvation, regardless of sex, gender, state, etc., was one of the distinguishing traits of Christianity, especially from Judaism before it. It is only in certain respects that the clerical state is superior to the lay state, such as with respect to the sacramental power to forgive sins or to consecrate the Eucharist, all through the power of Christ. Likewise, it is only in certain respects that the lay state is superior to the clerical state, such as with respect to the direct raising of children within a Catholic family or the more direct engaging of culture. But with respect to salvation, the efficacy of each state for sanctification is determined solely by God's calling of each individual to this concrete state and that individual's response to and cooperation with that vocation.

Therefore, the push to clericalize the laity out of some kind of necessity or shortage or convenience is precisely a reduction of the supernatural order to the natural, the law of grace to the law of politics or a zero-sum game, all presented behind the mask of "service."

The true solution is not to force politics against the supernatural structure but to trust that the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against the Church (Mt 16:18) and that God will supply (cf. Gen 22:8; Phil 4:19). Let the priest be as best as possible as priest, and let the layfolk be best as possible as layfolk, and everything will sort itself out.

Finally, with respect to salvation, the best state is the religious state (which may embrace both clerics and laity alike, be it noted) because the evangelical vows are precisely ordained to the sanctification of the individual. If we really cared about saving souls in this quasi-political, quasi-selfless quest, then we would be saying to priest and layman alike, "You should enter the religious life." But that only reveals the whole lie of the push to clericalize the laity because it will be responded, "Then nothing will get done! There will be no more society!" Etc. etc.

The whole purpose behind this agenda is to "do" something, forgetting that we must first "be" children of God, sanctified, and from that holiness flows the ministry or apostolate proper to each state.

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