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St. Catherine of Siena and Cardinal Cláudio Hummes

Tomb of St. Catherine of Siena

Today is the feast of one of the most popular saints around here, St. Catherine of Siena. Lay woman, Dominican tertiary, ecclesial reformer and gifted with a charism that allowed her to put popes and antipopes in their proper place and get away with it, she serves as the patron saint of the caribinieri, Italy, Europe, and was the first woman named a Doctor of the Church.

Cardinal Hummes presiding at the Solemnity of St. Catherine of Siena

It was only at the end of my class day, just before 6pm, that I was able to run over to the church where she died, and where most of her remains remain, Chiesa Santa Maria Sopra Minerve, near the Pantheon. On her feast day every year they open the small doors under the high altar to allow devotees to access her marble tomb directly. After the liturgy, we were also able to get into the chapel built from the rooms in which St. Catherine lived her last years. (I ran into a couple friends at the church, one of whom, John Paul, took the photos I used for this blog. More can be found at his, Orbis Catholicvs Secvndvs)

Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the Brazilian Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy presided at a solemn vespers and Eucharist to commemorate the saint, with about forty Dominican friars, an equal number of sisters, and a handful of tertiaries, in attendance. It was an interesting liturgical experience in the fact that we started with the procession, went into the first half of vespers, after the psalms came the Gloria and the penitential rite followed by the rest of the Eucharist, only to return to the vespers canticle and the rest of that liturgy following the final blessing of the mass.

Vimpere (left), Deacons (center)

Cardinal Hummes presents a good example of the way lines are drawn differently in Rome than it often seems in the States, and a reminder not to judge a book by its cover, or too quickly, if at all. Vested in scarlet, lace and a heavily embroidered Baroque “fiddleback” chasuble he was the very image of the popular style of the Tridentine era and the “extraordinary form” movement of today.  Dual deacons with matching Baroque dalmatics and vimpere donned in vimp veils embroidered with the cardinalatial coat of arms reinforced the image of a very Roman prince of the church.

Cardinal Hummes is not his predecessor, however. Ordained a presbyter before the Council, he finished a doctorate in philosophy, in Rome, just as Vatican II was getting interesting. A Franciscan, he continued studies at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey and has been known for his support of social justice, liberation theology, and being open about the theoretical possibility of doing away with mandatory clerical celibacy.

This is not the combination that comes easily to mind for most of my fellow North American Catholics, I think it is safe to say: “traditional” liturgical garb and “progressive” theological/ecclesiological tendencies!

The homily, I am sure, would be interesting… but I have not found a translation yet. In the mean time, blessed feast of Catherine to you!

Theologian of the Papal Household

His study has a view of a small courtyard where the papal guillotine once stood, and where a pillar likely used for the flogging of heretics and criminals can still be seen. The corridor leading from his office is lined with Roman tombstones, and the Swiss Guard are omnipresent with full regalia and halberds. Once known as the Master of the Sacred Palace, the Theologian of the Papal Household has four large paintings in his room each depicting miniature portraits of his nearly 100 predecessors (all Dominicans), starting with St. Dominic himself.

Fr. Wojciech Giertych, OP, Theologian of the Papal Household

Fr. Wojciech Giertych, OP was appointed in December of 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI, and is just beginning his fifth of a five-year term of office. A Polish Dominican born and raised in London, he describes himself as a true “prisoner of the Vatican”, albeit in a gilded cage. Outspoken, jovial, and unafraid to tell it how it is, Fr. Giertych shared with the lay centre residents his thoughts on Thomas, on theology and philosophy, the vocation of the laity, the challenge of contemporary religious life, contemporary challenges arising from the “crisis of 1968” (not Vatican II, note) including relativism, and the practical life of a Vatican officer.

One might be inclined to ask, “Why does the pope need a theologian?” especially a pope like Benedict, the first theologian to be elected pope in a couple centuries. Traditionally, there were three duties ascribed to the office: Offering theological instruction to the papal court (back when most of the court were not monsignori with doctorates in theology, philosophy, or canon law), reviewing any theological books published in Rome, and vetting the papal addresses (especially important at a time when most popes were politicians, warriors, or, worse, nobility).

Now, this means reviewing the drafts of papal allocutions drafted by the staff of Vatican speech writers, though he is neither the first nor the last word on the matter. And, Fr. Wojtech points out, his role is to examine theological content and look for phrases that could be misunderstood, especially by mass media – not to judge the prudence of an address (questions around Regensburg were raised). The most interesting papal addresses are the ones he does not see – those that the pope prepares personally: in Benedict’s case, his encyclicals, major homilies, and annual advent address to the Roman Curia. Given how much is written for the pope, it is like having a graduate seminar with Professor Ratzinger almost every day – even if the personal meetings are less often.

Occasionally the various dicasteries in the curia ask him for theological input on a document, and he serves as consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In one of the oldest continuously operating bureaucracies on the planet, he’s one man serving in an office consisting of only himself. It can be hard to tell what effect his work is having without the constant interaction of peers. This touches on one of the challenges for a friar used to life in community, used to working and living in constant contact and consultation with other people, now working in a more solitary position.

He did get invited to lunch with the pope, once. It is fairly common knowledge that Pope Benedict normally prefers to eat alone or with the sisters who prepare his meals – understandable for an introvert in an intensely public office! However, when a film crew came in to film a “day in the life of the pope”  for international TV consumption, it happened that the Holy Father would be seen having a ‘working lunch’ with three members of the papal family, including, as it happens, Fr. Giertych. (“A great, open conversation. We three had wine, while the pope had juice”) As it was viewed around the world, some cardinals expressed how lucky our Friar Preacher was – even they had never had lunch with the pope!

“Never mix theology and philosophy, because philosophy always wins.” Despite the irony of such a statement from a Thomist, or perhaps because of it, this comment alone sparked a conversation that continued with some of us well after Fr. Wojciech left for the evening. While philosophy – in the broad sense of all the ‘sciences’ and other disciplines – can serve the church and our study of theology, they should never be confused as if they are theology, or as if the revelation of the Word should be judged according to the criterion of philosophy, politics, or social sciences. When this happens you end up getting the problems that, for him, have stemmed especially from 1968, and include the identification of the faith with one political party (‘as a good Catholic you must vote for candidate X or party Y’), the revision of the life of faith to fit in with what people expect from other fields, and end up with relativism (‘there may be a Truth, but we can’t know the Truth, so you have your truth and I have my truth’).

The conversation got really interesting as we delved into the vocation, identity, and relationships of the laity, clergy, and religious. Religious should be visible in the world, and laity should be “discreet” (leaven in the world, to use another phrase) – and we have had trouble with religious being more like laity and laity being more like religious. Specifcally, he noted some religious orders without habits of any kind (“it doesn’t matter what kind: a modern habit or a medieval habit or a 19th century habit”) living in apartments where you can hardly find them, or some of the lay movements whose first order of business seems to be deciding what kind of habit to design – and the more medieval the better!

When I asked about lay people serving in ministry positions, his response was about people wanting to be the lector all the time, or spend all their time helping at the church because something is amiss in their real life or they do not understand that the primary lay ministry is in the world, not collecting money at mass or something, “don’t spend your life holding on to the sacristy door”. But what about lay people serving the church in a paid, full time manner? Even the Roman curia has lay ministers in its employ?

“Well, of course the church will always need administrative personnel, computer technicians, finance experts, people to manage the facilities – especially in places where the church is burdened with such institutions as schools and hospitals”. Pastors should not be “running the plant”, but should be engaged in sacramental and pastoral ministry. But even this was more about ‘secular’ jobs that one could do for the church or for another entity, not so much ecclesial vocations; we tried a different track: We are here in Rome, studying at pontifical universities, to get ecclesiastical degrees – what would he expect for us to do with them?

“We have a saying in Poland: man cannot live on theology alone!” As a lay person you should be thinking of making a living, to support a family, you cannot do this with a theology degree. You cannot come from a degree and demand a job from the bishop – he may not have the money. [Can you imagine anyone demanding a job from a bishop???] We need the people (mentioned above) to be theologically trained, but it should be a secondary to your primary education. He shared his experience fromPoland, where a degree is a civil, legal contract – maybe in that system there is a “demand” to be employed in the field. But he wondered most people studying in Poland for theology degrees should have instead been studying harder subjects like medicine or law, but admitted that each country is different: “We have 100 friars living at the monastery in Krakow, 14 masses a day, confessions with two-hour waiting lines” and no experience of a non-ordained person devoting their life to the church outside of a religious community.

 “I’d rather see thirty ‘normal’ people give one hour a week, than to pay one person for thirty hours a week, if that person does not have the best formation…” But, he admits he may be wrong as he quoted the Dominican Cardinal Yves Congar, who wrote after being dragged to Rome to be questioned in the 1950’s, wrote in his journals “I may be getting the answers wrong, but these are real questions – and that’s what enervates these people here in Rome!” He was asking questions about the laity and ministry and looking to scripture and the patristic sources for answers. We have to keep asking these real questions, even if it takes time to get the right answers; that is better than ignoring the problems!

Unusual garb

Distinctive garb of the Heralds of Christ lay institute

Distinctive garb of the Heralds of the Gospel lay institute

When i mentioned in an earlier post that virtually everyone in Rome has a uniform and/or title, including most of the laity, i was not kidding. (Though, about the “Almost Reverend” i was kidding. Mostly.)

The Heralds of the Gospel are one of the many new lay movements in the church, not a religious order but an “international association of pontifical right” (like Cursillo, or the Militia Immaculata). They have a very distinctive “habit”, which i first encountered on the steps of the Angelicum. I undertand, too, that “habit” is reserved for members of religious orders -and by some accounts, really even more restricted to members of monastic orders only- but the distinctive “uniform” for other forms of religious, consecrated, ecclesiastical or lay life are generally refered to only as “unusual garb”.

We also found some official clerical sandals by Birkenstock at one of the ecclesiastical shopping centers. Fairly reasonably priced, too. Just in case you’re in the market…

Last, but not least, i am told that the Caribinieri (ubiquitus military police) uniforms are designed by Armani. I have seen the officers driving department-issue BMW’s too. Carl: forget the US Border Patrol, come to Italy!

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