Pope Francis asked to be called 'tu' by the Catholic layman. Fr Alexander says that this is noteworthy because the more polite and reverent 'lei' is used for addressing members of the hierarchy of the Church.
As Fr Lucie-Smith goes on to say,
...'it is a little bit like the Queen inviting you to call her Lilibet. And it goes further. The Pope provides us with a theological justification for this informality. The student said of the phone conversation, “He said to me, do you think the Apostles would have used the polite form with Christ? “Would they have called him your excellency? They were friends, just as you and I are now, and with friends I’m accustomed to using ‘tu’.”
I'm less concerned about the 'tu' or 'lei' thing and more concerned about Pope Francis's justification for introducing this element of informality into the conversation 'between equals'. Do we or do we not know whether the Apostles would have used the polite form with the Lord? As one commenter on the Herald website called Annie has pointed out, the Apostles consistently called Jesus, 'Lord', 'Master', 'Teacher' or 'Rabbi', all these titles being from their outset and in their immediate meaning 'honorific'.
If the Holy Father wishes to break down the formal barriers between Pope and people, Shepherd and sheep, then as for the way in which His Holiness does this is going to be a ball entirely 'in his court,' so to speak. It reminds me a little of those moments when one addresses a Priest as 'Father' or a Bishop as 'My Lord' and they say, "No, no, just call me Barry!" or something.
Priests and Bishops should not 'lord it over' their flock, but equally they should be comfortable enough with the Office into which they have been called to accept the titles that come with it. If everybody called their parish priest by their first name you may soon have a situation when the idea of ontological change becomes forgotten and the sacredness of the priesthood becomes lost because we are all 'mates'.
Jesus said to His Apostles, "You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If then I being your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also. Amen, amen I say to you: The servant is not greater than his lord; neither is the apostle greater than he that sent him. If you know these things, you shall be blessed if you do them."
In this one passage we receive a re-run of the washing of the feet of the Apostles (who were all men) while Jesus accepts the title of Teacher and Lord. The humility of the Lord, who washes the feet of the Apostles, some of whom are scandalised by the very idea, is not destroyed by His acceptance of the titles 'Lord' and 'Master' because this is an acknowledgement of the Truth that sets them free. If Jesus is just 'best mate' and they are too focused on that then how can they discover their need for the mercy that flows from His divinity, His condescension and His generosity.
The office of the papacy, the office of Bishop, the office of the priesthood - these are sacred things. It may be that Cardinals love to be called 'Your Excellency', it may be that some cannot bear it and curl up and die a little inside each time it is said. If they curl up and die a little inside, then are we not talking of the humiliation of the priest which comes with the office? However, how the individual Churchman feels about it is not the point. It is not primarily about them, as persons, but the Office which they have assumed and accepted at some point in their life as a priest, or bishop or pope.
I feel privileged to be on friendly terms with some Catholic priests. It is a great joy to be in the presence of priests, partly because they have wonderful personalities and often a great sense of humour but also because when I am in the company of a priest I am in the presence of a 'Father in God' to me. Those who say, 'Don't call me Father' forget that when they say, "Oh, just call me Kevin!" they deprive me of a spiritual father, making me, even if momentarily, a spiritual orphan.
Let us pray that on this the Feast of the Apostle, Saint Bartholomew, priests, bishops and the pope grow to be comfortable in the skin - the Office - that the Lord has given them and never try to deny what they are out of a sense of false humility, or out of misunderstanding of the great dignity in which they have been vested by the Lord Jesus Christ. Titles in the Catholic Church for priests, bishops and the pope come from being 'Alter Christus'. We only call people by such titles as 'Father', 'My Lord', 'Your Excellency', 'Your Holiness' because of Jesus Christ and the powers He has given those who He has called into His service.
Of course, none of this 'tu' or 'lei' stuff would have occurred if the Pope was English...