Volume > Issue > Clerics & Curates: Who Needs Them?

Clerics & Curates: Who Needs Them?


By Kenneth Colston | June 2018
Kenneth Colston, a retired teacher of languages, resides in St. Louis. His articles on literature have appeared recently in Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, Saint Austin Review, The New Criterion, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Crisis, and First Things.

What good is organized religion? Or, better yet, what good is a church? Why all that fuss and rigmarole? Who is anybody in a funny robe to tell me what to do with my spiritual life? At times, even Pope Francis seems to hold back an answer; his frequent critiques of “clericalism” could be construed as a statement against hierarchy, his commission on deaconesses a challenge to the dogma of male-only ordination. Martin Luther and Vatican II both emphasized the priesthood of all believers. What need have we then for presbyters?

Pope Pius XI, in Ad Catholici Sacerdotii (1935), explained that the priest is, in fact, natural to any flourishing society:

The human race has always felt the need of a priesthood: of men, that is, who have the official charge to be mediators between God and humanity, men who should consecrate themselves entirely to this mediation, as to the very purpose of their lives, men set aside to offer to God public prayers and sacrifices in the name of human society. For human society as such is bound to offer to God public and social worship. It is bound to acknowledge in Him its Supreme Lord and first beginning, and to strive toward Him as to its last end, to give Him thanks and offer Him propitiation. In fact, priests are to be found among all peoples whose customs are known, except those compelled by violence to act against the most sacred laws of human nature.

Modern societies have been dispensing with mediators of prayer and sacrifice by relegating prayer to the private zone (or dismissing it altogether) and demanding sacrifice only for the state. An argument from precedent or natural law is unconvincing now; indeed, the notion of a public religion shared by a community, particularly in the West, threatens the regnant liberal sensibility that cultivates tolerance and, it is argued, the establishment clause in the U.S. Constitution.

Pius XI emphasized “the work of the altar” and the other sacraments, by which “the priest accompanies the Christian throughout the pilgrimage of this life to the gates of Heaven.” In addition, the Holy Father continued, “The Catholic priest is minister of Christ and dispenser of the mysteries of God in another way, that is, by his words.” It is “by means of her priests” that the Church “pours out the treasures of heavenly truth,” first and foremost of which is the “mustard seed of the Gospel.”

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