In a forthcoming novel of mine, a defrocked priest struggles with his growing feelings for the protagonist, arguing that even if the Church has released him from his vow of celibacy, he is not prepared to renounce it. Refreshing stuff in an age when vows and promises are taken less and less seriously. How is the issue resolved? Suffice it to say that an older priest/advisor plants a seed when he suggests that the vow of monogamy as it culminates in the sacrament of marriage may allow one to serve God in this world as effectively as upholding priestly vows.
Some background on the celibacy obligation/vow. Eastern rite Catholic priests can marry and even Roman Catholic priests who are converts from Protestantism (Episcopal for instance) can be married. This has been the rule since the 1930’s. The prohibition against married men becoming priests is more a rule than dogma, which means it can change. Why then doesn’t the Vatican consider allowing priests to marry? Wouldn’t doing so aid in recruitment and help parishioners identify with their clergy more readily? One would think so, but then I’m an outsider – not a Catholic.
One other aspect of Catholicism that I examine in the novel, via the priest’s perspective, is what I’ll call the loss of mystery. Vatican II and similar measures might not have gone far enough to emancipate priests, but it might have gone too far in demystifying Catholic rites by watering down the Mass. Is what’s needed a return to tradition – not as interpreted by the present Pope, but as celebrated by Catholics for centuries? Should Mass be in Latin and the Host handled only by priests. The Mass is, after all, a ritual. There are rules. In the Eucharist rite (Holy Communion for Roman Catholics) something ‘magical’ happens: the wafer and wine are transformed (transubstantiated) into the body and blood of Christ. Only a consecrated priest can affect this change. By taking the Host into their own bodies, Catholics become part of the rite but only after consenting. How does this happen? Not only by physically being present at the Mass but by acknowledging the transubstantiation. When offering the Host, the priest says ‘The body and blood of Christ’ and the receiver must say ‘Amen’ before accepting it – by this means he consents and agrees to the Divine mystery.
A casual survey of modern Western society may lead one to conclude that there is no place for a return to orthodox Catholic practice, but I would disagree. If one views the secular fascination with magic and the Other World as simply another means of reaching out to the Divine, then mankind is as receptive to the unseen as ever. Perhaps more so, for Westerners feel more comfortable than ever speaking of spiritualism (albeit one devoid of religion). Why, then, doesn’t the Vatican step into the breach with a God-centered view of Nature and what might appear to be magic? That is the true mystery.