Address to the Participants of the Symposium...

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Given in Rome by His Holiness on 22 April 1994 to the participants of the symposium.

1. I am very pleased to meet you who are attending the symposium on "The Participation of the Lay Faithful in the Priestly Ministry" organized by the Congregation for the Clergy.

I greet the cardinal prefect, the secretary and the officials of this congregation as well as the representatives of the dicasteries involved and of the episcopal conferences, the special guests and the experts who have taken part.

I would first like to express my deep satisfaction with the work you have done, which has involved many episcopal conferences. Let us together thank the Lord also for the fact that your meeting happily coincided with the special assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, in which reflection on the relationship between the lay and ordained ministries has occupied an important place.

The topic of the possible sharing of the lay faithful in certain concrete aspects of the specific pastoral ministry of priests properly belongs in the much broader framework of the one mission of the church, established by Christ on the foundation of the apostles.

The entire church in all her components lives in the mystery of a "missionary communion.' This means an "organic' communion analogous to that of a living, functioning body ... characterized by a diversity and a complementarity of vocations and states of life, of ministries, charisms and responsibilities" (<Christifideles Laici,> 20); it also means a "unity in mission" (cf. <Apostolicam Actuositatem>, 2; <Christifideles Laici,> 55), which actively involves all the baptized in the work of building up the mystical body of Christ and in courageously proclaiming the Gospel to the world.

2. It is within this organic and dynamic vision of the ecclesial body, hierarchically structured by the Holy Spirit through his various sacramental gifts, that we must look with joyful gratitude on the development in this century of the lay apostolate, from both the organizational viewpoint and that of theoretical, doctrinal reflection (cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 33; <Apostolicam Actuositatem,> 1). This apostolate is appropriately suited to the complex circumstances of the present day, which demand a renewed global missionary action <ad intra> and <ad extra>, encouraging the recognition and full mobilization of all the energies belonging to the various members of the mystical body of Christ (cf. general audience, March 2, 1994 <L'Osservatore Romano> English ed., March 9, 1994).

Our times consume and require ever greater priestly energy. However, although many parts of the world are experiencing a great blossoming of vocations, in other areas one notes a persistent shortage of priests and the phenomenon of a great many sacred ministers of advanced age, ill or worn out by the ever more whirling pace of apostolic activity. As a result, even where the number of ordinations and seminarians has increased, the availability of priests is still insufficient to meet all needs.

Hence the demand is felt for an appropriate collaboration of the lay faithful in the pastoral ministry of priests, while always respecting, logically, the sacramental limits and the difference of charisms and ecclesial roles. In some local situations generous, intelligent solutions have been sought. The legislation of the Code of Canon Law has itself provided new possibilities which, however, must be correctly applied so as not to fall into the ambiguity of considering as ordinary and normal solutions that were meant for extraordinary situations in which priests were lacking or in short supply.

Along with the good seed, there has also grown the darnel of a certain ideology stemming from a vision of the church in perpetual synod and from a functionalistic conception of holy orders, to the serious detriment of the theological identity of both the laity and the clergy, and consequently of the whole work of evangelization.

3. Certainly we cannot forget that the well-being and growth of the entire ecclesial body do not depend on a haphazard infusion of energy, however generous, but on the fact that this body, "joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love" (Eph. 4:16). The particular gift of each of the church's members must be wisely and carefully acknowledged, safeguarded, promoted, discerned and coordinated, without confusing roles, functions or theological and canonical status. Otherwise the body of Christ is not built up nor does its mission of salvation correctly develop.

On the one hand, every office, gift and task should be respected and put to good use—recognizing the equal dignity of Christians (cf. <Lumen Gentium>, 32; Canon 208) and the inherently missionary vocation of all the baptized (cf. <Lumen Gentium,> 17; Canon 211; <Christifideles Laici>, 55; <Redemptoris Missio>, 71). On the other hand, it must always be remembered that the church "by its specific nature is a reality diverse from the simple human society," and therefore "it is necessary to affirm that the mentality and current practice in cultural and sociopolitical trends of our times cannot be transferred automatically to the church" (cf. Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 17).

4. We cannot jeopardize the church's hierarchical constitution in order to summon pastors to a humble, loving awareness of service or out of a desire to bring the lay faithful to a full realization of their dignity and responsibility. We cannot increase the communion and unity of the church by "clericalizing" the lay faithful or by "laicizing" priests.

As a consequence, we cannot offer the lay faithful experiences and ways of participating in the pastoral ministry of priests that would in any way or to any degree entail a theoretical or practical misconception of the unchangeable differences willed by Christ and the Holy Spirit for the good of the church: the diversity of vocations and states of life, the diversity of ministries, charisms and responsibilities.

There is no "original or priority right" to share in the church's life and mission that could eliminate these differences, since every right arises from the duty of accepting the church as a gift that God himself has conceived in advance.

Hence, to speak of the "participation of the lay faithful in the pastoral ministry of priests" it is first of all necessary to reflect carefully on the term <ministry> and on the various meanings it can have in theological and canonical language.

For some time now it has been customary to use the word <ministries> not only for the <officia> and <munera> exercised by pastors in virtue of the sacrament of orders, but also for those exercised by the lay faithful in virtue of the 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 pastors—certain functions more proper to clerics, which, nevertheless, do not require the character of orders (cf. Canon 230).

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 (cf. <Lumen Gentium>, 10).

Similarly, by not making a clear distinction, including in pastoral practice, between the baptismal and hierarchical priesthood, one also runs the risk of underrating the theological <proprium> of the laity and of forgetting "the specific ontological bond which unites the priesthood to Christ the high priest and good shepherd" (<Pastores Dabo Vobis,> 11).

"In the church and on behalf of the church, priests are a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ, the head and shepherd" (<Pastores Dabo Vobis>, 15). Thus a person can be a shepherd only if he is also a head: He, the priest, actually acts <in persona Christi>. The ''figure of the shepherd" is one and indivisible, and can never be replaced by other members of the flock: Hence the services and ministries performed by the lay faithful are never, properly speaking, pastoral, not even when they supply for certain actions and certain concerns of the shepherd (cf. Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 19).

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 <officio> 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"-the "holy <diakonia>" he lived for the good of his body the church and, through the church, for that of the whole world-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 (cf. <Christifideles Laici>, 21).

In this original sense the term ministry (<servitium>) expresses only the work by which the church's members continue "the mission and ministry of Christ" within her and for the world (cf. <Lumen Gentium>, 34).

However, when the term is distinguished from and compared with the various <munera> and <officia>, then it should be clearly noted that only in virtue of sacred ordination does the word obtain that full univocal meaning that tradition has attributed to it. There is an urgent pastoral need to clarify and purify terminology, because behind it there can lurk dangers far more treacherous than one may think. It is a short step from current language to conceptualization.

5. Pastors are duty-bound to educate the lay faithful in understanding how to put into effect that participation in the threefold office of Christ —as priest prophet and king—which they enjoy in virtue of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and, for spouses, matrimony (cf. <Christifideles Laici>, 23).

The laity's every ecclesial action or function—including those for which the pastors ask them to stand in, where possible—is rooted ontologically in their "common" participation in Christ's priesthood and not in an "ontological" participation (either temporary or partial) in the ordained ministry proper to pastors. Therefore, it is clear that if the pastors entrust them, in an extraordinary way, with some tasks ordinarily and properly connected with the pastoral ministry, but not requiring the proper character of orders, lay people should know that these tasks are existentially rooted in their baptismal ministry and nowhere else! It must always be remembered that "the exercise of such tasks does not make pastors of the lay faithful: In fact, a person is not a minister simply by performing a task, but through sacramental ordination" (<Christifideles Laici>, 23).

It should also be understood that these clarifications and distinctions do not stem from a concern to defend clerical privileges, but from the need to be obedient to the will of Christ and to respect the constitutive form which he indelibly impressed on his church. Certainly the "original subject" of the church's mission in the world is the entire ecclesial community, but precisely as Jesus willed and formed it: The common apostolic responsibility of the baptized is not contradicted or limited by anyone who acts in <persona Christi>, but rather is confirmed and structured thereby.

6. A great variety of consequences follow from these reflections and should find expression in the revision of the motu proprio <Ministeria Quaedam>, as explicitly requested by the fathers attending the 1987 synod (cf. <Christifideles Laici,> 23). Thus in the way it was prepared and carried out, the symposium held over the past few days has been most useful, and the directives that will follow in due course and be implemented in everyday administration can bring considerable benefits to the whole ecclesial structure. Therefore, I ask the Congregation for the Clergy, in conjunction with the episcopal conferences and the respective dicasteries of the Roman Curia to continue the work they have undertaken.

Certainly the apostolate of the laity must be expanded in every way possible since it "is a right and duty based on their baptismal dignity" (<Redemptoris Missio,> 71), and because of the urgent need the church feels to permeate as thoroughly as possible a world waiting to be newly evangelized in every sector.

However, it is also necessary to guarantee that at every level—in language, in teaching, in pastoral practice, in administrative decisions—the sacred ministry is presented in its specific ontological nature which does not allow fragmentation or encroachment.

Above all, it must never be forgotten that problems caused by the shortage of ordained ministers can be alleviated only secondarily or temporarily by having lay people in some way supply for them. The shortage of sacred ministers can be avoided only by "praying the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Mt. 9:38), giving the primacy to God and caring for the identity and holiness of the priests there are. This is simply the logic of faith! Every Christian community that lives its total dedication to Christ and remains open to his grace will obtain from him precisely those vocations which serve to represent him as the shepherd of his people.

Where there is a shortage of these vocations, the essential problem is not to search for alternatives—and God forbid that they should be sought by distorting his wise plan—but to focus all the efforts of the Christian people on making the voice of Christ, who never stops calling, heard again in families, parishes, Catholic schools and communities.

We all know from personal experience that an important way for the lay faithful to participate in the pastoral ministry of priests occurs wherever a few young lay faithful hear the divine call through their contact with priests!

Entrusting every good intention to the immaculate heart of the mother of the church, I bless you all with affection.

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