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Vol 40 No 4

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Martin Wilson MSC

Dawn Cordona

Lorraine Erlandson

Pat Mullins SJ

Peter Hearn MSC

John Wilcken SJ

Patrick McInerney

Abe Ata

Anthony Gooley

Kevin Mark



What's in a Name? Part II: 'Ordained' and 'Lay Apostolate'


IN PART ONE (Compass 2006 no.3) we considered two terms from the Second Vatican Council, ‘common priesthood’ and ‘ministry’, and in this article we consider two other terms, ‘ordained’ and ‘lay apostolate’. We will conclude consideration of the four terms by proposing some of the criteria that we might use to evaluate the success of the Council in renewing the life of the local Church. The focus of these reflections is the Roman Catholic Church, which is a communion of a number of churches of the Eastern and Western Christian traditions.

Orders and Ordination

I intend to explore orders and ordination through the perspective of four pairs of ideas held in tension. These paired ideas may be considered as part of a theological matrix which can assist us to explore the sacrament of orders in Roman Catholic theology from a number of perspectives. The aim here is not to provide a definitive list of ideas but simply to provide a tool for reflection and analysis. These four tensions we will consider are:

• From above and from below
• Local and universal
• Male and female
• Inclusion and exclusion

The first pairing concerns the genesis of orders and structure in the Roman Catholic Church. In its nature the Church is a hierarchy in the truest sense of the word; that is, its origins are from above and not below. Hierarchy is another name that creates confusion as it sometimes takes on negative overtones when it is immediately identified with clergy and with the bishops in particular. La Cugna outlines the true understanding of hier-arche in the Greek sense of the word; ‘The Church makes a claim about itself that no other human community does, that its origins are divine’ (La Cugna, 1991,p271). The Church is not primarily a social reality but a theological one. The Church does not exist because it is a collection of people who believe in Jesus and share some religious interests. It is not like a social club that exists based on shared interests or a democracy which exists as an expression of a social contract among the citizens and power elements within society. The Church exists because it is the body of Christ. God calls it into life and it is sustained in that life through the constant invocation of the Holy Spirit. Certain elements of the church’s structure, such as orders, are part of the God-given nature of the Church. Sacraments are one of the means by which God provides for and nourishes the life of the Body. Throughout history the church has shaped and adapted the gift of orders in different ways, through the complex interaction of theological reflection and social and cultural elements, but this does not detract from the essence of the sacramentality of order. Order emerges in the life of the Church as a given, from above as it were, in response to the divine and not from below as an entirely human design.

All of the baptised are members of an order. This is seen most clearly when the Church is gathered for Eucharist. The whole Body of Christ, which is the Church, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice when all participate in the worship fully, actively and consciously (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10). The order of laity is no more nor less vital to the proper celebration of the Eucharist than the deacons, priests or bishop. Indeed, Mass cannot be celebrated without the presence of some of the order of laity under normal circumstances (can. 906). Order is a dimension of the priesthood of all of the people which in itself is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. When we fail to recognise the equal dignity of the whole people of God and imagine that there is a trickle-down view of holiness or priestliness then we are likely to slip into clericalism, a sense of hierarchy which is an expression of privilege and power. We know from the history of the Church that such a temptation toward clericalism is not easily avoided. It is precisely because of this temptation that a proper understanding of hierarchy needs to be recovered. One of the unfortunate consequences of reaction to clericalism is the temptation to reject all hierarchy and thereby deny some aspects of the essential nature of the life of the Church.

The second tension is between local and universal. There is no universal ordination in the Roman Catholic Church; a man is ordained for and into his local Church or diocese. Canon 6 of the Council of Nicea expressly forbids the idea that a man or woman could be ordained without specific reference to the community to which he or she belongs: there is no universal ordination. (At this time the Church ordained women and men as deacons and men only to priesthood and episcopate.) A man who is ordained must be incardinated into the diocese or local church and he is granted faculties to minister sacraments by his local bishop (Cans 265-272). He cannot celebrate the sacraments in another diocese without at least the implied permission of the local bishop. For example, when a priest or deacon is invited by a relative to preside at a wedding in another diocese he would need to ask permission of the local priest; but to work in another diocese for an extended period he would need to be incardinated into the new diocese and have permission to leave his own.

The significance of local ordination is that it tells us that ordination is not a personal gift for the individual but a relational sacrament. Ordination is an expression of the koinonia that is the Church and only makes sense within the context of a community. Ordination places the ordained in a new relationship within a living local church through which Christ is made visible. Priests and deacons are not a sacred caste set apart from the living worshipping community, but members of the one Body of Christ gathered around their bishop along with the laity. When a deacon or priest is removed from, or away from, the local Church into which he has been incardinated he ceases to have a function in the life of that community. When communion is restored he can again minister, but no re-ordination is necessary because each of the sacraments of order (baptism, confirmation and Holy Orders) imprint character, conform the recipient to Christ, and do not need repeating. Ordination is a reminder that the ordained is one with, not one above, the community; he comes from and is related to, even dependent on, the local community which together call down the Holy Spirit as Lord and Giver of life. Ordination reorients the one ordained within the communion, that is the local church, and he becomes connected to it in a way that the laity of the local Church is not. The order of laity can continue their work in any diocese and are free to move between any diocese of their choosing whereas deacons, priests and bishops do not have that choice.

The third tension that will be considered is between male and female. Roman Catholic, Orthodox and some Protestant Churches do not ordain women to the ministry. For some Christians the restriction of ordination to men only is viewed as an injustice and a betrayal of the new dispensation whereby ‘…there is no longer male and female, all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’(Gal 3:28). Some argue on the basis of this text and our common priesthood that women and men could be called to ministerial leadership. A variety of arguments and statements based on Scripture and Tradition are proposed to justify the view that priestly ordination is reserved to men only. Reservation of priestly ordination to men only is an authoritative but not a dogmatic teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. No equivalent statements have ever been made about the ordination of women to the diaconate and the question remains much more open because of the certain knowledge that women were ordained as deacons up until the tenth century. The precise role of women deacons in the life of the Church remains a subject for further study. One of the consequences of opposition to the male only ordination rule of some Churches is that some may be tempted to oppose all ordination and to seek to do away with a distinct ministry but, as we saw in Part I, this is not justified by the Scriptures.

In some sense the question of ordination of women remains one for the future agenda of the Roman Catholic Church in spite of the statements of John-Paul II that the question is settled. Even if the Roman Catholic Church does not engage in consideration of the possibility of the ordination of women to its own ministry it is in ecumenical dialogues with Churches that do ordain women. If Roman Catholics and these churches are to move toward full communion with each other the mutual recognition of the validity of orders will have to be considered and resolved. It hardly seems possible that there could be full communion if one Church refused to recognise the validity of ministries in partner churches. There will come a time when Churches in dialogue with each other will have to consider the justification for restricting ordination to men only. In the interim it would be a great loss to the Church if consideration about ministry and ordination were drowned in a sea of polemic about women’s ordination or that women felt unable to participate in the sacramental life of the Church because of a male-only ministry.

The final tension is inclusion and exclusion. This tension involves a fundamental misconception of the roles of presider and congregation in the liturgical action. Language which speaks of ordination as granting the power to preside over the liturgical celebration and especially to consecrate seems to indicate that the minister is the one whose exclusive responsibility is the liturgical action. Such language seems to suggest that the priest alone consecrates the elements and makes each of the other sacraments effective. In reality the liturgical action is inclusive of the entire congregation. The priest speaks the words in the name of the congregation it is ‘we’ who ask this through Christ our Lord and it is ‘we’ who offer the Father these gifts…, only two of the prayers of the Mass are spoken by the priest in his own name. It is the entire assembly which prays ‘through him, with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit…[‘him’ refers to Jesus]’ And most importantly each sacrament is effective because the whole assembly, in communion with one another, prays the epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit. It is the Body of Christ, the Church, which prays, ‘we bring you these gifts and we ask you to make them holy by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Eucharistic Prayer III). Being in the Body of Christ means that there is no exclusion in the liturgical action but there are different roles assigned to each order and when each order fully lives out the part assigned to it then the Church becomes fully herself, ‘the whole Body achieves full growth in dependence on the full functioning of each part’ (Eph 4:16). The life of the Church is not restricted to her liturgical and sacramental activity, for worship flows into and animates the mission of the People of God.

Lay Apostolate

‘In the Church there is a diversity of ministry but unity of mission’ (Vatican II, Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, par. 2) The whole Church is called to live out the mission of Christ in the world but only some are called to ministry. The laity is called to the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ and the characteristic of lay life is to live the gospel in the midst of the world and to be as it were the leaven of the Kingdom (loc. cit.). It is because of their communion with God in Christ that each lay person is called to practical apostolic action. The orientation of the laity is toward the world and toward engagement in it, and transformation of it through living the gospel. The significance of the rite of dismissal in the liturgy, whereby the deacon or priest send the community out into the world, is sometimes lost through poor liturgical practices which link the prayer after communion to the dismissal and sending. Greater attention to the dismissal would indicate that almost the entire purpose of the gathering has been for this sending forth to live the Gospel. The community assembles to be built up and nourished by the Word of God in order that we might live the gospel in the circumstances of everyday life. This is the principal duty of the laity, who are not only the majority of the Church but the part of the Church which is most in contact with society and able to effect its transformation. The lay apostolate is not some lesser degree of the apostolic life of the Church, it is the heart and purpose of it. The role of the clergy is to build up and prepare the laity for living the gospel. Of course, the clergy are not absolved from their responsibility to transform the world.

One of the great fruits of Vatican II has been the increase in involvement of the laity in so many aspects of the life of the Roman Catholic Church. It is truly a blessing for which we should give thanks. Many more lay people are involved in the Church as readers, special ministers of communion, acolytes and catechists, along with many other roles. All of these are valuable and the Church today would not function without such involvement. It would be a pity if we measured the success of lay involvement solely by lay participation in intra-church focussed functions. As important as all of these are they are not the essential tasks of the lay apostolate. Imagine if all of the laity fully embraced the lay apostolate as outlined through the teaching of the Council, what impact might this have on our society? Imagine every Christian actively involved in the cause of social justice, advocacy for refugees and people with disabilities for example. Imagine in every factory, office and boardroom in the nation, if Christians applied the gospel to their work relationships and the running of their businesses. Imagine a community transformed by the Body of Christ, being built up through the Eucharist, pouring out their lives in the service of the world. The extent to which lay Christians live the lay apostolate is the best measure of the outcomes of the Vatican Council.

A Matter of Emphasis

We have every right to celebrate the achievements that have come from the renewal of the Church that commenced with the Second Vatican Council. Many lay people are discovering a love for the Bible, joining prayer groups, participating in lay ministries and engaging with ecumenical and social justice issues with renewed vigour. Many Roman Catholics have noticed the renewal primarily through the celebration of Sunday liturgy. Many more laity are involved in the Mass through being readers, acolytes, altar servers, special ministers of Eucharist, choir members and musicians as well as other contributions to the liturgical celebration. Lay Catholics, many of whom are Religious Sisters, are working in parish roles such as catechists and pastoral associates. Each of these things is good in itself and to be encouraged as a positive outcome of the Council. It would be wrong to take this type of involvement as the measure of success of the Council because the emphasis is on looking inward and nurturing the internal life of the Church. Yes, the Council called for the reform of the Church, not as an end in itself but so that the Church could serve and be a light of hope and love for the world.

The whole Church is called to work together. The ministers have primary concern for the building up of the body of Christ, although the laity, too, has a part in this. The ministry has a primary focus which is the life of the Church ad intra, that is, within itself. The ministers equip the saints so that they can live a gospel centred life. The priestly people sanctify the world through the liturgy, prayer and living the gospel, with all of the orders contributing its part. The primary focus of the laity is the life of the Church ad extra, to take the gospel into our culture, our politics, our economics and industrial relations—that is to the world. For the whole body to work effectively, each must play his or her part (1 Cor 12:12-26).

Better indicators of the depth to which the Council has penetrated the life of the Church are to be found in three key criteria. The first is the extent to which the community of believers has deepened their sense of communion with the Trinity. The second is the extent to which they have become aware of the deep bonds of communion they share with one another because of their baptism into the life of the Trinity. The third is a sense of shared mission and engagement in the search for unity among all Christians and commitment to justice in our world. The second criteria will have concrete expression through the quality of the worship experience and the real bonds of peace and genuine love that exist within the assembly and which continue throughout the week when they meet each other. Those who participate fully, actively and consciously in the worship cannot do so unless they have experienced a full, active and conscious experience of being parts of one another (Rom 12:4-5). The third criteria will have concrete expression through the energy and enthusiasm for working and praying alongside other Christians in regular and continual ecumenical endeavours. When we see parishes doing things ecumenically rather than doing ecumenical things we will know we are on the right track. We will see concrete expression of the third criteria when we come to see that our community is one that advocates for the poor, welcomes the refugee, makes room for people with disability and engages the parish fully, actively and consciously in social justice action.

Our gathering together on Sunday and worshipping with one mind and heart is critical and so are all those ministries which are aimed at the internal life (ad intra) of the Church. But in a very real way we gather in order to be sent. The name of Catholic worship is the Mass, which is derived from the last words of the Latin liturgy: Ite missa est—‘Go, you are sent’. We gather to be nurtured and fed by the Body of Christ in order that we might become the Body of Christ. In becoming that Body we too are called to share the mission and give our life for the world. This is what John alludes to when he writes ‘out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ (7:38). Being a source of light and life to the world must be the ultimate measure of the success of the renewal of the Church and of lay life in particular, which is prompted by the Second Vatican Council.

Anthony Gooley is a Ministry Development Officer with the Archdiocese of Brisbane. He is currently working toward a PhD in theology from Griffith University, School Of Theology.

Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland; The Code of Canon Law in English translation. Collins Liturgical. 1983
John N Collins; Are All Christian Ministers? EJ Dwyer, Sydney, 1992
Catherine La Cugna; God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life. Harper Collins, San Francisco, 1991.