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Ministry and the importance of words: A response to Nicholas Senz

It is the Sacrament of Baptism that confers the primary dignity on an individual, not a seeming movement closer to the Sacrament of Order.

Pope Francis baptizes one of 27 babies during a Mass on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Jan. 13, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Permit me to respond to the courteous and respectful rejoinder of Nicholas Senz to my reflection on Spiritus Domini.

Rather than produce another full-length article, I shall reply to my interlocutor merely by bullet-points.

• I have received numerous private communications from priests, bishops, and theologians from around the country and from Rome, gratefully affirming the principal points of my essay.

• My assertion that the Pope engaged in no consultation prior to the promulgation of his motu proprio has been confirmed by officials of the Holy See with whom I have been in contact. Interestingly, Paul VI underscores the wide consultation process he employed in the lead-up to Ministeria Quaedam.

• Speaking of Ministeria Quaedam, in case I did not make it clear in my original article, I believe the document was very ill-advised from a number of angles, too many to cite here. However, it was indicative of Paul VI’s proclivity for “polishing brass on a sinking ship.” Further, his seeming suppression of the subdiaconate failed to take into account its place in the Churches of the East, both Catholic and Orthodox.1 Even more ridiculous is the so-called Rite of Candidacy (presumably replacing First Tonsure), whereby a seminarian declares himself and is held to be by ecclesiastical authority a “candidate” for Holy Order. I say this rite is ridiculous because it is usually undergone some time during a seminarian’s final years of study. So, if he had been a college seminarian, was he not a “candidate” then? Or not until his second or third year of theology?

• Further to this point, let us consider Pope Paul’s declaration that even though a man did not receive the subdiaconate but had been instituted into the “ministries” of lector and acolyte, he could be called a subdeacon. This is a bizarre exercise in nominalism: Something (or someone) is what I call it, not what it necessarily is.2 Our author goes on to say that these changes of Paul VI were “salutary for the life of the Church.” Really? Is that why seminaries are nearly empty?

• Mr. Senz reminds us that Pope Francis considers the desideratum of the Amazon Synod for female access to these ministries as part of his consultative process. The rigged Amazon Synod? Surely you jest!

• Truth be told, the opening to laymen of the offices of lector and acolyte has been a dead letter. To the best of my knowledge, the only diocese in the United States that has instituted non-seminarians into these “ministries” is that of Lincoln.

• And why has that been the case? Because there is no need to have a ritual to depute someone to do what he (or she) can do by virtue of one’s baptism. As a boy of eight, I began to serve at the altar. I was not “commissioned” or “instituted” or “ordained.” I just did what I thought a good Catholic boy could and should do. Ritualizing these functions seems to accomplish nothing other than promote the self-aggrandizement of the “minister.” Beyond that, after someone is “instituted” as a lector or acolyte, how will anyone else ever know? Will that person read with greater verve or pay closer attention to the ringing of the Sanctus bell? Will the person’s attire change? Will the person “feel” more “commissioned”? Probably so, and therein lies the problem. It is the Sacrament of Baptism that confers the primary dignity on an individual, not a seeming movement closer to the Sacrament of Order.

• In my reflection, I suggested that feminists would not be placated by this move of Francis. I have been proven right as most of those offering their reaction to the document have classified it as “patronizing.” A few have taken it as an opening to ordination—as I also opined. The only truly enthusiastic reception of the document I have seen has come from none other than Jesuit Father James Martin—and that ought to give any right-thinking Catholic pause.

• Words matter.  Calling something by its proper name is not being fastidious.  We should recall that all the first councils in the history of the Church dealt with finding the correct nomenclature for the God-Man.  In fact, the point of contention in the Nicene Creed we recite so blithely every Sunday was not even about a word but a letter — Homoousios versus HomoIousios, the Greek iota (which gives us our English adage, that something doesn’t make an iota of a difference—but, in reality, it did!).  The Church’s historical caution about the indiscriminate use of “ministry” deserves serious reflection and acceptance.

To sum up: Yes, I believe Paul VI opened a can of worms, creating a mess. And Francis has put a huge exclamation point on it all.


1It should be noted that the various clerical institutes attached to the Extraordinary Form continue to confer the subdiaconate, as do the Ordinariates for former Anglicans – albeit without bestowing clerical status.

2We had better keep this bit of information away from those promoting the “transgender” agenda!

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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 280 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas founded The Catholic Answer in 1987 and The Catholic Response in 2004, as well as the Priestly Society of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, a clerical association of the faithful, committed to Catholic education, liturgical renewal and the new evangelization. Father Stravinskas is also the President of the Catholic Education Foundation, an organization, which serves as a resource for heightening the Catholic identity of Catholic schools.


  1. St. Paul would not be impressed. What makes us think we know better than the revealed word of God?

    1 Cor 14:34-35: Let women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted them to speak, but to be subject, as also the law saith. But if they would learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church.

  2. It’s not enough to be publicly criticizing Pope Francis on a relatively frequent basis, we now have to hear about Pope Paul VI and his apparent lack of foresight and his proclivity to “polish brass on a sinking ship”.

    But since you brought it up, isn’t that what we are doing here? Talking about the importance of “polishing the brass”, all the while forgetting that we are on a sinking ship? This discussion of the proper use of the word ‘ministry’, subdiaconate, altar servers, women lectors, is so utterly irrelevant when you look at what is going on in the world and the real needs of people.

    As I said in the comment section of the previous article: what is going to draw real “men” to the priesthood are priests/bishops/Cardinals who are themselves real men, and real men are concerned about real things, important things, like the sick and the suffering (physically, spiritually, psychologically). Let’s come back to that threefold identity I mentioned: priest, prophet and king. A king governs his kingdom, first and foremost himself. The sarcasm, cynicism, public criticism of one’s own “boss” behind his back, whining, and gossip (i.e., My assertion that the Pope engaged in no consultation prior to the promulgation of his motu proprio has been confirmed by officials of the Holy See with whom I have been in contact) are NOT the qualities of a real man with self-control and guts, like John the Baptist, in his direct challenge to Herod, or the prophet Nathan towards David, or Jesus (“Go tell that fox (vixen: female fox)…Lk 13, 32). I know Pope Francis can be frustrating at times, but be a real “man” and take the high road and engage in real battles, difficult battles, battles that will leave you bruised and scarred. People don’t care about the use of the word “ministry” or whether the reader is a woman or not. They’re not going to kick you down for that. But when you start to really suffer for Christ, things will change, the tree will begin to bear fruit. People want to see heroes.

    • “But when you start to really suffer for Christ, things will change, the tree will begin to bear fruit. People want to see heroes.”

      And yet here you are.

      I rarely agree with Fr. Stravinskas but he is right to point out the root causes of the latest misjudgment by the patriarchate of Rome, and your emphasis on “leadership” from the clergy is rather clericalist. If you have “manly” clergy surrounded by female liturgical ministers and modern sentimental worship music, you think men will still stay in church? Perhaps you should re-examine the priorities.

    • If you said all this before, why bore us again with the same nonsense. Or, as it as St Peter said in one of his epistles, “The dog returns to his vomit.”

    • You speak in generalities, especially regarding “real men” in Holy Orders. You must be surrounded by those you deem “unreal men” and have little contact with the great number of others who act in “strong, loving and wise” ways in their priestly ministry.
      Get out more. You insult all clerics by your ill informed assertions.

  3. “People don’t care about the use of the word “ministry” or whether the reader is a woman or not.”

    I do. Guess that mean’s I’m not a person! Thanks a lot.

    • Me, too. I guess we’re both non-people.

      I’m fed to the teeth with calling everything a ministry primarily, it seems to me, to cater to our egos, which are far too catered-to already.

  4. Dead letter? To your knowledge? Let me be the first to invite you to the ceremony to be held on Thursday, January 28, at 7 PM in the St. Vincent de Paul Chapel at the Cardinal Rigali Center in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, when I and a few other laymen will be instituted as Acolytes, to join the several Acolytes who have been instituted before us in this Archdiocese.

  5. From what I remember from father Peter’s original article he was concerned about making it a rite and that people have rights now and every Bishop has to be subject to opening up to the rights of the people to be ministers.. actually I had to agree with his article I didn’t study it I read it once quickly and I read the responses.. Pope Benedict brought back the Tridentine Mass which he called the extraordinary form for a reason and it was to be maintained in it’s wholesome purity the new right of Mass has been totally abused by many lay people and priests and bishops and it’s a sad thing… Father Peter has tried to keep it on a higher level to what it was supposed to be but yet there are those that keep attacking and attacking and attacking… The only comparison I can relate this to is what is happening in the world of morality marriage was for man and woman….. Then they allowed for homosexual now they have rights now they have dignity so do transgender people rights and dignity now they’re being appointed to key positions in government they will be teachers we cannot speak out against them because it will be classified as hate speech that’s the major problem and it is the same what father is trying to say the pope has made an error, and we need priests like father to point out those errors.. Pope Paul VI made an error when he put a halt on the Tridentine Mass but Pope Benedict corrected that error and stated it was never abrogated however we know better. this Pope has made several errors and we need priests like father to stand up and speak out against them thank you Father…

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