The National Catholic Review
Willard F. Jabusch

By now it is clear to anyone interested in the Catholic Church that there are no longer enough priests to celebrate Mass in many parishes. In rural areas and in the poorer neighborhoods of the great cities, parishes are being closed not only for economic reasons, but also because priests cannot be found to serve as pastors. The great religious orders, Franciscans, Jesuits, Redemptorists and Benedictines, are handing over to local bishops parishes they have staffed for decades. Some say that their “charism” no longer includes parish work. Others bluntly admit that they just do not have the men.

 

On both sides of the Atlantic, lay people, frequently women, now preside at prayer services on Sundays. In place of the Mass, which had been offered weekly and even daily for many years, there are now some Bible readings, a few hymns and possibly a homily and distribution of previously consecrated Communion hosts.

Many loyal Catholics are astonished that this has happened so quickly and that communion services would be considered an appropriate solution. After all, did not the teaching of centuries up to and including the Second Vatican Council insist that the celebration of the holy Eucharist was at the center of our religious life, defining us as Catholic Christians? Are we not a eucharistic people, for whom this sacrament is much more than a mere symbol or reminder of the Lord? It is his very presence given to us for our spiritual nourishment and refreshment. Are we not invited to a joyful banquet of sacred food and drink, a living memorial, the representation of the very death and resurrection of the Lord for our time and place?

If all this is more than pious fantasy and theological speculation, if it is indeed defined dogma, it is no wonder that so many find it strange and even scandalous that this sacrament should be allowed to disappear from the religious life of large numbers of Catholics.

Numerous Catholics find it supremely difficult, even impossible, to receive sacramental absolution for sin, the anointing of the sick and, most importantly, the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Mass.

Certainly millions of Catholics in Latin America have long experienced this situation. Consider, for example, the little village of San Miguelito in Mexico, which is like many other places in Mexico, Central and South America. In the late 16th century two zealous friars somehow found their way to this remote spot in the mountains. They stayed to evangelize the people and give basic religious instruction. Before long San Miguelito had its own impressive baroque church and a lively devotional life. The friars baptized, offered daily Mass and celebrated the liturgies for marriages and burials.

When political changes took place, the friars were called back to the city. Yet each year on the feast of St. Michael, one of them would make the journey, baptize many babies, hear confessions, solemnize marriages, celebrate Mass and finally lead a procession with the statue of the patron of the town through the streets and plaza. Exhausted, he would then ride his horse back to the city. As the years went by, this holy day developed into a colorful and rowdy fiesta, the religious and social high point of the year. But it was, after all, only one day out of 365. And with fewer vocations to the Franciscans and even fewer to the diocesan priesthood, the possibility of a resident pastor became even more remote.

One day a Protestant missionary team from Texas arrived in the village. They rented a house and went from door to door making friends and handing out literature, especially nicely illustrated copies of the New Testament. Since most of the people had trouble reading, they also offered Christian songs, which they taught to the children and broadcast in the evening over their loudspeakers.

But these industrious and vigorous young Americans had no intention of remaining in the village forever. They quickly made the acquaintance of Pablo, a young married man, the father of two sons, who clearly was intelligent and personable. His neighbors recognized his obvious leadership qualities. Pablo, with his wife and children, became the first persons in town to accept the new religion, reading the Bible every day, giving up the potent local “firewater” and leading the prayers and hymns at the Sunday service and Wednesday night Bible study. The Americans then arranged for Pablo to attend an Assembly of God Bible college in the capital for some intensive courses in Scripture and in preaching. A simple but attractive little chapel was built at the edge of town. When Pablo returned with his certificate in Bible studies, he was named the pastor.

Thus a new Assembly of God congregation, one of hundreds, came to be established. With a resident pastor who was rooted in the community, educated (but not overeducated), zealous and involved in the life of the village, preaching sermons in the local dialect, it is not a surprise that this new Protestant congregation would quickly grow. When the Catholic priest next came to San Miguelito for his yearly visit, there was a clear lack of interest in what he had to say.

Even if a celibate priest could be found to go and live in a remote village like San Miguelito, he comes as an outsider, an “intellectual” with a university and seminary training. He has read Aquinas and Bonaventure, perhaps Rahner or Ratzinger. With whom can he talk? Where is the intellectual stimulus? With neither a wife nor children, how long before boredom and loneliness leads him to alcohol, eccentricities or sex? Pablo, on the other hand, “fits in.” His sermons may be rather thin theologically, fundamentalist and naïve, but he is accepted and content with his little flock.

In Peru and Bolivia, in Guatemala, Brazil and Mexico, wherever there are few priests or where the priests are arrogant or indolent, the story of San Miguelito has been repeated. The bishops of Latin America meet and discuss this, but they seem powerless to halt the march of converts into evangelical Protestantism or Mormonism. One Mormon “elder” (all of 20 years old) told me that in the United States their most successful area for conversions is the Southwest. They are finding so many converts among Hispanics that they hardly have resources or time to process them all.

In Latin America even very small villages will have an Assembly of God or other evangelical church. A town of any size will also boast a large white Mormon “church” with a gleaming spire pointed like a needle into the sky, a religious education building and a tidy sports field for soccer and American basketball. For several decades now, it may well be that the most effective preachers in Spanish or Portuguese are not Catholic. In many places, the Catholic clergy are not only outnumbered, but they seem to lack the fervor and evangelical passion of the Protestants. All this has been the price, a very high price, for the Catholic unwillingness or inability to supply sufficient and effective pastors for the people.

The problem in Latin America, of course, goes back several centuries. Even in colonial times under the Catholic monarchs, with flourishing religious orders and governmental support, there were never enough clergy to preach and celebrate the sacraments.

In Europe and North America, the crisis is much more recent. The use of married priests and perhaps women priests has been offered as a solution and rejected. Rather, the challenge is met by downplaying, in practice, the necessity of Sunday Mass and the recruiting of nonordained men and women to conduct a prayer service in lieu of Mass.

Martin Luther and John Calvin dreamed of a church without holy orders, a sacrificial liturgy, confession and anointing of the sick. Now, in many places, regular access to the sacraments is not possible. Will the next generation continue to see them as important? Will even the Eucharist, like confession, become a “disappearing sacrament”?

The Rev. Willard F. Jabusch is chaplain emeritus of the University of Chicago.

Comments

Deacon Joseph Keenan | 5/11/2003 - 12:19pm
Excellent article by Willard Jabusch! It brings up, once again, the question I often ask myself: Which is more important, the Sacraments or celibacy? From the Church's official teachings in the Vatican II documents right up to the most recent papal encyclical, one could infer that the Sacraments are of paramount importance. However, from the policies and actions (or inactions) of the official Church it would appear that celibacy is of primary importance. We need some clarification on this point from Rome.

John J, NcGarr | 5/11/2003 - 10:36am
In the years following the departure of Jesus from this earth—before there were any priests, bishops or popes—His followers re-enacted the Last Supper in their homes with an elder presiding over the Eucharistic sacrifice. Since a priest was not necessary then why does the Catholic Church use the shortage of priests now to justify denying the Eucharist to millions of the faithful?

Mary Martinez, O.C.D.S. | 8/5/2003 - 2:09pm
Feminine Influence Thank you for your article by Reverend Willard F. Jabusch, dated May 12, 2003, titled “The Vanishing Eucharist.” I would like to address the part of the article that mentions “With neither a wife nor children, how long before boredom and loneliness leads him to…”. That part of the article brings to mind the gift of having a wife to be relational with. I am a strong advocate for the feminine influence and what a great difference it can make in a husband’s life. In our church’s life! I don’t advocate priesthood of women, however, I do believe that priests should have the option to choose marriage. I pray that the recent influx of Anglican priests into the Roman Catholic Church will be a starting point. I have a friend who just converted this Easter Season. He was previously an Episcopalian priest and now plans to pursue the Roman Catholic priesthood. The feminine influence in his life, his wife, converted 12 years ago and was in essence an inspiration to him. Because of a woman who is his wife and was a feminine influence, our Church might have a new priest. What a gift, not only to her husband, but also to our Church!

I have been a Roman Catholic for four years and they have been the most beautiful years of my life. I embrace all the sacraments, sacramentals (the rosary and wearing of the brown scapular), and I attend daily mass. I have never been as peaceful as I am now. The great Carmelite Mystics continue to be a source of nourishment to my interior life. While attending a local University to become a Catholic Psychotherapist with a specialization in Jungian thought and twelve-step recovery issues, my belief in Catholicism has been reinforced. Previously, I was an Evangelical Protestant who got saved at age 12. Though I am a recent convert to Catholicism, I feel that a married priesthood is not a view that only progressives or liberals have. A married priesthood is embracing the old, going back to the beginnings, and wouldn’t this be a good time to start anew? When writing about the beginnings, Saint Peter (MK 1:29-31) comes to my mind. He was married, right? He was our first Pope, wasn’t he? I wonder what Saint Peter’s wife was like? Did her love inspire and encourage him to follow the Lord closely? (I Cor 9:5)

One might ask about our beautiful contemplative orders. What would happen to them? I may be oversimplifying this subject, but I believe that it would not only provide growth in the Church, but that those men who felt the deep call to an ascetic, contemplative, and celibate life, would be attracted to the orders as well. Therefore, our orders would be affected in a positive way with the change. I believe this could be possible although others may disagree. In reading our Holy Father’s catechesis on the book of Genesis “Original Unity of Man and Woman” about marriage, the Pope states, “so many people wish to find in it the way to salvation and holiness.” Maybe I am too idealistic but I think given the option for all priests to choose marriage, this would elevate the way the priesthood is viewed. It would in some way elevate the sacrament of marriage as it would also honor the nurturing and steady relational influence of the feminine. Imagine what that influence, even in an indirect way, could do for and to our Church hierarchy! Our blessed Mother has been the “symbol” of the feminine. Her role in the Church highlights the real humanity and dignity of women. Needless to state the obvious but our blessed Mother was also a wife and a very holy one too. I encourage everyone to start praying the rosary for God’s intentions for the priesthood. The new mysteries are awesome. Whenever our blessed Mother is brought in, there is healing and there are miracles. We have plenty of historical proof of this. We need a miracle now! Her intercession and her influence, as a woman, has been an example of what the feminine can do.

I will continue to pray for the

Steve Bogner | 5/7/2003 - 6:10pm
How many parishes can a priest serve? What are the criteria for merging or shutting down parishes? Our church leadership has no valid argument for the results of a failed policy - the male-celibate priesthood. For years we've all been asked to pray for more vocations to the priesthood when perhaps we could have been praying for a better understanding of God's intentions for the priesthood.

There is nothing bad about celibate male priests, and there is no justifiable reason for that requirement at the door of the seminary. The Church tells us how good marriage is, so why is it bad for my pastor to be married? The Eastern Rite Catholic priests can be married, and the Church in general allowed married priests in the past. A married Episcopalian priest can convert to Catholicism and remain both married and a priest.

And what is it about women that makes them unfit to be priests?

One of my sons loves to ask questions, and he puts my answers together to make sure they all make sense. If they don't make sense, he challenges my answers. Sometimes I get annoyed by the questions that push my 'buttons', and sometimes when uncomfortable questions are posed my answer is 'because I said so!' But those questions also cause me to take a deeper look at myself, and if I'm open to change then I can grow and develop a more transparent approach to the world. And that's good for me, good for my family, and good for my kids.

Mandatory celibacy is not part of our faith, it's a tradition or decision made by church leaders and it can stay or be removed. Tradition by its very nature changes, otherwise it can not exist. I would also say the male-only priesthood is a decision that can be changed. Our church leaders must look deeper into why they insist on a male-celibate priesthood, instead of determining ways to preserve it at the expense of the average parishioner. It might be uncomfortable, but it would be good for parishioners, good for our Church, and good for our future.

Reg Kelly | 5/12/2003 - 1:17pm
Shortage of priests?

Fr. Jabusch’ article (The Vanishing Eucharist, 5/12) is both disturbing and provocative. While there is nothing new in the article per se, it fails to recognize, even in passing, the ordained who live in canonical limbo: those dispensed from the active ministry but who are not laity. Not too long ago, regarding the shortage of priests, I suggested to a bishop that one consideration might be the restoration to the active ministry of priests who have continued to live a good Catholic life, who have remained current as regards doctrine and church practice, and who would be willing to serve their local parishes. His reply was consistent if not dated: His superiors in Rome would not even consider it! I must confess to a deep and accepting respect for His Holiness but at the same time beg to differ with him in this non-doctrinal matter. It is interesting that in this same edition (5/12), there is an article about the acceptance of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari by John Paul II as a valid form of the eucharistic prayer while omitting the sine qua non of the traditional words of consecration. Is there somewhere an insurmountable theological problem with respect to the historical discipline of mandatory celibacy? Celibacy itself is not the problem. It is a holy and commendable estate that should be maintained as an option in the Church. One wonders why, however, the appropriate authorities are unwilling to consider this vast resource and, indeed, dismiss them as shepherds in the proverbial mist. In attempting to provide a ministry of this central mystery of the Eucharist, is the Church failing to use the available gifts and talents of many because they have failed the clerical "club"!

Deacon Joseph Keenan | 5/11/2003 - 12:19pm
Excellent article by Willard Jabusch! It brings up, once again, the question I often ask myself: Which is more important, the Sacraments or celibacy? From the Church's official teachings in the Vatican II documents right up to the most recent papal encyclical, one could infer that the Sacraments are of paramount importance. However, from the policies and actions (or inactions) of the official Church it would appear that celibacy is of primary importance. We need some clarification on this point from Rome.

John J, NcGarr | 5/11/2003 - 10:36am
In the years following the departure of Jesus from this earth—before there were any priests, bishops or popes—His followers re-enacted the Last Supper in their homes with an elder presiding over the Eucharistic sacrifice. Since a priest was not necessary then why does the Catholic Church use the shortage of priests now to justify denying the Eucharist to millions of the faithful?

Mary Martinez, O.C.D.S. | 8/5/2003 - 2:09pm
Feminine Influence Thank you for your article by Reverend Willard F. Jabusch, dated May 12, 2003, titled “The Vanishing Eucharist.” I would like to address the part of the article that mentions “With neither a wife nor children, how long before boredom and loneliness leads him to…”. That part of the article brings to mind the gift of having a wife to be relational with. I am a strong advocate for the feminine influence and what a great difference it can make in a husband’s life. In our church’s life! I don’t advocate priesthood of women, however, I do believe that priests should have the option to choose marriage. I pray that the recent influx of Anglican priests into the Roman Catholic Church will be a starting point. I have a friend who just converted this Easter Season. He was previously an Episcopalian priest and now plans to pursue the Roman Catholic priesthood. The feminine influence in his life, his wife, converted 12 years ago and was in essence an inspiration to him. Because of a woman who is his wife and was a feminine influence, our Church might have a new priest. What a gift, not only to her husband, but also to our Church!

I have been a Roman Catholic for four years and they have been the most beautiful years of my life. I embrace all the sacraments, sacramentals (the rosary and wearing of the brown scapular), and I attend daily mass. I have never been as peaceful as I am now. The great Carmelite Mystics continue to be a source of nourishment to my interior life. While attending a local University to become a Catholic Psychotherapist with a specialization in Jungian thought and twelve-step recovery issues, my belief in Catholicism has been reinforced. Previously, I was an Evangelical Protestant who got saved at age 12. Though I am a recent convert to Catholicism, I feel that a married priesthood is not a view that only progressives or liberals have. A married priesthood is embracing the old, going back to the beginnings, and wouldn’t this be a good time to start anew? When writing about the beginnings, Saint Peter (MK 1:29-31) comes to my mind. He was married, right? He was our first Pope, wasn’t he? I wonder what Saint Peter’s wife was like? Did her love inspire and encourage him to follow the Lord closely? (I Cor 9:5)

One might ask about our beautiful contemplative orders. What would happen to them? I may be oversimplifying this subject, but I believe that it would not only provide growth in the Church, but that those men who felt the deep call to an ascetic, contemplative, and celibate life, would be attracted to the orders as well. Therefore, our orders would be affected in a positive way with the change. I believe this could be possible although others may disagree. In reading our Holy Father’s catechesis on the book of Genesis “Original Unity of Man and Woman” about marriage, the Pope states, “so many people wish to find in it the way to salvation and holiness.” Maybe I am too idealistic but I think given the option for all priests to choose marriage, this would elevate the way the priesthood is viewed. It would in some way elevate the sacrament of marriage as it would also honor the nurturing and steady relational influence of the feminine. Imagine what that influence, even in an indirect way, could do for and to our Church hierarchy! Our blessed Mother has been the “symbol” of the feminine. Her role in the Church highlights the real humanity and dignity of women. Needless to state the obvious but our blessed Mother was also a wife and a very holy one too. I encourage everyone to start praying the rosary for God’s intentions for the priesthood. The new mysteries are awesome. Whenever our blessed Mother is brought in, there is healing and there are miracles. We have plenty of historical proof of this. We need a miracle now! Her intercession and her influence, as a woman, has been an example of what the feminine can do.

I will continue to pray for the

Steve Bogner | 5/7/2003 - 6:10pm
How many parishes can a priest serve? What are the criteria for merging or shutting down parishes? Our church leadership has no valid argument for the results of a failed policy - the male-celibate priesthood. For years we've all been asked to pray for more vocations to the priesthood when perhaps we could have been praying for a better understanding of God's intentions for the priesthood.

There is nothing bad about celibate male priests, and there is no justifiable reason for that requirement at the door of the seminary. The Church tells us how good marriage is, so why is it bad for my pastor to be married? The Eastern Rite Catholic priests can be married, and the Church in general allowed married priests in the past. A married Episcopalian priest can convert to Catholicism and remain both married and a priest.

And what is it about women that makes them unfit to be priests?

One of my sons loves to ask questions, and he puts my answers together to make sure they all make sense. If they don't make sense, he challenges my answers. Sometimes I get annoyed by the questions that push my 'buttons', and sometimes when uncomfortable questions are posed my answer is 'because I said so!' But those questions also cause me to take a deeper look at myself, and if I'm open to change then I can grow and develop a more transparent approach to the world. And that's good for me, good for my family, and good for my kids.

Mandatory celibacy is not part of our faith, it's a tradition or decision made by church leaders and it can stay or be removed. Tradition by its very nature changes, otherwise it can not exist. I would also say the male-only priesthood is a decision that can be changed. Our church leaders must look deeper into why they insist on a male-celibate priesthood, instead of determining ways to preserve it at the expense of the average parishioner. It might be uncomfortable, but it would be good for parishioners, good for our Church, and good for our future.

Reg Kelly | 5/12/2003 - 1:17pm
Shortage of priests?

Fr. Jabusch’ article (The Vanishing Eucharist, 5/12) is both disturbing and provocative. While there is nothing new in the article per se, it fails to recognize, even in passing, the ordained who live in canonical limbo: those dispensed from the active ministry but who are not laity. Not too long ago, regarding the shortage of priests, I suggested to a bishop that one consideration might be the restoration to the active ministry of priests who have continued to live a good Catholic life, who have remained current as regards doctrine and church practice, and who would be willing to serve their local parishes. His reply was consistent if not dated: His superiors in Rome would not even consider it! I must confess to a deep and accepting respect for His Holiness but at the same time beg to differ with him in this non-doctrinal matter. It is interesting that in this same edition (5/12), there is an article about the acceptance of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari by John Paul II as a valid form of the eucharistic prayer while omitting the sine qua non of the traditional words of consecration. Is there somewhere an insurmountable theological problem with respect to the historical discipline of mandatory celibacy? Celibacy itself is not the problem. It is a holy and commendable estate that should be maintained as an option in the Church. One wonders why, however, the appropriate authorities are unwilling to consider this vast resource and, indeed, dismiss them as shepherds in the proverbial mist. In attempting to provide a ministry of this central mystery of the Eucharist, is the Church failing to use the available gifts and talents of many because they have failed the clerical "club"!

Lucy Fuchs | 2/7/2007 - 10:12am
The Rev. Willard F. Jabusch’s article, “The Vanishing Eucharist,” (5/12) was powerful. His examples are right on target and the situation is getting worse, not better. When he speaks of how the American Protestant missionaries operate, coming and starting a church and then leaving it for the locals to run, I am reminded of what St. Paul did in the very early days of Christianity.

We have come a long way from those days, and maybe we should think about going back.

One morning, not long ago, as I was going to a weekday Mass at our parish (we are fortunate to still have it), no priest arrived. Apparently the appointed celebrant had overslept, and we all had to wait while someone called the rectory and while he prepared to come. While waiting, I was wondering why we needed him. I looked around the chapel and saw many others, lifelong faithful Catholics, totally dedicated to God and the church, who could represent us and lead us in prayer, who could share with us thoughts on the Scriptures, who could bring us together as a community.

In that same issue there was an article about a “Mass Without the Consecration,” as in the Anaphora. Will we ever find ourselves as a community at prayer, participating in remembering Christ’s sacrifice and not waiting for some kind of magic words that only certain persons can say?

A. Joseph Barrish, S.M. | 2/7/2007 - 10:07am
I read “The Vanishing Eucharist,” by the Rev. Willard F. Jabusch, (5/12) with mixed emotions. I had just studied Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the most recent letter from Pope John Paul II, on the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the church. The very first sentence of the document reads, “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist.” Later the pope reiterates, “The assembly gathered together for celebration of the Eucharist, if it is to be a truly eucharistic assembly, absolutely requires the presence of an ordained priest as its president.”

As Father Jabusch points out, the presence of an ordained priest is not and has not been the reality in many parts of the third world and results in the loss of the eucharistic community. Now we are experiencing this in the first world as well. In our archdiocese, Cincinnati, for example, the faithful are being asked to dialogue on how to address the lessening number of priests in our parish communities. Many parishes will be without pastors in the very near future. Sunday eucharistic liturgies will not be a part of our tradition.

While the duty of the father of any family is to provide instruction and guidance, an even more important obligation is to provide food for the life of the family.

I fear that this basic need is not being addressed realistically enough in our church.

Andy Galligan | 2/7/2007 - 9:53am
Your May 12 issue presented three instructive articles on the Eucharist. I suspect there are large numbers of Catholics who will be surprised to learn from Robert F. Taft, S.J., that the church teaches we can have a valid Mass without the words of institution explicitly recited, from the Rev. Willard F. Jabusch that a Sunday Communion service is not really a Mass and from Robert J. Daly, S.J., that the Mass is indeed a Christian sacrifice—and what that means.

Looking ahead, I wonder if someday we Catholics will not also be surprised to learn, perhaps in the pages of America, that the Lord’s Supper celebrated by many churches or ecclesial communities of the Reformation indeed has been a valid Eucharist all along, even though these churches have not had orders and lines of apostolic succession so far recognized by Rome.

If I recall correctly, before there were ordained priests and deacons in every Christian community, both the Acts of the Apostles and the Didache seem to have indicated that the eucharistic liturgy was presided over in some areas by traveling “prophets and teachers.” Could not our Protestant brothers and sisters be following some such early tradition?

Whatever the future holds for us in such discussions, thank you for keeping your readers abreast of current theological thought in such important matters. Good job.

Michael McCue, O.S.F.S. | 2/7/2007 - 9:46am
The article “The Vanishing Eucharist,” by the Rev. Willard F. Jabusch, (5/12) is completely on target. The example of Latin America’s centuries-old lack of clergy suggests that we might not expect an answer to come readily. Father Jabusch’s observation about the method of Evangelicals, as well as his observation about outside priests with higher education, suggest some practical answers to this enormous problem. I know I have read dozens of articles in America and in Commonweal that have articulated sharp observations and wise solutions (Father Jabusch’s ranks at the top) particularly related to the effect of the declining numbers of priests and of the sex scandal. I have to ask, “Are we just talking to ourselves?” In this church of ours, is anyone communicating good ideas—this idea—to those who can make a difference in policy? Can we make a difference in policy?

(Rev.) George F. Werner | 2/7/2007 - 10:11am
I agree completely with the letter from Michael McCue, O.S.F.S., (6/23) regarding the article “The Vanishing Eucharist,” by the Rev. Willard F. Jabusch (5/12).

Father McCue asks, “Are we just talking to ourselves?” Clearly, we should be talking to our church leaders. Why should not America, as an exercise in responsible publishing, send a questionnaire based on Father Jabusch’s article to each bishop and archbishop of our American dioceses, and then publish a composite reply?

Or why should not America invite several of the bishops and archbishops—one each, for example, from the southwest, the west coast, the east coast and the midwest to make an extended reply to the article?

Without some kind of serious follow-up of Father Jabusch’s article, America’s publication of it seems to serve no purpose other than an exercise in futile hand-wringing. And we, clergy and laity alike, have had more than enough of that.