Saturday, October 31, 2009


This great hymn by William W. How, (from Hymns for Saint's Days, and Other Hymns, 1864) will be sung all over the world tomorrow. Organists will play Vaughan Williams' matchless tune loudly and triumphantly, and many a parish will have a procession with banners unfurled in honour of the saints. For many years I have used the verses not usually found in hymn books (in this colour below) for their teaching value, and to make the hymn long enough on its own for a decent procession. I don't think that verse 3 (the one about Our Lady) was part of How's hymn. Maybe some reader can tell me if I'm correct - and, if so, who wrote it. Anyway, because some might find the extra verses useful, I thought I'd share the hymn with you today in its entirety.

(The illustration above is by Enid Chadwick, whose work is everywhere at the Anglican Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham in England.)

For all the Saints who from their labours rest,
Who thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesu, be for ever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might,
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou in the darkness drear their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

For Ever-blessed Mary, - full of grace,
Mother of God, and Queen of all thy Saints, -

With her to thee "Magnificat" we raise.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

For the Apostles' glorious company,
Who, bearing forth the Cross o'er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, - we sing to thee,

Alleluia! Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, - by whose pure word,

Like fourfold stream, the Garden of the Lord

Is fair and fruitful, - be thy Name adored.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

For Martyrs, - who with rapture-kindled eye

Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,

And dying, grasped it, - thee we glorify.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the Saints who nobly fought of old,
And win, with them, the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O blest communion! fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest:
Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The Saints triumphant rise in bright array:
The King of glory passes on his way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

JOHN HENRY NEWMAN on "groups" being reunited with Rome

I have taken this article from the website dedicated to the Canonisation of John Henry Newman HERE.

A number of reporters have suggested that John Henry Newman could be the patron of new 'Ordinariates' - the name to be given to those Anglican groups who respond to Rome's invitation.

What would Newman himself think of such a scheme? He had an important correspondence in 1876 with the convert Ambrose Phillipps de Lisle, about a plan for an Anglican 'uniate' Church, similar to the Eastern Rite Churches in communion with Rome. The plan, which had some support from Cardinal Manning, the then Archbishop of Westminster, had been proposed in an anonymous pamphlet called Christianity or Erastianism? It argued that the Anglican Church was at the mercy of the British State, and that the only way to avoid this 'Erastian' Church was to enter into communion with the Holy See.

Newman's initial position was sceptical, for practical reasons. He wrote to de Lisle on 19th January that it was a 'plausible scheme', but that he saw difficulties, for instance in the relations between the ex-Anglican groups and the rest of the English Catholic Church ("it would be very difficult to avoid perpetual collisions between the two bodies ... The Roman priests would be complaining that the rich splendid Anglican Church in their mission was drawing away at least the young generation"). For Newman, it depended on what the plan could hope to achieve - if enough Anglicans would enter the Catholic Church, it would be worth it. But Newman noted that among Anglo-Catholics "I am told few will feel inclined towards it".

But some ten days later Newman wrote again to de Lisle: "Nothing will rejoice me more than to find that the Holy See considers it safe and promising to sanction some such plan as the Pamphlet suggests. I give my best prayers, such as they are, that some means of drawing to us so many good people, who are now shivering at our gates, may be discovered."

In fact, the scheme soon collapsed, with de Lisle writing that "some powerful influence ... has at once intervened". Writing in May, Newman consoled de Lisle with thoughts he had already expressed in his Apologia pro Vita Sua: "It seems to me there must be some divine purpose in it. It often has happened in sacred and in ecclesiastical history, that a thing is in itself good, but the time has not come for it ... And thus I reconcile myself to many, many things, and put them into God's hands. I can quite believe that the conversion of Anglicans may be more thorough and more extended, if it is delayed - and our Lord knows more than we do."

Newman's line, then, was that plans for group reunion should be left to the right time. When would be right? In his 1873 sermon 'The Infidelity of the Future', Newman had noted the positive influence of non-Catholic Christian groups in modern times: "it is obvious that while the various religious bodies and sects which surround us according to God's permission have done untold harm to the cause of Catholic truth in their opposition to us, they have hitherto been of great service to us in shielding and sheltering us from the assaults of those who believed less than themselves or nothing at all". Yet he had gone on to predict the increasing pressure that secularisation and anti-Christian forces would place on these non-Catholic traditions: "in these years before us it will be much if those outlying bodies are able to defend their own dogmatic professions". Whereas, according to Newman, the Catholic Church would hold fast against such challenges, he predicted that "as time goes on, when there will be a crisis and a turning-point with each of them, then it will be found that, instead of their position being in any sense a defence for us, it will be found in possession of the enemy".

In the challenge provided by secularism, Newman saw a new opportunity. "I rejoice ... [that] as one compensation of the cruel overthrow of faith which we see on all sides of us, that, as the setting of the sun brings out the stars, so great principles are found to shine out, which are hailed by men of various [Christian] religions as their own in common, when infidelity prevails." As he had written in his Idea of a University, "if falsehood assails Truth, Truth can assail falsehood". Newman believed that, under the pressure of an increasingly aggressive secularism, there will be people of all different Christian allegiances and backgrounds who come to recognise the principles that they share and move closer to that closest unity of faith and love which can only exist in communion with the Vicar of Christ.

So, Newman foresaw a point where the weakness of non Catholic Christian traditions, under the assaults of rationalism and unbelief, would signal the moment had arrived for plans to allow bodies of such Christians to enter into communion with the Catholic Church. Newman did not underestimate the possible dangers of this kind of plan. He recognised the great significance of personal conversion, such as his own, and the difficulties there might be in fully integrating the new bodies into the life of the Catholic Church. But still, according to Newman, when the time came for such initiatives it would be right to hope that they would contribute to sharpening and purifying the Christian conscience in a hostile world, and would bring blessings upon both the Catholic Church and upon those who in this way entered into communion with her.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

St Teresa of Avila - Today's Saint

St Teresa, a woman of passion and prayer, was born in Avila, Spain, on 28th March 1515 and entered the Carmel of the Incarnation there in1536. She struggled with her vocation until she underwent an experience of spiritual renewal in 1555, in which she saw the risen Jesus, and knew a mystical transverberation, which she described as the piercing of her heart by an angel. She called this spiritual union with God, her "mystical marriage."

After many tribulations and much heart-searching, St Teresa felt that God was asking her to leave the Incarnation to found St Joseph's, a new monastery in which she planned that the original Rule of Carmel would be kept faithfully. This she did on 24th August 1562.

There was a great deal of opposition to the new Carmel and it was some time before she was able to live there in peace. Many condemned her as a woman deceived by her experiences in prayer.

Eventually the hostility died down and St Teresa was asked to found more of these houses of prayer in other cities of Spain. Over a period of twenty years she founded 15 more houses for the nuns and, in association with S. John of the Cross, at least two for the friars.

St Teresa introduced a fresh orientation into Carmelite life combining silence and solitude with community living and giving the life of prayer a specific apostolic role in the Church and the world. Prayer was to be the great outreach to others, the one and only work of her nuns. Her energy, resolution and sense of humour were unfailing, animated as they were by her immense desire to serve the Lord as lovingly as she could. She died at Alba de Tormes on 4th October 1582.

In her writings she compares the mystery of the soul to an Interior Castle with many secret chambers into which the Lord seeks entry. She also celebrates the sorrows and blessings of faith, and the endless power of God's love.

St Teresa frequently shows the power of meditation and prayer to deepen our union with God.

"All the way to heaven is heaven," she writes. She teaches human love and compassion, believing that real maturity can only be achieved through prayerful dependence on God.

St Teresa was canonized in 1622, and in 1970 Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church.

Here are two of her prayers:

"O Lord, regulate all things by your wisdom, so that I may always serve you in the manner that you will. Do not punish me by granting my desire if it offends your love, for I desire your love to live always in me. Help me to deny myself in order that I may serve you. Let me live for you - who in yourself are the true life. Amen."

"Lord of all pots and pans and things, since I've no time to be a great saint by doing lovely things, or watching late with you, or dreaming in the dawnlight, or storming heaven's gates, make me a saint by getting meals, and washing up the plates. Warm all the kitchen with your love, and light it with your peace; forgive me all my worrying, and make my grumbling cease. You who always gave your people food, in the house or by the sea, accept the service that I do - I do it for you."

And here are some of her sayings:

"Christ has no Body now but yours; no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassionately on the world; Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world."

"Let humility be always at work, like the bee at the honey-comb, or all will be lost. But, remember, the bee leaves its hive to fly in search of flowers and the soul should sometimes cease thinking of itself to rise in meditation on the grandeur and majesty of its God."

"Do not build towers without a foundation, for our Lord does not care so much for the importance of our works as for the love with which they are done. When we do all we can, His Majesty will enable us to do more every day."

"God gave us faculties for our use; each of them will receive its proper reward. Then do not let us try to charm them to sleep, but permit them to do their work until divinely called to something higher."

"Love does not consist in great sweetness of devotion, but in a more fervent determination too strive to please God in all things, in avoiding, as far as possible, all that would offend Him, and in praying for the increase of the glory and honour of his Son and for the growth of the Catholic Church."

"Our souls may lose their peace and even disturb other people's if we are always criticising trivial actions which often are not real defects at all, but we construe them wrongly through ignorance of their motives."

"I can find no simile more appropriate than water by which to explain spiritual things, as I am very ignorant and have poor wits to help me. Besides I love this element so much that I have studied it more attentively than other things. God, Who is so great, so wise, has doubtless hidden secrets in all things He created, which we should greatly benefit by knowing, as those say who understand such matters."

"How many maggots remain in hiding until they have destroyed our virtues. These pests are such evils as self-love, self-esteem, rash judgement of others in small matters, and a want of charity in not loving our neighbour quite as much as ourselves. Although, perforce, we satisfy our obligations to avoid sin, yet we fall far short of what must be done in order to obtain perfect union with the will of God."

"The only remedy for having given up a habit of recollection is to recommence it, otherwise the soul will continue to lose it more and more every day, and God grant it may realize its danger."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

YEAR OF THE PRIEST: Most Rev. Elden Curtiss, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Omaha, Nebraska, on the Liturgy of the Hours

Some months ago several of our priests shared with me the problems they are having being faithful to the daily recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours. Busy schedules and lack of quality time are factors, as well as the casual way some of our priests seem to approach the obligation. We discussed national reports which indicate that some priests have discontinued saying the Office completely. We are aware that some seminaries did not prepare their students adequately regarding the purpose and obligation of the daily celebration of the Hours.

This conversation led me to some prayerful reflections about the Liturgy of the Hours and some personal soul-searching about its role in my own life. On this special day for priests, as we celebrate the anniversary of our priesthood in Jesus by which we have become co-intercessors with him in the work of salvation, I would like to share with you some conclusions I have drawn about the role of the Liturgy of the Hours in our lives as priests.

The problem for some priests

For some of us, despite the obligation that is ours, the time constraints of trying to complete the entire Office each day is problematic. Either we are inclined to read the Psalms quickly without reflection, or we tend to skip various hours during the day. This can make the Office a burden for us rather than an opportunity for genuine prayer. We find it difficult to be caught up in the rhythm of prayer pulsating throughout the whole Church when we are rushing to fulfil an obligation. If the celebration of the Hours becomes rote for us, it is no longer an opportunity for personal prayer but only a burdensome task which is easily discarded. It is important in the long run that we establish a routine for praying the Office, but it must be a time of real prayer if we are going to be faithful day after day for a lifetime.

Most of us abhor boredom. When the repetitive nature of the Psalter begins to cause ennui in us, we have to sense once again the rhythm of prayer pulsating in the Body of Christ, the Church. Our regular heart beat, our regular pattern of breathing, our regular schedule of eating and exercising - these regularities are the basis of our continued life and physical health. Irregularity in any of these activities signals problems. And it is the same for our spiritual lives as well. The regular patterns of prayer each day, especially the Divine Office for us priests, is the basis for our spiritual health. Irregularity signals problems.

It is not repetition which causes boredom for us, but only repetition disconnected from its purpose and end.

Recapturing a Spirit of Prayer

What I have discovered over the years, as I have gradually learned to take time to pray the Hours and not just read words, are the insights and inspirations which the Lord gives me each day. I have learned that the time I spend with the Office is more important than many other things I do during the day. When I find myself rushing through the Psalms and Canticles and readings, I deliberately slow down and savor what I am reading and praying. I may not complete as much of the Office as I intended at any one time, but it has been a fruitful period of prayer for me, and for the whole Church that I joined in this universal liturgy.

The Psalms constitute the major portion of the Hours. They are the actual prayers of the psalmist to God which we make our own. Jesus did the same thing every day as a devout Jew. No matter how involved he was in his public ministry, and despite the urgency of trying to accomplish so much in such a short time, Jesus made time every day to pray alone and to pray the Liturgy of the Hours (the Psalms, Canticles and reading from the Old Testament) prescribed for observant Jews, both in the Temple and in the synagogues of his country. St Augustine reminds us that, in the Psalter, Jesus continues to sing and pray every day in us.

Morning and evening prayer are the two hinges on which the Liturgy of the Hours turns. The whole Church prays together to acknowledge the Creator and his mighty works every morning and evening. Together we recall the Incarnation of the Son and the salvation that is ours through him. As priests, we should want to take part in this prayer of the Church, just as we take part in her daily Eucharistic liturgy. The Liturgy of the Hours and the celebration of the Eucharist are meant to be anchors for our lives of faith and prayer as priests.

When we read and reflect on the Office of Readings each day; we open ourselves to a cycle of Scripture readings for the year; we are able to be enlightened and inspired by the Fathers of the Church and other sacred writers; and we are reminded of the teachings of Vatican II and the other councils of the Church in our long tradition. These readings become for us, rather than just an obligation, a chance to fulfil our own need to be grounded in God's revelation to us through the lived experience of the Church (Tradition) and our written tradition in the Scriptures.

The obligation of priests to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours daily

The obligation for priests to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours daily is clear in official Church documents which I will list below. Our response to this obligation depends on our understanding and acceptance of magisterial authority versus our own authority and the level of our solidarity with the Church and her Tradition.

The concept of obligation, especially when it binds us morally, receives mixed reactions today. Some negativity is baggage from the past when every infraction was considered seriously sinful, and some is the result of modern self-determination.

Most of us have heard pre-Vatican stories about priests who were so concerned about the "obligation" of saying the full Office each day that they would pull off the road at 11:45 p.m. to finish it before midnight with the aid of their cars' headlights. If this really happened, it was a caricature of what the Church demanded of her priests at that time. But the stories do show the importance of the Opus Dei (the work of God) to which nothing else should be preferred.

In these post-Vatican II days, on the other hand, some priests reject the notion of obligation being attached to the Office. Prayer should be voluntary to be fruitful, they maintain, not forced on them under pain of sin. Granted that people ought to do things because they want to do them or because they like to do them, but many things in life are not wanted or liked but still they have to be done. A mother awakened from sound sleep by the cries of her baby may not want to get out of her warm bed in the middle of a cold night but she does so because of her love for her baby. Love always makes obligation bearable and even rewarding.

In our role as co-intercessors with Christ on behalf of his people, we priests have accepted the obligation to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours daily. The Church holds us to this obligation out of love for us and for the people we serve.

Official Church documents regarding the Office

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum concilium) states, in n. 96, that clerics in major orders, but not bound to office in choir, "are bound to pray the entire Office every day, either in common or individually...".

The Liturgy of the Hours is not private or individual prayer. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy nn. 84-85 states: "it is the very prayer which Christ himself together with his Body addresses to the Father (n. 85). Hence all who take part in the Divine Office are not only performing a duty for the Church, they are also sharing in what is the greatest honour for Christ's Bride; for by offering these praises to God they are standing before God's throne in the name of the Church, their mother".

The General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours, n. 28, points out that: "The Liturgy of the Hours is entrusted to sacred ministers in a special way so that it is to be recited by each of them - with the necessary adaptations - even when the people are not present. The Church deputes them to say the Liturgy of the Hours in order that at least through them the duty of the whole community may be constantly and continuously fulfilled and the prayer of Christ may persevere unceasingly in the Church".

The General Instruction, n. 20, reminds us: "The Liturgy of the Hours, like the other liturgical services, is not a private function, but pertains to the whole body of the Church. It manifests the Church and has an effect upon it. Its ecclesial celebration is best seen and especially recommended when it is performed ... by the local Church".

The Liturgy of the Hours has an express purpose in the life of the Church. The General Instruction, n. 11 states: "Compared with other liturgical actions, the particular characteristic which ancient tradition has attached to the Liturgy of the Hours is that it should consecrate the course of day and night".

The Liturgy of the Hours has a proper relationship to the Eucharist. The General Instruction, n. 12, teaches us: "The Liturgy of the Hours extends to the different hours of the day the praise and prayer, the memorial of the mysteries of salvation and the foretaste of heavenly glory, which are offered us in the Eucharistic mystery, 'the centre and culmination of the whole life of the Christian community'".

The Liturgy of the Hours shapes and forms those who pray it into the People of God. Again, The General Instruction notes in n. 14: "The sanctification of man and the worship of God are achieved in the Liturgy of the Hours by the setting up of a dialogue between God and man.... The saving Word of God has great importance in the Liturgy of the Hours, and may be of enormous spiritual benefit for those taking part". In n. 18: "Whoever participates in the Liturgy of the Hours makes the Lord's people grow by imparting to them a hidden apostolic fruitfulness", and in n. 19: "Those taking part in this prayer should make it their own so that it becomes a source of devotion, abundant grace and nourishment for personal prayer and apostolic activity. In praying it worthily, attentively and with devotion, they must attune their minds to their voices".

In n. 29 we read: "Bishops and priests, therefore, and other sacred ministers, who have received from the Church the mandate to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours, are to recite the whole sequence of Hours each day, preserving as far as possible the genuine relationship of the Hours to the time of day. They are to give due importance to the Hours which are the two hinges on which this Liturgy turns, that is, Lauds as morning prayer and Vespers; let them take care not to omit these hours, unless for a serious reason. They are also to carry out faithfully the Office of Readings, which is above all the liturgical celebration of the Word of God. Thus, they will carry out daily that duty of welcoming into themselves the Word of God. That the day may be completely sanctified, they will desire to recite the middle Hour and Compline, thus commending themselves to God and completing the entire Opus Dei before going to bed".

The 1983 Code of Canon Law, in canon 276, #2 spells out various means by which the cleric pursues holiness. In sub-point 3, the canon notes that "priests as well as deacons aspiring to the priesthood are obliged to fulfil the Liturgy of the Hours daily in accordance with the proper and approved liturgical books". This wording is declarative, obligatory.


The Church expects all of us priests to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day (except for serious reasons which prevent us from doing so) in order to strengthen our solidarity with the whole Church and to pray for the needs of the Church everywhere and in our own Archdiocese. The prayer of the Church and our own contemplative prayer each day help us stay focused spiritually.

When we pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily, we are nourished by the same spiritual fare as all the other priests throughout the world who are praying with us. This strengthens the bonds of fraternal communion and our solidarity as priests.

I encourage you to pray the Hours with fellow priests as often as you can, to reinforce your commitment to the Divine Office, and to share together the message the Lord is directing to you through this sacred liturgy.

If you are struggling with the daily recitation of the Office, or say it only intermittently, or have given up on it, I hope this letter will encourage you to address the issue with your confessor or spiritual director. I am willing to discuss this matter with you personally and work out a process with you to help you gradually make the Liturgy of the Hours an opportunity of genuine prayer in your life.

I think our daily participation in the Liturgy of the Hours can become a source of encouragement and consolation for us if we take the time to reflect on what we read, and to pray in union with the whole Church. It is not so difficult to be faithful to this sacred burden every day when we come to realize that we bear it with the Lord for his people. This gift of fidelity will be my prayer for you this Holy Thursday as we renew once again our identification with the priesthood of Christ and to our commitment to be co-intercessors with him in the work of salvation.

Taken from L'Osservatore Romano (the newspaper of the Holy See) 5 August 1998

Thursday, October 1, 2009

YEAR OF THE PRIEST: John Macquarrie (1919 - 2007) on Priestly Character

John Macquarrie was a Canon of Christ Church and Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, Oxford University. This is an extract from To be a Priest, pp. 147-153, edited by Robert E. Terwilliger and Urban T. Holmes, Seabury Press, New York, 1975.

We live in the age of functional man. That is to say, a man or woman is considered in terms of what he or she does. A man, for example, is a train driver or a bank clerk. Of course, no one is a driver or a clerk all the time. But then we speak of roles, and this too is a functional term. When the bank clerk comes home at night, he lays aside his working role and takes up the roles of husband and father. What we seem afraid to do is ever to come to the person himself, the person who in some sense remains identical through the many roles and functions, the person who not only does things but is someone. Perhaps indeed we have come to doubt whether there is a personal reality, for in the depersonalized world of today we act much of the time as if people were nothing but the sums or aggregates of changing functions and roles. Gabriel Marcel has said that one of the diseases of our time is the loss of the ontological sense. Man has become so absorbed in what he does that he no longer has any sense of who he is.

There is, of course, some truth in the idea of functional man. It is through our deeds and decisions that we become persons, and what we do makes us who we are. But the human reality is not exhausted by the functions which any individual performs.

Surely the Christian minister in particular is more than his functions. We can list his various roles and functions-he is servant, proclaimer, priest; he preaches, baptizes, presides at the Eucharist; he does many things besides. But it makes sense to ask: Who is it that appears in these roles and performs these functions? Daniel Day Williams made the point when he wrote: "Vocation is more than a role; it is a life dedicated and a responsibility assumed. No one should be playing a role at the point where ultimate things are at stake."(1)

If ministry were merely a role or a collection of functions, then there might seem to be no need for a distinctive ordained ministry in the Church, and this idea has an appeal in our egalitarian age. The Church would consist, so to speak, of modular Christians, any one of whom might be fitted into the appropriate functional slot. Certainly, everyone recognizes that some functions need training and preparation and that not everyone could get up and preach. But is presidency at the Eucharist, for instance, merely performing the function of reciting certain words and doing certain acts, so that any Christian who is literate and has had a little practice could do this as well as anyone else? Or is there more to it? Is there a deeper connection between ministry and presiding at the Eucharist than can be expressed by terms like "role" and "function"? Or again, can this particular function be separated and considered in isolation from that whole constellation of functions which constitute the work of an ordained minister?

I think there is much more to ministry and priesthood than the fulfilling of roles and functions. R.C.Moberly expressed the matter thuss:

"There are not only priestly functions or priestly prerogatives; there is also a priestly spirit and a priestly heart-more vital to the true reality of priesthood than any mere performance of priestly functions. Now this priestly spirit is not the exclusive possession of the ordained ministry; it is the spirit of the priestly Church. But those who are ordained 'priests' are bound to be eminently leaders and representatives of this priestliness of spirit, and they have assigned to them an external sphere and professional duties which constitute a special opportunity, and a charisma of grace which constitutes a special call and a special capacity for its exercise. Such opportunity and call are inseparable from the oversight of the Christian community to Godward, and they are as wide as is the life of the Christian body. Leadership in eucharistic worship, truly understood, is its highest typical expression . . . but eucharistic leadership, truly understood, involves many corollaries of spirit and life." (2)

It is not meant that the ordained minister is somehow better or more inward or more spiritual than his lay brothers and sisters. But within the order and economy of the Church he is distinct, for he has received a special call, accepted a special responsibility, and been given in ordination a special grace to strengthen him. When we remember that ministry is a grace or gift bestowed by Christ, we shall not be in danger of thinking that the ordained ministry is a superior caste in the Church. The ordained ministry owes everything to Christ-it is indeed Christ's ministry embodied in a certain way. This is recognized by the Church's teaching that the validity of a sacrament does not depend on the personal worthiness of the priest. Christ himself is the true minister or every sacrament, and the unworthiness of the human agent cannot void Christ's bestowal of grace. Of course, this was never intended to suggest that the minister's worthiness or unworthiness is a matter of indifference! Effectual priesthood demands not just the doing of the priestly act but being a priest in union with the great high priest, Jesus Christ. The traditional word used by theologians to designate the peculiar being or status of the ordained priest, that which underlies and unites his various roles and functions and finds expression in them, is the word "character." This is not a popular word at the present time. To those whose minds are pragmatic, empirical, analytic, the idea of character may seem just a mystification. They feel safer in dealing with functional man.

Now I do not deny that the traditional doctrine of a priestly character was often described in categories which nowadays we judge to have been too metaphysical and impersonal for describing the kind of phenomenon which is here in question. To some extent, this may excuse the impatience with the idea of character found in some modern writers on ministry. Anthony Harvey, for instance, brusquely dismisses the idea of character as something that "can find no place" in his account of ministry.(3)

But it cannot be so quickly dismissed, nor is a merely functional approach adequate in the least. The contemporary theologian has got to find more up-to-date and personal categories in which to express the abiding truth in the idea of priestly character.

In its literal sense, the Greek word charakter signified the distinctive mark made by a seal or die or similar instrument. The word is used only once in the New Testament, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where Jesus Christ is said to be "the express image of God's person" or, alternatively translated, "the very stamp of his nature" (Hebrews 1:3). In modern usage, the word "character" has developed a great many meanings, but for our purpose we shall take our clues mainly from ethical usage, for there is a close parallel between the ethical idea of character and the theological idea.

The parallel emerges right away, because just as we have seen that there are two views of the ministry standing in some tension, the functional view concerned primarily with what the minister does and the ontological view concerned with who he is, so there have long been two types of ethical theory, the one understanding morality chiefly in terms of rules, commandments, acts, overt behavior, the other understanding the moral life more in terms of virtue and the formation of moral persons or even communities. It is no accident that the morality of command and act has, in the specific area of Christian ethics, flourished chiefly among Protestants, while Catholic moral theologians have been preoccupied with the ethics of virtue. Likewise, many Protestant theologians tend to view ministry in a functional way, while such ideas as priestly character and formation have dominated Catholic thinking.

But although the two approaches have often been in tension, my own view is that in both ethics and theology they are finally complementary The merely functional approach is superficial and fails to do justice the personal reality, but it is not canceled out by the ontological understanding of the matter; rather, it is given depth and cohesion.

How then does a modern ethicist think of character? Clearly, character is not a thing or a special faculty. It is more like a pattern, traceable in a person's behavior and showing elements of directionality and consistency. Stanley Hauerwas, author of one of the best recent studies of the subject, writes: "The clearest example of character is one in which a life is dominated by one all-consuming purpose or direction."(4) This would be an extreme case, and there can be strong characters where there are many purposes and interests, provided these are brought into unity by an "ultimate concern" (to borrow Tillich's useful expression) giving, as it were, a recognizable set to the agent's policies.

But although character is a pattern discernible in action and built up in action, it is not just an adjective or product of action. On the contrary, character produces some actions rather than others, for it is constituted by the value judgments and priorities of the agent, and is hardly to be distinguished from the agent himself.

It is clear that character cannot be acquired in a moment. It needs formation, and that may take a long time. Once character has been formed, it introduces a pattern of stability and reliability into life, but this does not mean an end to growth. Character deepens and develops in the face of new problems.

Where does character come from? Obviously it has several sources. There is the given genetic inheritance of every individual, his innate propensities, capacities, weaknesses. This is the raw material of character. Within limits, it determines what it is possible for one to become. But this raw material is plastic and has many possibilities inherent in it. Next, there is everything that happens to a person from outside. There are the accidents of his own history, and these may have good or bad influence. There is the impact of his culture, and none of us can help absorbing many of the beliefs and value judgments of contemporary society. There is the important factor of education, the systematic training of mind and spirit. These three influences that come from outside we may call the passive elements in character formation. But there is also an active factor. To some extent, each one of us chooses to be the kind of person that he or she is. We strive to realize an ideal self of our own choosing. Finally, to the factors already mentioned, the Christian would add divine grace. He believes that the attainment of character is not just an accident of birth or environment or the fruit of unaided human struggle, but that prayer, the sacraments, and life in the Christian community are of supreme importance.

The foregoing discussion relates to character in general from the standpoint of ethical theory. What light does it throw on the theological concept of priestly character? We shall answer this question by considering the steps by which one enters the ordained ministry. These can be understood as steps in the formation of special types of character.

First there is vocation, the calling of God. Priesthood is a gift, it is not something we choose for ourselves. When a priest is asked: "What made you decide to enter the ministry?" he may very likely reply that he hardly knows. He may only be able to say that at some time he felt a calling. The call to the ministry is a special case or an extension of the mystery of election, which all Christians have known to some extent. It is that inner constraint, that claim of God, that fascination with Christ which lays hold upon one and draws one on, perhaps at first unwillingly. The call to the ministry is an extension of election, the summons to a new relationship. Already the experience of this calling has its ontological consequence and has begun to shape the character of the one who is called; for no one who has known such a call can ever be quite the same again.

Next, God's call elicits the human response. Character is formed not only by what comes from outside but by our own active pursuit of an ideal, and this is true of priestly character. It requires the dedication and self-giving of the one who is called. We have seen that character is formed when one is devoted to an "ultimate concern." The coming of God's kingdom in the world, and the service of that kingdom, become the focal interest of the Christian minister and give the distinctive set to his character. There is also the negative side. To choose one thing means to renounce other things. The ordination vows speak not only of what is to be chosen and done, but also of "laying aside the study of the world and the flesh." Sacrifice is a necessary element in the priestly character. In consenting to become this kind of person and to let his character be formed around the focus of serving God's kingdom, the priest must make renunciations.

I think there are different permissible interpretations of what this focusing and its accompanying renunciations will mean in priesthood. The Church will always need some whose intense dedication will lead them to celibacy and the severing of all ties that might seem to them to be obstacles to their vocation. Others believe that the priestly character can be formed in lives that are more diversified and cover a broader segment of human interests, including marriage and the family. Still others -and perhaps an increasing number-will combine priesthood with a secular occupation. I believe that all these styles are possible, provided always that there is that fundamental orientation toward the calling of God, the orientation that is a major factor in the formation of the priestly character.

Priesthood is a lifelong vocation and a lifelong commitment, and indeed it takes a lifetime for the full flowering of priestly character. The formation of this character becomes an irreversible process, and this is what is meant by the traditional language about the "indelibility" of the character. But we live nowadays in a time when many are unwilling to make lifelong commitments, whether in vocation or marriage or other ways. Should there then be temporary ordinations? This question must be answered in the negative. A temporary priesthood would be conceivable only on a purely functional view; it is impossible on the deeper conception which I am trying to expound. But what is possible is a temporary commitment to particular forms or styles of ministry. I said the Church will always need some ministers who will dedicate themselves with an exclusive intensity that eschews all worldly ties. Surely there are in the Church today young priests who might be willing to promise that for five years they would not marry, they would live on a minimal wage, they would serve wherever the Church needed them. Such a corps of utterly dedicated young priests could become the shock troops of the Church and might accomplish much in evangelism and renewal.

Vocation and response do not happen just between an individual and God, but in the context of the Church, which tests the calling of the individual, judges his fitness, and provides the training he needs. It is this period of formation that is of vital importance in the making of a priest, and though priestly character is ontological, it is in no sense magical. This is no place to raise the vast questions relating to the training of ministers, but whatever else is done, it is essential that there should be formed a character marked by devotion to God and his kingdom, openness and responsiveness to others, and inward strength of spirit.

I have still to mention something else. Vocation, response, formation in the Church culminate in ordination, with its gift of sacramental grace. God commits himself to his ministers, and this is more important than their commitment to what is, from the human point of view, an impossible vocation. Priests sin like other human beings, but God keeps recalling them, electing them again to be his representatives in the assembly of his people. And this process goes on in the years after ordination. Character does not fall ready-made from heaven at ordination or any other time, but it deepens through this life and beyond.

I have stressed priestly character as a distinctive gift for those who are called to a distinctive ministry, but finally I want to come back to the point that all this happens in the context of the Church. The distinctive ministries are closely related with the general ministry of the whole Church. Thus we have seen that calling to the priesthood has affinity with the mystery of election that touches every Christian, and we could also say that priestly character is a special development of the character which originates in baptism. The general ministry of the Church and the distinctive ordained ministry are closely related because they are both modes of sharing in the ministry of Christ himself, but they are different modes of sharing. There is distinction without separation within the indivisible body of the Church, which will be all the stronger and better equipped for its mission if we are careful neither to break up what is common to all ministry nor to blur what is distinctive. For this ministry is Christ's gift to his Church for the sanctifying of his people and, indeed, of the whole creation, that he may present it blameless to the Father.


1. D. D. Williams, The Minister and the Care of Souls (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), p. 103.

2. R. C. Moberly, Ministerial Priesthood (London: John Murray, 1910), p. 261.

3. A. E. Harvey, Priest or President? (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1975), pp. 49-50.

4. S. Hauerwas, Character and the Christian Life (San Antonio, Texas: Trinity University Press, 1975), p. 119.