Rorate Caeli

“Church” without sacraments and priests? On the desacerdotalization of the German Church

The following article by Michael Charlier appeared in German at his website on November 3, 2022. It is translated for Rorate Caeli.

The diocese of Mainz has published by circular letter the liturgical form for a "death blessing," which would be able to be given by lay people. It is apparently intended to replace the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick/Last Rites, which has been completely abandoned in many places and the administration of which is reserved to the ordained priest. After published a theological critique of this procedure by Msgr. Schroedel, several readers wrote in to say that this practice is by no means new but has gone on in several dioceses for ten years or more. The "Handreichung zum Sterbesegen" (Handout on the Blessing of the Dying) of the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart dating from 2012 proves this (link).

The Bishop of Essen has in recent months officially commissioned lay people -- and, indeed, preferably lay people -- to administer baptism, while other dioceses (e.g., Rottenburg and Aachen) are considering following this example. The commissioning of lay people to assist at marriages is at least under discussion. Here, too, Essen is the forerunner. Soon we will be accompanied from the cradle to the grave by "episcopally commissioned" lay people: the "funeral service" (see picture above) has already been invented by the administrators of the priestless church.

Thus, for three of the classic seven sacraments, the administration by priests is in question. Since the sacrament of penance/confession has fallen into virtual disuse in many places, and confirmation -- if it still takes place at all -- is seen by most confirmands and families only as a spiritually emptied rite of passage to adulthood (and gift or money collecting), one must conclude that the postconciliar New Springtime has plunged the sacramental life of the Church in Germany into a deep crisis.

In this context, it is necessary to make some distinctions.

Baptism can of course be validly administered by any person according to church law -- if an emergency situation requires it. An official commissioning of lay baptists is bound by strict conditions under church law; shortages in the staffing schedule are not one of them. Nevertheless, a baptism performed by a baptismal agent appointed in violation of legal provisions would still be valid, provided that the formal requirements existing for the baptism itself are observed. Shockingly, as we know, not even this condition is always guaranteed in the case of deacons and priests, and it is not cynical to suppose that it would be even less so in the case of lay baptists. However, baptism has suffered damage not only by the appointment of non-ordained "commissioners". For decades, as we know, the main content of the sacrament -- the cleansing from original sin and the infusion of divine grace -- has been diminished in pastoral ministry, with the secondary function of "reception into the community" being made absolute.

As for the sacrament of marriage, we must say it is not administered by a priest at all; it is the bride and bridegroom who administer it to each other. The assistance of the priest is a legal regulation of the church, which can be dispensed with under appropriate conditions -- as long as it is ensured that the bride and bridegroom are aware of what they are actually doing. Here, too, without the participation of a priest (also in the marriage instruction beforehand), the danger of a failure of the sacramental act is much greater, even though many "postconciliar" priests already have great defects in their understanding of marriage and may even transmit these to the faithful in their care.

The anointing of the sick and the forgiveness of sins in Confession can in any case be administered only by the priest -- which is why the "death blessing" conceived as a substitute for the former does not claim any sacramental function at all, but is pure placebo. Confession has largely fallen out of practice in the lives of the faithful due to other forces at work -- and this, tragically, even on the deathbed of Catholics.

Confirmation has also fallen into disuse, although it is still found registered in the statistics, but its content has largely been lost. The funeral, traditionally performed by the priest as the shepherd and father of the community, is not a sacrament but a sacramental. The technical process can be handled by any gravedigger; the commissioned parish lay assistant isn't a real substitute for the priest.

Thus, of the seven sacraments dogmatized by the Council of Trent according to a tradition going far back into the first millennium, only two remain -- Holy Orders and the Holy Eucharist -- which have not been tacitly eliminated or emptied of their content in recent decades. They, too, are threatened and under attack, which is manifested not least in the steadily declining number of candidates for the priesthood.

The threat to the sacrament of Holy Orders stems above all from the incessantly repeated clamor for the ordination of women. As Pope John Paul II definitively stated in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis 4 with the highest magisterial authority, it is impossible and, in the case of a simulation carried out with the approval of higher authority, would strike at the very essence of the sacrament. To address just one of the questions that arise here: Could a bishop who simulates an ordination of women validly ordain men to the priesthood at the same time or afterwards, since he has after all openly documented that with his simulated ordination he is precisely not doing and does not intend to do what the Church does and has always done and intends to do?

The ordination of women would also be part of the attack on the Eucharist: every "Eucharistic celebration" performed by an ostensibly ordained woman would be a sacrilegious simulation, which would cause great spiritual harm to the simulator and to the (more or less gullible) participants. And it speaks volumes that Bonnemain, appointed by Francis as successor to the faithful Bishop Huonder in Chur, has so far seen himself unable to react appropriately to a simulated Mass that took place in his diocese. He probably has more important things to do.

Another element of the attack on the Eucharist becomes apparent when one looks at the disappearance of Confession. In the understanding of most participants in a "Eucharistic celebration" -- and this understanding did not fall from heaven but was imparted by the "spirit of the Council" and its theologians -- the successive exceptionless procession of pewsitters to receive Communion is a kind of social event that constitutes and makes visible the community around the table of the Lord. What is offered to them at this table, Who confronts them there as a person in an incomprehensible way, has quite fallen out of sight, is hardly in the popular consciousness any more -- and in any case is only rarely made conscious by the presiders of the Eucharistic assembly and by the meal-oriented liturgy of Paul VI.

So, if one hears again and again that "at the ground level" people can no longer understand the separation of Christian denominations and ask more and more loudly: "Why can't we just go to communion together with all Christians or all people of good will" (and somewhat more quietly, "Why can't we elect our common bishops together?"), then we can find the real roots of such confusion. The once-Catholic Church of the German-speaking world has progressed a long way on the path to desacramentalization and Protestantization -- the higher in hierarchy and rank, the further.

Of course, there are also true believers, individuals, and groups, priests, and even a handful of bishops, including a (still) acting cardinal, who see through the disastrous development in whole or in part and try to resist it. These are by no means only the "trads" who have often (and with good reasons) withdrawn from the direct struggle against the Protestantization of the congregations and are trying to survive in refuges for themselves and their families and the preservation of tradition. The remaining resistance within the structures is carried out by groups as diverse as the youth movement-charismatic house of prayer in Augsburg, the activists of the pro-life movement (who are not only young people), and the congress Joy of Faith, which is anchored more in the milieu of the notables. So much diversity is hardly surprising; after all, we are Catholic, and "inclusivity" once belonged to our essence, before the Rahnerian Bergoglianists snatched up the word from the treasury of the Church's woke enemies.

These and many other "still Catholic" individuals, groups, and organizations may be a majority even among the few regular worshipers (i.e., present every Sunday). In the official media of the dioceses or the bishops' conference, fattened with church-tax millions, such believers are practically invisible, their public perceptibility is close to zero -- unless one prefers to marginalize them even further, ecclesiastically and socially, by calling them "right-wingers" and "populists." On the Synodal Way (and in Roman synodal polls), the "still Catholic" Catholics were woefully underrepresented -- and if a few of them dared to come out of the woodwork, they were mercilessly voted down, hissed down, marginalized by rules of procedure.

This situation confronts the handful of remaining "still Catholic" bishops with the difficult question of how long they want to remain "in unity," so to speak, with today's post-Lutherans. Even Francis will not be able endlessly to shirk the question -- with pious speeches on the one hand and impious personnel decisions on the other -- whether he should keep with Brandmüller and Müller or with Bode and Bätzing. Both sides together... well, even Peron would not have been able to manage that! Meanwhile, a church without priests and without sacraments is emerging in Central Europe, a church that is no longer the Church of Christ. One day, not too far from now, Rome will have to take a stand on this too, on a question that can be answered only yes or no: "Peter, do you love me?" The processes have accelerated to such an extent that it is uncertain whether Bergoglio's hope will be realized -- whether, that is, he will be able to leave this decision to his successor.

In that case, even a blessing on one's deathbed is of no help. While the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, which has often been misunderstood exclusively as "last rites" for the dying, could be useful not only for the healing of the soul but also for the recovery of bodily health, the self-made "death blessing" is only a figment of the imagination of an organization that has already died and passed into decay.