Monday, July 16, 2012

Pet Peeve, Perfect Example

I've written before about how I detest the bizarre sort of populism that demands "participation" in the sanctuary by a cadre of lay people. Of course, this group is still very small, still only 1% of the congregation, but the idea is that somehow they "represent" the rest of us

Of course, the problem with this is: why can't the clergy represent us? In fact, that's exactly what they're supposed to do! People will say, "Oh, but the lay class or dimension of the Church needs to be seen actively up there too!" 

But that misses the whole point by actually conceding a strange sort of clericalism which essentializes the clergy as "other." In reality, all "clergy" meant originally (and should mean) is the class of people deputized to represent the Church publicly, especially in liturgical roles. By the very fact of taking on a public liturgical role, the person in question is by definition taking on a [pseudo-]clerical status and role!

Anyway, I saw a particularly egregious and obvious example of this mindset quoted on Rorate Caeli. Some liberal Spanish reporter went to an SSPX chapel to do a story and described the traditional Mass by saying it had: "no participation of any faithful in the readings or distribution of communion." a priest, a deacon, a subdeacon, or someone in minor orders of lector or acolyte not one of the "faithful"!?! How can you say, then, that there was no participation by "any faithful" in these things?? Of course, I'm sure he means there was no participation of any of the laity. But that's the whole point! By traditional definitions, the moment you are deputized to represent the congregation in the sanctuary with a role like are a cleric, or at least doing something essentially clerical! That's all a cleric ultimately is: a member of the faithful deputized to represent the Church publicly, especially in worship.

But, in the modern world of paradoxical "lay ministries," definitions have gotten messed up, and so there is this weird "us/them" construction of the laity/clergy. I blame, as often I do, mandatory celibacy. It has made the "essence" of the clergy, in so many people's minds, lay and cleric alike, not the status of public pray-er and representative of the Church (under which definition the idea of a "lay" person in such a role is simply contradictory), but rather a specific unmarried lifestyle (analogized to religious life) and state of institutional employment. The problems resulting from this are endless.


Some Random Guy said...

Is there a particular reason (other than a liberal reporter's inaccuracy) that you deem a separate clerical class as problematic for the Church? What about the episcopacy? Would you propose optional celibacy for bishops as well?

As I see it, there will always be an "us/them" regardless of mandatory celibacy. It just goes with the territory of there being a hierarchical institution. So I guess I'm not exactly sure what you're hung-up on here...

A Sinner said...

No, I'm not suggestion optional celibacy for bishops.

There will always be a lay/clergy "distinction" (though it need not take the form of caste as it does currently.)

However, my point was just that the way the distinction is structured, there is actually no real way for the laity to be "represented" in liturgy or church government or any public role like that...because the minute you become a public figure like that in the Church, you are essentially doing something clerical.

It would be like...deciding that "politicians" are the problem with Congress, and therefore deciding to add a certain number of congressional seats for "non-politician civilians" so that non-politicians are represented in congress too!

The problem, of course, is that the minute they get a seat and a vote in Congress they are, at that point, a politician by that very fact!

So it won't end up representing participation by the "non-politician" class in the legislature anymore because participation in the legislature like that (outside direct democracy) makes one a politician by definition. Inasmuch as one is then a member of the class of legislators and not a member, any longer, of the class of people who aren't.

Or it could be like requiring a certain number of generals in the army to be "civilians." Well, the moment they become generals, they are no longer civilians really!

Insisting on lay ministers is thus silly. Some woman or man with 70's mustache and mustard colored suit who comes up out of the front pew to read the Epistle doesn't particularly make me feel "represented" as a lay person anymore than a priest or deacon does or instituted lector would, exactly because this "lay reader" is from a class of volunteers deputized to participate in liturgy like that whereas I am not (well, except as a choir member and erstwhile altar server).

This idea that lay people need to see "ourselves" in the sanctuary (in the form of the tiny 1% of the congregation who volunteers for such things) implies that, somehow, a priest is sooooo different from us that he is inadequate to represent us.

Even though the difference between him and us is simply that he has been deputized (in ordination) to represent the Church publicly, which difference also exists (practically, if not with the same theological precision) in any "lay" people deputized for liturgical roles. So if a priest is inadequate to represent us, the "lay ministers" are just as inadequate.

At most, they just start forming a THIRD class of, essentially, minor clerics, in between the major clerics and the laity, defeating the purpose of the idea of them as "representative" of all the laity who don't get to "participate" in that manner.

Because the very distinction in question is the "public participant" vs. "congregation" distinction. That's what "clergy" vs. "lay" ultimately is. But the moment you draw a member of the congregation to publicly participate...he has basically moved from the latter to the former group, and so isn't particularly representative any longer of the latter!

Han said...


While I agree with your point, I think the problem cannot be solved by relaxing mandatory celibacy. The problem is inherent in Latin sacramental theology of the priesthood.

By claiming that ordination leaves some sort of indelible mark on the ordained, and by explaining the ministry of the priest as acting "in persona Christi," Latin theology itself--not the misapplication of clerical discipline--creates a separation between clerics and the rest of the Church. Between ontologically distinguishing clerics from the rest of the Christian people with this "indelible mark" business, and between emphasising the first person singular in the mouth of the priest in all the sacraments, is it surprising that people have difficulty with the notion that the priest represents the faithful? Everything about the Latin theology of ordination signals that the priest represents Christ to non-priests (which is not exactly wrong, but...) rather than the idea that the ministerial priesthood is but a subset of a royal priesthood of all the Church representing the people in presidency to God (which is why the consent of the congregation, in the form of the "axios" cry, is part of the Orthodox rites of ordination).

I am not claiming that this is the cause of clericism--any church with a hierarchy is going to be afflicted by clericist elements, but rather that mandatory clerical celibacy is not the primary cause of the problem. Fundamentally, unless the Roman Catholic Church revises its theology on ordination to recognize that the priest has NO POWER (not simply no authority) to administer sacraments without the Church, the priest will always be seen as a man apart, in essence, not just in role, from other Christians, and this quasi-Albigensianism in Roman Catholicism will persist.

A Sinner said...

An interesting point, though I would see it as a question of re-emphasis rather than a need to "totally revise" our theology of the priesthood.

It is an issue of emphasis. As you say, the notion of the priest representing Christ to non-priests is "not exactly wrong," but it is a question of imbalanced emphasis.

Specifically, it needs to be re-emphasized that the Church is the Body of Christ, and that the priest representing Christ like that comes through representing the Church. That the ministerial priesthood is, "a subset of a royal priesthood of all the Church representing the people in presidency to God" and that inasmuch as the priest is to be identified with Christ, so too should each Christian!

Of course, there is the "Bride/Bridegroom" aspect, but also the "Body/Head" aspect that are really two sides of the same coin. The former would seem to emphasize the difference between Christ and the Church, the latter would seem to recognize their unity. This, as you recognize, has effects on where the priest fits; are we to identify with his role, or rather to distinguish his role? I think, actually, both are true.

Western theology, in its notion of priestly mediation, seems to emphasize Christ (and thus the priest) as coming FROM the Father, being "on the side of" the Father and the divine side of things in the mediation. Representing the Father to us.

Eastern theology, in its notion of priestly mediation, seems to emphasize Christ (and thus the priest) GOING BACK to the Father FROM humanity, being "on our side" in the mediation, representing US to the Father.

Of course, in a mediation, the truth is that the mediator is "on both sides." Christ both represents us to the Father AND represents the Father to us. He is to be identified with the Father AND yet we can also identify with Him (because it is through Him we return to the Father and are divinized.)

So neither is wrong, but it's a matter of restoring balance to the emphasis.

And I think a big part of the reason for the current imbalance is the practicalities of a separate clerical "caste." This theology did not so much CAUSE the caste-structure, so much as the caste-structure caused this imbalanced "set apart, top-down" emphasis in the theology (which needs to be balanced by more of the "representing us, bottom-up" notions.)

Anonymous said...

In Eastern ecclesiology, the Priest is primarily the representative of the Bishop who is, in turn, the representative of Christ (though the Priest and Bishop do also represent the Congregation to God, but less visibly). The Congregation is more visibly represented by the Deacon and by the servers.

So a more vigorous diaconate might ameliorate the problems you identify.

(I'm Russian Orthodox, and have been intermittently reading your blog for a while; I completely forgot how I stumbled across it originally.)