[quote="TiggerS, post:12, topic:198009"]
I wonder, Brother, if you mean "contamination with the laity" or contaminated by wordly distractions or something else. I rather cringed at the word "contamination" in direct connection with lay people as a direct generalization embracing all lay people. Or have I misread?
Contamination was the term that was used for many centuries. It fell into disuse, because many lay people were ofended by it. It is making its way back as many religious orders return to our roots. To understand the term one must understand what is the contamination that is to be avoided. The list is quite extensive, but I can offer a few examples of what happened after we dropped the term.
Most religious orders of men were founded to be brotherhoods. Some of these brotherhoods were monastic and others were mendicant. They had several things that were unique to them or different from the laity.
They were to be contemplatives. Some were enclosed and lived the contemplative life in solitude and silence (monks). Other contemplatives lived outside of the enclosure, but had rigorous schedules of prayer, silence, solitude and liturgy, with a few hours of external ministry (friars). Gradually, there was an increased demand on these communities to do the work of secular priests: parishes. To fulfill this demand, they ordained more men than they needed for their way of life. Gradually, they became communities of priests. This is seen as contamination, because these religious orders were not meant to serve as parish priests. Originally, those monks and friars who were ordained were very few. Most of them were never ordained. Those who were ordained only celebrated the mass and heard confessions when they received permission from their superior. You could go your entire life without hearing a confession or celebrating any sacrament, except for the community mass when it was your turn to do so.
These communities had strict rules about time together to pray the LOTH, recreate, eat, work, rest and study. As they increased their contact with the laity, the lay faithful became very critical of the monk or friar who could not hear confessions because he had to be attend a community function such as recreation or the LOTH. To avoid the criticism and the ire of some people, they began to ask for permission to miss these functions. What started out as an occasional thing became the norm and the community life was reduced to that which could be accomplished around the schedule of the people. Instead the house adapted its schedule to the needs and demands of the faithful. It was Vatican II that said this was wrong and that those communities that had been founded to live an intense life of brotherhood should return to their roots. This change from the conventual life to the parochial life occurred through contamination. The life of these communities was altered to meet the needs of the laity.
The ancient communities were egalitarian communities. Monks and friars had no distinctions among them. Yes, there were always monks and friars who were ordained. But that was seen as accidental, not essential to their way of life, except for the Dominicans who were founded as an order of friar-priests. The other orders had been founded as brotherhoods in the strict sense of the word. The brother could be: priest, carpenter, preacher, teacher, doctor, scholar, cook or farmer. When he stepped outside of his house to serve the faithful, he served them as their brother, bringing with him the gifts of his particular ministry. They did not have a common ministry. They had a common way of life. They did not look at each other vertically, but horizontally. There was a Father to the community, called an abbot, prior or guardian. He was the only vertical authority. The rest were simply monks or friars.
Gradually, the laity began to make distinctions between the religious men who served among them. What was not OK was when people demanded that the services rendered by the order be provided by ordained religious. The orders yielded. As a result, they attracted many men who entered to be priests, not religious. Gradually, these men took over the orders. Soon only priests could govern. Only priests could vote. Only priests could run parishes. Only priests could preach. Only priests could teach theology. Do you see what happened? This was viewed by Vatican II as contamination. The monastic and mendicant life turned into something different from the intentions of the founders and the Holy Spirit. This was viewed as the lay vision of status or rank. That’s how the term contamination was applied.
There are other points, but I’ll use one more. There is the issue of independence. The religious is not supposed to function independently of his community. He is not supposed to have relationships outside of his community that interfere with his life in community. Nor should he be involved in activities outside of his community at those times when his presence in his community is essential, which is all community functions, even recreation. He is not a man who comes and goes as he wishes. Life among the laity is very tempting. The lay person can go and come as he wishes. The layman can and should cultivate a network of relationships in society, for the good of society. Many religious made the mistake of believing that this was the mission of all Christians. Gradually, those communities that thought this way became very secularized. Their houses became frat houses. The idea of a few brothers living in an apartment in a neighborhood is to make present a different way of life among their neighbors. When the group begins to look like its neighbors, we say that the group has been contaminated.
I hope this helps for a better understanding of the term.
Br. JR, OSF :)