So many of our problems in the Church stem from poor formation in the seminary – there is a great deal to learn from the successful practices of our Traditional seminaries. Here, Fr X recounts his trials at seminary and subsequent tribulations as a priest with 'suspect' Traditional leanings.
It is very easy, especially as a priest, to get frustrated with many of today's clergy who seem bent on making the Novus Ordo a celebration of community rather than the adoration and petitioning of God, but such clergy can only work from the formation they received for priesthood – a formation which left a tremendous amount to be desired in my experience. The controversy about the proposed new ICEL translation of the new rite of Mass because it uses words such as "deign" and better asserts the hierarchical nature of the Church, derives from this formation. It does not in any way surprise me since I underwent the same malformation. Those who administered this formation were, I am sure, dedicated to God and man and full of sincerity, but they have been carried off by innovative ideas, malforming the clergy directly and the laity indirectly through their protégés.
It was at my Selection Conference that I experienced my first ever dining-room Mass. No-one knelt for the Eucharistic Prayer and so I, with great discomfort, followed their lead, believing they would kneel at least for the consecration. As the moment approached no one moved but myself. Later that day when I was interviewed by two priests I was asked, "Why did you kneel at the consecration? Are you some sort of Holy Joe?" From thereon the whole tone of my training went downhill.
There was no teaching of Latin at all, despite this being prescribed by Rome and by the Decree on Priestly Formation of the Second Vatican Council – a council my seminary directors claimed to support and quoted to their students (selectively I felt) ad nauseam. The omission was disobedient to the Council and a spiritual injustice, for it gives priests of today no access to original sources. As an example of our theological formation let me say that we were told by our ecclesiology professor that "it took the Catholic Church four hundred years to hear the Holy Spirit at Vatican II and realise that Luther was right". We were also told there were "no priests in heaven because there is no need for them."
Our spiritual formation was also poor, for while Vatican II had stipulated a period of intense spiritual preparation, this was ignored. Spirituality lectures included no study of the Fathers at all. Instead we were treated to the pop song, 'Learning to Love Yourself is the Greatest Love of All' and to Erikson's Eight Stages of Life (a psychological theory of human development).
The pastoral department was no better. A religious sister described how the Church had come to maturity at Vatican II and was no longer content to obey the authority of Rome as a child obeys its parents. To that end, when requested by the Holy Father to return to the habit, religious orders made a mature decision and refused. I asked if that meant I could make a mature decision to wear a cassock (which was forbidden in the seminary unless one had received 'Candidature') and was told no, that the rules of the college had to be obeyed. Yet another member of the pastoral team informed a group of laity that the seminary isn't about forming 'priests' any more, but forming parish facilitators, eager to collaborate. When I was a deacon, the female lay head of the pastoral department called me in to see her and asked, "Why, when we all know you are a deacon, do you wear a clerical collar?" My reply was that we all knew she was married so why did she need to wear her wedding ring? Finally, the predominant 'tool' we were given for pastoral care was Non-directive Counselling. This school of counselling rests on the premise that people are good at the core and thus can be left to their own inner authority on what is right and what is wrong. I may be mistaken, but isn't this what Adam and Eve thought and how they fell from grace in the first place?
Pre-eminence of Scripture
Having reached fifth year I was allowed to preach and having been pencilled in for a Mass where the Gospel was that of the road to Emmaus, I decided to undertake a spiritual rather than textual exegesis. To that end I suggested that Our Lord disappearing from the sight of His disciples but not their presence suggested He was still present in the Blessed Sacrament. Next morning I was called in to see the vice-president who informed me that I had missed the point: I should have been focusing on how Our Lord wanted us to meet Him in the scriptures, and that His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament was not as important as how we were present to Him. One can see from this example the kind of formation we were getting, with the likes of Hans Küng, Charles Curran et al held up as model theologians not afraid to push back the frontiers of faith and challenge the dictatorship of Rome, which needed replacing with true subsidiarity.
In regard to the liturgy I must admit that despite the ritual flaws inherent in the Novus Ordo, college Masses were usually said with reverence, while our liturgy professor deplored radical deviations from the rubrics. Indeed a priest of the Eastern Rite was once allowed to celebrate the ancient Divine Liturgy for us. Unfortunately permission to have the Roman Rite of 1962 celebrated was refused. And there was always the 'clap-clap' Gloria with which to contend and preaching that was at times more akin to social work formation than spiritual ministry.
I have no doubt that the sincerity and commitment to the Lord of those in the seminary were far greater than mine, however I cannot be so clear about their spiritual insights. I could not help challenging the sort of things we were told (this is either great imprudence or transparent honesty) and I retain this weakness even today. But the kind of formation received does form one's spiritual orientation. I thus began to accept the modern ways and to 'see', after several years as a priest, that I was 'individualistic' and 'self-righteous'. In attempting to comply and allow myself to 'relax and be me', I almost completely abandoned the clerical collar, and kept so open a presbytery that I left myself vulnerable to gossip; (then again, we had been told in seminary to make the laity our closest friends because they were our main support in the parish). Only later did I realise that I was not only losing my integrity but my spirituality, my vocation and my faith.
What then of my time as a priest with this kind of malformation behind me? My pastoral practices but especially my liturgical practices, have been at the root of my problems. I have been rebuked by laity, parish priests and my bishop on a number of occasions for practices which are regarded as 'non-collaborative', 'dismissive of the community' and 'idiosyncratic'. To clarify things, the practices which are regarded as idiosyncratic and rigid are:
- Use of Eucharistic Prayer I, i.e. the Traditional Roman Canon (though this is a legitimate option)
- Bowing during the Creed for the "Homo factus est" (as required by the Missal)
- Omitting the words "Let us proclaim" at the Mystery of Faith (since they are not in the official Latin text)
- Omitting the sign of peace (the rubrics allow for this)
- Giving Holy Communion to all the communicants rather than make use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion
- Not leaving the altar to give the sign of peace (this was said to be ignoring the community but was affirmed in Redemptionis Sacramentum, issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in March 2004)
- Genuflecting to the Tabernacle rather than at the foot of the sanctuary; (what would a Hindu think I had genuflected to if I genuflected in front of an empty table-altar then went up and kissed it?)
- Genuflecting before the elevations.
I acknowledge that the last two points are probably irregular in new rite practice but in conscience they seem necessary. In fact, at the request of my last parish priest I began to use other Eucharistic Prayers and to genuflect at the foot of the sanctuary.
Not fitting in, I thus had several changes of residence: at one point three in the space of twelve months. Recently I had an appointment to a chaplaincy where I lived in a small flat and not a presbytery, (and therefore without a parish community), and where the chaplaincy work did not include thc offering of Mass. So there I was: no parish and no Mass (though I supplied two weekday Masses and was told I could supply around the diocese at weekends). To my mind this is the next best thing to enforced laicisation a bishop can impose. Sometime ago I was called again to Bishop's House to be told I was not collaborative enough and disobediently inflexible. I still find this rebuke hard to accept since the parish priest with whom I was then working and who supported the criticisms levelled against me was never rebuked for his innovations, all of which are regarded as abuses by Redemptionis Sacramentum. Here are some examples:
- Using lines from hymns as the Penitential Rite
- Allowing the exchange of the Gloria of the Missal for the Peruvian Glory hymn
- Exchanging the psalm for a hymn so people could sing
- Changing the words, "my sacrifice and yours" at the Orate Fratres to "Pray brethren that our gifts may be acceptable"
- Adding the words, "and those of us gathered here this morning" to the Canon
- Leaving the sanctuary to give the sign of peace to the congregation
- During Advent and Lent holding weekday 'Eucharistic Services', even on days when we had two celebrations of Holy Mass.
Personally, I find it amazing that making use of legitimate options can be regarded as idiosyncratic while flagrant breaking of norms is regarded as good practice.
Pray for our priests
I am aware that many feel there is good motivation (not good reasoning!) for ignoring some of the prescriptions of Redemptionis Sacramentum: senior clergy and bishops are fearful of offending some of the faithful. However, this should not be at the expense of rebuking a priest for exercising legitimate options. Rather, parishioners with complaints should be informed that such a priest is not acting against the mind of Rome.
Three things can be learned from my experiences. First, to be patient but insistent with the clergy: they need education not criticism. (Let us, then, seek to educate). Second, not to write off priests who celebrate 'novelties' in the Novus Ordo, for that is their formation. Third, always to presume the sincerity of all priests: they are mis-informed and thus malformed, but they are genuine in their attempt to make the Faith relevant to modern man.
We can only hope that as vocations among adherents of the new rite fall, vocations among adherents of the Traditional Rite will grow. In the final analysis, only the Holy Spirit can show which rite best opens the hearts of men to receiving His graces, but this is the very reason why the bishops must give entry into their dioceses to the Traditional Rite and the Traditional Orders such as the Fraternity of St Peter. Only if the bishops give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to speak can He make known – objectively, by the number of vocations arising – which rite is the one best suited to the salvation of souls and the greater glory of God.
[Taken from "Mass of Ages" May 2006, The Latin Mass Society's quarterly magazine]