I think it was Monsignor Ronnie Knox who first used the term “Priestcraft” in a positive way, delivering it from Protestant usage for the slippery ways of Papistical Jesuits creeping into England to re-enslave the people freed from the tyranny of Rome by the glorious Reformation.
Mgr Knox used the word to mean all the duties and skills of the priestly vocation, especially those of a parish priest with a pastoral job. I was lucky enough (or old enough) to go to a seminary where such skills were taught under the title of “Pastoralia”. This ranged from sermon classes to the more exotic skills of how to hold the baby at Baptisms, how to fill in the marriage registers, how to give the chalice to a lady in a wide-brimmed hat (You lift the brim!).
There was a more serious side to Pastoralia than such trivia. We had seminars on taking Communion to the sick; on hearing confessions; on marriage preparation; on regular visits to the homes of parishioners (“A home-going priest makes a church-going people”); on tragedies and sudden deaths – in fact everything where the priest is called upon by his people to minister to them.
I’m sorry to hear from many American friends that this kind of teaching (and it went on as part of a two-year course) is seldom given in modern seminaries. They are far more interested in academic matters. If this is so, it is a sad thing. But it can be supplemented by a young priest’s training in his first parish.
This is one reason why I am sure St Clement’s should always have a curate. Here, a deacon and then a priest can learn the full range of liturgical duties in the daily Masses and Offices and the Sunday High Mass. He will in time be allowed to hear Confessions; he will visit the sick and housebound, the hospitals and senior citizens residences, and many of the congregation in their own homes. He will make contact with the students in the three universities and several colleges that surround St Clement’s. He will, hopefully, end up after two or three years here, able to take on any pastoral job offered him.
I have had curates in Edinburgh, Inverness, Stockholm and Milan, and tried my best to show them what Priestcraft was all about. And I have enjoyed watching all of them, as they went forth and put it all into practice.