August 16-19, 2001
volume 12, no. 143

The Germs of GIRM

Part Twenty-one: Sacerdotal Power is Not to the People

    [Continuing with selected passages found in Chapter Two of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, in this issue Paragraphs 35 is analyzed. This deals with the misconceptions that have arisen over "the priesthood of the people" - the "active participation" of the faithful - something His Holiness Pope Pius XII soundly condemned. Yet, since Vatican II this error has been not only allowed to be spread, but flourish as well in almost every parish.]

Paragraph 35 of GIRM reads as follows:

    "The acclamations and the responses of the faithful to the priest's greeting and prayers create a level of the active participation that the gathered faithful must contribute in every former of the Mass, in order to express clearly and to further the entire community's activity."

Comment and Analysis:

    The belief that the faithful must respond vocally to "create" the sort of "active participation" necessary as a means of furthering the "entire community's activity" simply has no relationship to Catholic tradition whatsoever. As noted in earlier analyses of GIRM, the new liturgy's stress on "active participation" implies that the faithful were not participating in the Traditional Latin Mass, that they were inert and inactive, thereby not exercising the powers made available to them as a result of the common priesthood of the faithful bestowed upon them in the Sacrament of Baptism. This stress on "active participation" makes it appear as though the fruits of the Mass depend to a large extent on the degree of vocal responses and the introduction of novel gestures on the part of the lay faithful who hear Holy Mass.

    Pope Pius XII commented on this in Mediator Dei in 1947: "For there are today, Venerable Brethren, those who, approximating to errors long since condemned, teach that in the New Testament by the word 'priesthood' is meant only that priesthood which applies to all who have been baptized; and hold that the command by which Christ gave power to His Apostles at the Last Supper to do what He Himself had done, applies directly to the entire Christian Church, and that thence, and thence only, arises the hierarchical priesthood. Hence they assert that the people are possessed of a true priestly power, while the priest only acts in virtue of an office committed to him by the community."

    Indeed, this author was told in 1979 by Monsignor Brendan Riordan, then the Vocations Director for the Diocese of Rockville Centre (and now the pastor of my boyhood parish. Saint Aloysius Church, Great Neck, New York), that it is the applause of the community which ratifies a man's ordination to the priesthood. The call to the priesthood is not, Riordan told me, a call given by God to an individual man on an individual basis. No, the call to the priesthood comes from the community, who shares the priestly power with the priest, who is, after all, the presider of the community's assembly. Pope Pius XII knew this heresy was abroad in his own day.

    Pope Pius XII further noted in Mediator Dei: "Wherefore, they look on the Eucharistic Sacrifice as a 'concelebration,' in the literal meaning of that term, and consider it more fitting that priests should 'concelebrate' with the people present than that they should offer the Sacrifice privately when the people are absent. It is superfluous to explain how captious errors of this sort completely contradict the truths which we have just stated above, when treating of the place of the priest in the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. But we deem it necessary to recall that the priest acts for the people only because He represents Jesus Christ, Who is the Head of all His members and offers Himself in their stead. Hence he goes to the altar as the minister of Christ, inferior to Christ but superior to the people. The people, on the other hand, since they in no sense represent the Divine Redeemer and are not a mediator between themselves and God, can in no way possess the sacerdotal power. All this has the certitude of faith."

    Pope Pius XII then went on to explain the proper understanding of the participation of the lay faithful in the Mass, especially as it relates to the offering made by the priest acting in persona Christi: "In this most important subject it is necessary, in order to avoid giving rise to a dangerous error, that we define the exact meaning of the word 'offer.' The unbloody immolation at the words of consecration, when Christ is made present upon the altar in the state of a victim, is performed by the priest and by him alone, as the representative of Christ and not as the representative of the faithful. It is because the priest places the divine Victim upon the altar that he offers it to God the Father as an oblation for the glory of the Blessed Trinity and for the good of the whole Church. Now the faithful participate in the oblation, understood in this limited sense, after their own fashion and in a twofold manner, namely because they not only offer the Sacrifice by the hands of the priest, but also, to a certain extent, in union with him. It is by reason of this participation, that the offering made by the people is also included in liturgical worship.

    "Now it is clear that the faithful offer the Sacrifice by the hands of the priest from the fact that the minister at the altar in offering a Sacrifice in the name of all His members represents Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body. Hence the whole Church can rightly be said to offer up the Victim through Christ. But the conclusion that the people offer the Sacrifice with the priest himself is not based on the fact that, being members of the Church no less than the priest himself, they perform a visible liturgical rite; for this is the privilege only of the minister who has been divinely appointed to this office; rather, it is based on the fact that the people unite their hearts in praise, impetration, expiation, and thanksgiving with the prayers of intention of the priest, even of the High Priest Himself, so that in the one and same offering of the Victim and according to a visible sacerdotal rite, they may be presented to God the Father. It is obviously necessary that the external sacrificial rite should, of its very nature, signify the internal worship of the heart. Now the Sacrifice of the New Law signifies that supreme worship by which the principal Offerer Himself, Who is Christ, and in union with Him and through Him all the members of the Mystical Body, pay God the honor and reverence that are due to Him."

Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.

Monday: Part Twenty-two: The void created by vocal role-playing

For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives

August 16-19, 2001
volume 12, no. 143
CHRIST or chaos
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