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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Priests in the UK

There's an article by Philip Endean SJ at Thinking Faith on the first installment of BBC Four's 'Catholics' Series - 'Priests'.

First, here's a little from this BBC page about the tv show ...

[...] As the Catholic priesthood struggles to recover from the scandal of child abuse, numbers of men applying to join have fallen greatly. Just 19 men were ordained in England and Wales in 2010. In this first film, Alwyn meets the men who still feel themselves called to this role .... The film follows the seminarians through a timetable which ranges from Biblical Greek to lessons on how to live a celibate life. Everything builds towards priestly ordination when the seminarians believe they will be fundamentally altered as human beings, only then able to celebrate the Eucharist and perform the act that is central to Catholic life, the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

I haven't seen the show myself -- my computer can't seem to run the video -- so I was interested to read what Fr. Endean had to say of it. It's best to read the whole article at Thinking Faith, of course, but here's just a bit of it that I found especially interesting ....

TV review: Catholics – ‘Priests’
by Philip Endean SJ

[...] The documentary showed us considerably more about the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Sacrament than about the Bible, which was at no point a central focus; the seminary’s spiritual culture owed more to popular devotions than to critical reflection. As seminarians starting in the 1970s we might have somehow begun with the kind of awed anticipation that ‘saying Mass is everything’, expressed vividly by one of the Allen Hall students a few weeks before his ordination. We might even have thought it our role to become ‘a bridge between man (sic) and God’. However, in time we learnt, for better or worse, not to deny the positive intent of such talk, but rather to place it within a richer context: a fourfold presence of Christ in the Eucharist, not only in the sacramental elements and in the priestly minister, but also in the Word and in the assembly itself (Sacrosanctum concilium §7). It was drummed into us that we as priests were not the only agents of the Church’s ministry: we needed to learn how to work with others, and take our leads from them. We learnt to acknowledge the witness of other Christian churches and to understand ourselves as in partnership with them: it was a travesty to see the churches of the Reformation merely as having denied some important articles of faith. We were taught also that, whatever problems beset ‘the world’, we had much to learn precisely about God and holiness from beyond the Church’s frontiers, and that the Church could represent not only God’s irrevocable promise of salvation, but also a part of the problem.

At one point, the film shows Nicholas Austin SJ at Heythrop College teaching feminist ethics, and making the point that the moral theological tradition has, until very recently, been carried forward by priests. Within the film, this thought was left hanging: we segued (was the irony intentional?) into a rather longer sequence of male seminarians saying the rosary before a somewhat kitsch Madonna. The women teachers in the seminary appeared only briefly and in peripheral roles, in one case congratulating a seminarian on being at last allowed to wear the dog-collar. But a generation ago, feminist and other liberation theologies, allied with a new-found appreciation for Scripture, appeared as harbingers of radical change. It was this institutional conversion that we thought we were being prepared to work for. Today, the agenda seems more one of preservation, even restoration ....

How very different priestly formation must have been in the 60s and 70s with the fresh influence of Vatican II and ressourcement.


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