Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: Museum of the American Revolution grand opening

Wife with burly frontiersmen at the Museum's opening
It's been a while, but I like to pick up my theme of the intersecting of medievalism with American history whenever I can. Today just happens to be one of those days, because my family and I were quite privileged to attend the grand opening of the new Museum of the American Revolution here in Philadelphia just yesterday. If you're not sure how this relates at all to my blog's theme, be patient. The story of this Museum begins not with yesterday's grand opening on the anniversary of the "shot heard 'round the world", but oddly, with Robert E. Lee and a Gothic revivalist Episcopal priest with a George Washington obsession.

The jewel of the Museum's collection is the very tent General Washington used for his sleeping quarters throughout the War of Independence, at least from 1778 on (along with his slave valet, William Lee, and close confidantes like Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette). It's hard to overstate how significant it was to the Continental Army that Washington slept among them for virtually the entire seven or eight years of the war. During that whole span, he spent only a few days at his home of Mount Vernon. After Washington famously resigned his commission and went home, the tent was carefully packed away and given to the care of Martha Washington's grandson, George Custis. The tent went on to his daughter Mary's care, and then her husband, Robert E. Lee. During the Civil War, Lee's house at Arlington, overlooking the capital city, was seized by the Union Army and converted to a cemetery for soldiers (now Arlington National Cemetery). Mary Lee's enslaved maid, Selina Norris Gray, ensured that the tent and other Washington "relics" were undisturbed by the soldiers who moved into the house. 

The Rev'd C. Herbert Burk

After the war, the Lees sued all the way up to the Supreme Court to get that tent back from the federal government. They eventually did, but their granddaughter, Mary Custis Lee, sold it in 1903 to raise money for widows of Confederate veterans. The buyer was C. Herbert Burk, rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church in Norristown (which is actually very close to my Ordinariate parish). Aside from his devotion to beauty (All Saints' was the first church in Norristown to have a surpliced choir of men and boys), Burk held a lifelong passion for Revolutionary War history and set upon establishing a mission church on the grounds of Valley Forge, with the dual purpose of becoming a shrine to the memory of the soldiers encamped there in 1777, not to mention a house for his collection of Revolutionary War relics.

The new church was commissioned in the Perpendicular Gothic style of merry ole' England. Not only was the Gothic revival falling out of fashion by the turn of the 20th century, it was considered a highly unusual choice for a site dedicated to Revolutionary War history. Critics attacked Burk for the design, to which he once replied,  "Colonial architecture was Georgian; the men at Valley Forge gave their lives in a struggle against the tyranny of a Georgian King. Why mock their memory by building a Georgian Chapel in their honor?" Today this stands at the Washington Memorial Chapel, one of the most beautiful churches in the entire southeast Pennsylvania region--and where my grandfather-in-law's remains are now buried. More info about it can be read here. But there was still the trouble of displaying the General's tent without it gradually decaying when exposed to the elements. Over the past twenty years, over 500 hours were spent on restoring the tent's fabric, and over $100 million raised to build a museum to house this and other items collected by Rev. Burk. The final fruit of all these labors was unveiled in grand style yesterday.

Burk's pet project realized: the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge
The Chapel from the outside
My family and I arrived around 9:30am, just in time to follow the procession from the front door of Independence Hall in center city Philadelphia to the new Museum, a few blocks away. Each of the thirteen original states sent their own color guard to represent them, starting with Delaware as the first state. Pennsylvania was, of course, represented by our commonwealth's own "household cavalry": the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry. The federal government was represented by the 3rd Infantry Regiment from Washington, DC, also known as the Old Guard: the very same who guard the President, the Tomb of the Unknowns, and perform many other ceremonial duties throughout the capital. (When I was in service, I looked into joining the Old Guard a decade ago now, but fell short of the height requirement.)

The procession lined up at Independence Hall
The First City Troop, a National Guard unit in continuous service since 1774, representing Pennsylvania
We didn't plan on attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony because only 100 seats were offered by lottery and I didn't win the drawing; but at the last minute, an attendant offered some leftover seats and waved us in, with the caveat that we would be seated immediately in front of a large screen, thus unable to actually see any of the speakers except digitally. The roster of speakers included many prominent persons like the Mayor, the Governor, and former Vice President Biden--whom, politics aside, is at least somewhat native to the area and is actually an alumnus of the high school affiliated with my workplace. The two most interesting speakers from what I could hear were David McCullough (the author of 1776, the John Adams biography, and other historical works) and Arthur Raymond Halbritter (head of the Oneida Nation). Daughter #2 had a diaper blowout in the middle of McCullough's speech, so we had to be let inside the Museum even before the ribbon-cutting to take care of the situation. When she grows up, she can officially say her bottom was the very first to be changed in the Museum of the American Revolution's family restroom.

Our seating location during the opening ceremonies (pictured above: David McCullough's speech). Now imagine the dystopian feeling of an ex-Vice President talking to you, but only from behind a screen with his enlarged head looming over you. Something straight out of that old movie Equilibrium with Christian Bale, no?
Daughter #1 screamed through nearly the entirety of Biden's speech because I wouldn't let her pet a mounted policeman's horse, so I can't comment much on what he said. Madame says the highlight of the ceremony by far was Sydney James Harcourt (an original cast member and understudy for the role of Aaron Burr in the Hamilton musical) leading students from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts in a couple of numbers from the production. "This is probably the closest we'll ever get to attending the show itself", said she. The Philadelphia Boys Choir sang something at the end to wrap things up, the ribbon got cut, and then we hung around center city for several hours to wait our turn to enter.

Not my photo--from the Museum's Facebook page

The Museum itself is very spacious and clean (so far). As can be expected, the cafe and gift shop are overpriced. We unfortunately missed the orientation video on the ground floor by lingering too long in the gift shop, and so immediately went upstairs to the showcase. The highlight of the tour, far and away, is the presentation of Washington's tent. You fill into a theater and are treated with a fantastic short video explaining the tent's significance and post-war history, much as I did in this post. At the end, the screen rolls up and the lights come on just enough for you to see that the tent was before your eyes, behind the movie screen, the entire time! That alone is worth the price of admission, and probably deserves to be a rite of passage for every American schoolchild in the country. Thankfully, daughter #1 was exhausted from the day's events thus far and remained asleep throughout.

Washington's tent, also not my photo. You can't really take your own pictures of it there.
The rest of the collection takes you plaque-by-plaque from the French and Indian War to the generation of Revolutionary War veterans in retirement and death. There are many excellently made wax mannequins to dramatically retell the story of independence in every exhibit. Black, native American, and even loyalist/Tory stories are told in a natural way without feeling shoehorned for political correctness's sake. About 3/4ths of the way through the collection, daughter #1 woke up and I had to make a speed-run through the remainder of the trip.

Altogether, though I've already seen Mount Vernon and many other sites of immense Revolutionary War significance, this little Museum was well worth the trip. Madame and I intend to go back, each on our own to take it all in by reading every plaque. I walked away from its doors with a renewed sense of pride in my eight ancestors who fought in the War of Independence in uniform, not to mention a sense that I was picking up the torch with a real sense of ownership, and a mandate to steer this nation in the right direction.

From the Museum's Facebook page, showing the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps

Some other pieces from the collection:

The royal arms, which apparently once hung in the Connecticut legislature
British swords

General Washington's blue sash

A book of religious poems by Phyllis Wheatley: the first-ever book published by an African-American woman

An intricately detailed powder horn depicting Philadelphia's harbor

A wall full of armaments

A French officer's gorget bearing the royal fleur-de-lis

A combination tobacco pipe/tomahawk

A candlestick made for one of Philadelphia's oldest Catholic churches

Mannequins depicting Tarleton's Raiders. A more villainous version of Colonel Tarleton was dramatized by Jason Isaacs in The Patriot (2002).

Long day!

Thursday, April 6, 2017


This past Sunday traditionally marked the beginning of Passiontide: the final two weeks of Lent. The old Roman practice dictated that all crucifixes and holy images in the church be veiled with violet fabric. Unfortunately, as with so many other things, the designation of the fifth Sunday in Lent as "Passion Sunday" was dropped with the Vatican II reforms, and the period of Passiontide effectively ceased to exist in most Catholics' imaginations. 

Nevertheless, a few very conservative parishes will continue the custom of veiling scared images without the need for a rubric. Passiontide survived in the high Anglican tradition, so it's no surprise that our Ordinariate parish avails of veils. Some of our photos were recently featured in today's Passiontide photopost on the New Liturgical Movement. I also include some below:

Procession before Mass while chanting The Litany, similar to this order from 1928 BCP

Chanting the Gospel in the midst of the nave. Notice the closed doors of the side altarpiece in the background

We were only able to enjoy the newly installed altarpieces for a week before having to close the doors

Passiontide continued with a special Mass at the parish of one of our traditional Latin Mass chaplains: the church of Holy Martyrs, Oreland. It's a fixer-upper, but the pastor has done a spectacular job in adorning the church over his short time there so far. I directed my schola for what was the first TLM celebrated at the parish since the Vatican II reforms.

Do the altar and pulpit look a bit familiar? Perhaps it's because they were both constructed for Pope Francis for his big televised Sunday Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway during his 2015 visit to Philadelphia! (see below) Father K needed an altar for his own parish, asked for it, and got it.

The schola was circled to the left of the sanctuary. The Proper chants for ferial days during Passiontide can be rather tricky. They're so rarely used that they don't even appear in the Liber Usualis; you must have a true Graduale Romanum for those.

There was excellent turnout (50 or more on a weekday evening) and overwhelmingly positive feedback. Let's hope this marks the beginning of more traditional liturgies.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Make pax-bredes great again

One of the pax-bredes used by Philadelphia's TLM community
In my last digest covering Annunciation and Laetare, I failed to mention our sung Mass for St Joseph's Day at the Cathedral-Basilica of Philadelphia's altar of the Assumption, which ended up featured at the top of the New Liturgical Movement's photopost yesterday. Despite being a Monday night, there was a turnout of nearly a hundred, mostly young college students... many of whom were probably experiencing the old rite for the first time. As Mr. DiPippo says, "evangelize through beauty!" My men's plainchant schola is circled in a monastic singing formation to the right of the altar in the photos, rendering the full minor Propers out of the Liber Usualis. After the Offertory antiphon, we also chanted the hymn Te Joseph Celebrent.

A missa cantata for St Joseph at the Cathedral-Basilica of Philadelphia's altar of the Assumption
When celebrating a missa cantata, our particular TLM community preserves the medieval custom of exchanging the kiss of peace after the Agnus Dei among the servers and choir by means of a pax-brede: typically an image of the Lamb of God, but it could also be of a crucifix or other holy image, or could be a reliquary. What happens is that, in lieu of the Roman pax (the formal embrace) begun between the celebrant and deacon, the celebrant instead kisses the pax-brede. The MC then brings the pax-brede to each cleric and server (and choristers, if in the sanctuary area) to kiss. As at solemn Mass, the answer to the MC's "pax tecum" when he presents the pax-brede to be kissed is "et cum spiritu tuo". At the Mass pictured above, our schola had long since finished chanting the Agnus Dei by the time the MC came by with the pax-brede, so there was no obstacle to us performing the rite.

The origins of the pax-brede, in brief

It seems the pax-brede was originally developed by the medieval Church to give the pax to all members of the congregation in an orderly manner (and, perhaps, to sidestep the tensions caused by persons of the opposite sex who are not married to each other from kissing in church). At a time when Communion was not regularly distributed to the faithful, the pax was almost a substitute for it--everyone would come up to the chancel screen to kiss the pax-brede, much as communicants come up today. Surviving examples from the medieval centuries are often richly detailed. In Shakespeare's Henry V, the king sentences his old pal Bardolph to death "for he hath stolen a pax" from a church in the middle of their invasion of France.

The Una Voce position paper on the kiss of peace explains why this practice declined thus: 
"The direct participation of the Faithful in the Pax, for which the Paxbrede was particularly well suited, began to die out in the following centuries in most countries. The liturgical scholar Polycarpus Radó suggests ‘reasons of hygiene’ for this. Another practical reason seems to have been that the practice of passing the Paxbrede among the Faithful according to their social degree led to unedifying disputes over precedence. A modern factor which reduces the time available to present the Paxbrede is the frequency of the Communion of the Faithful during Mass."
The discontinuation due to "reasons of hygiene" is strikingly similar to the argument made in an article in Crisis posted just last month against the modern practice of the Sign of Peace in the Ordinary Form Mass: "A Trinity of Bad Hygiene". And the squabble over precedence amongst the folk of the medieval parish, suggested above, is perfectly illustrated in Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars:
'In 1494 the wardens of the parish of All Saints, Stanyng, presented Joanna Dyaca for breaking the paxbrede by throwing it on the ground, "because another woman of the parish had kissed it before her." On All Saints Day 1522 Master John Browne of the parish of Theydon-Garnon in Essex, having kissed the pax-brede at the parish Mass, smashed it over the head of Richard Pond, the holy-water clerk who had tendered it to him, "causing streams of blood to run to the ground." Brown was enraged because the pax had first been offered to Francis Hamden and his wife Margery, despite the fact that the previous Sunday he had warned Pond, "Clerke, if thou here after givest not me the pax first I shall breke it on thy hedd."'

Using the pax-brede today

Whatever the reasons for its falling out among the laity, the use of the pax-brede remains a fully licit option in the rubrics of the traditional Latin rite for both sung and even low Mass. Despite having survived even amongst the laity until recent times in Spain and certain Spanish territories, a good case could probably be made against offering the pax-brede to the entire congregation, especially in these times of regular Communion. But for the servers and clergy (and liturgical choir, if present, as well as any princes or lay dignitaries present), the rite has much to recommend it. The pax-brede not only emphasizes a continuity between sung/low Mass and the ceremonies of solemn high Mass; it also reminds us that, however ill-advised the modern practice of the peace in the Ordinary Form is, the concept itself was not invented out of whole cloth as many traditional Catholics mistakenly assume.

The same pax-brede from the opening of the article, shown from the side

Another pax-brede used by the community

Monday, March 27, 2017

Past weekend digest: Annunciation and Laetare

Chanting the Lesson from Isaiah for the Annunciation: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel."
This past weekend was a nice reprieve from the austerity of Lent, with Lady Day and Laetare Sunday back-to-back. Saturday fell on March 25, which is the feast of the Annunciation: set nine months before Christmas to celebrate the angel's bringing of good news to the Virgin Mary that she would bear the Messiah. 

The Annunciation, sometimes called Lady Day, is arguably older than Christmas itself as a Christian feast. It was once of such great significance that Great Britain persisted in beginning its civil/legal new year on March 25, as medieval tradition had it, until finally making the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. The obligation for Catholics to hear Mass on this day continued in the United States until the rule was relaxed by the third Council of Baltimore in 1884. 

Thankfully, the TLM Community of Philadelphia has kept up the practice of celebrating the Annunciation with due solemnity for some years now. I attended last year's, which had to be transferred to the week after the Easter octave since it fell on Good Friday; and this year, I was asked to fill in as subdeacon. The celebrant, Fr Dennis Carbonaro, had actually hosted half of my Ordinariate community at his parish before we acquired our own building, and he remains a friend of the Ordinariate.

You'll see in the photos in this link, as above, that we had solemn high Mass in the traditional Latin rite in a humble parish with a sanctuary space clearly not designed with solemn ceremonies in mind. Nevertheless, St Mary's church, Schwenksville proved a most hospitable place that I look forward to visiting again. The attendees were thrilled to see a young man in sacred vestments, and I was understandably mistaken for a priest several times as I said hello to them on their way out of church. (I like to think that every time I begin the "well, I'm actually a..." speech is a moment for catechesis.) I spotted a fellow member of the Sons of the American Revolution by his rosette and found we knew a couple of the same people.

Speaking of vestments, the Annunciation was an immensely popular subject for medieval and Renaissance art. One of the largest surviving works along this theme is a painting by Hans Memling, now hanging in New York's Met. I had the privilege to see it in person during a visit last November. Gabriel is clad in a deacon's dalmatic, emphasizing the role of angels as the right hand ministers of God in heaven. His vestments also have the Gothic apparels along the amice and the cuffs and bottom hem of the alb. I'm unsure of why he wears a narrow crossed stole over the dalmatic. Was it done in real-world liturgical practice in 15th-century Bruges, or does it have only an iconographic significance?

The jubilation continued on with Laetare Sunday: the midpoint of Lent, whereby the ministers wear rose vestments and the organ (in places which suspend its use during Lent) returns. At my own parish, we continued the English tradition of "Mothering Sunday" by blessing simnel cake and distributing it at coffee hour. See the Medieval Origins of Mothering Sunday here for more info, but the short version appears to be that an early 20th century pharmacist by the name of Constance Adelaide Smith sought a more inclusive alternative to the secular Mother's Day by drawing from old medieval traditions associated with Laetare Sunday. "Modern medievalism in action", indeed.

Another point of celebration for my parish is that we recently installed two impressive altarpieces over each side altar. They were recovered from a closed parish and now, we hope, will continue fostering devotion for a new generation.

And at last, continuing on my previous post about the end of the "Atonement affair", it's worth reposting this image of the meeting which took place last Tuesday evening at my old parish. My former pastor made his first appearance on the church grounds in well over a month, and those assembled were introduced to their new Ordinary, Bishop Lopes. The bishop gave a presentation on what would happen next, a good summary of which may be found here

The next day, my former pastor, now pastor emeritus and chaplain to the school, celebrated Mass for the students as though it were any other school day. When you see this video and realize the order of Mass and sacred music are essentially what you would see and hear on every single day of the school year; one of the only Catholic institutions on earth to offer choral Mass Monday through Friday; you can begin to understand how much of a treasure the place is and how necessary it was to fight to preserve it.

And, at last, on Sunday evening, I had a schola friend over to teach my wife and me how to play a medieval-themed card game called Dominion. What fun! Meanwhile, our oldest wore her pink-and-purple Rapunzel dress for Laetare. Had to redraw a couple of cards after she licked them.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

'Tis a fine fox chase, my boys! Atonement joins the Ordinariate

Atonement's Lady Chapel
'Tis a fine fox chase, my boys! The struggle for my hometown parish where I was baptized and married, Our Lady of the Atonement, is over. Parish, school, and clergy, by the directive of the Holy See, along with all other remaining Pastoral Provision communities, are to enter the Personal Ordinariate, effective today. More details should follow after a meeting at Atonement with Bishop Lopes this evening. Official announcement here.

General Washington was reported to have broke ranks from his bodyguard (the Philadelphia First City Troop) at the Battle of Princeton while routing the British, shouting "it's a fine fox chase, my boys!" The Philadelphia gentlemen who formed the original Troop were mostly members of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Thought experiment: married "simplex" priests to strengthen the celibate clergy

What did Pope Francis say this time?

I was particularly ruminating on this during the recently past feast of Saint Patrick: a bishop who was born to a clerical family, his father having been a deacon and his grandfather a priest (a fact which is curiously omitted from Patrick's biography in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia). The latest papal kerfluffle was over the Pope's answers to some questions in an interview in the German newspaper Die Zeit. To quote a CNS article:
He was also asked about the possibility of allowing married "viri probati" -- men of proven virtue -- to become priests.
"We have to study whether 'viri probati' are a possibility. We then also need to determine which tasks they could take on, such as in remote communities, for example," Pope Francis said.
The remarks caused enough waves that I even overheard the kind old ladies who come to my workplace to knit once a week talk about it! Of course, there was no discussion on what Pope Francis meant by the phrase viri probati. (That would be "proven men", presumably of advanced age and known piety such as older married deacons, who would be ordained as supply priests to help the established clergy.) In most people's imaginations, whether they're for or against it, any talk of opening the priesthood to married men is taken to mean that seminaries will soon be flooded with young newlywed guys. That may well be the fate of the old Latin discipline by the end of my natural lifetime, but in the spirit of my blog's tagline, "Applying old-world solutions to new-world problems", you dear readers will indulge me in the following thought experiment about a model of priesthood which has passed into obscurity but may find renewed usefulness in the not-too-distant future....

First, I tack on my disclaimer that, of course, as "there are those who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake", the path of celibacy is a higher calling than that of marriage. Obligatory celibacy for priests has been a part of the Latin tradition for a thousand years. Even the so-called "Anglican" Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter to which I belong, which uniquely relies on a mostly married presbyterate of former Anglican clerics, still affirms that the model of celibate priests formed in the traditional seminary system is preferred. The Ordinariate places high hopes on its four traditional seminarians (one of whom is a longtime friend of mine), and so do I. 

Now with that out of the way....

There are two kinds of arguments against the use of married priests: spiritual and pragmatic. People in the first camp pride themselves on the idea that the priest, as an alter Christus, is "married" to the Church as our Lord and living more closely to the ideal of celibacy as proposed by St Paul. There is simply no room for the idea of married priests in this ecclesiology--indeed, many people in this camp have a visceral reaction against the idea of a married man, especially one who may still be sexually active, in celebrating Mass or administering the holy Eucharist. A few traditionalists might be so repulsed by the idea that they'd rather attend a diocesan Ordinary Form Mass or drive to a traditional Latin Mass in another state, rather than attend a Latin Mass celebrated by a married priest. For these folks, no argument suffices, and I don't bother convincing them otherwise.

The pragmatists are the sort who question the applicability of married priests, not the idea in principle. They ask, "how do we pay for them and their families? Will we need to renovate the rectories to accommodate family life? How can a priest be attentive to his wife, children, and needs of his flock all at once? What about the psychological affects of being raised as a PK [pastor's kid]?" concerns are alleviated easily enough by rediscovering what being ordained as a priest exactly entailed during the medieval centuries of the Church. In short: simplex priests.

A sacerdos simplex is a priest who is ordained for celebrating Mass, and little else (beyond the usual obligation of praying the Divine Office). No confessions, no preaching, no pastorships of parishes. To be "simplex" is to exercise only the core of the presbyteral ministry, which is offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The rest, while certainly integral to the priest's mission on earth, is not essential to it. Imagine if, in large parishes that stretch their priests thin, the bishop says to the pastor: 

"I want you to approach your deacons and your three most devout, older laymen (no younger than 45) and ask them if they'd be willing to apprentice under you for three years and then be ordained priests. Their sole duties, other than praying the Office, would be celebrating Masses that you can't cover yourself, helping distribute Communion, and bringing Communion to the sick. Other things such as teaching catechism are up to them, but they can't hear confessions except in danger of death, and they won't perform baptisms or weddings unless you specifically delegate them. They can only preach if they were already formed as deacons beforehand. Finally, they do this service only for love of God, with no expectation of income."

In a stroke, these simplex priests, some of whom are perhaps married, will have already resolved all the pragmatists' objections:

  • They're mature in both age and faith, and if they're married, their children are older or out of the house
  • They serve at no expense to the faithful; no salary, no housing, no retirement pension or other benefits needed because, like deacons, they're expected to maintain their own income and (if necessary) secular employment
  • They have a shorter course of study under their pastor, as most priests did before the arrival of the seminary system after Trent--again, at no cost to the faithful

In exchange, we could reap the following benefits:
  • Many more priests to celebrate Mass in "non-priority areas", especially in remote rural parishes or near-abandoned urban parishes, or in chaplaincies for the neglected like prisons and hospitals
  • More priests to offer Sunday Mass at the parishes (especially early and late Masses) so that pastors only have to celebrate the principal Sunday Mass; thus keeping to the traditional rule whereby priests are only supposed to celebrate Mass once per day (there used to be an indult required for "binating" or "trinating", meaning offering Mass twice or three times a day)
  • More priests around to distribute holy Communion, thereby reducing the need for lay extraordinary ministers
  • More priests to deliver holy Communion to the sick, in place of lay ministers
  • More priests to lead hours of the Divine Office
  • More priests to offer personal instruction to catechumens, as was common prior to Vatican II
  • On an as-needed basis, pastors can delegate baptisms and weddings to simplex priests to free time for themselves

With simplex priests helping out much the same way auxiliary bishops assist the diocesan bishop, the celibate, beneficed ("full time") pastors and curates would then have a lot more free time to hear confessions, make visits to parishioners' homes, get to know more of their flock one-on-one, and perhaps most importantly, devote themselves more fully to the Divine Office and regular prayer. Everyone wins.

If you think me crazy for saying for proposing such a wacky ecclesiology, just consider that even today, every priest is "simplex" at least on the first day of his ordination. Unlike bishops who are all inherently "the Bishop of So-and-so place", no priest is guaranteed a parish assignment; in the old days, most priests never even made it to "pastor". Priests still require faculties for confession--they can't just hear someone's confession at will, and if they hop over to the neighboring diocese, they still need that local bishop's permission in writing before hearing someone's confession there (as well as to celebrate Mass). Priests need permission from the pastor or rector of any church before officiating a baptism or wedding there. There's really little that a priest is allowed to do on his own except hear the confession of someone in grave danger of death (in that case alone, even an excommunicated priest is given faculties). Until the 1983 Code of Canon Law, priests even needed faculties to preach.

We also have a fairly recent example of a (religious, not married) simplex priest on the path to canonization: the Venerable Solanus Casey, OFM Cap (1870-1957). The Archbishop of Milwaukee ordained Casey as a simplex priest because of he found Latin and other academic disciplines of the seminary system too challenging.

The Ven. Solanus Casey above.
As vocations in the mainstream Church continue to hemorrhage, the existing body of diocesan priests will be stretched further and further. Some priests are already pastors of three or four parishes, all which formerly had three or four assisting curates each. In such conditions, they have little time to really see to the needs of the faithful in their care, or even, critically, their own souls through prayer and private reflection. The whole Church then suffers from poor ministry.

And before someone points to the large number of men applying to places like the FSSP's Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary (a fine institution which two friends of mine attend).... while it's certainly true that vocations to certain traditional seminaries such as those of the FSSP or Institute of Christ the King are faring much better, these are still single institutions that must serve the needs of entire continents. The fruits of their labor remain out of reach in most places, even in most major metropolitan centers. There are still many communities that haven't yielded a single priest despite celebrating the old rites exclusively for five or ten years at a time. By contrast, your average pre-conciliar parish yielded one or two seminarians per year. Considering that some saints have written that God calls as many a third of the general Catholic population to clerical or religious life, I'd say even "traddies" have a shortage of vocations.

To close, I'm certainly not suggesting that my suggestion for ordaining simplex priests be rolled out during this tumultuous pontificate (not that anyone from the Vatican is reading my blog, anyway). I believe we'll have to wait for the vocational winter to truly hit us over the course of the next 15 or 20 years as the last remnants of the big vocation boom of the 1950's and early '60s retire and die out. Once the diocesan structures enter a total freefall and the existing diocesan clergy begin to burn out in record numbers, I'll dust off this old blog entry and see if anyone bites. That said, if my dismal forecast of the future state of vocations is completely off-base and there's a renaissance with four or five unmarried, full-time priests staffing each parish once again, I'll very gladly accept being wrong.

(For the record, I would not seek to become a simplex priest, even if asked. That's definitely not my calling.)