Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mystical Marriage

Commentor RightJack (who I wish would drop me an e.mail, because I like what he says) has a question for everyone in light of the debate brewing down here
I don't know how many priests read this blog, but would any priests who do -- and who pray, preach, speak or think of themselves as being in a mystical marriage with the church -- please chime in?

Lay men and women who read this blog: when was the last time you heard your priest preach, speak or define himself as being in a mystical marriage with the church?
For my part, I hear the "mystical marriage" blather all the time -- it's a sign of the hyper-cultic mentality. I even have a name for those who mouth it. You can guess what that is.

-30-

27 Comments:

Blogger Deep Furrows said...

Fr Walter Ong, SJ, has written about it, but I've never heard a homily on the topic.

19/10/05 21:55  
Blogger justplaincath said...

Um, Rock, you mean, when was the FIRST time?

Never.

The closest I ever got to that type of thinking was this, from a Jesuit to yours truly:

"Where do we priests get our strength? Why, we get it from the married, and when folks don't marry. . . ." he let the words trail off, but the sense was that folks who didn't marry (but should, such as those in live-in relationships; not referring to the truly single) robbed priests of the graces needed to live a fulfilled priestly life.

Even that does not really discuss "mystical marriage"--more a sharing of the grace God bestows upon His church. And no, I can't say as I have ever heard any OTHER priest refer to the strength of the priesthood as being derived from the grace of those in sacramental marriages.

19/10/05 22:31  
Blogger justplaincath said...

Oh, and just in case some one is thinking, regarding Fred K.'s comment, that the priest I referenced above is Fr. Walter Ong, SJ--he isn't. They're both Jesuits, though. Is this perhaps a Jesuit school of thought, which is why I haven't heard it elsewhere?

19/10/05 22:33  
Blogger Liz said...

I just finished at a Jesuit university, and they don't seem too big on the mystical marriage model. I've only heard it discussed in the context of unsuitablity of women for the priesthood - in class, from a lay person.

And really, why would anyone want to hear a homily on the topic the priest's mystical marriage to the Church? The priest is preaching to the laity, who by definition are NOT mystically married to the Church, and more than half of whom never will be mystically married to the Church (i.e. women).

19/10/05 22:56  
Blogger Ioannem said...

Could the possibility be that the reason celibacy is under attack, even by those promised to live as celibates (such as RightJack) were not taught the theological meaning of celibacy during their days in the seminary. I know of many priests who, in their formation days, were not instructed in celibacy other than to avoid or supress sexual desire. Where's the Pauline connotation of celibacy? What about our own late holy father's musings in his 'Theology of the Body?' I believe that is where the problem lies. When that is mined, then the priest, the celibate, will understand this mystical marriage and the meaning of spiritual fatherhood.

19/10/05 23:42  
Blogger RightJack said...

Ionannem wrote:
"...the reason celibacy is under attack, even by those promised to live as celibates (such as RightJack)... "

Attack? I'm not attacking celibacy. I lead a fulfilling, exciting, demanding, challenging, comforting, rewarding, struggle-filled, meaningful life as a celibate priest. Even in these difficult days in the church in the US, I'm a happy camper! I'm not complaining and the last thing I'm looking for at this point in my life is to get married! There's no way I could do what I do as a priest if I had a family to be responsible for. Although I would favor optional celibacy, I'm not attacking it and would always want it to be a legitimate, even a preferred option.

My theological training emphasized being celibate for the sake of the kingdom of God. "Mystical marriage" was not the theme. Celibate for the sake of the kingdom is what I am.

I'm not attacking celibacy, just saying that "mystical marriage to the church" is not the imagery with which most priests identify themselves or their work.

20/10/05 00:07  
Blogger Jeff said...

Hmm, hmm. Lessee... For Fr. RightJack, et al:

"Q: Curiously, nothing enrages people more than the question of celibacy. Even though it concerns directly only a tiny fraction of the people in the Church. Why is there celibacy?

A: It arises from a saying of Christ. There are, Christ says, those who give up marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and bear testimony to the kingdom of heaven with their whole existence. Very early on the Church came to the conviction that to be a priest means to give this testimony to the kingdom of heaven."

"The point is not simply to save time — so I then have a little bit more time at my disposal because I am not a father of a family. That would be too primitive and pragmatic a way to see things. The point is really an existence that stakes everything on God and leaves out precisely the one thing that normally makes a human existence fulfilled with a promising future."

"we must learn again to believe. And that we must also be even more careful in the selection of candidates for the priesthood. The point is that someone ought really to accept it (celibacy) freely and not say, well now, I would like to become a priest, so I'll put up with this."

"It's even necessary to confirm by an oath before ordination one's free consent and desire. In this sense, I always have a bad feeling when it's said afterward that it was a compulsory celibacy and that it was imposed on us. That goes against one's word given at the beginning."

***[end excerpts]

"Free consent and desire"? Did you swear that Fr. RightJack? You don't come off very well in light of those unrealistic, starry-eyed statements above.

Sounds a lot like mystical marriage to me. And who could it be, who could it be, saying all this silly outmoded stuff? Why, it's that nasty, hyper-cultic Cardinal Ratzinger! I hope you were as glad as I was when he finally lost his job at CDF. Just walked out without a "bye your leave" and never came back! Heard he got kicked upstairs...serves him right.

Now, if this is a description of mystical marriage does Papa Ratz get to be called a...what were you going to call them, Rocco?

20/10/05 00:21  
Blogger RightJack said...

Jeff wrote:
"'Free consent and desire'? Did you swear that Fr. RightJack?"

Here's exactly what I promised: the exchange between bishop and candidate before ordination to the diaconate:

Bishop:
By your own free choice you seek to enter the order of deacons. You shall exercise this ministry in the celibate state: for celibacy is both a sign and a motive of pastoral charity, and a special source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world. By living in this state with total dedication, moved by sincere love for Christ the Lord, you are consecrated to him in a new and special way. By this consecration you will adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart; you will be more untrammeled in the ministry of Christian conversion and rebirth. By your life and character you will give witness to your brothers and sisters in faith that God must be loved above all else, and that it is he whom you serve in others.

Therefore, I ask you: In the presence of God and the Church, are you resolved, as a sign of your interior dedication to Christ, to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom and in lifelong service to God and mankind.

Candidate: I am.
(www.carr.org/~meripper/deacon/o-deacon.htm)

I promised the above freely and without reservation. I have not regretted it.

Please note that in the exchange with the bishop there is no reference to marriage (neither giving it up nor entering a mystical one), but rather, a reference to celibacy "for the sake of the kingdom."

Again, I'm not attacking celibacy - I'm noting that the imagery of mystical marriage is not one that most priests use in understanding themselves, their ministry or their relationship to the church.

I have no quarrel with the quotes from Cardinal Ratzinger.

20/10/05 01:18  
Blogger Jeff said...

Well, Father, you may not have been knocking celibacy, but you were slighting it. You said every priest you knew was celibate because they Church required it and perhaps for some practical reasons. Nothing eschatological or enthusiastic at all, even in the sense of a vocation to renunciation. Quite different from Ratzinger's view.

As far as the words "mystical marriage" are concerned, who cares? But the doctrine of celibacy being a state in which one is committed to Christ and the Church and the Kingdom by indissoluble bonds, just as spouses are committed to each other in marriage is unexceptionable, it seems to me. That's the view of the Church, "hyper-cultic" or not.

It would seem that if you think the only reasons a priest might want to be celibate are that he is required to in order to be a priest or for practical reasons you would have no inkling why anyone would want to be a religious brother. Yet celibacy continues to be an attractive thing to a considerable number of people. Are they all just having trouble "working through their sexuality"?

20/10/05 01:40  
Blogger RCEsq said...

On the mystical marriage theme, see Pope Benedict's recent description of his commitment to the diocese of Munich and Freising in the interview for Polish television.

"Q: So this appointment and convocation to Rome didn't come as a surprise?

Benedict XVI: It was hard for me, because when I was made bishop of Munich, with a solemn consecration in Munich cathedral, I felt I had an obligation towards this diocese, almost like a marriage. So I felt bound to this diocese."

Keeping in mind what Christ said about the bonds of marriage, Benedict's views of the ties that bind priest (or bishop) to the Church are utterly persuasive and, one would hope, are shared by all priests. Sadly, they are not.

The problem with looking at celibacy merely as a requirement for the priesthood is that such a view suggests that being a priest is just the same as any other job, when it's supposed to be a higher calling. In my parish a priest did talk about his choice for celibacy during a homily about the clergy abuse scandal, noting that instead of being married to one woman until death do them part, he consciously renounced that option and married the Church. His take on the scandal was that the abuse problem stemmed from a lack of faithfulness, in the fullest sense of that word, and that it was exacerbated by a spineless hierarchy. This priest would be described as a conservative, who wouldn't dream of flamboyantly brandishing a gun in the pulpit. His homily, incidentally, received a standing ovation. (First time that's ever happened in my middle aged experience in church going.)

20/10/05 03:54  
Blogger Gotpraecht said...

OK. So as a lay-man and member of the mystical bride does this mean that it's ok if I start taking an interest in tuille, chiffon and organza? And is
attending an RCIA course a bit like
catching the bouquet? And....

P.S. I know that even knowing words
like tuille, chiffon and organza would
get me kicked out of a seminary now, but I promise: I picked them up listening
to my mother and sisters!

20/10/05 04:09  
Blogger RightJack said...

Jeff wrote: "Well, Father, you may not have been knocking celibacy, but you were slighting it."

Jeff, kindly do me the favor of not slighting the the life I have freely and happily given to the church (and thus, to you). It hasn't always been easy, and lately it has been very difficult, but it is my life and with God's gracious help I endure and even thrive in it it. You did not respond to the quote from the ordination rite (what it asks of the candidate, what the candidate promises). I have spent my life working at being faithful to what I promised. And you think I "slight" celibacy?

Jeff wrote: "You said every priest you knew was celibate because they Church required it and perhaps for some practical reasons."

Having worked with married persons for over 30 years, I know that married people are faithful for both spiritual and practical reasons, and that both kinds of reasons are critical for a happy faithful marriage. I believe the same is true of priesthood.

Jeff wrote: "Nothing eschatological or enthusiastic at all, even in the sense of a vocation to renunciation."

Did you read what I wrote about being "celibate for the kingdom of God"? Does the eschatalogical heart of that phrase escape you?

I am celibate, and I find happines in life, because my work for the kingdom of God is more important to me than anything else I am or do. In other words, although I find celibacy to be more a burden than a joy, it allows me the greatest joy I have: preaching the gospel of Christ to his people and celebrating the eucharist with them.

Jeff wrote: "As far as the words 'mystical marriage' are concerned, who cares?"

Jeff, this thread is not an attack on celibacy, but rather a discussion of whether priests understand themselves in terms of mystical marriage to the church.

Jeff wrote: "you would have no inkling why anyone would want to be a religious brother..."

I am writing about priests in active (not contemplative) ministry. Such is my experience. Perhaps a religious brother among us would want to comment on celibacy in his life.

20/10/05 06:30  
Blogger Jeff said...

Father:

These are YOUR words and the words to which I responded:

"Celibacy is something priests take on for one or both of two reasons:
1) they believe themselves called by God to priesthood, desire that work, and are willing to live single and chaste for its sake
2) in any of a variety of ways, they are using celibacy to avoid working through their own sexuality."

"Ben, I believe priests in my diocese know why they are celibate: it is required of priests in the Latin rite. I know no priest who felt himself drawn to celibacy, and then decided to pursue priesthood. The men I know experienced a call to priesthood, and celibacy was the only path open thereto. I don't know if you, Ben, are celibate. If you are and find it beautiful, I sincerely praise God for the gift you have found. Most priests, I believe, find celibacy to be, on the one hand, a burden and, on the other, a way of life that frees us for greater service of God's people."

I see nothing in those words that indicates any value of celibacy in itself or that recognizes anything other than a pragmatic value in that discipline. Nor do I see anything about eschatology or anything of positive intrinsic value. You brought up "celibate for the kingdom of God" as an afterthought in response to well-deserved criticism and mentioned it as part of your "seminary training."

And this:

"Jeff, kindly do me the favor of not slighting the the life I have freely and happily given to the church (and thus, to you)"

is frankly dishonest. No one questioned the value of your celibacy except you. You told us originally that your celibacy and that of other priests was a burden imposed by discipline of the Church that had a pragmatic value only. I said and still say that that slights the Church's teaching on celibacy. It's unworthy of you to try to shield your ARGUMENTS from criticism by implying that anyone who disputes you is questioning your years of service.

Discussions develop, Father. The dispute about "mystical marriage" became in part a discussion about the meaning and importance of celibacy in large part through your arguments. It wasn't just the form of words that was attacked, it was the ideas that it represented.

It seems to me that the Pope is saying that we don't choose priests and then tell them to be celibate: a requirement which they then accept. Rather, she proposes in a general way to all of us the beauty and value of celibacy and virginity for Christians in general and then asks for volunteers for the priesthood from within those who embrace it for its own sake. Are there no priests like that? I don't know; you tell me. But the point is that a renewal of the priestly vocation involves a renewed appreciation for the inherent value and beauty of celibacy. A leaden pragmatism does not help in that renewal.

Do you think celibacy is a burden? If you haven't clued into it yet, marriage is also a burden. So is parenthood. So is almost every commitment in life. But there is also great glory and beauty in them, in large part through the renunciation they involve. AND through the fidelity and spiritual service that give them meaning. The exclusive love and fidelity of a priest for his flock should be inspirational, too, right? What else does "mystical marriage" mean?

I don't blame priests for being jaded and discouraged in today's miserable ecclesiastical situation. I have friends that are priests and I know how they suffer. But the road out of that must lie in a new appreciation of the spiritual value of exclusive fidelity and commitment, whether to a single partner or to the whole Church. Love is, as Dorothy Day once said, "a harsh and dreadful thing."

20/10/05 07:57  
Blogger RightJack said...

Jeff, I don't question/slight the value of my own celibacy - I experience its worth and value (and burden) every day of the week. And yes, I understand that we all carry burdens - actually, I was trying to make that point above when speaking about the practical reasons to remain faithful in marriage.

You wrote:
"Rather, (the church) proposes in a general way to all of us the beauty and value of celibacy and virginity for Christians in general and then asks for volunteers for the priesthood from within those who embrace it for its own sake. Are there no priests like that? I don't know; you tell me."

This brings us back, I believe, to the heart of the discussion. No, I don't know any priests who first discerned a call to/desire for celibacy and then began considering priesthood. Just don't know any. Again: they may be out there - but they aren't talking about it.

I'm not trying to devalue anything. I'm trying to speak about what's really out here in the lives of priests.

20/10/05 08:38  
Blogger Tony said...

Gotpraecht,
I had this same discussion with my daughter explaining that God is theologically male, and the Church is theologically female.

She said: "So that means all you guys are really chicks?" (I love the way my daughter puts things sometimes.)

I said: "you bet. You ladies have it a lot easier. It is in your nature as females to be receptive. We men have to work at it."

20/10/05 10:07  
Blogger Tony said...

This brings us back, I believe, to the heart of the discussion. No, I don't know any priests who first discerned a call to/desire for celibacy and then began considering priesthood. Just don't know any. Again: they may be out there - but they aren't talking about it.

I see an argument here about picking nits. On the one hand, I have never met someone who chose a celibate life (except possibly a homosexual) and decided the priesthood would fit nicely into his plans, and I haven't met a priest who joined the priesthood and in the case of celibacy said: "To be a priest, do I really gotta do it? Ohhh. ok :("

Priests I know, by the time they were ordained accepted celibacy as a part of their priesthood. Not like some sort of prison term that they would serve to do what they wanted.

As a married person, am I tempted to stray? Not really, and I truly mean that. My life with and my love for my wife suffocates those desires so I really don't think about it.

I would imagine celibate life for a priest would be somewhat the same. A "mystical marriage" to God and the Church. His love and devotion to them might subsume any desire to stray that might crop up.

I'm just guessing, though.

20/10/05 10:21  
Blogger Todd said...

Tony, I think extending a metaphor into theology like that is somewhat weak. Where we speak of celibacy, receptivity, service: these are theological realities, and utilizing the metaphor or marriage to explain them is useful.

But the artistry of words fails when we attempt to take a metaphor, marriage in this instance, as a baseline and attempt to shoehorn theology to fit.

Human beings are also more that their sexual natures. Being more than animals, there is something of both maleness and femaleness to be found in God, as well as each of us.

If you want to pursue the metaphor into genetics, one must concede the reality of x and y chromosomes in the sexes. Everyone possesses the x; some people have two of them.

And lastly, the notion that God is theologically male? I can't buy that. By not imposing divine will upon us, by leaving us free, God is the ultimate example in receptivity: offering an invitation, then waiting for the human soul to take initiative. God's generativity is wholly self-contained. Human beings are children, not spouses.

20/10/05 10:27  
Blogger Gotpraecht said...

Tony, I think extending a metaphor into theology like that is somewhat weak. Where we speak of celibacy, receptivity, service: these are theological realities, and utilizing the metaphor or marriage to explain them is useful.

Amen!

Or to use a tried-and-tested theological principle:

imperfectum non est mensura perfecti

The imperfect is not the measure of the perfect.

20/10/05 10:52  
Blogger Barry Manilow said...

Even now the liturgical experts at Ecclesia Dei are drawing up the "Rite of Mystical Marriage for a Medically-Certified Celibate."

What fascinating prospects for new and creative uses of the paschal candle (unlit).

20/10/05 12:03  
Blogger Deep Furrows said...

Celibacy started as a lay vocation and later converged to some extent with the priesthood. It would seem, then, that lay people could learn a great deal about their own vocation by hearing about the vocation of the priest. I recommend the document, Vita Consecrata and Balthasar's book, The Laity in the Life of the Counsels.

Around here, celibacy seems to be more regarded as an extrinsic discipline than a vocation like marriage . . .

20/10/05 12:22  
Blogger Ben said...

Wow, I still can't believe this is even an argument! John Paul's Theology of the Body is full of this theology. It pretty much says that priests CAN"T even consider themself NOT MARRIED because they participate more fullly in the higher understanding of marriage. Who is TRUELY a 'Father'. Men? No, God! Who is truely our spouse, our wife/husband? No God(Christ)! Priest are configuered to Christ. They act 'in persona christi'

Rightjack: When you discribe your priesthood to us(all the joys, pains stuggles, blessing, things you give up, things you gain, ect) don't you realize you are discribing your marriage relationship with the Church. You described my life with my spouse I will tell you that! When you showed us your vows you took in front of the Bishop did it not sound to you like wedding vows? You say he didn't mention a 'mystical wedding' but it sounded like he was performing one. "For the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven" IS mystical marriage. If you look at both sacraments, marriage and ordination they are really both quite the same. They are just for order and sanctification of two different realities. One for the physical earthly realm and the other for the kindom of heaven. We can say that ordination is a marrige rite and that marriage is an ordination rite in a sense. Was I not made a priest of my domestic church and made a Father to my children? I don't want to over do things for those that can't handle it but the basic understanding must be understood.

The Catechism is pretty clear that celibacy should come before the priesthood. It says that priests are chosen from the celibates. I understand that most times a desire to be a priest comes first but later it should be realized that celibacy should ontologically come first. (CCC 1579) Marriage is a vocation much like celibacy. Celibacy must be seen as a vocation not just some rule. And yes Gotpraecht.. RCIA should be seen as a time of preparation for becoming part of the Bride of Christ.

To sum up, I think what we all can/should agree with (because you may disagree on the way I put a few things) is this... Priests are called to be to us (in persona christi) on earth as Christ will be to all of us in Heaven... Our Mystical Bridegroom!!!

Ben

20/10/05 14:02  
Blogger Ben said...

One thing I forgot to mention is the nature of the question itself... If something is not preached at Sunday Mass by most or all priests does it make it not true or not Catholic? Give me a break! If that were true we might as well cut the Catechism in half or more. Preaching today is rather weak. If our topic has not been heard or delivered from the pulpit then it just shows the ignorance of the clergy or their unwillingness to teach. The understanding of priestly celibacy will do us all a bunch of good, lay and clergy. There is a positive reason for celibacy. Just like there is a positive reason for marriage.

20/10/05 14:15  
Blogger Fr. John said...

I am a priest and a religious. As such, the vow of celibacy came first both temporally and decisionally. While I recognize and accept the "marriage to the Church" image, it is not the first one that comes to mind. For me, celibacy is a commitment to God, a statement with my body and my soul that God is enough, that I do not need a wife to be complete. Celibacy requires setting oneself apart, dedicating oneself, surrendering oneself. All of these are also aspects of marriage. But for the religious, at least those of us in the monastic and older orders, they are done for love of God, not particularly out of desire to serve his people. Expedia has nothing to do with it. Within the religious call, lies a further call to service to the people of God as a priest. This call to service is distinct from the celibacy of the religious, although of course celibacy does free a man for service.

20/10/05 16:29  
Blogger RightJack said...

Ben wrote:
"When you showed us your vows you took in front of the Bishop did it not sound to you like wedding vows?"

No. That never crossed my mind or heart. And I assure you that I pondered those words long and prayerfully before finally getting to the point of standing before the bishop.

"You say he didn't mention a 'mystical wedding' but it sounded like he was performing one."

I understand how you see it this way, but if that's what the church is intending and doing, then I think it ought to be a little more explicit.

"For the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven" IS mystical marriage... marriage and ordination are really both quite the same. ..."

While I understand and appreciate your analogy (and am happy to accept some degree of it), I think marriage and ordination are at least as different as they are the same.

"They are just for order and sanctification of two different realities. One for the physical earthly realm and the other for the kindom of heaven."

Here I think your analogy tries to carry more weight than it can bear. And I wouldn't be surprised if, on second glance, you might want to rethink the dualism of two different realities. After the Incarnation, these realities are all one in Christ: that's certainly what the church teaches about those who marry in Christ.

"To sum up, I think what we all can/should agree..."

I very much agree with you here, Ben. I believe there's much more agreement than disagreement in the whole thread (although there is some of both!).

Finally, I don't believe something needs to be preached regularly for it to be Catholic. My point was that if and when priests speak of their share in holy orders and of celibacy, they seldom do it in terms of marriage - even though the marriage image might be a very fine way to speak about who they are and what they do.

20/10/05 18:31  
Blogger Ben said...

RightJack wrote:
"No. That never crossed my mind or heart. And I assure you that I pondered those words long and prayerfully before finally getting to the point of standing before the bishop."

Well, does it now?

"I understand how you see it this way, but if that's what the church is intending and doing, then I think it ought to be a little more explicit."

Doctrines develope. John Paul has reiterated this constant understanding quite a bit in 'Theology of the Body'

"Here I think your analogy tries to carry more weight than it can bear. And I wouldn't be surprised if, on second glance, you might want to rethink the dualism of two different realities. After the Incarnation, these realities are all one in Christ: that's certainly what the church teaches about those who marry in Christ."

Marriage will be no mare in the heavenly reality. Ordination will not cease. You cannot deny the more earthy purpose for marriage and more heavenly one for ordination. Chaste celibacy will be the norm for heaven. Christ has not yet completed His task. This will happen at the second coming!

"Finally, I don't believe something needs to be preached regularly for it to be Catholic. My point was that if and when priests speak of their share in holy orders and of celibacy, they seldom do it in terms of marriage - even though the marriage image might be a very fine way to speak about who they are and what they do."

But they should preach and understand this. There is much confusion of this in the Church and you seemed to be confused of this also. When was the last time we heard a homily on the mystical marriage between celibate women(nuns) and Christ. All the female nun saints seem to appreciate this understanding very well. Many actually wear wedding rings as a symbol of this. Women, like the Virgin Mary, represent the Church and her femininity and are therefore considered the bride of Christ. So, as a priest, I recommend you meditate on your ordination to act 'in persona christi'. If you represent Christ, and Christ is wedded to His bride, the Church, then you participate, like the nuns in a mystical marriage. This understanding will help those who are celibate understand their heavenly relationship.

Ben

21/10/05 12:28  
Blogger Jim Tucker said...

This is a very interesting discussion. I've heard some younger priests talk in this way, and there's the sort of folk concept of the celibate priest as "married to the Church" or "married to Jesus" or whatever, but I've never found any basis for it in traditional sacramental theology or canon law.

I think the provenence of the idea of clerical celibacy as a "mystical marriage" comes principally from four things. First (and strongest, I think) is the fact that nuns have certainly understood themselves as Brides of Christ, and the whole ceremony of solemn profession consciously patterns itself upon marriage, right down to the ring, the veil, the vows, and the singing of the Sponsa Christi. That she's a bride of Christ, though, comes from her religious vows and belonging to an order of nuns, not from the fact that she's living in the celibate state. Perhaps men in religious vows understand themselves in a similar way? I have no clue. I'm pretty sure that most of us seculars who have promised to remain single don't understand ourselves this way, and never have.

Second is the fact that a bishop at his consecration is presented with a ring, which is explicitly connected to the fidelity he must show to the Church, Christ's Bride. This fidelity is toward the local church entrusted to him, not in virtue of his celibacy, but of his being the bishop. (Reflecting on this, Cardinal Gantin made the very unpopular suggestion that a bishop ought not to be transferred out of his first diocese, to which he is, as it were, wedded. Anyway.)

Third (and almost as strong as the first reason) is the natural assumption that since Father gets a sacrament that married people don't, then somehow it must parallel the sacrament of matrimony. This, I think, confuses the sacrament of Orders with the state of celibacy, which are two distinct things. It also misses the fact that married people enter into a vowed covenant with another human being. The (secular) priest's celibacy is not a vowed covenant with anyone, but a public and canonical promise not to marry for the motive of pastoral charity toward the people entrusted to him, as the Rite specifies. The married couple's sacrament is confected by their pronouncing of the vows; the cleric's sacrament is confected by the laying-on of hands, which may or (in the case of permanent deacons and those presbyters not bound to celibacy) may not be accompanied by a promise to remain celibate. The parallel, in other words, breaks down under closer observation. Perhaps a priest in a religous order understands his vow of perpetual continence in a more marital way, but that would be in virtue of his being a vowed religious, not in virtue of his being a celibate cleric.

The fourth reason, I think, comes from the celibate's desire to apply a spiritual understanding to the canonical fact of his celibacy, to find a way for him to live it in a more prayerful way. For some, that may be by considering it as a "mystical marriage" and trying to apply marital insights to celibacy (clerical or otherwise) lived for the Kindgom. I think that's fine, but one needs to understand that this flows from one's own personal sort of piety, and not from the text of the Fathers, the Councils, the canons, or traditional theology (Eastern or Western).

Not helping things is the fact that people often don't understand what the Church means by the words vow, promise, celibacy, continence, and chastity. Nothing a little canon law and sacramental theology can't remedy, though.

21/10/05 22:33  
Blogger RightJack said...

Thank you, Jim Tucker, for your sober, cohesive, well-founded comments on this question. I believe that all who have contributed to this thread can benefit from your contribution - I know that I have.

22/10/05 12:38  

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