Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Parish Ministry Today
We're All in It Together
adapted from Cardinal Roger Mahony's
pastoral letter on ministry
While the number of priests is declining
and their average age rising, the number of Catholics is increasing.
The gifts of the lay faithful have been flourishing in unprecedented
numbers and in wondrous ways. As the priests continue to explore
different understandings and models of ministry, there is a deepening
awareness that even as we are faced with a shortage of priestly
and religious vocations, we are being invited to a deeper understanding
of the nature of the Christian vocation. We all are gaining a fuller
appreciation of ministry, both ordained and nonordained. The Holy
Spirit is leading us toward new horizons.
Given these circumstances, mere adjustment
and small shifts in practice will not suffice. We need a major reorientation
in our thinking about ministry as well as in our ministerial practice.
We can start by making four important points.
First, we must recognize that lay
ministry rooted in the priesthood of the baptized is not a stopgap
measure. Even if seminaries were once again filled to overflowing
and convents packed with sisters, our problems would not be solved.
We would still need to cultivate, develop and sustain the full flourishing
of ministries that we have witnessed in the Church since the Second
Vatican Council. In the wake of the Council, we now have a clearer
recognition that it is in the nature of the Church to be endowed
with many gifts. These many gifts are the basis for the vocations
to the priesthood, the diaconate and the religious life, as well
as for the many ministries rooted in the call of Baptism.
Second, there is a pressing need for
greater collaboration and inclusivity in ministry in the Church
of the new millennium. While collaboration is to be a hallmark of
the ministry shared among the priests themselves, as well as between
the bishop and his priests, we need to develop a deeper understanding
of collaboration between the ministries of the ordained and of the
Third, there is a need for a clear
understanding of the nature of lay ecclesial ministry on the part
of both the baptized and those who have received the sacrament of
Fourth, there is a need for a common
foundational theology as the basis for formation of seminarians,
deacons, religious and laypersons for ministry. Training in collaboration
needs to become more a part of formation for ordination, so that
one and all can exercise their ministry in a collaborative fashion.
During recent Priests' Assemblies in the
Archdiocese of Los Angeles, we priests and their archbishop together
wrote a pastoral letter on ministry, articulating a clear vision
of ministries, ordained and nonordained. We invited local communities,
moreover, to begin to plan for the future of ministry in our archdiocese.
We sought and received guidance from individuals, parishes and other
constituencies throughout our archdiocese. We invite Catholics everywhere
to share in our journey towards a more collaborative ministry.
Christ, the servant
The title of our pastoral letter, "As I Have
Done for You," comes from the Gospel of John. After washing the
feet of his disciples, Jesus tells them: "As I have done for you,
you should do also" (John 13:15). It expresses the conviction that
all ministry in the Church, ordained and nonordained, is rooted
in Christ the Servant.
This pastoral letter appears in the course
of an ongoing dialogue on ministry in tomorrow's Church. It is intended
as a signpost along the way, as we move together to be and to build
the Body of Christ. In spelling out this vision of ministries, ordained
and nonordained, I call upon the whole Church of Los Angelesindeed,
Catholics everywhereto think and to plan for appropriate ways
to meet the changing needs of the Church.
This letter is intended, then, as a tool
for reshaping the ministerial structures of the local Church in
a way that is both more collaborative and more attentive to the
diversity of cultures in our society. No less will do if we are
to remain faithful to our vocation as a Catholic people: to be a
sacrament of the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God, in our own time
The Second Vatican Council reminded us in
its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) that
it is in the nature of the Church to be a light to all nations.
In responding to this gift and task, a clearer understanding of
ministries ordained and nonordained in this new millennium is required,
not merely desirable.
A share in one priesthood
The shortage of priestly and religious vocations
has awakened in us an appreciation of a broadly based shared ministry.
We realize more that it is in the nature of the Church as the Body
of Christ to be endowed with many gifts, ministries and offices.
What some refer to as a "vocations crisis" is, rather, one of the
many fruits of the Second Vatican Council. It is a sign of God's
deep love for the Church, and an invitation to a more creative and
effective ordering of gifts and energy in the Body of Christ. This
is a time of great challenge and opportunity in the Church, not
least of all because the gifts of the lay faithful have been flourishing
in unprecedented numbers and in unforeseen ways.
Following the Second Vatican Council there
has been a rediscovery in Catholic theology of Baptism as the foundational
sacrament of ministry. We now share a clearer recognition that ministry
is not just for the ordained. The Council related the baptismal
call, the ministry of the baptized and the office of the ordained
to the mystery of Christ and found in each a reflection of the threefold
office of Christ as prophet, priest and king (see box on p. 4).
All ministry, be it the ministry of the baptized
or of the ordained, is to be understood in relation to the community
of the Church which expresses and receives its identity as the Body
of Christ in word and sacrament. All ministry is for the service
of the Church and the wider world, a participation in the ministry
of Christ the Servant who, after washing the feet of his disciples
urges them, and us, one and all: "As I have done for you, you should
do also" (John 13:15).
The Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) calls us to an awareness
of the one priesthood of Christ into which we are initiated through
Baptism. Both ordained and baptismal priesthoods share in this one
priesthood. The laity as well as the ordained participate in the
threefold office of Christ the prophet, priest and king.
Vatican II's theology of the laity is rooted
in an understanding of the Church as the People of God, in the universal
call to holiness and in an appreciation of the diversity of the
nature of the Church (Lumen Gentium #4).
The common priesthood of the faithful and
the ordained priesthood are of different kinds. But because the
ordained priesthood and the priesthood of the faithful are nonetheless
interrelated (#10), clearly laypeople share in the Church's saving
mission through Baptism, Confirmation and the ongoing celebration
of the Eucharist. Thus with the Second Vatican Council there is
a restoration of the baptismal dignity of the laity, an emerging
recognition of Baptism as the basis and foundation of all ministry,
and a fuller realization that ministry is not exercised only by
Scripture tells us that ministry is rooted
in the charisms given by the Spirit in Baptism: "There are different
kinds of gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of
service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the
same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual
the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit" (1 Corinthians
Lay ecclesial ministry
In our own day, in addition to the call to
the office of bishop, presbyter or deacon, and the vocation to the
consecrated religious life, some laypersons are called to "lay ecclesial
ministry," a vocation of full-time Church service in response to
the needs of each local community. This must be distinguished from
the vocation of all the baptized to advance the Reign of God through
their commitments to marriage and family, workplace and social responsibility.
It must also be distinguished from the many
other lay ministries that flourish in the Church for the building
up of the Church and the transformation of the world. Within the
context of the common call to service which is given to all the
baptized, "lay ecclesial ministry" refers to professionally trained
or otherwise properly prepared women and men, including vowed religious,
who are in positions of service and leadership in the Church.
This is a unique vocation in the Church,
a call to service in the name of the Church. "Lay ecclesial ministry"
does not describe one kind of service or work, but refers to the
ministries of committed persons, women and men, married or single,
which are exercised in a stable, public, recognized and authorized
This is Church ministry in the strict and
formal sense. It emerges from a personal call, requires appropriate
formation and is undertaken with both the support and the authorization
of competent Church authority. Lay ecclesial ministers serve in
such capacities as pastoral associate, parish business manager,
director of religious education, catechist, director of the RCIA
program, youth/young adult minister or coordinator of liturgy.
The vocation to lay ecclesial ministry calls
for greater attention and support in the Church today, even as we
recognize the inestimable value of the foundational vocation of
the baptized in general.
Whatever the vocation or ministry, ordained
or nonordained, each and every one is an expression of the threefold
mission of every baptized Christian: prophet, priest and king. We
do this according to the gifts, the charisms we have received in
Baptism. These differ. But whatever we do, we do it in the name
of the Lord in the power of the Spirit for the building of the Body
of Christ and the transformation of the wider world.
Priestly identity can only be discerned within
priestly relationshipswith Christ, with the priestly People
of God, with the bishop and other priests. The purpose of priestly
ordination is to call forth and serve the priesthood of the whole
Church, the entire Body. The ordained priesthood is not only a ministry
for the Church on behalf of Christ, but also a ministry done with
a priestly people (LG #10). Although the notion of the priesthood
of the community is older than the concept of an ordained ministerial
priesthood (1 Peter 2:5-9), the Church very early recognized the
consecrated ministry of those who are called uniquely to the service
of God's priestly people.
The priest both engages the priesthood of
the faithful and represents the priesthood of Christ to the priestly
people. This the priest does principally through preparing the People
of God to celebrate the Eucharist and by presiding over the eucharistic
celebration. The priest also does this as one whose life, by a unique
and permanent sacramental character, is ordered to prayer, witness
and service in the name of and on behalf of the whole Church.
Diakonia is so central to the life
of the Church that it is singled out and sacramentalized in diaconal
ordination. The ordained deacon signifies in his person the unique
charism of service in and for the Church. Deacons serve the Church
by assisting bishops and priests. Through ordination deacons participate
in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, but they do not share in the ministerial
priesthood itself (LG #29). Nonetheless they express in a
most visible way the character of the Church as servant.
Baptismal priesthood: an abundance
Ministry both ordained and nonordained, rooted
in the gifts of the Spirit given in Baptism, is a share in the anointing
of Christ as prophet, priest and king in the waters of the Jordan
(Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22; Jn 1:29-34). Baptized at the
hands of John the Baptist, Jesus the Christ is impelled by the Spirit
into the wilderness to be a witness to the glory of God the Father.
His whole life was given to worship of the Father through the service
of self-sacrificial love.
Brought into being through Baptism, the Christian
community is formed in and through the Eucharist (1 Corinthians
10:16-17). It becomes the Body of Christ who is priest, and it joins
itself to Christ the priest in his return to the Father in his self-offering.
Thereby it becomes a priestly community endowed with the flourishing
of gifts. These gifts empower us to sanctify and evangelize the
world (1 Peter 2:9).
All Christians are configured to Christ through
Baptism. That is the sacrament by which the new People of God are
incorporated into the Church, participate in Christ's death and
resurrection, and assume the name "Christian." All Christians are
called to a life of discipleship and have the obligation of extending
his work and presence in the world today, advancing the Reign of
God in our own time and place. All share in the one same vocationto
be and to build the Body of Christ, building up the Kingdom of God
here and now.
It is in the Church, at this time and in
this place, that the presence of Christthe one who witnessed,
worshiped and, above all, servedcontinues. And it is through
witness, worship and service that the Church continually expresses
and receives its identity as the Body of Christ.
Called in many ways
The baptized are called to share in the Church's
mission through mutual service (diakonia), through a life
of worship (leitourgia/koinonia), and through witness (marturia)
to the gospel by holiness of life. These are the hallmarks of Christian
living. The manner and degree of engagement in this common call
differ, depending on the gifts and ministries given by the Spirit:
"And the gifts are given so that some should be apostles, some prophets,
some evangelists, some pastors and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11).
Most laypersons are called to transform the
world by living out their baptismal vocation, being and becoming
the Body of Christ in the world, advancing the Kingdom of God amidst
the pressing demands of marriage, family, school and workplace.
The baptized also witness to the light and
love of Christ through many ways. They witness through all forms
of prophetic utterance, through teaching, through the ministry of
catechesis, through theological reflection by which they seek to
probe the riches of the Word and the Christian tradition. They witness
also through participating in the Church's evangelical mission,
sometimes being sent from home and country as heralds and servants
of the Good News in other lands.
The baptized worship God in spirit and in
truth through full, conscious and active participation in the Sunday
liturgy. This participation is aided through the proclamation of
the Word in word and in deed, through the liturgical ministries
of lector, musician or eucharistic minister, through the many other
ministries which serve to animate the community gathered for prayer.
The baptized serve God through administration,
feeding the hungry, caring for the needs of the sick, working for
justice, washing the feet of the homeless, safeguarding and protecting
the rights of the last, the littlest and the least, giving the Body
and Blood of Christ to those gathered at the Table of the Lord,
and bringing this Holy Communion to those who are sick at home or
in the hospital.
In all these ways and more, the gifts of
the Christian people for witness, worship and service are being
shared for the greater glory of God in a community of faith, hope
Next: In Search of the Real Mary
(by Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J.)