With the vocation crisis (to the Catholic priesthood) in the West having suffered a steady hemorrhaging of numbers since the 70’s, it is nothing new to Western Catholics, naturally concerned about these dwindling numbers of priests, to take an honest look at the situation for both the root causes of the problem, and also its possible solutions. It is not rocket science to come to realise that the many flagrant abuses that have taken place in the last 40-50 years both within the practices (and the celebration) of the Sacred Liturgy, of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are one of the prime causes of this problem. These then lead on to all the other causes that young men of integrity, who might harbour a possible vocation to the priesthood, to become turned off from the idea. So what are we doing about it? And if the answer is ‘nothing’, or ‘practically nothing’, one must then logically ask ‘WHY is that so?’ Anthony Esolen writes a brilliant analysis on this salient issue for Catholics today.
By ANTHONY ESOLEN in Crisis Magazine
Cardinal Raymond Burke has recently laid some of the blame for the precipitous decline in priestly vocations upon the feminization of the liturgy. His assertion prompts two questions. What would qualify as “feminization”? Have we in fact done that to the liturgy? The question that the assertion should not prompt is, “Would a feminized liturgy actually cause young men to turn away from the idea of the priesthood, in indifference, perplexity, or bemused contempt?” For example, would a sight of two priests twirling a-tippytoe like big-bellied ballerinas at an Easter Vigil service, along with a troop of girls waving scarves and sashes, for six minutes and more, to Aaron Copland’s arrangement of The Lord of the Dance, have any natural appeal whatsoever to the overwhelming majority of boys and young men who know to what sex they belong?
Rather, that sight would pretty much guarantee that those fellows would be stifling laughter, or staring at their knees while waiting for it all to stop, or glancing toward the doors. And just imagine if one of the boys had made the dreadful mistake of inviting a non-Catholic friend to the service, or someone wondering why anybody should take religious faith seriously.
I sometimes wonder whether we Catholics actually want vocations to the priesthood. It’s reasonable to judge people’s intentions by their habitual actions. If I do something experimental in one of my college classes, and a host of good students flee the course, I might, if I were stubborn, try it again in modified form. But if it still happens that the good students flee, and I persist in what is an experiment no longer, a reasonable observer may conclude that I don’t care if they leave. It won’t matter if I express my supposed intentions all the time, crying out, “This course needs far more students in it, and far more of the best!” Why, I might pray for those students to enroll and to stay enrolled, just as reasonably as I might pray that I could keep banging my head against the wall and not have headaches. In fact, if my actions not only continue to fail me, but begin to hurt many others also, and I still persist, that reasonable observer may attribute to me more than incompetence or indifference. He may conclude that I really want the bad result; I am glad of it.
Our summer diocese, serving more than one hundred thousand Catholics, has no seminarians. I mean that literally: not one. They have ordained two men in the last ten years, one of whom has left the priesthood to get married. Churches are closing everywhere. The stalwart priest who is our pastor has had to say Mass for five churches scattered over twenty miles. The farther-flung diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, serving not quite one hundred thousand Catholics, has forty eight seminarians, at least two priests in every parish, no churches being shut down, and plenty of schools. The obvious question is, “Why doesn’t everyone try at least a few of the things they do in Lincoln?” Or, more properly put, “Why doesn’t everyone stop doing nine or ten of the things they never have done in Lincoln?”