Thursday, 5 March 2015
Clerical Celibacy, Deacons, &c...
I have always been in favour of permanent deacons. When once I brought this up with a traditionalist priest, his face turned into a grimace of contempt and out came the "modernist innovation" screed. But the prominent position deacons had in the organisation and polity of the early Church is in stark contrast to the minor part they played in the Roman communion until the reforms of the 1970's, and even to some extent to-day. Until the 1970's, the diaconate was relegated to the position of a minor order; merely the stimulant of the "permanent" priesthood. Among the duties of a deacon was to act as gospeller at high Mass, assist the celebrant at the altar at high Mass, expose the Sacrament during Benediction, and occasionally administer Baptism. You rarely heard of a deacon in that ministry for more than one year, and that year was invariably taken up with theological and pastoral formation in preparation for the priesthood. It's quite possible that deacons were never seen by the laity until the 1970's unless they lived in the vicinity of a seminary.
In the early Church deacons had a much wider ministry and responsibility. They were called upon for their intrinsic liturgical parts, such as gospeller, but also for more musical functions such as the chanting of litanies. The Praeconium Paschale is, sadly, all that remains of the once necessary ministry of deacons in the Roman rite. But in antient times, in addition to their liturgical rôle, deacons assisted rectors of churches in the temporal administration of church property and the general administrative work of parishes and dioceses. They were very often chosen by the bishop with this purpose in mind and history records that it was frequent, even customary, for vacant sees to be occupied by deacons in preference to rural priests.
Of course, I am speaking here of a time so remote in the history of the Church that there were still married clergy. And didn't Cardinal Burke remark the other day that clerical celibacy is not only a matter of ecclesiastical discipline but a doctrine intrinsic to the nature of priesthood and, therefore, indispensable? I cannot abide this clericalist blindness! I do not despise clerical celibacy, quite the contrary I think that celibacy should be allowed and encouraged for priests; but celibacy is emphatically not intrinsic to the priesthood. Celibacy is rather a monastic attribute, albeit a praiseworthy one. If then traditionalists concede that permanent deacons are desirable, do they expect them to be celibate as well? When I was in primary school the church to which the school was attached had a married deacon, Deacon Dave (he's probably dead now). He was a carpenter or a builder by trade and was already married and with a family when he was ordained, and being attached to this church he did routine maintenance work and other highly useful things which, otherwise, the parish priest would have to hire someone to do and then incur the expense. He struck me as a decent and pious fellow, attentive to the divine services and very pastoral. His standing in the community, already high and well respected, was enhanced by the sacrament of Orders. How could anyone consider this a bad thing?
Well, the traddies do and so does Cardinal Burke, their new pope. No wonder only priests can act as deacons and subdeacons at all those "traditional" high masses; only priests can put on vestments! (An attitude I consider utterly reprehensible). I had this argument with them years ago over the subdiaconate. The subdiaconate is, traditionally, a minor order instituted of the Church. So it follows that if you have lay persons, even boys, fulfilling liturgical functions proper to ordained ministers, whether porter, lector, acolyte or exorcist, then a lay person can temporarily fulfil the rôle of subdeacon at high Mass too. But no! They would rather have a sanctuary full of pubescent little children in cottas who don't know what they're doing than have a high Mass in the event that the subdeacon goes missing (one of the better reforms of Paul VI was surely the provision for high Mass with a deacon only). And where, pray, are the rulers of the choir in copes on major feasts?
This aliturgical attitude toward any outward display of solemnity surely comes of that pestilential low Mass mentality, itself the cousin of clericalism. But traditionalists, in their idiocy, cannot see the wood for the trees. It's the 1962 line all over again. Everything before the Council is great; everything after the Council is rot. And it's this attitude that indicates most clearly that traditionalists, those who monopolise what passes for the "traditional" Roman Rite, are in fact its worst enemies. They laud everything that is wrong with the pre-Conciliar church (that is to say, that which makes them so "Roman" and isolationist, such as communion under one kind, etc) and despise everything that is now right about the post-Conciliar church, such as permanent married deacons.
The Roman Rite is a pearl, even the Pearl of Great Price; but the Traddies are swine.