Redemptionis Sacramentum 146-148

Part of the post-conciliar retrenchment has been what I would assess as an ingrate attitude on the part of some in the upper hierarchy toward the generous service rendered the Church by those not in ordained ministry. Pope Francis has criticized the approach of servitude many clergy offer lay women. They offer it to men as well–take my word for it. It creates pain and confusion in the Church and is rightly denounced.

While I think the bishops are batting better than the one-of-ten lepers in today’s gospel, it’s still not as high as it should be.

Chapter VII (146-168) is one of the more problematic themes of Redemptionis Sacramentum, addressing certain concerns in what the curia deem “extraordinary” functions of lay faithful. Let’s read:

[146.] There can be no substitute whatsoever for the ministerial Priesthood. For if a Priest is lacking in the community, then the community lacks the exercise and sacramental function of Christ the Head and Shepherd, which belongs to the essence of its very life. [Cf. Congregation for the Clergy, and others, Instruction, Ecclesiae de mysterio, Theological Principles 3] For “the only minister who can confect the sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi is a validly ordained Priest”. [Cf. Code of Canon Law 900 § 1; cf. Fourth Lateran Ecumenical Council, 11-30 November 1215, Chapter 1: DS802; Pope Clement VI, Letter to Mekhitar, Catholicos of the Armenians, Super quibusdam, 29 September 1351: DS 1084; Ecumenical Council of Trent, Sessio XXIII, 15 July 1563, Doctrine and Canons on Sacred Orders., Chapter 4: DS 1767-1770; Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei: AAS 39 (1947) p. 553]

The phrasing here is awkward. Since the universal practice is for bishops to assign clergy from a pool of diocesan presbyters and perhaps a smaller group that consists of either religious order men or visiting priests from other dioceses, it cannot be stated accurately that priests are “lacking in the community.” Many communities generate more than a fair share of vocations. But clergy serve at the discretion of the bishop.

Otherwise, the point here is not in serious dispute: the ordained clergy, however rare they might be in some areas of the world, are essential to the sacramental functioning of the Body.

[147.] When the Church’s needs require it, however, if sacred ministers are lacking, lay members of Christ’s faithful may supply for certain liturgical offices according to the norm of law. [Cf. Code of Canon Law 230 § 3; Pope John Paul II, Allocution during a Symposium concerning the collaboration of laypersons in the pastoral ministry of Priests, 22 April 1994, n. 2: L’Osservatore Romano, 23 April 1994; Ecclesiae de mysterio]Such faithful are called and appointed to carry out certain functions, whether of greater or lesser weight, sustained by the Lord’s grace. Many of the lay Christian faithful have already contributed eagerly to this service and still do so, especially in missionary areas where the Church is still of small dimensions or is experiencing conditions of persecution, [Cf. Redemptoris Missio 53-54; Ecclesiae de mysterio] but also in areas affected by a shortage of Priests and Deacons.

This section contains one good nugget: Liturgical ministry is less about volunteering and more about answering a call from a community. People do not step forward and take over. That might happen in the ranks of both laity and clergy, but I would hesitate to call this ministry.

What is really in play here that perhaps some in the hierarchy detect is a flawed premise undergirding the reasons why some people serve the Church. But this flaw is found in all sorts of people, lay and priests, and is part of the sinful human condition.

Catechists are not seen as liturgical ministers in so-called developed countries, but in the Third World, they indeed have liturgical responsibilities:

[148.] Particular importance is to be attached to the training of catechists, who by means of great labors have given and still give outstanding and altogether necessary help in the spreading of the faith and of the Church. [Cf. Ad Gentes 17; Redemptoris Missio 73]


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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