Post‐Reformation Priesthood in England: Taking the Past into the Future

New Blackfriars 99 (1080):177-190 (2018)

This paper explores ways in which the identity of the secular priesthood in England and Wales has been shaped by its particular historical experience. Five themes are proposed: the creation of the concept of mission in the post-Reformation world; the combination of isolation and independence that became characteristic of recusant priests; the emergence of new ways of relating to church structures that priests were forced to find; the distinctive fraternal identity that was nurtured in a variety of ways throughout the penal times and the period of the Catholic Revival; the revolutions in relationships with the laity. These themes are pursued through the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries when the meaning and experience of them changed as the emphasis shifted to buildings and organisations. The twentieth century experience of priesthood in a parish context created possibilities for expansion, which masked issues and problems already rising to the surface. Both the challenges and the opportunities of the recusant way of life became stifled. A fixed model of the church made change difficult to contemplate. The loss of an historically shaped sense of priestly identity is explored as part of the explanation for the contemporary loss of confidence and direction within a shrinking presbyterate.
Keywords Priesthood  history  identity  mission  parish
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DOI 10.1111/nbfr.12341
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