One of the WDTPRS articles I posted today has a paragraph on the issue of ministry. This paragraph aroused a comment from an attentive reader. It is worth our time to tease out that exchange and give it some focus:
During my seminary days the more radical of the faculty forbade us from using the “‘p’-word” (“priest”). They insisted we were being formed to be “ordained ministers”. This had the purpose of deemphasizing the distinction between the priest… er um… “ordained minister” and all people… er um… “non-ordained ministers”, all of whom exercise “ministry” in some vague way. In essence, “ministry” was pretty much anything people might do. I have no problem with all people being virtuous and holy, integrating prayer and contemplation together with their daily tasks, raising all their words and deeds to the Father in self-oblation, but not everything is “ministry” and not everyone is a “minister”, in the sense the Church understands the term. Priest and minister are radically different ideas. Ministers do good things within a community but priests offer sacrifice and are themselves set apart. Ministers are characterized mostly by their tasks and the priests is distinguished by what the sacrament of Holy Orders has made him ontologically, at the level of his being. In those days of seminary, they were trying to strip the Mass and the priest of their sacral character. The same applies to architecture. Churches had sanctuaries but very often we hear now about “worship spaces”. The architecture reflects the differences of views. The general effect of this squishy 60’s-80’s language about Mass and the priest is something like this: “People are gathered together to celebration of Christ’s memory during which one of their number, who happens to be designated by that community, retells the story of the night before He died, when He established the custom about to be reenacted.”
Here is the comment:
Your remarks about the use of the term “ministry” rang true to my experience. I believe the problem stems from a reductionist and ultimately protestant ecclesiology which sees the Church in terms of being a club of the like-minded. In this model, reinforced by so much that we now do liturgically, everybody has to have a job. I think it is crucial that we recover the proper sense of our activity (that is the activity of the lay faithful) in Church life as being primarily a preparation for our eternal life with God and that we see our “ministry” in the terms of Lumen Gentium 31, in terms of our secularity. The new Compendium (at para 188) sums this up elegantly in the following terms, “The lay faithful have as their own vocation to seek the Kingdom of God by illuminating and ordering temporal affairs according to the plan of God. They carry out in this way their call to holiness and to the apostolate, a call given to all the baptised.”
Comment by Stephen Morgan — 14 January 2007 @ 12:08 pm
Here is my response:
Stephen: This question of ministry may be the most pressing problem to resolve as we start cleaning up the devastation of the last forty years and strive to understand new directions through a "hermeneutic of continuity" rather than of rupture. Who is the minister? What is ministry? We must make distinctions. I have an anecdote about this. A couple years ago I went to visit my old friend Card. Mayer (who is still living here in Rome). As I came to the door for our appointment, I was met by the sister who told me that he was still with his previous guest and could a wait a moment in the chapel. After a few minutes, I was called and there was met with Card. Mayer and his previous guest Card. Ratzinger. As we knew each other, it was a rather cordial meeting. They told me they had been talking about which pressing issues in the Church’s life required attention and they asked me my opinion. I responded that we had to clarify who a minister is and what ministry means, because today they are so confused as to strip priests and laypeople of their proper identity. It happens, they told me, that that was preciously the topic they had been talking about during their meeting.
It is terribly dangerous to the life of the Church, and a horrible act of condescension, to fall into an attitude that lay people do not have dignity in the Church unless they are doing what is proper to the clergy. In abdicating their proper roles in order to give lay people more to do, clerics actually fall into a subtle but corrosive clericalism: "You aren’t good enough on your own, so I will permit you be like me."