Monday, October 12, 2009

Bishop Lahey Affair and the Question of Catholic Priesthood and Celibacy -- 4

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The Catholic Priesthood

According to the Catholic Church teaching, Jesus Christ instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Orders. Through this sacrament, men receive the power and grace to perform the sacred duties of deacons, priests and bishops.

The first or highest degree of the Holy Orders is the office of the bishop (episcopate). They have the fullness of the priesthood. The second or middle degree is the office of the priest (presbyterate). The third or lowest degree is the office of the deacon (diaconate).

We will deal here with the second degree -- the presbyterate or priesthood.

Jesus Christ himself gave power to his disciples who are considered priests to offer the sacrifice of the Mass saying: "Do this in remembrance of me," (The Bible: Luke 22:19).

On his resurrection day, Jesus gave his disciples power to forgive sins by saying: "As the Father has sent me, I also send you....Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained," (The Bible: John 20:21-23)

Before his Ascension, Jesus gave his disciples the mission to preach the Gospel and to dispense the sacraments: " All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world," (The Bible: Matthew 28:18-20).

The Effects of Ordination to the Priesthood

1. An increase of sanctifying grace: The priesthood being a high calling, God give more grace to the priest.

2. Sacramental grace: Through this a priest gets God's help in his sacred ministry.

3. A sacramental character: Priesthood lasts forever and it is a sharing in the priesthood of Christ, and it gives supernatural powers (the power to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ in the holy sacrifice of the Mass and the power to forgive sins in the name of God in the Sacrament of Penance). Even if a priest leaves his priesthood and becomes laicized, or leaves the Catholic Church (apostacy) and joins another Christian Church or religion, or is excommunicated from the Catholic Church, he still remains a priest. He retains the power, although not the authority, of priesthood. In case of serious accident or danger of death, if a laicized priest listens to confession and absolves sin, it becomes valid. If a laicized priest want to return to the active ministry of priesthood, he would not need to be ordained again. With the pope's permission and completing other requirements by his bishop or other Church authority, he can do so.

Two Classes of Priests

a) Diocesan (or Secular) Priests: They belong to the diocese, whose head is the bishop. They are bound to obey the bishop. Generally, diocesan priests are in charge of parishes as 'parish priests'.

b) Religious (or Regular) Priests: These priests are members of religious orders or congregations (for example: the Augustinians, Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, and the like. These priests willingly take the three evangelical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They live in communities with other members and they are obedient to their own Superiors. These priests generally are devoted to prayer, and to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. They run schools, hospitals, orphanages, and charitable institutions. They organize missions and retreats, and engage in media work (publishing newspapers, magazines and books, and producing radio and TV programmes) and other religious publicity work. The pope usually sends them as missionaries to different countries. These priests work in dioceses with the permission of the local bishops, who, for serious reasons, may also tell them to leave their dioceses and move elsewhere for work.

Dignity of Catholic Priesthood

He is a representative (or agent) of God on earth and the dispenser of his mysteries. He can call down God upon the altar and convert bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. He can absolve sins of others in the name of God. God's angels even don't have these powers as the priests have. The priest is also called the alter Christus (another Christ).

St. John Chrysostom (De Proditione Judae 1, 6, PG49, 380C) says: "The priest, a figure of Christ, pronounces these words, but their efficacy and the grace are from God."

"The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus." --St. Jean-Marie Vianney

"I think of all those priests who quietly present Christ's words and actions each day to the faithful and to the whole world, striving to be one with the Lord [Jesus Christ] in their thoughts and their will, their sentiments and their style of life. How can I not pay tribute to their apostolic labors, their tireless and hidden service, and their universal charity? And how can I not praise the courageous fidelity of so many priests who, even amid difficulties and incomprehension, remain faithful to their vocation as 'friends of Christ,' who he has called by name, chosen and sent?" --Pope Benedict XVI (in his letter proclaiming a "Year for Priests", 2009)

"Without priests there could be no real Church of Christ." --Father Francis B. Cassilly, S.J.

Priesthood is Completely Voluntary

Catholic priesthood is fully voluntary. No one is coerced to become a priest. Years of training is given in the seminary to make him appropriately knowledgeable and to form his conscience solidly so that he can distinguish between good and evil regarding Catholic faith, morality, ethics and the like. On the very day of ordination to the priesthood, the candidate is formally asked for his consent in presence of hundreds of Catholics. If at that very moment, a candidate opts out, he will not be punished.

Sources: 1. My Catholic Faith: A Catechism in Pictures by Bishop Louis LaRavoire Morrow, pp.330-337.
2. Straight Answers (Vol. II) by Father William P. Saunders, Ph.D., p.77.

Priestly Celibacy

The word celibacy means the unmarried state. It's not a dogmatic teaching but only a Church law that candidates for priesthood and already-ordained priests in the Roman Church (also called Western Church or Latin-rite Church) require to be celibate. Some of the Oriental Churches (also called Eastern-rite Churches) that are united with Rome maintaining allegiance to the pope, allow married men to receive Catholic holy orders and live with their wives after ordination. They can't marry once they are ordained a priest. Those who are priests, belonging to religious orders and taking the three evangelical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, have to remain celibate. Bishops, in these Churches, are always selected from the unmarried priests. There is another exception for formerly-married Protestant and Anglican (also called Episcopalians in the U.S.A.) clergymen who convert to the Catholic Church and, with the pope's permission, subsequently get ordained as Catholic priests. They are allowed to remain married.

Among the reasons for celibacy are: 1) To imitate Christ, a priest is expected to be holy. Through celibacy, a priest can fully devote himself in pursuit of holiness and imitating Jesus. 2) For offering prayer and sacrifice of the Mass with a clean heart and pure mind, he must be ever be ready. Celibacy helps him do it most worthily. 3) Celibacy helps him preach the Gospel by his own example and words. 4) A married priest has his heart divided between his own family and his priestly work. He could not expose his wife and children to the hardships of missionary life, and he would dread bringing contagion to them from visits to the sick. (Religion: Doctrine and Practice by Father Francis B. Cassilly, S.J., p.298)

Some Biblical quotations on celibacy: (a) Jesus Christ invites one to practise perfect chastity when he says to his disciples: "There are those who refrain from marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let him who can understand, understand it" (Matthew 19:12). (b) St. Paul tells the Corinthians: "Given my preference, I should like you to be as I am. Still, each one has his own gift from God, one this and another that. To those not married and to widows I have this to say: It would be well if they remain as they are, even as I do myself; but if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. It is better to marry than to be on fire," (1 Corinthians 7:7-9). (c) St. Paul further states to the Corinthians: "I should like you to be free of all worries. The unmarried man is busy with the Lord's affairs, concerned with pleasing the Lord; but the married man is busy with this world's demands and occupied with pleasing his wife. This means he is divided," (1 Corinthians 7:32).

If we look at the history of the Catholic Church, we see that most of the disciples of Jesus Christ were married, but they left everything, including their wives, to follow Jesus, who himself was a celibate. As celibacy was being accepted by some, in the early centuries of the Catholic Church, we see both married and unmarried clergy. The first legislation enacted by a local council of the Church was in Elvira of Spain in about 306 A.D. and it prohibited bishops, priests and deacons and other ministers to marry. After this, other local councils followed suit. By the 12th century, marriage in major religious orders and congregations became unlawful. The Second Lateran Council in Rome in 1139 had the first universal Church law made celibacy compulsory for all. In 1563, the Council of Trent confirmed the law and made it enforceable in the Roman Church. That practice is still in force.

Demand for Married Priests and Women Priests

After the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) brought about certain changes in the Catholic Church, many priests left the priesthood and became laicized. The number of vocations to the priesthood is also in decline, especially in the western world. More and more priests are reaching retirement age, but there is not a sufficient replacement for them by young ones. In the recent past, the clergy sex abuse scandals in the western world came to the limelight and there was a widespread condemnation of it. In the light of these situations, the demand for married priests is growing.

In the past several decades, the feminist movement was strong and more women were becoming aware of their rights in different spheres of life. Some women, especially nuns, have been in the forefront in their demand for women priests in the Catholic Church. Their logic is that the male-dominated Church can't keep the half of its Catholic members, who are females, inactive in the Church ministry of priesthood. They feel that the Church would be invigorated if the women are allowed to serve as priests. They would also bolster the number of priests in the world.

In spite of all these demands and movements, the Catholic Church is still holding on to its position of celibate and all-male priests.

(Continued)

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