08 September 2007

"Lay Presiders" at Mass? Nope.

I've received several emails and a few off-thread posts in the comboxes asking me to comment on the recent article in The Tablet concerning our Dutch Dominicans brothers and their most recent venture into experimental Protestantism. Apparently, two or three Dutch Dominicans published a pamphlet calling for the Catholic Church to allow locally elected members of the lay faithful "to say Mass," i.e. lay folks presiding at Mass instead of a priest. According to The Tablet article the brothers offer up the usual reasons for allowing such a thing.

Most of the questions I've received have been along the lines of: "What will the Order's Master do about this?" My answer: I have no idea. I've heard that at least one American province is planning a public repudiation of the booklet. And I just read something about someone in authority over there canceling a study day between the theological center that produced this little gem of theological excellence and some of the Dutch bishops. My Dutch is rusty, but the Babel-fish translation I managed seemed to indicate that the study day had been canceled at the request of the Master of the Order--a very good sign.

I am pretty confident in saying that at least 90% of my Dominican brothers would sign off on the following bolded-statements:

1). A validly ordained priest in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church is necessary for the valid celebration of the Eucharist. IOW, there can be no lay presiders at the Mass because such an event would not in fact be a Mass at all. A "lay lead Mass" can never be a Mass by definition.

2). Anyone teaching that the Mass can be validly confected by a lay person is teaching against the Church's ancient understanding of the Eucharist and Orders. Paragraph eighty of the Dominican constitutions (LCO 80) calls on all friars to put our intellectual and academic prowess at the service of the Church's magisterial office. We are not called to set ourselves up as an "alternative magisterium."

3). As an Order, the Order of Preachers fully supports the ancient teaching of the Church and should publicly repudiate the conclusions of our Dutch brothers. This would not be a condemnation of the brothers themselves, of course, only a rejection of their theological conclusions. Prediction: the Dutch friars in this case will not be disciplined in any way.

4). Such a repudiation should not be understood as a rejection of theological exploration in general nor the necessity of researching creative ways of ensuring that an adequate number of priests are available to serve God's church. The desired result of any faithful attempt at solving the "priest shortage" should be more priests not more "lay presiders."

If we are concerned about the shrinking availability of the Eucharist in a time of an apparent priest shortage, how exactly does allowing lay presiders at the Mass make the Eucharist more available? Without a priest there is no Eucharist. So, what are we supposed to be making available to the people by allowing lay presiders? A lovely Protestant communion service? Fine with me. Just don't call it "Roman Catholic."


  1. Anonymous7:56 AM

    It annoys me when theologians don't make it clear that what they write is speculation. This certainly would have avoided this faulty judgement.
    Also, I've heard that this booklet is based on the theology of Fr. Schillebeeckx, OP. What does the Order think about Schillebeeckx? What is taught about him in the Houses of Study?

  2. Faith,

    Schillebeeckx is either a Prophet or a Heretic depending on where you are in the Order and which generation you belong to. Generally speaking, younger Dominicans don't read him not only b/c he is very difficult but b/c his sacramental theology is basically Protestant. The middle generation is in charge right now and they think he's the greatest thing ever...well, Rahner and Kung are the greatest but Schillebeeckx is a very close third. In a few classes in my studium we read his articles but none of us had the theological background necessary to critically assimilate his work. Mostly, we complained about his obscure style and his tendency to equivocate. Schillebeeckx has managed to avoid censure b/c he is a Dominican and b/c he is quite skilled at nuancing his position to fit magisterial objections. I remember my liturgy prof saying in class that she hopes he lives long enough to finish his opus on sacramental theology. She predicted that it will "revolutionize" the Church's sacramental understanding. So, we still have a number of decades of his influence ahead of us. Have little fear though: the middle generation won't be in charge forever and those coming up will have little to do with his "theology by exception."

    Fr. Philip, OP

  3. Father,

    Are you sure about bolded-statement #1? Aren't Orthodox priests, validly ordained, but NOT in full communion with the RCC able to validly celebrate the Eucharist? Validly ordained SSPX priests also validly (though illicity) celebrate the Eucharist, don't they?

    Did I misunderstand you?


  4. Dev,

    No, you didn't. You've chosen to read the statement as a definition rather than a declaration. Strictly speaking, yes, everything you say is perfectly correct. However, my point is broader than a canonical definition of valid/licit orders. Basically, all I want to say in this declaration is that you gotta be a priest to say Mass. Maybe I should have just said that.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  5. Anonymous10:36 PM

    I read your response over at Cafeteria is closed. I don't know about the entire Orders of Preachers, but I did sit in on an RCIA class taught by a Dominican. He never mentioned the word "sacrafice", or "consecrate" or "confect"--he did say that transubstanciation was a "meadevil doctrine the cheif value of which was to help us look beyond the bread we eat".

    So I don't know about God's Dogs any longer. (But then again I try not to talk to Franciscans!)

    Mitch S.

  6. Mitch,

    Being a Dominican is no guarantee that a man or woman is an orthodox Catholic...especially nowadays. I'm not surprised by the nonsense taught in that RCIA class. It's pretty much the standard line--taken from our brother Schillebeeckx, btw--the whole idea is that b/c everything is ultimately sacramental nothing can be held out as somehow particularly sacramental (i.e., baptism, etc.), so that we can receive Christ walking on the beach enjoying the sand just as completely as we can in communion during the Eucharist. This is called "omnisacramentalism." Like most errors in theology it is based on a truth: everything is sacramental insofar as God reveals Himself to us in all created things; however, He has also made it possible for us to receive His gifts through particular sacramental signs such as confession, confirmation, etc.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  7. Schillebeeckx, weird name weird theology