From a reader:
I’m on the pastoral council at my parish. I hear people using the term “Ministry” for all kinds of activities. Pretty much all of these folks are lay Catholics.
I’m kind-of a stickler for terminology, because muddled language leads to muddled thinking….:) Which leads to my question: When is it proper for lay people to use the term “ministry”?
My gut tells me that “Ministry” has to do with work of the ordained (e.g. bishops, priests, deacons,) but my gut is not even close to sufficient to answer this question. Could you give me some clarification on this question?
I think the key may lie in the 1997 inter-dicasterial document entitled Ecclesia de mysterio… or… Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests.
This document makes some distinctions about what “ministry” is, quoting Apostolicam actuositatem 5: “the lay apostolate and the pastoral ministry complete each other”.
Ministry is rooted in sacred orders, which aim at the service to the whole Church of preaching, governing and sanctifying. Lay people can collaborate in important ways in the ministry of the clergy in those matters which don’t require holy orders.
It seems to me that a problem derives from the vagaries of the language we use. “Apostolate”, deriving from the Greek for “send”, can aim our minds directly to the Sent Ones, the Apostles chosen by Christ and their successors the bishops, or can suggest any person with some good and directed undertaking. “Minister”, from the Latin for “lesser”, is someone who acts on behalf of another, as in the case of all clerics who by Holy Orders act on behalf of the Lord in carrying out His three-fold munera, offices, of teaching, governing and sanctifying. More loosely, minister is someone who does something with authorization, which in many cases could be any of the baptized, while traditionally some things are reserved to men alone, because only men can be ordained. Thus, a ministry or an apostolate can be specifically a matter for the ordained or could by extension apply also to what lay people can do in and for the Church in coordination with the ministry and apostolate of the ordained.
In general, I suggest that we begin restricting our use of “minister” and “ministry” to the person of and activity of the ordained, in the first, place, and then those with a specific role coordinated by the clergy. Apostolate may have a somewhat less immediate clerical oversight, but it cannot be independent.
Perhaps some of you who are well-informed can jump in if you know about any other documents or resources which can shed light on this matter.
In any event, we have to get away from calling everything and everyone a minstry and a minister.