The priest shortage is a self inflicted wound.

There is a classic piece by Anthony Esolen, entitled “The Catholic Church’s priest shortage is a self-inflicted wound”, published over 4 years ago on LifeSite, still available here. Worth reading (or re-reading), it goes like this:

Suppose you take a double-barrel shotgun and aim it at your foot. You press the trigger, and half of your toes are bloody fragments. Then you pray, ‘Cure me, O Lord, for I am lame!’…

The Catholic Church is in dire need of priests. She had plenty of priests before the onset of liturgical abuses not sanctioned by the Second Vatican Council's Sacrosanctum Concilium. Mathematician and computer programmer David Sonnier has plotted out the precipitous decline in vocations after the Council, illustrating it by an asymptotic curve he calls, with mordant irony, the Springtime Decay Function, whereby he concludes that we are missing more than 300,000 priests who otherwise might have been ministering to the people of God today. He shows his students the data, telling them that it marks enrollment at a college, and he asks them to guess what happened. They reply in one way or another that the college in question must have made a dreadfully bad decision in 1965.

Did they get rid of football?” asked one of the students.

The answer to that is yes, they did “get rid of football.” Nowhere in Sacrosanctum Concilium or in other documents of Vatican II … are the following liturgical innovations mandated or recommended or even suggested:

* orientation ad populum

* Communion in both species

* Communion received in the hand

* Communion received while standing, as at a delicatessen

* removal of altar rails

* prohibition of Masses said according to the 1962 missal

* exclusive use of the vernacular

* girls serving at the altar

Sonnier understands that correlation and causation are not the same; though it defies all reason to suppose that a decline so sudden and so calamitous was strictly coincidental. One way to show that it was not coincidental – that the foot's agony had something to do with the shotgun and the trigger – would be to go to those dioceses and communities that did not pull the trigger, and to see whether they are walking about hale and hearty and on two feet. And so they are: Lincoln, Nebraska; Arlington, Virginia; Ciudad del Este, Paraguay; the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate; the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter… (the list goes on and on – TC)

There are many potential contributors to the collapse of priestly vocations: smaller Catholic families, the enormous cost of attending seminary, the self destruction of the seminaries (cf. Michael Rose’s Goodbye, Good Men, written in 2002 but still achingly relevant and available pretty much everywhere), the degradation of the sanctuary as a sacred and holy space, the general “feminization” of the church and the Mass; these are just a few of reasons that pop into mind. But in my view, an overarching reason is the loss of the view of the unique, manly, “priestly” role of the priest as, well, a man, set apart from the rest of us not because he is better but because he is intended to act as alter Christus – another Christ. It is a high calling, and a difficult one: done well, it may be one of the most difficult callings imaginable.

I believe that the Mass as it was practiced up until Advent 1969 had to be a constant reminder to the poor, weak man (n.b.: I myself am a poor, weak man) who was the priest of the large, transcendent, vitally important role he was called to fulfill. It did this by making God, not the man, the center of the action, though the man – the priest - was necessary for the action. The ancient rite was suffused with the transcendent mystery of God. Although it is possible for the Novus ordo to be done in a similar way: emphasizing the greatness and mystery of God with man as an appendage (more on this in a later post), generally the innumerable “options” that the N.O. allows means that all too often the reverse becomes the reality: the man is the center, God is the appendage. Further, the new form opens the door to all the additional antics listed above by Dr. Esolen, and none of which are called for by the Novus ordo Missae.

The net effect is this: the Novus ordo, as generally practiced, is sterile, it doesn’t make priests. The Mass of All Time did.

Curate, ut valeatis.

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