It’s 2029, and, by necessity, you’re attending a “group-conducted” Mass celebrated by Jerry the bus driver, Charles the bank manager, and Josh the carpenter.
You’re in the Church dreamed up by the Amazon synod’s radical muse, Bishop Fritz Lobinger. After Pope Francis hailed Lobinger’s work, you saw that 2019 synod clinch the ordination of married “elders” — a practice that then spread, predictably, to Germany, the U.S., and elsewhere.
You’d think — to borrow a phrase from Lobinger — that everyone would find it “deeply shocking to suddenly see Mass celebrated by the bank manager, the bus driver, the carpenter.”
But you had been readied for the innovation.
Before they were ordained, Jerry, Charles, and Josh would join Fr. Bob at the altar, dressed in liturgical garb, and conduct as many parts of the liturgy as possible. Now Jerry, Charles, and Josh are celebrating their own group-led Mass because Lobinger says Jesus didn’t “sit isolated” at the Last Supper.
Under Lobinger’s bifurcation of the priesthood, Jerry the bus driver is a distinct kind of priest who was trained through “weekend courses.” He dresses in his usual garb, is addressed by his normal name, and is called an “elder” to distinguish him from the other type of priest. Fr. Bob, meanwhile, has metamorphosed into an “animator” priest, forming all the architects and sandwich artists who now say Mass and hear confessions in his place.
Jerry was ordained in a group because one-person ordinations perpetuate a “providing Church” with a “deplorable passive consumer attitude.” Jerry is there not just to “provide” the sacraments until a “real priest” comes. He and the other part-time priests are there to implement Vatican II–inspired “participation.”
Now a new synod called by the pope will examine whether Fr. Bob can marry and whether Jerry’s wife Susan can be ordained, too. They said the Amazon synod was about “solving the priestly shortage”? It was about permanently revolutionizing the priesthood and Mass.
“If the shortage of priests were the actual reason for ordaining community leaders, then we should discontinue the practice as soon as we have sufficient priests,” Lobinger admits in his seminal book Like His Brothers and Sisters.[i]
According to his later book The Empty Altar, “our motive” is really that “we ourselves should say, ‘Do this in memory of me.’” He explains that it’s “more appropriate” for married elders — not outside priests — to say those words, which call us to “remember” that Jesus came to “heal the sick,” “uplift the weak,” and promote “unity.” He presents a picture of three elders uttering those words at the altar, encircled by a standing community.
Like Pope Francis — who has enthusiastically read three of Lobinger’s books — Lobinger is locked in a war against “clericalism.” Lobinger wants to abandon a “clergy-led Church” and the “idea of the provider-priest” who supplies almost “magical” sacraments. He laments areas where laypeople have “little active share” in a liturgy that is “otherworldly with no intent to influence social change.”
He reads the “signs of the times” and perceives the people’s desire for “participation” in “a community of equals.”
Jerry the bus driver and his friends are thus at the altar to symbolize that it’s the “community” that’s celebrating the liturgy — further blurring the lines between the people and the traditional priest. They’re there to signify that the Eucharist is a “family meal” at a “family table” headed by family “elders” — further obfuscating and occluding the Mass’s nature as a sacrifice.
Lobinger foresaw that “a general permission [for ordaining married elders] would cause severe shock throughout the Church” — and spark “fierce opposition from the conservatives.” He predicted that “militant conservatives” would resist his initiative the more they realized that the practice “is not just a temporary emergency solution but a new image of the local community.”
So he cleverly planned to introduce the ordination of married elders as an exception to a “rule which is officially retained.” He reasoned that conservative threats would stall if certain areas just “ask for an exceptional permission which does not question the existing law of universal celibacy.”
Ultimately, the “whole Church will need” married elders, Lobinger recently confirmed.
The Amazon synod thus set into motion a sly long game. Lobinger admits that after the start of the “post-transition” stage, certain existing priests will be granted exceptions to marry. He admits the “danger” that “what started as exceptions will become widespread praxis.”
He admits that vocations to the full-time priesthood of the “animators” will decrease. In The Empty Altar, he sanguinely remarks that a higher ratio of elders to priests (such as 20:1) will prevent the people from seeking out priests for liturgies and sacraments. Ultimately, the people must “overcome the stage where they prefer to be served by a priest” instead of married elders.
[Ordaining married elders] will change the image of priesthood. It will gradually replace a clerical kind of priests with a community-based model. This would make the ordination of women much more attractive to many women and more acceptable to men[.] … The first hurdle to be taken must … be the inclusion of women in the diaconate, a question which is open to debate in the Church.
Ultimately, Lobinger ominously says the priesthood of the elders “will and must evolve.” We’ll then have a perpetually evolving priesthood to match a perpetually evolving Mass.
For now, it’s 2029, and you’re at the “group-conducted” Mass, closing your eyes. You’re trying to picture Fr. Stephen celebrating a Tridentine liturgy, trying to see Christ the high priest and His sacrifice at Calvary, trying to erase every image of a quotidian, man-centered, “unity”-building “family meal” led by “family elders.”
“Do this in memory of me,” say Jerry, Josh, and Charles, smiling.
Image: Bishop Fritz Lobinger (right). Photo credit: YouTube screen shot from Spotlight Africa.
[i] Unless otherwise indicated, all subsequent quotations of Lobinger come from this book.
Julia Meloni writes from the Pacific Northwest. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Yale and a master’s degree in English from Harvard.