[UPDATE: Please see Fr Dwight’s comment below. Given Fr Dwight’s expression of good faith, including additional clarification in his original blog, I have removed the corresponding sentences from my original critique.]
When Martin Luther and early Protestant Reformers set about reforming Christianity, the first thing they did was de-emphasize both the Eucharist and the sacramental priesthood. Priests became preachers. Fiery sermons replaced celebration of the Eucharist as the focal point of public worship.”Thus it is not the stones, the construction, and the gorgeous silver and gold that make a church beautiful and holy; it is the Word of God and sound preaching,” Luther states.
I was reminded of this while reading Fr Dwight Longnecker’s recent recent blog advocating “the return of the warrior priest.” Fr Dwight, as many readers are aware, is a convert from Anglicanism who previously studied at Bob Jones University. BJU is probably America’s most well-known Protestant Fundamentalist post-secondary institution. There are a number of parallels between Fr Dwight’s conversion and my own–in fact, one can read our conversion stories back-to-back in Pat Madrid’s Surprised by Truth 3.
Speaking of so-called warrior priests, Fr. Dwight writes:
The problem of the dearth of vocations, therefore, is a crisis at the very root of the church. It is a crisis of identity. Too many in the Catholic Church have forgotten that the church is first and foremost supposed to do on earth what Jesus did when he was here: to preach the truth, to take dominion over Satan, to heal the sick and forgive sins. Helping people, being nice, getting involved politically, feeding the hungry–all that is important, but it is the result of the primary mission, not the primary mission itself.
[While I still question the militarization of the priesthood and of prayer popular in current American Catholicism, I appreciate Fr Dwight’s following clarification below:
At the heart of the power of prayer, of course, is the greatest prayer of the church The Holy Eucharist. It is through the celebration of this mystery as well as the ministry of reconciliation that the Warrior Priest accomplishes wields his unique and most powerful weapon against Satan. This will actually be the heart of the new book I am working on The Return of the Warrior Priest.
Therefore I have withdrawn my original criticism that Fr Dwight’s warrior priest is disconnected from the Eucharist.]
As noted in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Eucharistic liturgy is both the source and summit of the Church’s spiritual life and mission. The significance of Eucharistic liturgy as source and summit is explained as follows in Sacrosanctum Concilium‘s paragraph 10:
[The] liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s supper.
The liturgy in its turn moves the faithful, filled with “the paschal sacraments,” to be “one in holiness”; it prays that “they may hold fast in their lives to what they have grasped by their faith”; the renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful into the compelling love of Christ and sets them on fire. From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, as from a font, grace is poured forth upon us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their end, is achieved in the most efficacious possible way.
This centrality of Eucharistic liturgy to the Church and the priesthood is not unique to Catholicism. In fact, it is a Tradition we as Catholics share with the Eastern Orthodox, the Oriental Orthodox, and the Assyrian Church of the East. That is, Eucharistic liturgy is the source and summit of the spiritual activity of every Christian Church whose sacramental priesthood is recognized as valid by the Catholic Church. Here I am reminded of the following aphorism taught by St John Paul II: “the Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist.”
For this reason, liturgy and Eucharist are central to the sacramental priesthood’s identity in Christ. Here one would do well to consider the following words of Pope Paul VI, under whose pontificate most of the Second Vatican Council took place, from Mysterium Fidei (par 33):
We recommend from a paternal and solicitous heart that priests, who constitute Our greatest joy and Our crown in the Lord, be mindful of the power they have received from the bishop who ordained them—the power of offering sacrifice to God and of celebrating Mass for the living and for the dead in the name of the Lord. (79) We recommend that they celebrate Mass daily in a worthy and devout fashion, so that they themselves and the rest of the faithful may enjoy the benefits that flow in such abundance from the Sacrifice of the Cross. In doing so, they will also be making a great contribution toward the salvation of mankind.
Preaching the Word of God is not unimportant. Nor is feeding the poor, visiting the sick, or blessed objects for prayerful use by laity. Yet what truly distinguishes priest from deacon within the call to holy orders is the power of consecration. Thus Pope Paul VI rightly asks priests to be mindful of their power to consecrate the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ while offering Divine Liturgy (or Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as my Latin brothers and sisters would term it.)
Moreover, liturgical education of clergy is identified in Sacrosanctum Concilium (par 14) as a prime need of the Church. Likewise, par 15 establishes that liturgical and sacramental theology are central to Catholic seminary formation, stating:
The study of sacred liturgy is to be ranked among the compulsory and major courses in seminaries and religious houses of studies; in theological faculties it is to rank among the principal courses. It is to be taught under its theological, historical, spiritual, pastoral, and juridical aspects. Moreover, other professors, while striving to expound the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation from the angle proper to each of their own subjects, must nevertheless do so in a way which will clearly bring out the connection between their subjects and the liturgy, as also the unity which underlies all priestly training. This consideration is especially important for professors of dogmatic, spiritual, and pastoral theology and for those of holy scripture.
This makes sense from a Catholic perspective. In fact, it also makes sense from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. Within our common East-West Apostolic Tradition, Eucharist liturgy is the convergence point of all other areas of theology and spirituality. After all, it is through the transubstantiation of the Sacred Species that the resurrected Christ is made present within our worshipping community, breaking down the barrier between time, space, and eternity. That is, our act of worship here on earth makes present the Heavenly Liturgy of Eternity.
Thus what is needed in the Church today is not warrior priests, but worshipping priests. That is, priests who recognize the Eucharistic celebration as the source and summit of their priesthood.
Pete Vere is a canonist, author, and catechist. His books include Surprised by Canon Law (volumes 1 & 2), More Catholic Than The Pope, and Annulments: 100 Questions and Answers. Pete and wife Sonya are blessed with seven children. In his spare time Pete enjoys camping with his family, riding his Indian Scout motorcycle, and refereeing professional wrestling.