Secunda die infra Octavam Dormitionis B.M.V.
[Septa die infra Octavam S. Laurentii]
Ordinands… My recent posts have been born from my own personal reflections whilst on retreat recently and although they do have a particular audience in mind, they are not meant as “sermons” though they may indeed have that “preachy air” about them!
As I stated in my first post about having been on retreat, my thoughts were and are much occupied with the upcoming ordinations at Michaelmas, especially during this holy season of Assumptiontide and the recalling of Our Lord’s love for Mary, His mother and thus the mother of all priests. So recent content has primarily been with the ordinands in mind concerning the nature of priesthood particularly, and where suitable tying in references form the liturgical year as it passes. Certainly my thinking developed in the writing of them, but being also conscious of an audience not necessarily experienced in theological discipline, I felt a need to explain some points in slightly more detail than I might otherwise have done. This of course, though perhaps making the pieces longer, certainly helped somewhat to train my thoughts in what could be an expansive area!
Some future postings will continue in a similar vein, as I have promised to explore the “spiritual reason why” to explain various rubrical actions in the liturgy i.e. why the priest “does what he does” and what his thoughts and accompanying intentions should be. Of course, much of this sort of thing would be delivered in a conventional seminary formation course such as I experienced. But being a small jurisdiction with a wide geographical remit and only limited resources, a conventional seminary formation isn’t practicable. Our candidates this year are coming from Croatia, Greece as well as the UK and are self-supporting and their time taken up with work, family and academic courses. Neither is it always possible to have that other mode of tutoring, the “training incumbent” as often our clergy are church “planters” or “start-ups” i.e. they will be the parish priest from “go”! So the hope is that my postings will compliment their academic courses and “fill in” the gaps as it were with what academia doesn’t cover… like “how to say Mass” and why!
It’s worth remembering that such a system and circumstance of clerical formation is not unlike that which existed before the Council of Trent, before there were seminaries. In those days priests were taught almost by apprenticeship, some were fortunate to attend the then great Universities and centres of learning, the majority of course were not. Whilst those who attended University certainly received a better and more concentrated theological education, the “priestly craft” was still learnt by apprenticeship, whether by an ordained professor or mentor, or if a religious by a priest of the Order, or like most others, “on the job” in a curacy after graduation.
The nearest experience in those days to what became a seminary formation was found only in monasteries, the enclosed Orders particularly. There in the densely religious atmosphere of the monastery, students for the priesthood had access to some of the best theological libraries and the routine and discipline of the daily hours of prayer of the community, as well as the wisdom of older monks in spiritual learning and insight. Unfortunately, being monasteries, these educated and disciplined clergy were ordained for the particular monastery they lived in and would serve only such faithful as came to the monastery church or went to the churches the monks served sacramentally. Before the Trent reforms, the vast majority of priests were ill-educated academically and only able to offer such services as their apprenticeship and experience had taught them. Saving those from rich enough backgrounds to have enjoyed a University education, but even these were often at the expense of spiritual sciences. Reform was needed!
I have tried both in my time previously as Vicar General and now as Metropolitan to ensure as far as is practically possible to provide what candidates for the priesthood ought to know in order to make them what a priest ought to be within the limit of our resources. Compared to those able to enjoy the benefits of a conventional seminary formation, this often requires an even greater level of commitment, one might even suggest of sacrifice on the part of the candidates. Balancing work and home commitments, family and “a life” on top of discernment, part-time theological studies, spiritual exercises and retreats… it’s a huge demand on a man’s resources both material and spiritual. For a younger candidate the situation isn’t a lot better, often burdened by student debt or a limited earning potential, holding down a job, a place to live and finding the resources to complete discernment, part-time theological studies, spiritual exercises and attend retreats… By comparison “conventional” seminarians have got it made with tuition, board and lodging all thrown in! But I can’t help but wonder if the rarefied environment of such seminaries does produce by comparison the “best” priests?
I’m not trying to suggest that our candidates for the Sacred Ministry are indeed better than those being formed through a conventional seminary process. But considering all that they have to go through I think it certainly proves a man’s resolve and even character. Though the process is less than what might be ultimately desirable, candidates that pass through it are, I would opine, more worldly-wise, more in touch with what passes for “normal” life experienced by most ordinary people and thus able to relate the mysteries of the Faith to the realities of what most people have to contend with trying to be disciples of Christ in the 21st Century.
As far as possible within the limitations of cost and time, they receive an academic theological formation comparable to that received by any seminarian, often earning degrees awarded by the same accredited institutes of Higher Education/Universities as the seminaries themselves. At the very least I expect our candidates to attain the same level of academic formation that Roman Catholic permanent deacons receive, attending the very same courses. Though it is necessary of course to supplement with other courses for sciences that would ideally be in a formation programme but are lacking in most University theological programmes of study.
Hence the need too for retreats in order to provide particularly the spiritual sciences and practical elements of priestly formation, as well as the opportunity for candidates to receive spiritual direction and cultivate the discipline of the Breviary, which I don’t think it can be denied, is always best instilled through a communal rather than private experience of recitation. It’s also an opportunity too to take the candidates away from their normal busy lives and spend sometime in discernment and “being”.
The pre-ordination retreats (for there are two this year running simultaneously) will soon be upon us and naturally, though the candidates have progressed far or have already qualified ref their theological studies, these last couple of months provide the last opportunity to consolidate their knowledge before the final scrutinies and examen prior to ordination. Forgive me then if posts are slightly more biased towards this end than of a more personal nature to me, though I hope to comment on my own experiences too as we go along, when appropriate. Afterall it is an “Episcopal Journal” and it is the office of the bishop to teach, I hope to fulfil some of that sacred obligation through this medium. I hope what I write might still of be interest to a wider audience and certainly I beg your prayers for those to be ordained this coming Michaelmas.
Sancta Dei Genitrix, Matrem Sacerdotii, ora pro nobis!