Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Renewal for Dummies" by Brother Thomas Draney, CFC

In spite of its problematic title, the “…. For Dummies” series of books was and still is very successful. Why? I suppose it's because the reader expected to find a treatment of the subject in very straightforward, simple language, a treatment that t concentrated on essentials and did not
presume a great deal of esoteric knowledge. That is my goal now.

The church has been rocked by sex abuse scandals, by the ever-emerging financial scandals , by the exodus of many Catholics, particularly the young, who can no longer tolerate the imperial stance of the hierarchy which believes its authority comes directly from God. This is the issue that must be faced: is the church essentially a monarchy with rule by “Divine Right,” apostolic succession meaning that authority to rule was granted to the apostles and is handed down like a baton in a race? Or is the church essentially a community empowered by the Holy Spirit with apostolic succession being its connection to the original experience of the Risen One, to a time when there was little doctrine or structure, with all the vision and values that went with this experience?.

The record of history shows that the Holy Spirit came down on the whole community, not just the twelve apostles. The first community of disciples, who were all Jewish, was based on the synagogue structure, because that was what they knew. The governance of the synagogue was by elders elected or at least recognized as leaders by the community. This more democratic form of governance can be seen in the account of the Council of Jerusalem. The leader of the Jerusalem community, the most important one at the time, was James, the brother of the Lord, not Peter!

Our God is a God of change, One who is always doing something new. History does not stand still and tradition should not be the worship of the past. Development was inevitable and part of God’s plan.

The world was not ready for democracy, aside from the small communal setting. The church’s structure which developed and changed over the centuries always reflected the political society of the time: empire under Constantine, then feudalism, kingdoms, and finally national states. The sacraments also developed: from two – baptism and Eucharist – to the seven we recognize today, and the focus of these was always the good of the community, not the isolated individual. The “sensus fidelium, ” the belief that authority had to be validated by its reception in the community. This need for validation saved the church from the heresy taught by a bishop, Arius, who taught that Christ was more than human but less than divine. Most of the bishops accepted this false teaching, but the Christian community did not. (Constantine was baptized by an Arian bishop; Cardinal Newman wrote an important book about the “sensus fidelium” and it has never been lost sight of even in times of great central authority in the church.)
It is time for the church to reflect the society we live in today, to be more democratic, for its leaders to listen to the voice of the community as the first disciples did in Jerusalem. It is time, for instance, for the people to have a voice in the selection of their bishop. This is not a “new age" idea. The ancient document known as the apostolic tradition says, "Let him be ordained as bishop who has been chosen by all.” In the fifth century Pope Celestine said much the same: "Let a Bishop not be imposed upon the people whom they do not want." Pope St. Leo added "He who has to preside over all must be elected by all." After all, if popes can be elected, why not bishops? It is just a question of who is doing the electing!

There is little sense in debating the issue of authority with those in power. They usually cling to their power in a very human way, and many are convinced that they are empowered directly by God. There are, however, two very simple things that we can do to bring about renewal. They are “radical” in thje sense that they go back to the very roots of Christianity. The first has to do with the fact that we are Eucharistic people, and the second with the fact that every institution runs on money. We can reclaim the power of the priesthood of the baptized by celebrating Eucharistic meals as the first disciples did, and we can form 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporations in each parish to collect the contributions of parishioners. These are types of corporations used by most non-profit organizations.

The Gospels describe many meals Jesus had with his disciples. The Jewish discipleship meal was known as a chaburah, and it was similar to a Kiwanis breakfast or K of C luncheon: a group of men who shared a common interest coming together to talk, plan, bond, and celebrate. Like the Sabbath meal or any such ceremony, it revolved around a ritual. The group gathered at the table, the host/leader broke bread and distributed it is a symbol of their common interest, shared life, a recognition of the need for nourishment. Then prayers of blessing on the food and the people were said; then the conversation and meal took place. At the end of the meal a cup of wine was passed around and everyone took a sip from this same cup. It was something like a toast to the group, to their future, and a dedication to the interest that brought them together.
Although the Last Supper is often described as a Passover or Paschal meal, many modern scholars say it was a chaburah meal which was later described as a Paschal meal because the element of sacrifice. St. John's gospel says the Last Supper was on the night before the Pasch. Some support for this is that if it was a Paschal meal, all the activities described on the next day would have been contrary to the Jewish law regarding activities on Holy Days. Also, as a Paschal meal, the Eucharist would have been celebrated only once a year.

The setting of a meal is entirely different from that of a liturgy. The meal gives people a chance to share their thoughts, their experiences, and to bond as a community in ways that liturgy cannot. That is why we need both forms of Eucharist. For a more detailed information and background, plus some examples of possible rituals based on the historic ones, please visit

Since most Catholics will gag on the statement that a “merely” baptized Christian has the power to bring the Risen One to the community in the form of bread and wine. Let me point out a few simple facts:
In the apostolic times there was no sacrament of ordination, so the Eucharist in Corinth described by Paul was presided over by a merely baptized person.
The church teaches today that there is no difference in the priesthood of the parish priest, bishop, cardinal, or pope. What distinguishes these ranks is authority. Why should the priesthood of the baptized be different, inferior in nature, reduced to “pray, pay, and obey.” The priesthood of the baptized operates on the level of the cell; the ordained priesthood is for the larger community.

When persons are baptized they receive the whole Christ, prophet, priest and king. The baptized do not get the infant; the confirmed, the adolescent; and the ordained, the adult. There is only one Christ, the Risen Christ.

Whoever “consecrates” does not command God, for no one has such power. He or she merely asks Christ to keep his promise to feed us his life.
Let me say clearly that reclaiming the meal does NOT mean abandoning the Eucharistic liturgy, the Mass, but rather reclaiming the meal is a complement to it. The meal had to develop into a liturgical celebration for many reasons, including the destruction of the temple in 70AD, the growth of the community which included many Gentiles. Development had to happen, because Christianity was different from Judaism and the Greco-Roman religions of that time. It was not bound by culture, class, or country. The glory and strength of the church today is that it is truly Catholic, universal, and has an institutional reach which reflects that. But development, like evolution, does not stop. We need a more democratic church and we need a Eucharistic celebration for the cell group – the family, circle of friends- so that we can meet the Risen Christ in the ordinary setting of our lives, as the disciples did on the road to Emmaus. Right hand, left hand: we need both. Right brain, left brain; we need both. liturgy and meal: we need both.

The other simple thing that Catholics can do is to take more control over the money. Anyone who has worked in politics or business knows that the control of money is the source of all temporal power. Pastors, whether of a parish or a diocese, who have absolute control over the money will usually begin to rule absolutely. The other dimension of this is the on-going revelations of fraud and dishonesty that the present system affords. Millions of dollars donated to the church have been stolen, squandered, and it is not possible to recover the money. But it is easy to set up a not-for-profit corporation, write simple rules of operation, take contributions by check only, assign a code number to each person or family, publish weekly contributions on a web site, etc The parishioners get their tax deduction and yet the money is still controlled by the parishioners.
I am not such a dreamer that I think everyone will join up instantly, but if 50% did, it would make a huge impact, and the door would always be open for more to join. I do believe that many good priests would support this arrangement, because it is good for the community and good for the priest too. I have no doubt that most bishops would oppose it, because they now can tell the parish how much money they will take from the collections for diocesan support. They would be reduced to negotiating.

Another factor in renewal are IEC’s (Intentional Eucharistic Communities) . They concentrate on the reality of church as community, and usually try to function as a small parish; as such they involve more people than those who can fit around a table, and are more complicated to manage. Many started up after Vatican II and have been vibrant organizations, but presently they have a difficulty in attracting new, younger members. Most of them feel they need an ordained priest for the Eucharistic liturgy. There is no reason why one could not be involved in both an IEC and in a Eucharistic meal group.

IEC’s have sprung up around the Catholic Women Priest movement. Since they directly challenge the hierarchy on the ordination of women, the bishops say their members are no longer part of the church community. Their numbers, however, are growing. Members point to primacy of conscience and to Jesus as one who challenged institutional authority in His day. Some pay homage to the idea of apostolic succession, by tracing their lineage to an unknown male bishop; others believe they have the right as a community to elect their preside. All forms of the ICE’s are a force towards renewing the structure of the institution.

Reclaiming Eucharist as a meal and taking control of the finances are both non-violent, perfectly peaceful and possible, and quite simple in concept.
I said that these projects were simple. I did not say they were easy to do. Many Catholics will find it difficult to think of priests not having personal power apart from the community, like a magician. That was the impression the Catechism gave. History gives a different one. The fourth century Council of Chalcedon issued a canon that said no one was to be ordained unless he was attached to some kind of community; an ordination apart from community would be without effect. A free lance priest was a contradiction!. The third Lateran Council transmuted this idea into personal power, and in the Middle Ages there developed the “private” Mass said without a community present.. These ages also gave us the abuses that led to the Reformation.

Over the centuries the church had become more clericalized, with many ministries being absorbed into the clerical state as “orders” or steps to the priesthood. Thomas Aquinas had to wrestle with the problem of how one sacrament, Holy Orders, could have seven parts! Over the centuries the priesthood had become more and more divorced from the community, starting with Constantine appointing many of them as magistrates, which meant that they wore distinctive clothing; the altar in the churches was elevated over the congregation, the priest viewed as a spiritual magician who had persoal powers unrelated to the community.

Current theologians and leaders are in the process of redressing this misplaced emphases. Avery Cardinal Dulles can define ordination as "recognition of the gift of leadership, and at the same time a sacramental commissioning that empowers them to govern the communities in the name of Christ." A 1971 an unpublished report commissioned by the American bishops says the same thing: "The ordination of the priest is that solemn sacramental celebration by which a person is received into the order of presbyters, assumes public office in the church, and is enabled to act in the name of Christ and the Christian community with the promised assistance of the Holy Spirit."

The priesthood will not be diminished if it is seen as giving aa baptized person a new and blessed relationship to the community, one of leadership in spiritual matters, in educating and counseling, in ministering to the community through the sacraments. We need a professional, dedicated priesthood just as we need a liturgical celebration for the larger community. There is no reason that I know of to prevent the Catholic community, lay and clerical, from returning to the ancient practice of having a real voice in the selection of who will be selected to be the priest or the bishop.

Regarding to 501(c)3 organization, the big problem will probably be “we never did this before.” Some might see it as a slap at the priest, and most certainly the bishops generally will oppose it. (Part of the beauty of the project is that there is nothing they can do to stop it.) I think that as the stories of financial abuse keep coming out, the project will look more and more appealing to the majority of parishioners. After all, it is just making a reality of what Vatican II promoted.
Further reading:
Priest and Bishop, by Raymond Brown, S.S. Wipf and Stock, 1999 A leading NT scholar, discusses apostolic succession, who presided, etc.
A New Look at the Sacraments, by Fr. Wm. J. Bausch, Twenty-Third Publications, rev.ed. 1995 He gives a detailed description of the history, development of the sacraments. has short papers on many tangential topics such as how transubstantiation is understood differently in the Orthodox and Roman churches, history of the chaburah, promoting ecumenism through table spirituality, some prayers developed from the original Jewish ritual.
The Shape of the Liturgy, by Dom Gregory Dix, A & C Black, London, reprinted 1982 contains a great deal of information on the chaburah
Bro. Thomas Draney, CFC March 14, 2012

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