Pope’s Chrism Mass Homily

Many people have commented to me – and of course it has been covered extensively on the blogosphere – of the Pope’s Chrism Mass homily. See here for Kate Edward’s comments, and here for Fr Z.’s comments.

Yes, I think it is wonderful that the Pope has taken on the Austrian rebel priests. But I also note that these priests have wiped off the criticism as so much water off a duck’s back.

It just so happens that, in preparation for my course on Kings and Prophets, I have been reading James Kugel on the prophet Samuel and his relationship with King Saul. The passage in question is 1 Samuel 15 – a disturbing passage in many ways to modern ears, but one which concerns obedience to the Lord, even where the ‘common sense’ approach would demand otherwise. Saul makes all kinds of excuses about why he did not follow the command of the Lord, but Samuel will have none of it. Reading the passage together with the Pope’s Chrism mass homily and the Austrian priests’ excuses for why his comments do not apply to them is very instructive.

A couple of reflections:

1) The pope outlines a series of ways in which we can determine whether movements in the modern age are actually “of God”: “This new fruitfulness requires being filled with the joy of faith, the radicalism of obedience, the dynamic of hope and the power of love.” Do you spot the ‘odd one out’? Yes, faith, hope and love – AND obedience. To be obedient is true ‘radicalism’. To be ‘disobedient’ is passe. Ho hum. You want to be radical? Then be obedient.

2) The pope goes on to discuss something actually authentic and essential to his whole theology: the anthropology of body and soul. Under the topic “animarum zelus” (the ‘zeal for souls’) he discusses the body/soul existence of human beings that has been central to his theology since at least the time when he wrote “Eschatology“. But curiously I was just reflecting on this myself only a few days ago, when I asked myself, “What makes the difference between your average ‘run of the mill’ Catholic parish priest and a really ‘on fire’ priest?’. The answer I provided myself was “A zeal for the salvation of souls”. Now, I know that sounds hopelessly outdated, but in this homily Pope Benedict defends exactly this outlook. A priest who has the “animarum zelus” will not be a rebellious priest, but one who seeks at every turn to call the people of God back to God in Christ Jesus in a spirit of repentance, seeking wholeness and well being – no less than human flourishing!

I commend the pope’s homily to you for full reading.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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11 Responses to Pope’s Chrism Mass Homily

  1. Matthias says:

    Belated Blessed Easter Schutz .
    ““What makes the difference between your average ‘run of the mill’ Catholic parish priest and a really ‘on fire’ priest?’. The answer I provided myself was “A zeal for the salvation of souls”. The same should and could be said for any Christian -it will sort the cafeteria ones from the the real ones

  2. Mary H says:

    “To be ‘disobedient’ is passe. Ho hum.” Indeed.

    It is rather amusing to read the disobedient claim that Jesus didn’t choose women to be priests because of the constraints of his time. It didn’t stop him from anything else regarding the role of women. I can remember believing the “constraints of his time” argument, though. But it’s really an interpretation created because the obvious reading is too hard for moderns to understand — there would be no reason to create the interpretation otherwise.

    My problem was the singling out of gender as the distinguishing characteristic required for ordination. Why not single out race or ethnicity? Jesus ordained only Jews, after all. But then I realized that the only relevant and permanent distinction between humans IS gender. From the very beginning, in Genesis “male and female he created them.”

    When the very “matter” of a sacrament is a human being, gender is an essential element in determining the appropriate “matter”. So very “unspiritual” to some, but we are embodied as male or female, so it does matter. And only two sacraments have gender-based restrictions: in marriage, there must be one and only one of each gender. In ordination, the gender must be male.

    I understand arguments against the all male priesthood based on power. No one can deny that the Pope has a great deal of power, and for those who don’t believe the Holy Spirit guides the Church and preserves the Pope from certain errors, it can be a very frightening prospect. Actually, it’s still a frightening prospect – the Church is not preserved by the Holy Spirit from evil or dangerous popes – she is just preserved from false doctrine. A lot of bad can still happen.

    I have come to believe, though, that arguments that an all-male priesthood implies an inherent inferiority of women to men is false. It should be obvious, to moderns especially, that the mere fact of having or exercising power has no necessary relation to the superiority of the person with that power.

    Going further, I believe that to open up the priesthood to women, far from asserting their equality with men, would have the opposite effect. It would, in effect, claim that there *are* no distinctions between the genders that matter. It would say that there was no meaningful reason why Jesus came as a man and not as a woman; that the one absolute distinction among humans is accidental and not essential.

    But the essential distinction between male and female is not what men can do, but what only women can do. Only women can bring new human beings into the world. So to say that gender distinction is accidental and not essential does not lessen the dignity of men but does lessen the dignity of women, by claiming that the distinction that makes them women is of no necessary importance. Further, it lessens the dignity of all human life, by claiming the ability to bear human life is of no necessary importance.

    In the priesthood, we have something similar in importance to the woman who brings forth new life. The woman adds to the mystical body of Christ by bringing forth a new human to become a member of it; the male priest, in the person of Jesus (do I have my term correct?) transforms bread and wine into the real presence of Christ to feed the members of the mystical body.

    In this way, what only the male priest can do shows an equal importance and dignity to what only women can do. It equates the Eucharist with childbirth; both being physical incarnations of Christ – the first in the real presence of Christ, the second in bringing into the world a member of the mystical body of Christ.

    The question of power is still relevant and probably always will be, considering our fallen nature. I think it makes sense that Jesus instituted the priesthood, not with some magnificent ceremony, but by a physical example of performing the lowliest physical service. Being the servant of all was not meant to be taken only as a metaphor.

  3. Adam says:

    Well I was watching the Mass LIVE on Thursday and as I heard the english translation I was stunned. Stunned that it has taken time for the Holy Father to come out with his criticism of the disobedience in Austria. And about time too for this type of disobedience from some clergy in many countries has been far too widespread and had begun to cause trouble within the fabric of the Church. But BXVI rightly points out that what is critical here is that personal preferences and feelings and thoughts never ever can weigh against the long tradition and teaching of the Church.
    As +Mark Benedict said these last few days in Brisbane, a male clergy is ‘non-negotiable’. John Paul II said so in his own pontificate when he said that a female clergy is just not going to happen. It will never happen and while Anglicans continue to ‘ordain’ women priests and also bring in female bishops, the Catholic Church will not, like the Orthodox and Islamic faiths, ever have female priests.
    The Pope speaks loud on this and reminds priests especially that tampering with the teaching of the Church is not on.
    What I wish he had also said, was, that tampering and playing with the sacred liturgy was also off the radar, Just recently I viewed on You Tube a ‘final parish Mass’ for a well knownm pastor who makes waves, and I have to say it was horrendous. It was
    scatter-brain liturgy. It made a mockery of the sacred worship that the Church ordained that man to lead. There was even times when he referred the congregation to the toilets if they wanted to go. How banal, how disgusting is that in the middle of the sacrifice of calvary. Is it any wonder the ‘dumbing down’ of the liturgy has caused a growth and massive interest by many Catholics around the world (especially Europe) in the extraordinary rite of the Mass. Tinkering, personnality-liturgy just screams off the radar and I believe Benedict CVI’s warnings to the dissidnet Austrian clergy is just a warning signal to others and perhaps even some bishops, to start getting their theology together and remember it is the Church they are meant to serve and Jesus crucified and risen.
    Is it any wonder that many priests and indeed bishops and cardinals are calling for the end to communion on the hand. The new cardinal archbishop of Colombo,.Sri Lanka has now stated that there is to be an end to communion in the hand in his diocese and communicants must kneel to receive.
    This is what happens when certain priests start implementing their own personal liturgical styles and disregard what is the norm and practice of their ordained ministry – made, let us remind them, in obedience to their bishop at ordination.
    Fidelis semper.

  4. John Nolan says:

    On Easter Sunday I was asked to sing at an EF Mass in the afternoon and it was quite a big sing – Vidi Aquam, Kyrie, Gloria, Gradual, Sequence and Alleluia (surely the greatest in the Graduale) plus the rest, and I had actually been to the Cathedral Mass in the morning with Schubert in G, plus the plainchant Introit, Sequence, Vidi Aquam, Pater Noster and Communio. Despite the monstrous regiment of women who came up to administer the Chalice (and the take-up was less than a third) the whole experience was not off-putting, greatly helped I must add by the far more dignified translation. The Bugnini reforms might well have encouraged participation in the wider sense, and despite my predilection for the Usus Antiquior, I would accept that for many Catholics their connection to the liturgy is not quite the same as mine.

  5. Hannah says:

    Like you David I agree with your comment “a zeal for the saving of souls” and not a zeal for social work and sadly most priests today would prefer to be known for their “social” work than their “saving” work.
    Someone recently handed me a leaflet which a priest handed out and had at the back of his church, saying are you depressed, areyou lonely, are you addicted, are you suffering enxiety, are you having body image issues, etc etc etc if you have any of these issue contact Fr etc.
    At the end of reading this leaflet I wondered if he was aa priest of social worker or psychologist, or psychotherapist etc. But the least I wondered if he was a priest.
    How sad that priests have forgotten that their most important task is to take their flock home leading via the way of eucharist where they have a privilege not given even to the angels, that is to handle the body of Christ.
    As I talk to priests and others within church my mind and heart wonders to how far they are moving.
    I suspect that its related to the litigious society we live in and are “trained” to be all things, but what a loss to the soul.

    • Schütz says:

      We need to remember still, Hannah, that all souls are embodied (except those who rest in death – and their destiny is to be re-embodied). You may recall our discussion of the meaning of “good news” sometime in the past on these pages. It may well often be that in order to care for people’s souls, we have to start with care for their bodies. That, however, isn’t where it ends…

  6. Hannah says:

    David I understand what you are saying. Heavens above St John Vianney must have forgotten that!!

    • John Nolan says:

      St John Vianney wouldn’t have lasted a week in any parish in the western world today, not becase he found learning Latin difficult, but because he was ‘confrontational’, the worst sin in the modern vocabulary. The fact that he had to confront apathy, complacency, sinfulness and even the Devil himself would have availed him little.

      • Adam says:

        With respect mr Nolan you are way off the radar re St John Vianney. He WOULD HAVE been a welcome saviour in today’s western world. This is the very type of holy priest e western world needs and requires. St Padre Pio is a 20th century holy priest who drew millions to see and hear him celebrate Mass and indeed was revilied for decades only to prove the sceptics all wrong. blessed John Paul II even went there as a bishop. No you are wrong about the great saintly priest of Ars. This is the type of priest we need now. A man of prayer, holiness, suffering and who is a priest of the sacraments and not a social worker who seeks to promote self ahead if the very Gospel.
        The death of vocations in the west shows that we have lost the very central elements of what a priest is ordained to be. A man of prayer and of contradiction in the world. Spending more time in prayer and fasting and as Bishop Fulton Sheen did EVERY DAY of his priestly life, spending One hour in adoration before the blessed sacrament. If all priests did that, the Church would be transformed. Bl M Teresa spent hours in prayer each day of her consecrated life till she died at 87. If a nun like her needed that and did it, should not every priest as did St John Vianney.

        The world, parishes need more John Vianneys.
        Signs of contradiction to the world are what we desperately need and then we will know the power of Christ in his death and resurrection.
        Ps recently it has been revealed that as pope John Paul II carried out at least two exorcisms in the Vatican. The devil is around us and priests like John Vianney knew that and need to know today.
        Semper fidelis.

        • John Nolan says:

          Yes of course we need priests like St John Vianney. He believed the priest’s pastoral imperative was to save men’s souls. Today ‘pastoral’ is interpreted as ‘making people feel good about themselves’. I can imagine the average parish reaction to a latter-day Vianney:
          “We had just sung ‘Gather Us In’ which put us in a really positive mood for our celebration! But then Father started banging on about sin and repentance and all that stuff which went out with Vatican II. We left feeling really depressed. Even our supermarket shop afterwards didn’t cheer us up as it usually does, but we bought the kids some extra sweets as they must have been quite upset listening to all that doom and gloom”.

          An exaggeration? You decide.

      • Hannah says:

        St John Vianney wouldnt last long in the world because he would die of boredom sitting in the confessional waiting for penitents to come. You see no one in the world today believes that sin exists and confession is its remedy so you see he would die of loneliness and boredom.

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