“…So I then told the priests: ‘If you can, rent a garage and, if you find some willing layman, let him go there! Let him be with those people a bit, do a little catechesis and even give communion if they ask him.’ A parish priest said to me: ‘But Father, if we do this the people then won’t come to Church.’ ‘But why?’ I asked him: ‘Do they come to Mass now?’ ‘No,’ he answered. And so! Coming out of oneself is also coming out from the fenced garden of one’s own convictions, considered irremovable, if they risk becoming an obstacle, if they close the horizon that is also of God…” – Jorge Cardinale Bergoglio (Pope Francis), 2005.
I really can’t stop thinking about the above quote – and from so many perspectives!
When I first read it, my initial reaction was “If they have to have them, I sure hope the communion services held in garages are conducted with the utmost in dignity and reverence.” I suspect my second thought was that of the parish priest above – concern about siphoning off current Mass-goers. The more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder about the practical means of how the integrity of such communion services could be assured? Many of us could probably write several pages on the subject, but I do have the feeling that the communion services were dignified and reverent within that archdiocese! I also began to think that it would attract people away from the Church and ultimately act as a bridge back to the Church.
This led me to wonder about the physical/organizational structure of the Catholic Church in many parts of the world. Large parish churches with many, many Masses each Sunday isn’t a healthy model. It encourages “obligation satisfaction” and little more in many cases. I suspect the big churches and multiple Masses were ultimately born out of a lack of $$$ – the Catholic Church once had a surplus of priests but we have never tithed to the level of our Protestant brethren on average which would have allowed the building of more churches where far tighter communities might have been (and have been!) developed.
This led to “why not ordain more priests – including married ones?” Why make the education and formation so long? It has proven that years of college and seminary do not weed out all the problem men. What if the focus was put more on a very rigorous selection process and then a formation that amounted to night school or weekend school?
Maybe there could even be a second “variety” of priest – much like the “priest simplex” of years past? Exactly where does a priest formed by many years of college and seminary have an advantage over one formed as I mentioned above when it comes to celebrating the Mass? Think about that a bit!
The rubrics of the Mass are rather tight. Any literate, well-prepared man should be able to fully understand and follow them. Perhaps there would be concern about the level of education needed to craft a homily, one area of relative “freedom” during the Mass? Deacons preach so that shouldn’t be of great concern. Of the remaining sacraments, only the Sacrament of Penance might require a man with many years of education when it comes to counseling a penitent.
The Church ordains men in some countries of Africa that have no where near the formal education and formation the same man would have in the USA. Many of the Orthodox State Churches ordain men to the priesthood and diaconate who are fully formed within their own parishes through praxis and self-study guided by their pastors.
Maybe it is time for a huge change? Maybe we need A LOT more priests, far more simpler and smaller parishe churches and far, far tighter community within our parishes?