Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Renewal of a Collegiate Chapter

On October 31st, the Bishop of Linz, Austria, Most Rev. Ludwig Schwarz OSB, invested two canons of the Collegiate Chapter of Mattighofen (see picture above, where the Bishop imposes the capitular cross). Thus he revived this ancient Chapter of Canons, after having it renewed and reconfirmed in a decree of June 1st, 2008.

The 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say about collegiate chapters:

The origin of cathedral and collegiate chapters, springing from the common life of clerics attached to cathedrals and other important churches, has been treated in the article CHAPTER, where special attention is given to what regards cathedral capitulars (see CHAPTER). Collegiate churches were formed on the model of cathedral churches, and the collegiate canons have rights and duties similar to the capitulars of a cathedral, except that they have no voice in the government of the diocese, even when the see is vacant. Their main object is the solemn celebration of the Divine Office in choir. Already in the time of Charlemagne many wealthy collegiate churches had been founded throughout his empire, especially in Germany and France, of which that at Aachen was the most celebrated.
(Read the entire article here, cf. also the entries for "Chapter" and "Canon".)

The Collegiate Chapter of Mattighofen (North of Salzburg and close to the Bavarian border) was founded by the pious endowment of a local noble family in 1438. The Dean of the Chapter was raised to the dignity of Provost in 1685, and was granted the right to the pontificals in the 19th century, until all such privileges were abolished in the reforms of Paul VI. The Collegiate Chapter had in recent times - like many such institutions - seen a decline until the point where no canons, but only the Provost remained, and this position was regarded more as an honorary appointment than an actual office. However, the chapter was never formally abolished, and has now been reconfirmed and given new statutes by the ordinary on the initiative of the Provost. In addition to the Provost (seen to the right) and to the two canons invested in the ceremony mentioned here, three more canons are expected to be admitted next year, completing the number of six foreseen in the new statutes. Furthermore, the statutes contemplate four honorary canonicates, one of which was awarded to a prelate of the neighbouring Archdiocese of Munich and Freising who had written his dissertation on the Collegiate Chapter of Mattighofen and thus laid the foundation for this revival.

According to the Provost, the Collegiate Chapter "put simply, can be called a monastery for secular priests". The diocesan newspaper writes (NLM translation):

For Provost Plettenbauer, the revival of the Collegiate Chapter is an up-to-date response to the challenges facing priests today: "In the community, a culture of priestly life can arise, which keeps awake the joy of the vocation." The form of life in community can also encourage young men to follow a priestly vocation. [...] Bishop Ludwig Schwarz on the introduction of the canons expressed this wish: "May their pastoral work be a blessing for Mattighofen and the surrounding parishes."

One of the new canons said this to the news agency kath.net (NLM translation):

"The common life of the clerics goes back to the Lord Himself who together with his Apostles led a life in community, a vita communis" says Leon Sireisky, one of the new canons. "This form of life is appropriate to the special priesthood [the ministerial priesthood, NLM] and prevents dangerous loneliness of the clergy. In addition, a collegial practice makes everyday life easier: it ensures a better continuing education as well as a good supply with everyday necessities.

"One may well think that this form of priestly life of the early Church will also be the future. There will be priests in community, or none. This becomes apparent in practice, where 'stable' orders have many more young vocations than the secular clergy."

This seems like a very welcome case of answering pastoral needs of the present by drawing on the wealth of the traditional heritage of our Church instead of throwing it overboard. It is my hope that other bishops take note, especially where such institutions still exist, even if they have ceased as active corporations.

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