Tuesday, May 14, 2002

The Ministries, Offices and Roles of the Lay Faithful

Reflections on CFL: Paragraphs 21 through 23

As it has been a bit, a quick reminder of where we left off. Having reminded us of the universal call to holiness and the dignity of the lay faithful, in this Chapter the Holy Father has been exploring how the lay faithful participate in the life of the Church. He continues that exploration now by turning our attention to the ministries and charisms related to the laity. We will focus on the ministries portion now and leave the charisms for another post.

Everyone Has An Apostolate

First, JPII reminds us of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and that it is the Holy Spirit that is the giver of these gifts:

"The Second Vatican Council speaks of the ministries and charisms as the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are given for the building up of the Body of Christ and for its mission of salvation in the world. Indeed, the Church is directed and guided by the Holy Spirit, who lavishes diverse hierarchical and charismatic gifts on all the baptized, calling them to be, each in an individual way, active and co-responsible."
I think JPII rightly understands that we often need a refresher course in what the Christian life is all about. For example, I think many might find it striking that the pope talks about "ministries" of the laity. Ministry? I've got a ministry? I have long wished for every catholic to come to understand the term "apostolate" and that we all have one, in one shape or another. The use of the word "vocation" to refer to only priests and religious bothers me, too. Yes, being a priest or brother is a vocation and an important one, but so is being a teacher or a mother. I think our Catholic language needs to reflect that. Sure, it should recognize that there is a difference between these various vocations. What I am afraid we have right now, though, is an otherness to the idea of "vocation": that has nothing to do with me, I'm not a cleric.

The pope says, no, you do have a part to play in the mission of salvation. We are all supposed to be "active and co-responsible". This is a hard thing to remember at times, especially during a scandal like today. What that activity and exercise of responsibility looks like will vary from person to person and be based in part on the situation. Many are doing that today in raising their voice and speaking about the abuses that have occurred and calling on our bishops to be shepherds. What the pope seems to be looking for is that we do those things from a spirit of shared responsibility for bringing the Gospel to all nations and in order to build up the Body of Christ. If we are doing it because we feel the need for vengeance, see an opportunity to stick it to authority, etc., we are just adding to the damage already done.

It is also interesting that he emphasizes both hierarchical and charismatic gifts. I think the emphasis on hierarchical gifts leads us into JPII's next major point: the interdependency and linked nature of the clergy (the ministerial priesthood) and the laity (the royal priesthood) and their missions.

The Ministerial And Royal Priesthoods

Some might find it puzzling that, in a discussion of the ministries of the lay faithful, the pope would have a whole section on ministries derived from holy orders.

I did at first. JPII gives us a hint of what is to come, however, when he reminds us that all ministries:
"-- even in their variety of forms -- [are] a participation in Jesus Christ's own ministry as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, the humble servant who gives himself without reserve for the salvation of all."
Union. If that's the case, something can be learned about the ministry of the laity by looking at the ministry of the clergy and vice versa.

First, the pope reminds us of the special character of the clergy and the institution by Christ himself of the hierarchy and the mission He entrusted to them. Because of that, they are in a "primary position in the Church".
"These ministries express and realize a participation in the priesthood of Jesus Christ that is different, not simply in degree but in essence, from the participation given to all the lay faithful through Baptism and Confirmation."
Maybe it's an American thing, but I find I meet a decent number of Catholics who just don't want to accept this fact. But it is true. That said, the pope brings things into focus by emphasizing that their ministry is a "grace for the entire Church" and, in particular, that:
"the ministerial priesthood, as the Second Vatican Council recalls, essentially
has the royal priesthood of all the faithful as its aim and is ordered to it."
The Holy Father has hit on something key here. Notice the pope didn't use a passive image of the laity, but one that highlights the fact that they have an apostolate: that they are part of the royal priesthood. How many priests recognize this and understand that they aren't called to tend to an audience but to help raise up and support missionaries? In turn, how many of us laity demand that the clergy understand us in that way or welcome it when they do? As the pope says, just as:
"pastors must always acknowledge that their ministry is fundamentally ordered to the service of the entire People of God, [t]he lay faithful, in turn, must acknowledge that the ministerial priesthood is totally necessary for their participation in the mission in the Church."
We all know too many lay Catholics who miss that point. We all do at times. But our missions are linked and their fruitfulness is hindered by our failure to accept that.

So Just What Are These Ministries, Offices And Roles Of The Laity?

Okay, so the pope has reminded us that:
"because of their Baptismal state and their specific vocation, in the measure proper to each person, the lay faithful participate in the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Christ."
And he's called on pastors to:
"acknowledge and foster the ministries, the offices and roles of the lay faithful that find their foundation in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, indeed, for a good many of them, in the Sacrament of Matrimony."
Great, but what are they?

Well, let's start with what they are not, at least as a matter of first order. The pope recognizes that pastors can delegate to the laity certain offices and roles related to their pastoral ministry, provided that they don't require a person who has received holy orders to carry them out. That said, JPII is cautious to emphasis that this doesn't make the laity pastors and shouldn't be done unless necessity requires it. He warns pastors against:
"a facile yet abusive recourse to a presumed "situation of emergency" or to "supply by necessity," where objectively this does not exist or where alternative possibilities could exist through better pastoral planning."
Why? As we discussed above, the pope recognizes a fundamental difference between the ministerial and royal priesthood and wants that difference to be respected. Although the liturgy is "a sacred action not simply of the clergy, but of the entire assembly,", serving as eucharistic ministers or readers is not the primary way in which the laity are called to carry Christ's mission. Yet, in practice I think many of our churches have emphasized just the opposite. My parish, for example, has five eucharistic ministers as every mass. Most rarely need more than three. But why are we there anyway, to make sure the mass conforms to some one-hour mandate? How many believe that if there was a bit less emphasize on being involved at the mass or at the physical parish we might have less women demanding to be ordained and more of them boldly bringing Christ into the world in other ways?

For the lay faithful, their "field of evangelizing activity" is:
"the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, as well as the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media. It also includes other realities which are open to evangelization, such as human love, the family, the education of children and adolescents, professional work, and suffering. The more Gospel-inspired lay people there are engaged in these realities, clearly involved in them, competent to promote them, and conscious that they must exercise to the full their Christian powers which are often repressed and buried, the more these realities will be at the service of the Kingdom of God and therefore at the service of salvation in Jesus Christ, without in any way losing or sacrificing their human content but rather pointing to a transcendent dimension which is often disregarded."
Part of our problem is the lack of a vocabulary that fully captures the unique mission and vocation of the laity. The pope realizes this. To date, we have often run the risk of describing things in a manner that confuses the royal priesthood and the ministerial priesthood and have seen a "the tendency towards a "clericalization" of the lay faithful". I don't know if we have found the answer yet, but the pope offers a helpful hand by emphasizing the difference between:
"the unity of the Church's mission in which all the baptized participate" and the "substantial diversity of the ministry of pastors ... rooted in the Sacrament of Orders ... [and the lay faithful]... rooted in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation."
I've been surprised no one yet has written me to suggest Opus Dei or Regnum Christi as the answer to all of these questions I raise about how to live out the laity's mission. I'm not terribly familiar with either movement, although I do know people associated with both. Partly, that's because I haven't found member of either to be very upfront about the movements even when asked a direct question. Based on what I know, though, I wonder if they suffer from a different problem, which (lacking a better term) I will describe as the "religious-ization" of the laity. For all I have read of Bl. Escriva's writings, I have always been surprised by how much Opus Dei seems to be structured around the model of a religious order of consecrated brothers or sisters. That seems to be missing the point, too. As I said, my knowledge and experience with both are limited, so readers should feel free to send me email with comments or clarifications.

Coming Soon: Reflections on Paragraph 24 of CFL

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