NLY A MONTH AGO, the German bishops were in Rome for their ad limina visits. During his time with them, Pope Francis took the opportunity to encourage the Germans in a definite direction—a direction that includes greater focus on spiritual poverty, sacramental confession, pro-life activism, and vocation promotion.
The Holy Father also shared interesting remarks on the role of the priesthood vs. the role of the laity. These remarks, directed to the shepherds of the Church in Germany, have bearing also on the life of the Church in much of the Anglophone world, including Ireland, the UK, Australia, and many parts of the USA.
Pope Francis said this during his remarks:
Pastoral plans that do not give adequate importance to priests in their ministry of governing, teaching, and sanctifying in regard to the structures and the sacramental life of the Church, on the basis of experience, are destined for failure. The precious collaboration of the lay faithful, above all where vocations are lacking, cannot become a surrogate for priestly ministry or make it even seem simply to be optional. Without the priest, there is no Eucharist.
In many dioceses, plans have been devised or enacted to make priest-less parishes almost normative. The Holy Father cautions us against ever thinking of this situation as normative.
Late last week, fellow-blogger Dr. Calabrese made a terrific post proposing sung vespers as an antidote to clericalism. The word “clericalism” is often misused or misunderstood. I have written about the topic before, as well, notably here.
As real as clericalism is in some places, anti-clericalism is just as real in other places, and both maladies are just as pernicious. Priests are not all there is to the Church, but nor are they merely a luxury in the Church. Priests are not the only ones capable of working within the Church, but nor are they merely functionaries intended to produce the Eucharist en masse for those in their spiritual care. Just as the Blessed Sacrament is, Itself, a gift to the Church, so, too, is the sacred priesthood.
Our Holy Father’s words to the German bishops challenge Catholics throughout the world to think deeply about the process of diocesan pastoral planning. As he explains so gently and yet so clearly: “The precious collaboration of the lay faithful, above all where vocations are lacking, cannot become a surrogate for priestly ministry.”