Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Archbishop Wuerl vs' NCR on Holy Orders

There's a lot of fury over at WDTPRS about NCR's latest "Young Voices" column. NCR's Nicole Sotelo thinks we should all be celebrating the Year of the Priest since we're all priests and there is no differentiation between the sacramental priesthood and the priesthood of all believers. But, as the title of her column says - "Don't tell the pope" - cause, you know, he hasn't studied this stuff and doesn't understand Vatican II.

Fr. Z thinks the column represents "heresy and arrogance" and invites readers to respond to Sotelo's doctrinal omissions and errors.

Quite by chance, DC Archbishop Donald Wuerl dedicates his column this week to the church's teaching on the sacramental priesthood drawing on the teaching of Vatican II and per usual he does an excellent job:
In explaining how the priest can function as Christ, the Church speaks of the priesthood as an identification with Christ on the most fundamental level. In their reception of holy orders, priests are "consecrated to God in a new way." They become "living instruments of Christ the eternal priest," so that they may be able to "accomplish His wonderful work of reuniting the whole society of men with heavenly power" (Presbyterorum ordinis, 12).

The Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum ordinis) tells us that the priestly office "is conferred by that special sacrament through which priests, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are marked with a special character and are so configured to Christ the Priest that they can act in the person of Christ the Head."

Because of sacred ordination, the priest stands in the midst of the Church as its leader, its head. He also then functions in the name of the whole Church specifically when presenting to God the prayers of the Church and, above all, when offering the Eucharistic sacrifice. As we identify the work of the priest, we see that it is completely tied to the continuation of the unique work of Christ. That work is pre-eminently achieved in Christ's death and Resurrection which won our redemption. Hence the priesthood is intimately tied to the Eucharist which continues to make present the life-giving effects of the great Passover. On the same first Holy Thursday on which he instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist, Christ conferred priesthood on the apostles: "Do this in remembrance of me."

In instituting the sacrament of the Eucharist, our Lord created what would be a living re-presentation of his own death and Resurrection. At the same time he charged some to see that this sacred mystery would be made present forever in his memory. The Church sees the origin of holy orders in the will of Christ and his explicit acts on that first Holy Thursday. Thus it is true to say that holy orders and the great Christian paschal mystery are inseparable. Christ the priest offered himself for our salvation; the Eucharist is the continued re-presentation of that sacrifice, the priesthood is a special human participation in that divine work.

All of this is the plan of God unfolding in Christ. Priesthood is not an afterthought of the Christian community but rather the explicit will of Christ. Because of this, the Church teaches that holy orders do not take their origin from the community, as though it were the community that "called" or "delegated" priests. The sacramental priesthood is truly a gift for this community that comes from Christ himself, from the very fullness of his own priesthood.

The order of presbyter grows out of the realization that the bishop is not able to be present in every part of the Church over which he presides given the size of the Church and the number of the faithful. In this regard, the Catechism quotes the Second Vatican Council: "The function of the bishops' ministry was handed over in a subordinate degree to priests so that they might be appointed in the order of the priesthood and be co-workers of the episcopal order for the proper fulfillment of the apostolic mission that had been entrusted to it by Christ" (PO 2, CCC 1562). The ordination of deacons is to provide in the Church those who will be of service to the priests and especially the bishop.

In keeping with a tradition going back to Christ's selection of his Apostles and affirmed in the Church as the explicit will of Christ, only men can be ordained to the priesthood. It is important when we reflect on this teaching of the Church that we recognize the issue is one of sacramental theology, not civil rights. At the same time we must also note that the Church makes great effort, particularly today, to underline the dignity of women in the Church and their role in the life of the Church apart from sacred orders. While the Church does not have the power to ordain women, it is clearly calling on all the members of the Church to recognize the important role that women have in the life of the Church and to recognize and highlight that role and the dignity of women.

While holy orders exists to be of service to the faithful, it should also call forth from them a spirit of support, understanding and solidarity. Perhaps the most important thing we can do for our priests as they labor on behalf of the Church is to recognize our need to be open to their teaching, their leadership, their sacramental ministry and to embrace them in a solidarity of prayer and loving support.

Thanks to the mysterious blogger at SERVIAM for tipping me to the controversy brewing at Fr. Z's.