Monday, 21 June 2010

Commissioning the chief cook and bottle washer (or, doesn't baptism suffice?)

Among the suggestions for how parishes might prepare for and participate in the forthcoming visit of Pope Benedict to the UK is one about holding a service of commissioning, perhaps at the priniciple Mass on the Sunday before the visit or at an occasion specifically for that purpose, of those from the parish who are going to attend one of the events with Pope Benedict.
The parishioners who do attend a main event will do so as parish representatives. Perhaps pencil in a prayer and commissioning time during the Sunday Mass or on a week day preceding the Pope’s arrival? This will provide an opportunity for parish representatives to be sent to a Papal event with the love and prayer intentions of the whole parish. Attendees could in turn be invited to share their experiences (testimony) and photographs with parishioners the following Sunday.
What's the problem with "commissioning"?

As practised in parishes here in the UK, this usually involves one of two things. Either a lay person is being "commissioned" to take on a role as an "extraordinary" minister (ie to take on a task that properly belongs to the ordained ministry, but which they will take on to help out the ordained ministry) - in which case the "commissioning" is probably inappropriate because it gives the impression that this task is somehow proper to the lay state when in fact it isn't. Or a lay person is being "commissioned" to take on a responsibility that is proper to their lay state - in which case "commissioning" is probably inappopriate because the mission received by the lay faithful in baptism and confirmation is sufficient as the basis for the taking up of that task (this a big theme of Vatican II's thought on the lay apostolate).

In both of these cases, a lay person acts in unity with the parish priest and bishop, and perhaps "commissioning" has some meaning in that sense. But I can think of many a thing that I have done over the years in unity with a parish priest without it occuring to anyone to "commission" me to do it ...

So my first question about the suggestion of commissioning people to go to Papal events is: surely the mission received in baptism and confirmation suffices?

What's the problem with "parish representatives"?

The Successor of St Peter is the universal pastor of the Catholic Church, and the aspect of Pope Benedict's visit that is "pastoral" is an exercise of this office as universal pastor. One language for this office as universal pastor is to see it as a universal jurisdiction, though one that is exclusively ecclesial and not political. But this universal pastoral office is exercised in a relation to the local pastoral office of the bishop. It is events like the Year for Priests that has just ended, the Year of the Rosary and the Year of the Eucharist that best represent the way in which an exercise of a univeral pastoral office by the Pope (it is the Pope who called these different years of celebration into being) in a relation to the local pastoral office of the bishop (the years have been celebrated by events in the local dioceses) has come to take place.

In this sense, strictly pastoral rather than just juridical, every Catholic, by virtue of their communion with their parish/diocese and therefore the universal Church, can see themselves as being under the universal pastoral care of the Successor of St Peter. This doesn't mean that they can play off their love for the Pope over and against their Bishop - the two loyalties exist in a relation to each other. But it does mean that their being a part of the universal care of Pope Benedict when he comes to the UK in September is not something delegated to them by their parish or diocese - it is something that is proper to them simply as being a Catholic in communion with their parish/diocese and the Holy See.

Now, practical arrangements might well make it necessary for the events at which Pope Benedict is present to be all-ticket, and some way of allocating tickets more or less fairly to people is a consequence of that. Using dioceses and parishes as the structures through which to do that allocation is as likely to be as fair as any other way.

But I am afraid I do not buy into the premise underlying the idea of "commissioning" that those who are allocated tickets through their parish are therefore "representatives of the parish".

My second question about people being "commissioned" to attend Papal events is: aren't they going simply as Catholics - perhaps Catholics a bit more lucky than others - and isn't it their communion with the Catholic Church that suffices as their basis for going to be with the Pope?


Regardless of parish shenangins, I suspect that a lot of us who don't have tickets will in any case exercise our status as baptised and confirmed Catholics and simply go off to London on the Saturday to catch our glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI and to cause as much traffic chaos (totally peacefully, of course) as we can. I just dare Transport for London to try closing down most of the tube network on that particular day!


.... to any chief cooks and bottle washers to whom this post has given offence. Vitriolic comments (within reason) will be published and penance done (eventually)!

1 comment:

Patricius said...

I agree. Much as I am irritated by people constantly knocking our bishops I sometimes think that they have lost the plot as far as knowing where the ordinary Catholics of England and Wales are at. Will anyone at all be interested in their invented liturgies of "Commissioning" and the like? Yet give us something real like the relics of St Therese or the holy father in our midst and we will be there.