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Book Review

Kenneth Mason
Priesthood and Society (2nd Edition)
ISBN 1-85311-4693
Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2002, £12.99

(price at publication of review)

Reviewed January 2003; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2002

This thoughtful, inspiring presentation of priesthood as living sacrament, first published in 1992, quickly became a standard work. The present revision, reflecting on 11 September 2001, identifies our growing and largely unexamined split between private and public concerns, together with rising fear and anxiety, as key elements in the contemporary context. This is explored alongside scripture and tradition. Priesthood viewed sociologically is vital in pointing to a solid ground for human existence, However the ground is God, whom no human can adequately represent, so priesthood is impossible, apart from the paschal mystery of God in Christ.

Mason traces an intrinsically subversive dynamic, flowing from divine grace, which co-exists as anti-structure within the necessarily institutional reality of the church. The radically liminal reality of the gospel helps to foster openness to God in the life of the church, thus enabling some degree of 'transparency in glory', of priestly being and function in the world. Mason strongly affirms as analogous and mutually dependent, the priesthood both of all the baptized, and of an ordained ministry. He exposes as unchristian certain ecclesiastical responses to secularisation. the primary context for the priestly ministry of the whole church is the whole world, not merely the internal life of the church.

The ordained are, albeit inevitably ambiguously, representative of Christ, not just of the church community or institution, The represent God's detachment from the world, and thus the possibility of gospel for the church, as well as for the world. Mason identifies the crucial training need as ascetical. Priests are to be deeply in touch with humanity, especially their own. Essential qualities are integrity, wisdom and self-effacing compassion. The model is Christ crucified.

Sue CSF 


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