When I went to Mass this morning, I picked up a copy of The Tidings, the diocesan newspaper for the archdiocese of Los Angeles. It contained several articles of note, most especially, a new pastoral letter from Cardinal Mahony entitled, innocuously enough, As One Who Serves. Addressed to “the bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay leaders of the Archdiocese,” the letter takes up the plans of the Cardinal for the future of ministry in the archdiocese. The solution? Not the promotion of priestly vocations. Not cenacles of prayer for vocation centered around adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Not even the closing of parishes. The solution, for which the Synod has prepared us, is the establishment of Parish Life Directors. Yep.
In the introduction to the letter, the Cardinal tells us that
some few parishes in the Archdiocese are already being led by competent laypersons. However, beginning on July 1, 2006, this number will likely increase considerably. I am fully supportive of the efforts of the Task Force as they begin to identify those parishes that will soon be served through the able ministry of a Parish Life Director. Furthermore, I am committed to the implementation of this form of parish leadership, which is not a stopgap measure or temporary solution to the diminishing number of priestly and Religious vocations.
What, then, is it? The cardinal continues:
[It] is one response to meet the pastoral needs of our Local Church at this time, a valid and valuable expression of Church leadership for which there is provision in Canon Law.
The cardinal also tells us that “it is crucially important that all in this Archdiocese are familiar, not only with Gathered and Sent and As I Have Done for You, but also As One Who Serves. Together these three documents provide a description of the vision of Church, mission and ministry that is guiding, and will continue to guide, the life of our Local Church.”
As if all of this wasn’t enough, the newspaper promises a new “Parish Leadership” series in coming weeks. In the words of the editor, “The series will examine the scope of the priest shortage in Los Angeles and around the U.S., and how the USCCB is developing a resource that, in turn, will help guide the development of lay ecclesial ministry.” He goes on to claim that “to utilize parish leadership models other than the traditional priest-pastor model is more than necessary, and more than simply provided for in Canon Law: It is, in the cardinal’s words, ‘a valid and valuable expression of Church leadership.’
Then there is coverage of the recent Future Staffing of Parishes Symposium held in Los Angeles between September 21-23.
Then, to top it off, a little ditty about Liturgical Leadership, which tells how ten women recently received advanced certification from the Office of Worship to lead liturgical ministries in their parishes, completing a three-year formation process.
The pastoral letter itself is remarkable for several reasons:
- for its references – mostly to other documents written by the cardinal, but also to John Paul II’s Christifidelis Laici and Redemptoris Missio, as well as Gaudium et Spes. A pretty respectable list, no?
- for its omissions – specifically, for its failure to reference the 1997 Vatican instruction entitled On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained in the Sacred Ministry of Priest and the 2002 The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community
- for the way it misquotes John Paul II:
John Paul II looks to the particular role of the layperson in the realization of Christ’s mission, emphasizing that the distinctive character of lay life is to be a sign of the Reign of God in the world. (CL, no. 23 citing Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi 70. AAS 68  60). He understands the lay state not just in human or sociological terms, but as a theological and ecclesiological reality. It is a positive reality, not to be understood in negative terms such as “non-ordained” in contrast to “ordained” (CL, no. 9). It is the lay faithful who, in seeking the Reign of God by engaging in everyday, ordinary affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God, are the presence of God’s Reign in the world (CL, no. 15).
- for its repeated use of the phrase Reign of God (could someone please explain this term to me?)
- for the continual references to lay leadership as ministry
- for the tenuous re-reading of John Paul’s understanding of the priestly role of the laity. He first references JPII’s assertion that the specific mission of the laity is in the world. Then he claims that the parish is now the new “world” for lay missionary activity. Sounds like the re-birth of clericalism to me:
In all these “worldly places” the Reign of God is coming into being. And this is precisely where the laity, particularly lay leaders, have a crucial role to play. But what of the parish? What is it that the lay leader brings to the role of leadership of a parish community?
The parish, too, is a “place” very much part of this world. Like the Areopagus of old, it is a center of encounter and exchange. But here, the encounter is with God in Christ through the gift of the Spirit given to us in Word and Sacrament. And the exchange is based on an economy of gift, in which all in the parish community know themselves to be given the gift of God’s love in the sending of the Son and in the pouring out of the Spirit in our hearts.
The lay leader of the parish is poised between two places:
1) the place which is the parish and
2) those other worldly places of the “new Areopagus” wherein the Christian is engaged in the struggle for justice, promoting solidarity, supporting the hopes and aspirations of youth, using the ever-expanding worlds of communication for the good of Christ’s Gospel.
The lay leader brings the life of the world and its noblest concerns to the heart of the parish and, in turn directs the lifeblood of the parish — strengthened and sustained by celebration in Word and Sacrament — so that the world is more fully infused with holiness, truth, justice, love, and peace.
- for the suggestion that this lay leadership is sacramental: “lay leaders must redouble their commitment to be a sign, indeed a sacrament, of the Reign of God in the world…”
I was particularly struck by his flat-out assertion that “non-ordained” is a negative term for the laity. I had not expected him to speak so differently than Rome on this one, particularly as it is one of the documents listed as a guiding force of the current visitation of U.S. seminaries. But, I’m learning that the cardinal is always full of new surprises. “New” is something very important to the cardinal: “One of the things we need for the future is the ability to try a lot of things. I think it’s a very exciting time.”
Perhaps this all seems like a tempest in a teapot. Before you make that determination, you owe it to yourself to read the 1997 instruction from the Vatican. Here are a few brief highlights:
- The scope of this present document is simply to provide a clear, authoritative response to the many pressing requests which have come to our Dicasteries from Bishops, Priests and Laity seeking clarification in the light of specific cases of new forms of “pastoral activity” of the non-ordained on both parochial and diocesan levels.
Though being born in very difficult and emergency situations and even initiated by those who sought to be genuinely helpful in the pastoral moment, certain practices have often been developed which have had very serious negative consequences and have caused the correct understanding of true ecclesial communion to be damaged. These practices tend to predominate in certain areas of the world and even within these, a great deal of variation can be found.
- Were a community to lack a priest, it would be deprived of the exercise and sacramental action of Christ, the Head and Pastor, which are essential for the very life of every ecclesial community.
- It is unlawful for the non-ordained faithful to assume titles such as “pastor,” “chaplain,” “coordinator,” “moderator” or other such similar titles which can confuse their role and that of the Pastor, who is always a Bishop or Priest.
- In his address to participants at the Symposium on “Collaboration of the Lay Faithful with the Priestly Ministry,” the Holy Father emphasised the need to clarify and distinguish the various meanings which have accrued to the term “ministry” in theological and canonical language.
§ 1. “For some time now, it has been customary to use the word ministries not only for the officia (officies) and non-ordained (functions) munera exercised by Pastors in virtue of the sacrament of Orders, but also for those exercised by the lay faithful in virtue of their baptismal priesthood. The terminological question becomes even more complex and delicate when all the faithful are recognized as having the possibility of supplying — by official deputation given by the Pastors — certain functions more proper to clerics, which, nevertheless, do not require the character of Orders. It must be admitted that the language becomes doubtful, confused, and hence not helpful for expressing the doctrine of the faith whenever the difference ‘of essence and not merely of degree’ between the baptismal priesthood and the ordained priesthood is in any way obscured”.
§ 2. “In some cases, the extension of the term “ministry” to the munera belonging to the lay faithful has been permitted by the fact that the latter, to their own degree, are a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The officia temporarily entrusted to them, however, are exclusively the result of a deputation by the Church. Only with constant reference to the one source, the ‘ministry of Christ’ (…) may the term ministry be applied to a certain extent and without ambiguity to the lay faithful: that is, without it being perceived and lived as an undue aspiration to the ordained ministry or as a progressive erosion of its specific nature.
- The non-ordained faithful or a group of them entrusted with a collaboration in the exercise of pastoral care can not be given the title of “community leader” or any other expression indicating the same idea.