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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

424 At what point in your life did you become a layperson?

Day 424: May 14, 2021 Who are the laity in a Church of priestly people?

From the infant who is newly sprinkled with holy water or submerged in the font... to the Bishop of Rome -- we are baptized

to be a Christian.

By Robert Mickens

Lots of people have been shouting Hosannas and singing Alleluias over the new document from the Pope called Antiquum ministerium (Ancient Ministry)."The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments will soon publish the Rite of Institution of the lay ministry of Catechist," the pope says in the new document.

At first blush it would seem this innovation, as many are calling it, is something to truly celebrate. After all, the reformist pope's creation of a new "lay ministry" would appear to be another nail in the coffin he's been building for the death of clericalism.

Unfortunately, this new ministry is no such nail. In fact, even with his stated attempt to keep the laity from being clericalized, Francis is actually protecting (and maybe even solidifying) the clericalism that has long persisted among the men who are deacons, presbyters and bishops."

At what point in your life did you become a layperson?

"While reading Antiquum ministerium (Ancient ministry) on the morning of May 11, the day of the text's publication, I had the sense that the pope -- or the person who actually wrote the "motu proprio" -- was indeed using new language. But it was merely reformulating old concepts, whether or not that was the real intention.

One of those concepts the new document safeguards, even jealously, is the strict dualism of clergy and laity.

I immediately thought of Ladislas Orsy. The brilliant Jesuit canon lawyer and theologian often asks people during the talks he gives to parish groups,

"At what point in your life did you become a layperson?"

Baffled by the question at first, they eventually acknowledge that it must have been at baptism." But were you baptized to be a 'layperson' forever," Orsy prods them. His point is to get us to understand that each one of us --

from the infant who is newly sprinkled with holy water or submerged in the font to the Bishop of Rome -- is baptized to be a Christian.

There are no "lay charisms" or "lay ministries" It is at this point (baptism) -- and this point alone -- that we become a full member of the People of God, the "household of God" and the "priestly people". The pope is a Christian to no greater degree than the newly baptized infant. And that infant already has the basic spiritual gifts that, if embraced and nurtured, qualify him (or her) to even the highest office in the Church -- depending on the subsequent charisms he (or she) has been given. But lay charisms and clerical (sacred) charisms simply do not exist. There are only charisms. Period.

They are spiritual gifts freely given by the Holy Spirit to whom the Spirit chooses.

The body of believers, through discernment, has the task of identifying those who have been given specific charisms. This is basic theology that goes back to the writings of St. Paul and St. Luke (Acts of the Apostles)."The baptized can be called to exercise a ministry, at a variety of levels. This has nothing to do with their state as laypersons or clerics," says Andrea Grillo, professor of sacraments and the theology of religion.

"There are 'charisms' and 'ministries'. And among the ministries there are those that are 'ordained' and those that are 'instituted'," he notes in reflections on the pope's new "motu proprio". In fact, Francis has decreed that lay people will be instituted into the ministry of Catechist with a liturgical ritual the Vatican is creating especially for this purpose." Cooperation in the apostolate of the hierarchy"

But there are no such things as lay ministries as opposed to clerical ministries.

There are just Church ministries.

"Recognition should be given to those lay men and women who feel called by virtue of their baptism to cooperate in the work of catechesis," says Antiquum ministerium. Further on it notes that that,"in addition to this apostolate, the laity can be called in different ways to more immediate cooperation in the apostolate of the hierarchy".

In other words, as in Church governance, members of the so-called laity can "cooperate" in an apostolate or ministry that is rightly that of clerics. They do not share this apostolate as equals.

Perhaps the pope's real desire and intention in instituting the "lay apostolate of Catechist" is to overcome this problem. But rather than make all the baptized faithful of which even the ordained are members -- co-sharers in the work of catechesis, he has effectively reinforced the segregation of clerical (sacred) ministry and lay ministry.

And it goes downhill from there. "The lay apostolate is unquestionably 'secular'," the new document says.

"It follows that the reception of a lay ministry such as that of Catechist will emphasize even more the missionary commitment proper to every baptized person, a commitment that must however be carried out in a fully 'secular' manner, avoiding any form of clericalization," it says once more. First of all, what pray tell does it mean to carry out a Church ministry in a 'secular' manner?

Urgent need for full-scale revision of Canon Law and structures

Grillo argues in his article that Antiquum ministerium "changes words, but does not change structures". He points out that this because the document works from a clerical notion of the "laity" as those "who sanctify 'the world' and are sanctified 'in the world'."

"But this vision, which also marked Vatican Council II, is too impoverished and too unilateral," he says. "The ministry of Catechist does not need to be defined as a 'lay ministry': it is simply a 'ministry'," says the Italian professor -- who is, by the way, not a cleric. He rightly worries that even if Antiquum ministerium has the potential of opening up greater roles of service and responsibility for the baptized, it is being left to individual bishops to decide how to apply its provisions. If history is a guide, Grillo suggests most of them will do so only "partially" and "minimally".

The bigger and more serious issue, as he sees it, is structural. The new papal text, as stated earlier, is still stuck in an old paradigm where there is a basic inequality between clerics and the so-called laity. This is still carefully protected by the current Code of Canon Law.

Grillo says that until the code undergoes a "complete revision", the Catholic faithful will be deprived of exercising any ministry that has "real authority and efficacy". "

To ensure that (Antiquum ministerium) does not to remain just a piece of paper, it will be necessary to be vigilant about equivocal words and undertake a structural juridical reform to eliminate the most insidious form of clericalism," says Grillo. And where is that found? In the canonical norms and structures that claim to represent the "truth of faith", a code of law to which even Word and Sacrament must be subjected.

By Robert Mickens (slightly edited)

Follow me on Twitter @robinrome

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