We were privileged to see the “smoke boat” or Botafumeiro in action today after Mass. The botafumeiro is the world’s largest incense thurible. It hangs from the ceiling of the Cathedral of Saint James and takes about 5 grown men to swing it through the cathedral. It’s quite the sight.
In this podcast I explain the epic botafumeiro. As promised, in the the podcast I include my video footage of the botafumeiro in action.
I recently learned from Deacon Greg Kandra that Our Lady of Providence Seminary of of the Diocese of Providence Rhode Island has zero new seminarians:
Over the past five years, between two and six men have entered the seminary every fall but that’s not the case this year.
“Entering the fall we don’t have any new seminarians applying for the Diocese of Providence, which is rare,” Fr. Chris Murphy, the Catholic Diocese of Providence’s assistant vocation director, said Tuesday.
“I cannot remember in recent memory when the last time was,” he added. A look back at the numbers shows a declining trend. Five men entered the seminary in 2012 and six entered in 2013, then the numbers drop to three, two and four in the years that followed.
Over the years, whenever the “priestly shortage” comes up in conversation, someone is quick to reply with some encouragement like this: “Oh yes, but we have so many young orthodox vocations! Things will change in a few years!”
I agree with this encouraging fact: We have some great seminarians! I’ve personally taught Catholic seminarians in America and in Rome and I can confirm that there are some dynamic, orthodox, and impressive seminarians moving into the sacerdotal pipeline.
But I am also aware of a gaping problem that hardly anyone mentions. The seminarian numbers are not there. We are about to fall off a demographic cliff of priestly vocations.
Yes, an impressive seminarian or deacon-seminarian visits your parish during the summer and does fantastic work.
Yes, you see lots of faces on the “Meet our Seminarians” color poster in the narthex after Mass.
Yes, you’re bishop announces yet another round of ordinations this year.
Praise God! I rejoice in all of it…but still…the numbers are lacking. Let’s take a look at priestly demographics:
For priests, we need to pray for quality and quantity:
Here is table of the number of priests in the USA from 1930 to 2015:
The number of priests exploded in 1950 (partly through migration) and peaked out in 1970. After 1975, you see a slow but steady decrease in the number of priests until the decline becomes steep around 1990.
More troubling is the fact that the tsunami of priests ordained from 1970-1980, will be reaching retirement age between the years 2015-2025 (age 25 + 45 years of service = retirement age 70).
Discovering the 1 Priest to every Catholic Ratio:
We have already begun to feel the scarcity of priests and you’ll understand why when you examine the numbers in light of the ratio of priest per Catholics. Check out these numbers:
In 1950, there was 1 priest to every 652 Catholics in the United States.
In 2010, there was 1 priest to every 1,653 Catholics in the United States.
In 2016, there was 1 priest to every 1,843 Catholics in the United States.
A numeric study shows that the tipping point in the USA happened around the year 1983. This is when our priest/Catholics ratio began to tank:
When it comes to priest/Catholics ratio, our priestly manpower is 33% of what it was 1950. Meanwhile there millions more lay Catholics in the pews.
And depending on the city, the ratio can be much worse. Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles have pretty discouraging ratios, but none are hurting as badly as my neighboring diocese of Dallas:
Diocese of Dallas: 1 priest to every 6,229 Catholics.
Diocese of Los Angeles: 1 priest to every 3,931 Catholics.
Diocese of New York: 1 priest to every 2,055 Catholics.
Diocese of Chicago: 1 priest to every 1,624 Catholics.
Meanwhile there are model dioceses that have wonderful ratios that beat even the 1950 national ratio:
Diocese of Lincoln: 1 priest to every 598 Catholics.
And the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP), which offers the Latin Mass from the 1962 Missale Romanum currently has this ratio in its parishes:
FSSP: 1 priest to every 250 Catholics.
Vocation Decrease among the Jesuits
Compare the growth of the FSSP to that of the global membership of the Society of Jesus:
In 1977, the Jesuits had 28,038 members.
In 2016, the Jesuits had 16,378 members.
The Jesuits have declined 41.5% since 1977. The average age of a Jesuit priest in 2018 is 63.4 years old. Considering that mandatory priestly retirement is age 70, this does not look good for the Jesuits. They will decline by more than 50% in the coming decade. If things don’t change, there will be less than 10,000 Jesuits on earth in the next few years.
[For reference, there are 6,058 (male and female) Dominicans on planet earth in 2018. That’s the size of three Texas high schools.]
Sad but True (plus some Hope):
It is true that we have many great young men in formation to be holy Catholic priests. I’ve spent hours talking with them after class and I know that we will have an excellent crop. The sad news is that it is small crop. A priest is only one man and if you spread him over 3 parishes, he will be less effective.
My prediction is that we will see a great Catholic migration over the next three decades. As that surge of vocations from 1970-1980 begins to retire and depart to their reward, we will see massive parish closings and consolidations. Priests will be rare. It is already obvious that bishops and dioceses like Lincoln Nebraska attract vocations to the holy priesthood. These bishops and their dioceses will thrive. Meanwhile, dioceses like Providence will shrink while they try to import priests from other parts of the world.
The solution is to pray for vocations, but also beg the question:
Why does Lincoln, Nebraska have a plethora of vocations (1 priest to every 598 Catholics!) while others are not only short on vocations but losing priests year after year?
Is it liturgical?
Is it ethnic or based somehow on immigration?
Is it doctrinal?
What leads young men to inquire about a priestly vocation?
How do they organize their altar server programs?
Does youth ministry play a role or not?
How do pastors play a role?
To which seminaries does each diocese send seminarians?
How does seminarian retention rate differ from diocese to diocese?
How is the bishop involved in the vocation process?
If “coffee is for closers,” Bishop Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska is drinking Roman double espressos.1 priest to every 598 Catholics. Someone should study the vocations process in place under Bishop Conley of Lincoln.
My personal acquaintance with Bishop Conley (he helped guide me into the Catholic Church in 2006) is that he is orthodox, Thomistic, dignified, fatherly, and favors the template of Ratzinger’s “Spirit of the Liturgy.” And if I’m honest, every single impressive seminarian that I meet…is shaped from the same mold. Like begets like. Like father, like son.
And even if you aren’t on board with the template of “orthodox, Thomistic, dignified, fatherly, Spirit of the Liturgy,” the numbers don’t lie.
Pray for holy bishops, holy priests, and holy seminarians!
Question: How is your part of the world doing with priestly vocations? What makes for a good seminarian? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Join Dr Taylor Marshall this week as he explains why Thomas Aquinas thought animal and bird flesh caused a higher human sexual libido and how it relates to our customs for fasting and abstinence during Lent. Believe it or not, what Saint Thomas says in the 1200s about diet is actually confirmed by testosterone studies in our time.
We also look Eastern Catholic Church Bible translations AND the demonic sexual apparitions of the sucubus (female version) and incubus (male version) attested to by Augustine and Aquinas.
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I have been told that medieval Christians would ridicule the Islamic season of fasting called Ramadan as weak, effeminate, and easy when compared to the austere Christian season of fasting during Lent or Quadragesima.
The Catholic Church has decreased the austerity of Lent over the centuries so much that Islamic Ramadan now appears as more challenging than Lent. Let’s take a look at Ramadan compared to Medieval Lent.
Rules for Islamic Ramadan:
Duration? 29-30 days during the entire month of during the entire month of Ramadan.
Fasting rules? Fasting completely from the break of dawn until sunset:
food (zero calories and no food intake)
drink (including water)
Rules for Medieval Quadragesima or “Lent”:
Nota bene: I’m using the standards of the Roman Church. The Eastern Churches have had various disciplines by jurisdiction. For this article, we are focusing only on the Roman rules. Perhaps we’ll study the Eastern fasting rules in a future post.
Duration? 46 days. 40 Days plus 6 Sundays in the Roman Church.
Fasting rules? Medieval Lenten rules (as described Saint Thomas Aquinas) were as follows:
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday were black fasts: no food at all.
No food from waking until 3pm (the hour when Christ died). This practice of fasting till 3pm goes back to the 5th century (see Socrates’ Church History V.22).
No lacticinia or “dairy products”: milk, cheese, cream, and butter. However, Catholics of the British Isles before the arrival of Saint Augustine of Canterbury were still consuming dairy products and perhaps eggs during Lent. Roman influence brought this to an end.
Wine and beer were allowed.
Medieval Europeans during Lent subsisted on bread, vegetables, and salt.
No sexual intercourse between spouses. Pagan kings were pretty pissed to learn about this after they married hot Catholic princesses.
No Sundays off. All these rules apply for 46 days. The 6 Sundays in Lent were relaxed liturgically (less penitential), but the fasting and abstinence were not relaxed on Sundays.
For the Good Friday black fast, many would begin fast from Maundy Thursday night till about noon on Saturday. The Easter Vigil was usually celebrated about noon on Saturday and this ended the Lenten fasting officially.
Was it Changed?
Breaking the no food fast before 3pm began to creep in as early as AD 800. The reason we English speakers call 12pm “noon” is because the liturgical recitation of nones (“ninth hour” or 3pm in Latin) was moved up by hungry monks more and more until nones (3pm) was celebrated as early as 12pm so that they could break fast and eat lunch!)
In Germany, dispensations were given for consuming lacticinia or dairy products based on payment or performing good deeds. In honesty, wealthy people simply paid a fee to the diocese, and were allowed to serve and eat dairy in their homes during Lent. It was a popular “fundraising technique” by (German!) bishops.
Dinner snacks were allowed at the time of reading Cassians book Collationes and so this snack became known as a “collation” – the term we still use today for a snack during fasting.
With the advent of tea and coffee, it became allowable to have tea or coffee in the morning and this was considered as not violating the fast before nones.
Over time, papal indults allowed meat on Sundays and then to other days of the week until only Friday remained “meatless.”
Pope Paul VI’s 1966 Apostolic Constitution of Paenitemini changed Lenten practice to what it is today:
No meat (only fish) allowed on Fridays in Lent.
1 meal and 2 collations (snacks) allowed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Ramadan vs Medieval Lent:
Both have no food at all until 3pm (Catholic) or sundown (Muslim).
Both have no sex allowed at all, but the Muslim is allowed at night.
Only the Catholic is restricted on kinds of food (no meat, dairy, eggs), whereas the Muslim can eat steak every night.
Muslims may not drink even water during the daylight, but Christians may.
Conclusion: Medieval Christians were Tough
For the Medieval Christian, he would have seen the chief difference between Lent and Ramadan as the Muslims having a “reset” every single night with refreshment with food and sex every 24 hours. Whereas the Christian had to wait until Easter. The Muslim had daily sprints. The Medieval Christian had a marathon that ended on Easter.
It became quite stylish in the liturgical reforms of the 1960s and 1970s to teach that the Greek word for liturgy is λειτουργία (leitourgia) and that this word means “work of the people.” This led to the new idea that λειτουργία or “liturgy” is something that lay people should be leading and even performing within the context of worship.
Does λειτουργία mean “work of the people”? No.
Photo: Pope John XXIII Celebrating the Eastern Divine Liturgy
Liturgy certainly does not mean “work of the people,” and I’ll show you why from examples in Sacred Scripture. But before looking at Scripture, let’s look at the actual Greek word:
The Word “Liturgy” in Greek
λειτουργία, like so many words in Greek, is a composite. The first word half of the word derives form the Greek word “laos” meaning “people.” (There is also the variation of “leos” which is the Attic Greek version of the same word for “people.”) This word “laos” (or “leos” in Attic) is where we get laity and laypeople. It’s a generic word for a collection of people. The Greek name Menelaos means “withstanding the people” and the Greek name Nikolaos means “conquering the people.”
The second part of the word derives from the Greek word “ergon” meaning “work,” as in ergonomic, energy, and synergy.
When you smash the two Greek words together to describe something you get: leitourgia or λειτουργία.
Does λειτουργία mean “work of the people” or “work for the people”?
So the term contains the two Greek words for “people” and “work,” but how do we arrange it for its meaning? On one hand, it could be “work of the people,” meaning something the people work out together. On the other hand, it could be “work for the people,” meaning something done for the benefit of the people.
Option 1: Liturgy as “Work of the People”
The kumbaya (Elvis liturgy) crowd of the 1960s and 1970s insisted that it was former – something people work out when they come together. This led to the idea that lay people should lead prayers, read the lessons, prepare the altar, handle chalices, handle the Eucharist, distribute the Eucharist, bless people in the Communion line, and cleanse the vessels. After all, if liturgy means “work of the people,” then the people ought to be up there doing active work.
Option 2: Liturgy as “Work Done for the People”:
The historical, traditional, and received definition of liturgy or λειτουργία is that it is something done by one for the sake of the people. This may come as a crushing blow to the legions of Christians who were taught that liturgy was the “work of the people,” but it’s the plain truth. In Plato and other Greek authors, λειτουργία is something done by one for the sake of the people. Consequently, the Greek term is usually a priestly or political term depending on the context. And in the Bible, it is usually a priestly term, but we will examine one passage in Romans that is expressly political:
Let’s look at Sacred Scripture to settle the debate:
In the account of the birth of John the Baptist, we discover that his father Zacharias is an Aaronic priest of the tribe of Levi. As such, he serves in the Temple as a priest when it is the time of his allotment. [I explain elsewhere how this detail leads us to know that Christ as born in late December.] The passage explains that St Zacharias goes to the Temple to minister and the original Greek word is that he goes there to do liturgy:
And when his time of service (λειτουργίας) was ended, he went to his home. (Luke 1:23)
Did Zacharias gather a bunch of people to worship the Lord? No, the passage explains that his duty was to go into the Temple and offer incense to Yahweh. He did this to ceremoniously present the prayers of the people to God. It becomes obvious that his “liturgy” was something he did as a priest for the benefit of the people, not something he did as a priest with other people present.
Let’s look at another example from Hebrews:
And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship (λειτουργίας). (Heb 9:22)
This is a description of how Moses consecrated the tabernacle and vessels for divine worship in the Old Testament. The tent/tabernacle and the vessels could only be handled and used by the Levites, as they administered them for the benefit of Israel. Once again we see that λειτουργία refers to what is done by a priestly class on behalf of the laity.
The Liturgy of Christ as for the people:
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry (λειτουργίας) which is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Heb 8:6)
The author describes Christ as a High Priest who now administers a better New Covenant through a better λειτουργία or Liturgy. Once again, this λειτουργία is something Christ is administering on our behalf for our salvation. Notably it is His presentation of His Body and Blood to the Father for our redemption – something that is presented in every Liturgy of the Mass.
Roman Emperor as Liturgizer:
And let’s not forget that Saint Paul calls the evil Emperor Nero a “liturgizer.” In Romans 13, Saint Paul explains how the Roman Emperor (at that time Nero) and all political rulers are “liturgizers””
3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant (διάκονός or diakonos) of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers (λειτουργοὶ or leitourgoi) of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
Saint Paul identifies the Emperor as διάκονός or deacon and as all rulers as λειτουργοὶ or liturgizers. Be mindful that this Emperor was Nero, and yet he receives sacerdotal titles from Paul.
In fact, the dalmatic (which is worn by deacons) is an imperial garment traditionally reserved for the Byzantine court. I cannot find the source at the moment, but I recall reading once that Constantine was allowed to read Scripture in liturgy while still unbaptized because he was considered to be a quasi-deacon by virtue of his status as Emperor. And the Emperor in Constantinople processed with the Patriarch and the clergy, often in a dalmatic.
Back to “liturgy” in Romans 13. It’s manifest that the Roman Emperor and other Roman rulers are accorded the title of λειτουργοὶ. They are not liturgists designing services. Nero isn’t leading the people in “Gather us in, the rich and the haughty.” Rather these Roman rulers are, according to Paul, appointed by God to administer justice for the people.
Liturgy as Something Done for People
Liturgy, at least in the Old and New Testament is something priestly or political that is done for the sake of the people. It is communal only in that it is done for others.
A priest saying the Mass alone in a Russian hotel room is doing “work for the people” without anyone else gathered together with him.
Likewise, the Pope gathered at a Mass of 10,000 people is doing “work for the people,” but the people being present doesn’t make it “liturgy.” The liturgy is accomplished in persona Christi for the people. Just as Zacharias was able to do “liturgy” all alone with his thurible in the Temple.
When Christ died on the cross, He administered a new λειτουργία for the people of the world. It was a liturgical act in which nobody participated by dancing, performing, reading from a book, or carrying a vessel. The truly “active participation” was accomplished by the Mother of God, Saint Mary Magdalene, the other women, and by the Apostle John when they lifted up their hearts to the divine Crucified Rabbi on the cross. They painfully and silently received the bloody λειτουργία of Christ on their behalf.
The time has come for us to understand liturgy as sacerdotal and as something done by Christ for His people. Cardinal Sarah summed this up recently with these words:
Liturgy is about God and His work for His people. Whoever tells us that we must celebrate ourselves in the liturgy is undermining biblical liturgy. Liturgy as “work of the people” is liturgical Pelagianism – the heresy that says that man can naturally work for his salvation.
If you’d like to learn about Sacramental Theology and earn your Certificate in Catholic Theology along the way, please join us at the New Saint Thomas Institute. We have a 2 part video on the “Mystical Meanings of the Mass according to Thomas Aquinas” waiting for you:
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I’m sorry that I have not been posting articles for the last two weeks. I’ve been teaching a class in Rome to Seminarians called “The History and Theology of Rome” (based on The Eternal City) and it has been a rich blessing.
Since I have not been posting theology articles, I’ve been posting a stream of photos and videos. For example, here is a video of the bishops and cardinals processing with the Holy Eucharist for the feast of Corpus Christi:
I clicked on his profile and saw that his title is Vader Johannes. Vader. You know, as in Darth Vader.
I have long known that Vader means “father.” That’s the hook in The Empire Strikes Back: Darth Vader is the “dark father” of Luke.
Yet somehow it never registered with me that those black cassock-wearing priests in Holland would be affectionately called “Vader” by the faithful. Super cool.
So here are some various titles for priest in various languages. I do this to celebrate the 46th nation now represented in the New Saint Thomas Institute for theological studies:
Titles for Catholic Clergy in Various Languages:
Shénfù. Mandarin Chinese refers to Catholic priests with the title “Spirit Father” or shénfù (神父). I was a (Protestant) missionary for a summer in college and I love learning more about Christianity in China. One name for “Catholicism” in Chinese is gongjiào (公教) meaning “universal teaching.”
Shinpu. The Japanese title for a priest. Similar to Chinese. It also means “spirit father.”
Abouna. Syriac or Aramaic for “our father,” as used by Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian Christians (and the Maronites).
Bathyushka. The Russian title for Orthodox priests, meaning “father.” Incidentally, the wives of Russian Orthodox priests also have a title: Matushka, meaning “mother.”
Cha. Vietnamese for “Father.”
Dom. This is actually a shortened version of the Latin Dominus meaning “Lord.” Dom is an honorific prefixed to the given name. It derives from the Latin Dominus. It’s used for Benedictines, Carthusians, and Canons Regular in English and French (eg. Dom Columba Marmion, O.S.B.). For Portuguese, it signifies a bishop.
Don. Italian and Spanish version “Dom.” Don can be used in writing and in direct address (e.g. Don Bosco). You see this among monastics, but Opus Dei (Spanish in origin) also often refers to their Prelate as Don Avlaro or Don Javier. It’s not by any means restricted to clergy. Don is an honorific in all Spanish cultures. Don Juan of Austria is a notable example.
Sagart or Sacart. Irish or Old Gaeilge corruption of the Latin word for priest: sacerdos.
Athair. Irish address for “Father.”
Monsignore. Italian for “my lord.” The final “e” is often dropped. In Romance languages, it’s used to denote bishops, but in English it is restricted to presbyteral Prelates or Chaplains to His Holiness.
Otets. Ukrainian priest is usually addressed as “otets'” (отець), father, and his wife- dobro`dyjka, literally, “one who is doing good deeds” or “benefactress.”
Ojciec. Polish. When addressing a priest (vocative), it is Ojcze.
Padre. Corruption of Latin Pater. Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian for “Father.” It Italy, “Padre” is for mendicant religious priests (e.g. Padre Pio) and “Don” is for diocesan priests (e.g. Don Bosco).
Pappa. In Greek towns, priests are called Pappa, which means “daddy.” Our Latin Papa or Pope is the same word. I suppose each Greek Orthodox priest is papal in his own town.
Părinte. Romanian for “parent” or “begetter.” Corruption of the Latin Parens. There is a Romanian word for “Father” but Părinte is used instead. Romanian Christians address their priests with: “Sfinția Voastră” or “Your holiness” (“Your” in Romanian actually being a “pluralis majestatis”). Sfinția coming from the Latin word sanctitas meaning “holiness.”
Père. French corruption of the Latin Pater meaning “father.”
Abbé. A member of the French secular clergy in major or minor orders. It derives from the Aramaic “Abba” meaning “father.”
Romo. Indonesian for “Father.”
Vader. Dutch for “Father.”
Vater. German for “Father.”
Question: Do you know of more priest titles in other languages. Please leave a comment below and I’ll add them to the list. You can leave a comment by clicking here.
For years I was confused by Saint Matthew’s description about Palm Sunday: we read that Christ rode a female donkey and her baby colt.
However, in Mark, Luke, and John, we read that Christ rode a donkey without any mention of the her colt. For some reason, I had imagined that Christ rode the she-donkey and the little colt at the same time – wide straddling both. This seems ridiculous, but I didn’t know how else to visualize what Matthew was describing.
I finally found clarity while reading Cornelius a Lapide’s commentary on the passage. According to Lapide, Christ first rode the ass up and down the mount and then transferred and rode the colt into the city.
There is a practical reason for this. The she-ass would be stronger and more able to go up and down the terrain. Next, the colt would be able to bring him into the city easily.
Yet there is a mystical signification is this as well. The she-ass and her colt signify “the two sorts of people of which the world is made up—the Jews, accustomed to the yoke of the Mosaic law, who were represented by the ass; and the Gentiles, living up to this time without the Law of God, and who were denoted by the colt.”
The she-ass represents Mother Israel who has been burdened with the Law of Moses. Saint Peter our first Pope described the Mosaic Law as “a yoke…which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10, D-R).
The young colt represents the new and untrained Gentiles – the wild olive branch that the Apostle describes as the Gentiles.
Christ our Lord rode both to signify that both the Jews and the Gentiles were called to be Christophoroi – Christ-bearers.
Question: Now it’s your turn: How did we carry “Christ to the world” in our age. What is the humble donkey or colt in our lives that communicates Christ’s Gospel to others? Please leave a comment. You can leave a comment by clicking here.