winging it

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Sep 28, 2005

Rich Leonardi lists the things he learned at a "First Reconciliation Parents' Meeting" at his Archdiocese of Cincinnati parish, all courtesy of the parish Director of Religious Education:

1. Penance was "not a separate sacrament" during the NT era.
2. Priests are "ordained by the people."
3. Priests "represent the community" during the sacrament.
4. The distinction between mortal and venial sins was invented during the Middle Ages.
5. The Council of Trent was the first time the seven sacraments were identified.
6. Helping one's neighbor, receiving communion, and attending parish retreats are valid forms of reconciliation.
7. Priests "assumed the responsibility" for the sacrament of penance from lay ministers during the Middle Ages.

Thanks, Archbishop, thanks, Father Pastor, for providing the faithful with this marvelous growth experience.

Most of us veterans can come up with similar, or yet worse, experiences with parish-level doctrine (homilies, catechesis, RCIA) and are aware of the futility of appeal. Bishops that install these purveyors of doctrine in the first place aren't going to move them, period. Most of us are reduced by necessity to a kind of "quilted" Catholicism: we form a patchwork faith life by scrounging a bit of liturgy from this parish, a bit of homiletics from that one, maybe permitting the kids to attend CCD at one place while supplementing their diet with the Baltimore Catechism and materials purchased from the Daughters of St. Paul. The average clergyman, perhaps, is in line with the Church on 60% of her doctrine; one's hope is that they don't all dissent from the same 40%, so one can assemble a more-or-less tolerable montage from the aggregate of the men at hand.

It's a burden not without benefits. Once you realize that you can't allow yourself to be spoon-fed, you have to exercise some initiative in finding out just what the universal Church wants to feed you with, and that changes you from a passive into an active learner. But of course it also alienates you, over time, from the rest of your parish, who will take the pastor and the DRE at their word -- e.g., that priests are ordained by the laity or that they can be shriven from their sins by helping old Mrs. Duffy with her groceries. You can decide to fight or you can decide to withdraw, but in neither case can you be in real communion. Moreover, even if you succeed in circumventing doctrinal error by cadging magisterial supplies from outside, there's still the problem of the sacraments, where no end run is possible.

So how do I unite myself to the Church Catholic -- the Church the Councils teach us we must have communion in -- when the only access is through ministers who hate her? I don't think the problem has been satisfactorily studied. It's absurd to ask me to trust a clergyman who despises the Church; I can only use him, e.g., as a means by which I minimally fulfill my Sunday Mass obligation. Catholics have distinguished themselves in times of persecution from outside and have an ample martyrology to instruct them in that struggle. But our predicament -- well illustrated by case of the DRE above -- has fewer precedents and no manual to guide us. We have to make it up as we go along.

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