Monday, January 20, 2014

Clericalism, Part Deux

I wrote a piece a few weeks back on the notion of women cardinals and the clericalism inherent in that desire. The essence of clericalism is the assumption that status and power determine one's worth in the Church, a far cry from Jesus' insistence that the meek will inherit the earth and the childlike will enter the kingdom of God. This attitude seems to be animating the call for female clergy or cardinals, and it is not a healthy one.

A few other examples of clericalism that I've encountered recently came to mind, and focus on matters liturgical.

Once while at our daily Mass, I noticed that one concelebrating priest, a visitor, was wearing a large ring which looked rather like a bishop's ring. The celebrant mentioned during the Mass that we were honored to have a bishop visiting us, and gestured to the man whose ring I had spotted. This confused me. According to the Church's liturgical rubrics (i.e. its rules and instructions for how Mass is to be celebrated), a bishop should not concelebrate at a Mass celebrated by a priest, but rather should sit "in choir" (i.e. dressed in simple liturgical robes, seated in a place of honor, and participating in the Mass much as a regular congregant would, but with certain differences), because the bishop is of a higher order than a priest--he (usually) heads a whole diocese, he ordains priests and bishops, he is a successor to the apostles. It would be like a CEO sitting in on a meeting run by a junior VP and acting like he's just another employee. When I asked an elder member of my community why this bishop didn't sit in choir, he smiled and said, "He's a bishop; he can do whatever he wants."

Another time, I attended a Mass being offered for a special intention (a justice issue of some sort, I think), and it was presided over by a visiting bishop. But rather than use the readings for the day, or some other readings from the lectionary, the bishop chose a few texts he thought fitting and had them read from a Bible. Now, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal does say, "In Masses with special groups, the priest is allowed to choose texts more suited to the particular celebration," but it adds the caveat "provided they are taken from the texts of an approved lectionary." It does not seem permitted to simply choose Scriptural texts you like and use them in the liturgy. When I asked someone about this, I was told, "He's a bishop; he can do whatever he wants."

Two aberrations from the Church's liturgy (granted, they are relatively minor) are given the same response: "He's a bishop; he can do whatever he wants." This, my friends, is clericalism. The liturgy belongs to the whole Church, and thus the competent authority has taken great care to set certain boundaries to liturgical practice (while allowing for a certain amount of freedom to adapt to particular situations) so that the liturgy is recognizable from place to place and thus easy for the faithful to participate in, and so that the words and actions of the liturgy accurately reflect the truths of the Catholic faith--every movement and positioning, every line spoken, communicates something of the faith. Yet a certain mindset, a clericalist mindset, would hold that because a bishop or priest is in a position of authority, they may do what they please, and alter the liturgy as they see fit. Might makes right. But no! The Second Vatican Council says,
Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 22) 
Nor can any individual bishop, as the Code of Canon Law says, "no one on personal authority may add, remove or change anything in them." (CIC 846) 

Bishops just as much as anyone else are beholden to the Church's laws, traditions, and beliefs. Their place in the Church as successors to the apostles is to pass on the Good News of salvation, to teach the teaching of Christ, to care for the flock entrusted to them, to sanctify them by the sacraments; and all of this in continuity with the Church's tradition, its long memory, its ever-ancient and ever-new faith. But some, the clericalists, take it that the bishop decides by his own whim what is true and what is not; that he commands and rules his people according to his caprice rather than tending them for their own good; that the sacraments may be molded and adjusted and overhauled according to their tastes. This is false. Power is not for the exercise of one's will or desires; power is for furthering the flourishing of one's self or those in one's care. Not even the pope is a truly absolute monarch in the Church, for he, too, is answerable to revelation, tradition, and to God. He is the servus servorum Dei, the "servant of the servants of God." As is every cleric. 

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