Back to the Future: Traditional Catholicism and the Next Generation of Priests
With frequent discussions about the shortage of priests in the Catholic Church today, it seemed like a good time to review recent statistics and anecdotal evidence which provides hope for the future.
For those of you who, like me, have a love for beautiful liturgy and the Traditional Latin Mass there is the success story of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. In case you are not familiar with the FSSP, they were formed by a “dozen priests and scores of seminarians” in the wake of Blessed John Paul II’s Motu proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta of July 2, 1988. From their mission statement:
The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter is a Clerical Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical right, that is, a community of Roman Catholic priests who do not take religious vows, but who work together for a common mission in the world. The mission of the Fraternity is two-fold: first, the formation and sanctification of priests in the cadre of the traditional liturgy of the Roman rite, and secondly, the pastoral deployment of the priests in the service of the Church.
With a presence in only 34 diocese in the United States, the Fraternity still boasts an impressive 80 plus seminarians in North America alone. On average the FSSP has ordained 12 priests per year since 2000, numbers which would be the envy of just about any diocese.
For the Catholic Church in America the total number of U.S. seminarians has reached levels not seen since the early 1990’s. Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reports over 3,700 graduate level seminarians in 2012. Additionally, many seminaries are experiencing enrollment levels not seen in the past 30-40 years. Both positive trends and cause for cautious optimism.
Where are many of these young men coming from?
Not surprisingly many of these seminarians are coming from traditionally minded Catholic dioceses and parishes. On a per capita basis the Diocese of Lincoln, NE has ranked at or near the top in the nation for its ratio of priests to faithful as well as seminarians to faithful.
Shepherded by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz from 1992-2012 the Lincoln diocese is known for actively supporting the Traditional Latin Mass (even before Summorum Pontificum), its refusal to permit girls to serve altar (which continues to this day) and a fierce commitment to orthodoxy among clergy and laity alike.
Back to the Future
Whether it is the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, the Diocese of Lincoln or my own diocese for that matter, there are some common practices which seem to facilitate increases in priestly vocations:
Love for beautiful liturgy. In the case of the Fraternity priests, the Holy Mass is exclusively offered in the Extraordinary Form.
Additionally, the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite does not allow for altar girls or Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, something that many traditionally minded parishes also carry over into the Ordinary Form of the Rite.
Prayer, specifically Eucharistic adoration, is always present in vocation rich Catholic communities.
Clear and unambiguous rejection of contraception. Preached from the ambo, lived by the faithful in the pews. A Catholic community that closes itself off to Life will always struggle for priestly vocations. That is much of the story of the vocation crisis of these past 40 years.
Finally, vocation rich Catholic communities love our priests! They are revered simply because they are priest. They are our fathers and our shepherds. We pray for them and they sacrifice for us.
We know that our Lord will not abandon His Church. It is our disobedience, not our Lord’s design, that has caused this vocations crisis. Let us cooperate with His will so that once again Holy Mother Church will have an abundance of priests to guide and serve the faithful. May we provide our young men a sacred silence, most of all during the Holy Mass, so that those who are being called by our Lord may hear His voice and respond.
St. John Mary Vianney, Patron Saint of parish priests, pray for us!