Friday, 31 August 2012

What do you look for in a priest?

At first glance, this may seem a presumptuous question. What right has anyone to try and determine the outstanding qualities that one looks for in a parish priest.

                                     Don Camillo comes pretty close to the ideal in my book

Unfortunately, the ravages of liberalism have brought a lower calibre to many who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders.

There is now a free for all in terms of clerical dress (or non clerical dress), liturgical ad libbing, improvised practices on the sanctuary, disregard for home visits and a definite no-no on all blessings of the home, the sacrament of Penance reduced to a cosy chat in a sacristy ante room under the banner of Reconciliation (was there ever a more PC word?) and.......a suspected lack of belief in the Real Presence.

I say suspected because, I cannot prove anything in this respect, other then a long litany of examples of disrespect and even sacrilege towards the Blessed Sacrament - I do have a hazy recollection of some research carried out c. 1985 ish where parish priests were asked to fill in an anonymous questionnaire with their views on this and other topics.

I do distinctly recall the main statistic as being 48% of priests actually not believing that the bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ.

But, we are blessed today with a resurgence (albeit limited) of the faith amongst the priesthood - so, without naming any and causing embarrassment I thought it would be interesting to draw up a 'hit list' of the most desired qualities that you would wish to find in a priest.
I am leaving aside the reverence factor per se, as, presumably, we would all wish for our PP to be deeply spiritual and holy in all respects.

Here is my attempt at defining the desired qualities; I have included what the dating agencies call a GSOH. The advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi used to place humour at the top of their employee specification list and I like that. You need humour in this life, especially if you are called to be a servant of God.

The list is not exhaustive, feel free to add any facets that you see as being vital:-

1. Orthodox - meaning a knowledge of and love of all things regarding Church doctrine and moral and social

2. Ability to communicate clearly and simply - using all of the technologies available.

3. Power of oratory - no referring to notes, ability to project the voice, hold a thread and complete in less
    than 6 minutes

4. Love of God by which I mean, among many things, the desire to spend at least one hour each day
    kneeling before a crucifix.

5. A strong sense of humour - I learnt long ago that you can say what you like to people but, for your
    message to have impact, you need to smile, even when on the phone.

6. Gravitas. A priest needs to know when to call a halt to a conversation or when a meeting takes the wrong
    route. He must tread the line that cuts between teacher and friend.

7. An overwhelming desire to save souls. That should be the prime goal of all priests.

8. A lack of fear with regard to giving evidence to the external aspects of the Faith (wearing black and white
    clerical garb, saying grace before meals in public and speaking out at public meetings where moral issues
    are debated).

9. Obedience to the Holy Father first, and the bishop second.

10. An awareness and love of tradition in terms of liturgy, vestments and procedures - no guitar Masses, no
     Frank Sinatra songs at funerals, no call me "Jim" tacks and definitely no standing to receive the Eucharist
     by hand.

And, if I was looking for a number eleven, I might choose aversion to a certain magazine as fitting the bill.


  1. Need a theologian to put this in the right words, but how about something like the confidence, or faith, will ,and willingness to accept the grace of the sacrament of holy orders working in and through them, the carisma of priesthood? It seems a bit like an insult to say the following, but of who of us is it not true( as Christians through the ongoing grace of baptism and the sacraments, confession, mass, communion,mostly as husbands and fathers, through the ongoing grace of the sacrament of marriage , etc as above),that We can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but the Almighty CAN and DOES.
    All the rest then follows.

  2. "I do distinctly recall the main statistic as being 48% of priests actually not believing that the bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Christ."

    Before circulating this massive slur on the priesthood in England and Wales, Scotland or ireland, you have a responsibility to check your sources. I have been a diocesan priest for 28 years, and only once or twice have I heard first-hand complaints from parishioners that their PP in some way openly denied the dogma of transubstantiation.

    Now, I haven't had chance to check sources either, but I thought that the Leslie Francis study of priests - which may be different from the one you refer to - came out with around 95% of RC priests definitely believing in the Real Presence, and similarly for the bodily Resurrection of Christ. Maybe I am seeing things through rose-tinted spectacles, but a very serious allegation of denial of a fundamental truth of the Faith by almost half the priesthood needs full evidential back-up.

    If we didn't believe in the Mass and the Real Presence, do you think a lot of us would put up with all the nonsense we have to bear, be it from parishioners, bloggers, or from higher authorities in the Church?

    Secondly, why do you think sermons should be no longer than 6 minutes? Because people want to get out of church quickly and read the papers or watch TV? The tradition of preaching in Poland, Ukraine, Croatia, is to give much longer sermons, in my experience, up to 30 mins. And in these countries the Faith is not in the problems it is in the UK. Maybe sermonettes make Christianettes?

    I know that sometimes I preach for too long, but some people do actually want to learn about the Faith and be inspired, and are willing to listen for longer. I'm not sure why those who do not want to listen and learn should have the veto?

    Thirdly, you have a downer on guitars. Yes, the organ is far more impressive, but there are some excellent meditative and Scriptural hymns written for guitar, and they are not prohibited by the rubrics. Nor do the rubrics or church law prohibit people standing to receive the Eucharist or receiving in the hand. We priests have to respect the freedoms which Church law and indults give to the laity, even if we might prefer otherwise on a personal level.

    Otherwise I agree with much of what you have written. Sorry for going on a bit
    Best wishes and prayers
    Fr Francis Marsden, St Mary's, Chorley, Lancs

  3. Dear Richard,

    Thank you so much for your allusion to Don Camillo. Giovannini Guareschi's wonderful books are mostly out of print, but you have helped promote them, and someday they will be available again. For now, searches through used-book stores and online for old copies and reprints will well reward the thoughtful Catholic.

    Guareschi was drafted into the Italian army, apparently as an alternative to arrest after a drunken rant against Mussolini (hooray!), and later suffered in several German prison camps. His fierce determination -- "I refuse to die even if they kill me." - informs his stories and his just disapproval of the mockeries the faithful suffered following Vatican II.

    Again, thanks for everything.

    -Mack in Texas


  4. Fr Marsden - just because I cannot recall the actual research does not make it untrue or even wrong to mention it. Over the past 25 years or so, I have witnessed, at first hand, many priests who quite obviously did not believe in the Real Presence, including one who, at a School Mass, asked if anyone knew the Test Match score whilst elevating the Host.
    Priests who allow all and sundry to handle the Body and Blood of Christ without any regard to the proprieties concerned, also must have little faith in this respect. I also stand firm on guitars. Prayers and best wishes for you also Father, God bless.


  5. Mack - yes we both have immense affection for Guareschi and his main character.

  6. Fidelity. All else follows.
    I like the idea of a six-minute sermon; 10 minutes top whack if there is something important to say like, for instance, the Catholic take on abortion (or, rather, no abortion). I've often found the longer a priest goes on, the less actual content there seems to be and the more repetitious of what was said in the first three minutes.
    Is the Mass really the place to catechise? If that is current thinking, then it means that something is going badly wrong at home and in schools. Surely a sermon/homily should be building on the foundations we've already been given, not of itself constructing the foundations.


  7. Thanks Genty, that has reminded me to respond to another of Fr Marsden's points. The capacity to absorb oral information actually begins to diminish after two minutes, 6 minutes is being generous.Succinctness and brevity are the watchwords.

  8. No Father,they do not openly deny it..........,you have to read between the lines sometimes.The removal of the Tabernacle to some whole in the wall somewhere,done because it "clutters up the worshipping space".The "come let us share this meal with Jesus"words before Mass.The rubbish under the pews,the unbearable noise before and after Mass.The denial of being in the place of Christ...this in my own area.....The wearing of a collar and tie instead of priestly garb.Very smart it looks too ....for an executive on the way to a business meeting.All theses things and more, to me, point to a kind of denial.There is no person here on earth whose hands Id rather kiss,than those of a priest,but,as the old gospel song says,"sometimes it causes me to wonder,wonder,wonder.

  9. The trouble is,we dont hear about our catholic faith in they six minutes long or thirty.No,we have an explanation of the readings,which is fine and good,and links the old testament with the new.Fine.Just now and again I would like to hear about the four last things,sin,abortion, euthanasia,and how as catholics we are duty bound to oppose the last two mentioned.Never a word is spoken...never a word.

  10. How about the ability to hold a note? Or even, the willingness to sing the liturgy. Even the Novus Ordo can be lifted the liturgy being sung. The Reproaches are absolutely beautiful, without them the liturgy on Good Friday lacks something.

  11. Dear Richard,

    Please don't take this too hard, but may I publicly now challenge you to provide the hard evidence and references for the 48% figure as the proportion of priests (where?) not believing in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

    Maybe you wrote it in good faith, but I think you have mistaken your facts. The memory easily mixes up things read a few years ago. A few anecdotal allusions are insufficient to prove such a serious allegation.

    Please remember that calumny can be a mortal sin, and unless you have the facts to prove what you assert, then what you have written is a serious calumny against the Catholic priesthood. We shall all have to answer before the Lord one day for the careless, untrue or uncharitable things we have spoken or written.

    So please, either prove the statement from reputable published academic surveys, or withdraw the allegation.

    With prayers
    God bless
    Fr Francis Marsden


  12. Father Marsden, please be assured that I shall not take your comments too hard. I also assure you that, while I have many bad attributes, feeble mindedness is not one of them. I clearly recall the debate that arose following this piece of research. My Catholic friends at the time discussed it in great detail with me. I do not wish to respond to your other points as I feel that my replies, whilst being factual, could be misread as being an attack on yourself and I would not wish that.


  13. Malvenu - essential but it seems to me that, these days, most priests appear to have good singing voices.


  14. Mike, a theologian is hard to find these days.

  15. A good priest should , whenever possible , distribute Holy Communion himself , and make less use of eucharistic ministers .

  16. Agree totally with what Christy said!!...RosaMaria.

  17. Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur


  18. Father - I have reason, knowledge and fact on my side.Please do not try my patience. Your comments have been unchristian and unwarranted.

  19. Richard,
    I agree with your sentiments entirely! Take no notice to modernist priests-I have prayed for you today at St. Paul's Church and Monastic Site-I also agrees with Christy too!
    Keep up the good work you doing!

    God bless,



  20. God bless you Michael, I shall remember you and yours tomorrow at Our Lady of the Taper.


  21. Michael - and I shall remember Fr Marsden in my prayers tomorrow.

  22. Richard,
    Thank You!-Sorry for the comment spellings etc; as my computer has been playing up-I should have said St Paul's Church and Monastic Site Jarrow, also i will pray for Fr Marsden too! Have a great day tomorrow!

  23. So it is unchristian to ask for proper evidence of serious allegations made against 48% of Catholic priests?

    You say you support the Catholic Church, yet you undermine her by these unsubstantiated slurs.

    Any decent Protestant reading this blog would just think - well, here's someone who claims to be ever so good a Catholic, stating publicly that 48% of Catholic priests are hypocrites and deceivers. You are just giving ammunition for people like Ian Paisley, though he has mellowed in his old age.

    I understand that you have had disheartening and disspiriting experiences in the past with certain priests. We all have. But please don't universalise your experience to this degree. Wide sweeping generalisations.....and all that.

    Of course, if you can provide the evidence for the assertions that you made, I will gracefully retract my criticisms, but until such a time, they stand.