I am grateful to Fr. Stravinskas for his response to my critique of his CWR essay on Spiritus Domini. While not wanting to extend the conversation ad infinitum, I would offer the following thoughts in response to his bullet points in a similar fashion:
- While I appreciate that many priests, bishops, and theologians might well share his perspective, I’d also note many clerics and theologians have also applauded this move—and indeed, as I pointed out in my original essay, this change was requested by two Synods of Bishops.
- While consultation is praiseworthy, it is never necessary for the legitimate exercise of the pope’s office, especially in matters of discipline. That aside, we could very well see the requests of the Synods of Bishops as a form of consultation. At the very least, it is clear that this change did not spring ex nihilo from the mind of Pope Francis, but was a response to a desire expressed by representatives of the world’s episcopate.
- One can disagree on the wisdom or prudence of abolishing the minor orders and subdiaconate (I tend to agree with the changes made by Ministeria quaedam), but one cannot disagree with the fact that, as ministries instituted by the Church, the Church, and the Holy Father in particular, have jurisdiction over them. The pope can establish or abolish ministries as he sees fit.
- The accusation of nominalism is an odd one to make in this instance, since subdiaconate, being an artifact of human designation as opposed to something with substance or reality to it, is precisely whatever one wishes to call it. I cannot call anyone a bishop except he who has received episcopal consecration, because such consecration confers an ontological status on the recipient. But the subdiaconate has no such reality to it. It is an artifact, and artifacts are called according to their function and the will of their creator. So, if the Church wishes to designate as “subdeacon” for certain liturgical purposes lectors or acolytes who carry out functions formerly performed by the subdeacon, so they are.
- I say that the simplification of the minor orders was salutary for the life of the Church because they had become vestigial organs, “ministries” that were often all given on the same day and no longer meaningfully exercised, and because it placed the distinguishing line between clerics and non-clerics where it properly belonged—at ordination. Fr. Stravinskas employs an ad hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy when he connects the supposedly “empty” seminaries with the suppression of the minor orders. (The current status of seminaries in the US, though underperforming the postwar period, is much more in line with historical norms; and seminaries in the booming churches of Africa and Asia are similarly booming.)
- I noted that the request for women to be admitted to these ministries came not only from the Amazon Synod, but also from the Synods of 2008 and 2010, both of which took place before Pope Francis’s pontificate. Surely these were not “rigged”?
- While it is true that most dioceses have not availed themselves of these instituted ministries for laymen (I’ll note that my own Diocese of Fort Worth has as well), we could see Pope Francis’s move here as an invitation to bishops to avail themselves of them.
- The purpose of these instituted ministries is to provide stability in the ministries, to have people who are trained and committed to serving these ministries in the lives of their parishes, rather than an ad hoc dragooning of people to fulfill a need. (One notes that indeed, attire does change, as liturgical norms allow for instituted lectors and acolytes to wear the alb.) To call this “a seeming movement closer to the Sacrament of Order” only perpetuates the mistaken notion that all liturgical ministry is inherently clerical. The existence of these instituted ministries precisely as lay ministries indicates that it decidedly is not.
- Whether this placates anyone, or whom it placates, is beside the point, and is nothing other than a hidden form of the genetic fallacy. (“This person likes it, so it must be bad!”)
- You will find no greater defender of and advocate for the use of proper words, as well as the proper use of words, than myself. I, too, would criticize a too-wide use of “ministry” to describe just any action of a Christian or group of Christians. But the principle at stake here is that “ministry” is not co-terminous with “clerisy.” As I noted, the very Vatican document which Fr. Stravinskas used as an example of ecclesial warnings against calling lay activity “ministry” acknowledged lectors, acolytes, and catechists as proper lay ministers.
To conclude: The Church has long had non-ordained persons on the altar. For many centuries, it called them clergy. Recognizing that they are truly laity, and extending that ministry to other lay persons, does no harm, and can do great good, for the Church.
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