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"New model" Church in Ottawa?

Four articles on Liturgy

This month Catholic Insight offers two reflections on the liturgy as it seems to be evolving in certain places. Begining with Liturgy #1, the editor raises questions about the reasons why liturgical changes are taking place in the Archdiocese of Ottawa.

In Liturgy #2 Paul Kokoski reflects on the Archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony whose pastoral letter on the liturgy of the future presumes that priests will be a rarity in 2005.

Next month in Liturgy #3, we hear from Fr. Robert Bedard in "Models for the Church," in which he presents a different aspect of changes which have taken place since Vatican II from that entertained by the Los Angeles cardinal.

Then in Liturgy #4, our architectural commentator Nicholas Burn analyses the place of the tabernacle within the Church. The occasion for this reflection is once again a decree promulgated by the Archbishop of Ottawa in the summer of 2000.


The Ottawa Citizen of mid-December, 2000, reported Archbishop Marcel Gervais' decision that a growing shortage of francophone priests had made it necessary to appoint pastoral co-ordinators for four parishes in his diocese. It is time, he declared, for lay members and married deacons to play a greater role in the Church as part of ministry teams. "The issue is not just solving problems, but a new model of Church," he said. "We want to move away from the consumer model, where the priest supplies all the needs of consumers, to a model of participation."

Sr. Jeannine Gauthier, the Ottawa Citizen reports, has been working at the parish of Notre Dame de Lourdes in Vanier for four years. The parish priest recently died, and his assistant is on kidney dialysis. Sister is now responsible for the administration of the parish, and has been given permission to baptize, marry, and bury parishioners when no priest is available.

The Archbishop said that dioceses in Western Canada, Northern Ontario,. and parts of Quebec have been appointing lay members and nuns as administrators for several years. They cannot celebrate Mass, but they can conduct worship services. Fifty years ago, the Archbishop commented, all this would have been unthinkable, but today the diocese has had to hire a co-ordinator of training courses for the growing number of laypeople actively involved in their parishes. He also said it is time the Church "liberated priests from administrative work," so that they can devote themselves to a more spiritual ministry.

Because of the rapid growth of the city, the Archbishop said, it will soon be necessary to appoint lay people, nuns or permanent deacons as administrators of anglophone parishes as well.


Following conversations and correspondence which are documented, I have some observations. The key question which comes to mind here is to what extent the "new model" Church in Ottawa is the result of adaptations made necessary because of the shortage of priests, or how much of it reflects new theological/sociological ideas which diverge from the traditional and necessary theology of the priesthood and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

There are several other issues which intertwine, some of which are to be discussed next month in this journal or were touched upon already last year. One is the debate about church architecture: Is a church the house of God or the house for people? One further aspect of this question is the place of the tabernacle: Are we placing it in a side chapel out of sight, or should it remain in the main church visible to all? From there we go to the question: Should there be loud talk (Hi Joe, Hi Susan, as one pastor used to greet his parishioners loudly every Sunday morning going from pew to pew before Mass), or should there be a reverent silence before Mass begins?

With respect to Archbishop Gervais' "new model," I have the following observations.

What does 'consumer model' mean?

1. While a shortage of priests in some dioceses may indeed bring certain changes in years to come, suspicions about the motivation for the announced changes--and indeed the need for them--is aroused by the terminology employed.

What does the Ottawa Archbishop convey with the statement: "We want to move away from the consumer model, where the priest supplies all the needs of the consumers, to a model of participation?"

What kind of theology sees the parish in the form it has been known, let us say over the last 200 years, as a corner store, a market for "consumers"? This is the language employed by those who turn up their noses at what they call the "pre-Vatican Church," a language which is deeply derogatory and indeed an assault on the recent history of the Church. In December 2000 the Pope was given eight bound volumes with the names of 13,400 martyrs who have given their lives for Christ since January 1, 1900, not counting the hundreds of thousands who died anonymously. Is this the Church we want to get away from?

Whom are we liberating?

2. What is one to think of the statement that priests are to "be liberated from administrative duties." Normally, "administrative duties" refers to paperwork. But in this case it appears to include administering the sacraments, the very purpose for which priests are ordained.

Three sacraments, which cannot happen without a priest, are the celebration of the Eucharist and the forgiving of sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Sacrament of the Sick.

With respect to the latter, general absolution is a common practice in the Archdiocese of Ottawa. Aside from being contrary to Church norms repeated several times by the Vatican over the last few years, general absolution removes the priest from knowing the spiritual condition of his parishioners and, often enough, leaves the parishioner in his or her sins because of incomplete instructions or invalid use.

With respect to the Eucharist, to replace Mass with lay-led worship services in a big city with dozens and dozens of parishes is radically different from doing it in isolated one-church towns on the prairies or Newfoundland. There people may not be able to travel to another town. But in the city, with other Masses being celebrated a few blocks away, a "worship service" would appear to further undermine both the Eucharist and the priestly task of celebrating that Eucharist. To see this--together with the laity performing baptisms, marriages, and funerals--as a "liberation" of the priest, baffles me.

One supposes that the consumer model would regard the Nigerian priest who two years ago on Easter day spent six hours baptizing 800 adults and a thousand children as a "consumer automaton"; and St. Jean-Marie Vianney, the Cure of Ars, who spent 18 to 20 hours every day in the confessional in nineteenth-century France as an example of a consumers' gas station attendant! Yet, Vianney is now the patron saint of parish priests! In reality both are examples of men carrying out their priesthood's primary functions.

The importance of celebrating the Eucharist is best expressed by Vatican II in the Constitution on the Liturgy: "the (Eucharistic) liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the source from which all her power flows" (1:10).

What about vocations?

3. Why bishops ask nuns to administer priestless parishes when permanent deacons would seem to be the natural and logical choices, is something I don't understand.

4. Another aspect is the confusion created by worship services for many people. They tend to erode their understanding of how radically different the Sacrifice of the Mass is from them. This happened already fifteen years ago in Saskatchewam when in a small town, after having a Sister do the Sunday "service" for two years or so, a recuperating priest was reinstalled. Parishioners complained that Sister's Mass was so much shorter and informal and much more likeable than the priest's! In other words, the so-called solution proved to be nothing less than a disaster in their understanding of the Eucharist.

5. Why are vocations so low in Ottawa? The shortage of priests is not worldwide. Ottawa's seminary is at St. Paul University, a place known for dissent. For 20 years or more, throughout the seventies and eighties, its leading theologian, Fr. Andre Guindon, OMI, was allowed to mock the Church's teaching on sexual morality, week in, week out, year in, year out, while holding up the sodomite lifestyle not only as normal and acceptable, but as the highest form of love. He was hailed by dissenting Catholics throughout Canada (see C.I., "The case of Andre Guindon," August 1993). His career ended not because the Ottawa Archdiocese wanted him removed but because he died unexpectedly just when the Vatican was ready to meet him head on, after sparring with him for four years.

Also, in the late 1990s the seminary was closed for an entire year.

One is tempted to ask if Archbishop Gervais is eager to promote vocations. Why, then, has he been heard to say that "the priestless parishes of the Ottawa Archdiocese are thriving more than the parishes with priests." Again, he stated during a retreat at St. Augustine's Seminary in Toronto that if a large "archdiocese were to gain three hundred priests overnight, you would be going backwards."

Why does Archbishop Gervais use the lame explanation of those who misinterpret Vatican II; namely, that the shortage of priests is the work of the Holy Spirit and that "the Lord wants it that way"? This reasoning has been contradicted by Pope John Paul II a number of times.

The Pope tells us that the faithful, and certainly their ecclesiastical leaders, must pray for vocations. Just last January, speaking on the subject, he said, "Prayer moves the heart of God." (Jesus said: "Pray, therefore, that the Lord may send labourers into his harvest"). We should add that a diocese seeking vocations has to be pro-life; i.e., pro-child and pro-family, willing teach Humanae vitae and fight the contraceptive mentality within the Church and outside it in order to encourage families to nurture vocations.

Pope John Paul II has also pointed out that, without priests, there will be no local Church. A much fuller treatment may be found in the Vatican instruction, Some questions regarding collaboration of nonordained faithful in priests' sacred ministry, Nov. 13, 1997. While acknowledging that there is a "new manner of active collaboration among priests, religious and the lay faithful," it goes on to warn that "It must be remembered that collaboration with does not, in fact, mean substitution for.

In chapter 2 it mentions that "the diverse functions proper to ordained ministers form an indivisible unity and cannot be understood if separated one from another."

And in chapter 3, it reads, "the ministerial priesthood is therefore necessary for a community to exist 'as church"'.

Martin de Porres Parish, Ottawa

A correspondent sent us the Bulletin of Martin de Porres parish, Ottawa, June 11, 2000 (parish priest Fr. Dan Hawkins). It makes clear how the ideas about church architecture and the place of the tabernacle discussed in CI, on the one hand, and the idea about priests and parish assistants discussed above, hang together.

The Bulletin's section entitled Talking in Church? begins with the remark "Many of us still have welts on the back of our heads for even breathing too loud in church...." It concludes: "It is in fact irreverent at these times not to talk in church." The connecting idea is expressed straight forwardly: "Our church is not God's house; it is the house of God's people." It continues,

Where does the pastor get this? Could it be from his Archbishop, who is reported to have told Catholics who objected to removing the Blessed Sacrament in the to-be renovated Cathedral, that after Catholics participate in the celebration of Mass and go back to the community "they are the tabernacles themselves, they all receive the Eucharist and when they leave they bring the Lord into the world" (The Monitor, July 2000).

"Ancient temples were places where God was present in a special way. That changed with Jesus. We are now all temples of God."

Other statements, made by the Archbishop in Ottawa fit the same pattern of wanting the tabernacle moved out of sight:

"For the last twenty years I have felt very awkward when celebrating Mass in the presence of the tabernacle."

Again, "after receiving communion rather than genuflecting towards the tabernacle before leaving the Church, we should bow to each other as we have just received communion."

And, finally, in Toronto, "If! had my way, everyone in the congregation on Sunday would be in an alb."

There is a grain of truth here; namely, that the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts when we are in the state of grace. Thus we say that our body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit and therefore we must not defile it. Again, when we witness to Christ outside the Church, we represent Him. But, neither the one nor the other makes us Divine, nor Christlike in the sense in which Christ is present in the tabernacle, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. As Pope Paul VI said, Christ is present in the tabernacle "par excellence."

As for the implied thought that our receiving Holy Communion makes the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament behind or near the altar awkward, or redundant, this again is an astonishing novelty and seemingly little more than a ploy to remove the Blessed Sacrament.

An assembly hall?

"Let us go to God's house" (Ps. 22)

Once one sets off on this slippery slope, one thing leads to another. Hence the sentence in the parish bulletin which says: "We do not come to church to find God--God is everywhere. We come to church to find and pray with God's people." Another one states: "The early followers of Jesus actually met in their homes for Eucharist." The logical conclusion is that we should forget about churches, about beautifying them, because all we need is a meeting hall somewhere. Why not rent a local Protestant church or Masonic hall? It may save a lot of money.

The truth is that after the apostles and disciples were evicted from the synagogue after the death of Jesus they were forced to celebrate the Eucharist in their homes, a condition which continued until the beginning of the fourth century when Christianity was recognized by the Emperor. The same state of persecution prevents orthodox Catholics in China today from having churches: they are forced to have Mass elsewhere, in secret. The more one thinks about it, the more outrageous is the idea that a Catholic church is not "God's house".

Indeed, the day could come that we will meet in private homes because, like the early Christians, we will need to hide from persecution, perhaps as punishment for having forgotten why we have churches.

Even the idea of the Mass or the Eucharist as a public prayer for the whole Church, not just the local assembly, comes to be endangered. Says Archbishop Gervais: "I really wonder whether one should celebrate Mass if there are only a few people present." Should we then close the churches during the weekdays as they do in many places in the Netherlands and Belgium, because we measure the Eucharist by attendance? One corollary is the idea that priests should not celebrate Mass when nobody is present. That takes us right back to Martin Luther who wanted to get rid of "these Massing priests." The Council of Trent condemned him for this in no uncertain terms.

What bothers me especially is that all the above supposedly flows from the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council and yet is a misrepresentation. This is what Vatican II said:

"Christ is always present to his Church, especially in the actions of the liturgy. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, in the person of the minister (it is the same Christ who formerly offered himself on the cross that now offers by the ministry of priests) and most of all under the eucharistic species. He is present in the sacrament by his power, in such a way that when someone baptizes, Christ himself baptizes. He is present in his word, for it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. Finally, he is present when the Church prays and sings, for he himself promised: Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst."

The question remains. Is the 'new model' Church in Ottawa the result of adaptations made necessary because of a shortage of priests? Or is it the outcome of a new theological concept which diverges from the age-old theology of priesthood and Eucharist? The rhetoric employed suggests that it is the latter, not the former.

Fr. Alphonse de Valk is a priest in the Congregation of St. Basil (C.S.B.) and editor of this journal.
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Author:de Valk, Fr. Alphonse
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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