Easter is the “most solemn festival” on the church’s calendar.
But this yearly commemoration of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—stretched over a three-day period within Holy Week known as the Sacred Triduum—actually happens every single Sunday.
“By a tradition handed down from the apostles, which took its origin from the very day of Christ’s resurrection, the Church celebrates the paschal mystery every eighth day… the Lord’s Day or Sunday.”
That’s from the Second Vatican Council’s (1962-65) document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.
It notes “Christ’s faithful are bound to come together into one place” each Sunday “so that, by hearing the word of God and taking part in the Eucharist, they may call to mind the passion, the resurrection and the glorification of the Lord Jesus.” (SC, 106)
The Council stated clearly that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the church’s life and all its activity.
And in its decree on priestly life and ministry Vatican II said it’s impossible to truly build up a Christian community “unless it has its basis and center in the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 6).
Hence, the need for priests, more properly known as presbyters; persons ordained and sanctioned by the church authorities (the bishops) to preside at the Eucharistic liturgy, the Mass.
But the church has a serious shortage of ordained presbyters in almost every part of the world, except in some countries in Africa and Asia. And this “vocations crisis” is not something new. The first signs of it started appearing even before Vatican Council II got underway.
But Paul VI (pope from 1963-1978) stifled any serious discernment on how to effectively respond to the problem when he forbade the Council Fathers from questioning mandatory priestly celibacy or deliberating over the possible ordination of the so-called viri probati—married men of proven virtue.
In fact, the Council never had a serious discussion on the much larger and important issue of ministries (in general) in the church or how we discern, recognize, distinguish and verify the different charisms (spiritual gifts) Christ bestows on the Holy People of God.
“To some, his ‘gift’ was that they should be apostles; to some prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; to knit God’s holy people together for the work of service to build up the Body of Christ,” St. Paul says (Eph. 4:11-12).
The diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate are a necessary, but only a very limited manifestation of these charisms. And down the centuries church authority has tried to circumscribe all these gifts within these Holy Orders. And, in doing so, it may have limited and/or resisted the working of the Holy Spirit.
In the immediate decade following Vatican II, there were many theologians and even a good number of bishops that tried to keep the discussion alive as they explored some of those questions that were off-limits or never mentioned at the Council.
However, that was all brought to an abrupt halt shortly after the election of Pope John Paul II who quickly imposed lock-step discipline throughout the hierarchy and it was directed from the centralizing offices in Rome.
No more discussion of the possibility of ordaining the viri probati. Absolutely no questioning of mandatory celibacy. Woman priests? Forget about it, and your church job (or even your membership in the church), if you as much as broach the topic.
Then in 1990 the Polish pope and his Vatican aides strong-armed the Synod of Bishops into rubberstamping his firm reinforcement of the Tridentine paradigm of the priesthood and its model of seminary formation. The ethos and basic structure of priestly formation and ministry, all dating back to the sixteenth-century, was repackaged with contemporary semantics and the ever-so-lightly seasoning of an updated psychological and sociological pedagogy.
The document John Paul issued two years later as a recapitulation of that Synod assembly, Pastores Dabo Vobis, was disturbingly backwards looking. It even endorsed the re-opening of high-school seminaries, most of which had long been shuttered for very good and sane reasons.
Yet the vocations crisis continued. While there was a steady, though modest rise in the number of major seminarians during John Paul’s pontificate, it was not enough to replace an aging clergy—or keep pace with the growing number of Catholics.
We all know what happened next. Bishops started closing or merging parishes. And it soon became clear that the Eucharist-centered communities that Vatican II said were imperative had succumbed to being (or, in reality, had always been) priest-centered communities.
And, of course, the priest at the center had to be a man—and only a man who was willing to make a promise to live celibately and be obedient to his bishop.
Without other possibilities, what was a bishop to do? He could not ordain married men or reinstate priests who had left to get married. What bishop in his right mind would even dare to try that in the long reign of Il Santo Subito?
A growing number of bishops from countries where the shortage was growing more and more acute (especially in the United States, Australia, and parts of Europe) began “importing” foreign priests. Some of these clerics came from dioceses in India and Africa, places Rome hailed as being “blessed” with numerous vocations. But others were young men from countries (such as in Latin America) where the priest-to-people ratio was even higher than in the places abroad that were recruiting them.
There are all sorts of sensitive issues connected to these “imports” that have to be very carefully worked out. What is their true motivation for leaving their native country, especially those from underdeveloped or impoverished areas? How willing and capable are they to adapt to a new culture? And then there are the normal verifications that must be made of anyone who believes he is called to the priesthood—his psychosexual maturity, commitment to serve and not be served, and so forth.
Sometimes imported priests work out fine, but in many cases they do not.
Just last week Archbishop Tommaso Valentinetti of Pescara-Penne had to suspend a priest from India who is incardinated in his central Italian diocese. Fr. Edward Pushparaj, 40, was ordained just four years ago.
Parishioners had been complaining to the archbishop for several weeks because the priest was constantly criticizing Pope Francis. Things reached the boiling point on Palm Sunday when Fr. Pushparaj used his homily on the Feast of the Passion of the Lord to attack the pope. Some worshippers even stormed out of church in protests, yelling, “Shame on you!”
According to Archbishop Valentinetti he was serving up the usual anti-Francis fare that one finds in “clericalist and pseudo-traditionalist circles.”
What is so disturbing about this story is that this man was obviously not well vetted before being ordained. A simple background check, much of which could be done through the Internet, should have set off alarm bells immediately.