Dutch Dominicans speak the gospel

/ 9 September 2007

Hurray for the Dutch Dominicans! According to The Tablet:

"THE DOMINICAN Order in the Netherlands has issued a radical recommendation that lay ministers chosen by their congregations should be allowed to celebrate the Eucharist if no ordained priests are available.

In a booklet posted to all 1,300 parishes in the country, it says that the Church should drop its priest-centred model of the Mass in favour of one built around a community sharing bread and wine in prayer.

"Whether they are women or men, homo- or heterosexual, married or single, makes no difference. What is important is an infectious attitude of faith," said the brochure, which has been approved by the Dutch order's leaders.


The Tablet article continues further on:

"The booklet says that many Dutch Catholics are frustrated that combining parishes and closing churches is the main response to the challenge of a dwindling clergy. "The Church is organised around priests and actually finds the priesthood more important than local faith communities," said Fr Salemans in an interview posted on the order's Dutch website. "This is deadly for local congregations."

Using the early Church as its model, the booklet said a congregation could choose its own lay minister to lead services. The minister and the congregation would speak the words of consecration together. "Speaking these words is not the exclusive right or power of the priest," the booklet said. "It is the conscious expression of faith by the whole congregation."

There is an interview about the document on the order's website, but since I don't read Dutch, I have to rely on the news report. Based on that, the document seems to offer an open public call that would be quite radical, although it seems to me -- layperson that I am -- that finding ways for us to continue to celebrate Eucharist together makes more sense than continuing to close parishes when the only reason to do so is that there are no ordained priests available. Surely the Holy Spirit is telling us something here? Something like: the people of God are hungry for God's presence sacramentally, and if the human institution of the church can't do so in its previous configurations, then God will breathe into us ideas and support for change?

Unlike some of the more virulent responses to the news reports, I don't think that this would be "turning Protestant." But I suppose, since I teach at a Protestant seminary, such a claim doesn't frighten me, either. Surely our identity as Catholics rests on something deeper than the manner in which we name priests? Particularly when that process has changed over time?