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Amateur Priests
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Thu July 30 2020  7:53pmFaith/Philosophy

There are Christian communities that have no denominational name, no church buildings, none of the usual ecclesial trappings. Their weekly home meetings are punctuated at intervals by pastoral visits from an elder or 'bishop'. The elder has a clearly defined territory within which he moves in circuit-rider fashion, preaching, teaching, counseling, and accepting such food and lodging as are offered him. He has no home of his own, and so is unmarried. He is allowed to own only what clothes, books and personal items he can carry in a single large suitcase.

Why shouldn't the Catholic norm be similar? The local group is the family; the husband and father being also an ordained Catholic priest. The family Eucharist is typically attended, daily and on Sundays, by Mom and the kids in a common room of the house, or a room set aside as a chapel. Nearby Catholic households that do not have their own domestic priest might participate in the Mass as well, as guests. This might include single moms, divorced men, and similar situations. On special occasions, the gathering might include other outsiders.

Have you ever lived in a small community where the resident priest offers a home Mass? Have you ever lived in the same household as your confessor? I have, and it is a very powerful experience of what the Church is and can be. In a single day, the relationship between Blase and myself might include celebrant / communicant, co-workers, confessor / penitent, and opponents at Pinochle. Mixing home life with the Sacraments tends to make both more real. That is, if the home life is real and Catholic to begin with.

Differences between this and the parish life of today are notable but do not affect the essentials. The domestic priest has full sacerdotal powers, including to hear confessions. But he must always be a true amateur: He is not allowed to gather to himself any sort of congregation or parish, he can not erect ecclesiastic buildings, and, most importantly, he can never accept salary, stipend nor any type of material remuneration, nor expect a privileged social status for his priestly work. The Offertory consists of just bread and wine; money and other material gifts are never offered nor accepted.

A number of domestic churches are organized within a specific geographical territory, each one served by a circuit-rider bishop. The bishop visits each household or small group of households in turn, preaching, teaching, confirming, and answering such questions and issues that may have arisen since his last visit. He is fed and housed by the families he serves, and over which he has true pastoral and apostolic authority. One very important episcopal responsibility is to keep vigilant watch over orthodox beliefs and practices, so as to preserve and strengthen Catholic unity. Another huge responsibility of the bishop is to interview, vet, train, and ordain new domestic priests, and new circuit-rider bishops. The vetting process is especially important to insure ahead of time that the candidate's personal and family life are sufficiently authentic and Catholic so that the Sacraments aren't taken lightly nor family life stilted. Probably in the early years of implementing this idea, most married Catholic men would fail the test.

Since the large number and small size of the domestic churches dictate a relatively small territory for each bishop, he might be comparable to an auxiliary bishop of today, and his territory might be better termed a deanery rather than a diocese. Along with his fellow circuit riders, he would of course be answerable to a bishop or archbishop of a full diocese. The amateur status is, then, of two sorts: On one level, the married priests who are providing for themselves and their families by their own labor in the world, and who never accept a nickel for their priestly work. Above them in authority, but under them in dependency, the bishops live as homeless beggars and pilgrims.

Caveat: The ideas presented here, in addition to being somewhat incomplete and lacking in details, are also offered by one who would in any event be ineligible to fully participate. At best, I might be allowed as one of the guests on the sidelines, as mentioned above.

Now, the domestic priest requires careful vetting ahead of time, but not a huge amount of formal education. But the circuit-rider auxiliary bishop and his overseeing bishop or archbishop surely need to be firmly grounded in all aspects of Catholic doctrine and discipline. To that end, they should be taught by very trustworthy educators. This might mean seminaries with paid staff. I suppose such institutions could be owned and managed by lay people and amateur priests as non-profit entities.

On the other hand, Catholic primary education needn't require parish school buildings nor paid staff. Much of the above is premised on the notion that the term 'domestic church' should be taken literally. Well, here's another dictum that should be taken literally: that parents ought to be the primary educators of their own children. If it's normative for the man to serve as his own family's pastor and priest, it's certainly normative for the woman to serve as the home schooling mom. All aspects of life returning to a home base.

Well, many details still to be worked out, as the idea grows and takes shape. Perhaps that's the next blog article: How specifically this might gradually come to pass.


1 comment:

Lenore Jul 31 2020  4:54am
Home is the domestic church but i get my Grace from my daily Eucharist right now--miss you.

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