The Assignment: In less than six hundred words, what is important about using the correct terminology in referring to the ways the lay faithful collaborate with the ordained ministry?
FOR THIS QUESTION, it seemed useful to draw on liturgical theology. In the work of the late Fr Alexander Schmemann, especially his Eucharist, he discusses how the Divine Liturgy is an icon of the Church and kingdom. Although the east hasn’t a “theology of the laity” this pairs well with what the Catechism teaches about the Mass as we participate in the Son’s worship of the Father.
Words actually have meanings. Terminology helps us communicate the nature of things according to the teachings of the Church. This concept can actually be a challenge at times. In our Catholic religion, believing that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) words and their meanings are important. In a society where meaning tends to be imagined as a self-generated product, Catholics need to be counter-cultural.
Aumann draws out a definition of the Lay Faithful by distinguishing their role in the Church and the world. “The particular mission of the laity in the church – to sanctify the temporal order – is the specific difference that distinguishes the laity from the clergy and persons in the consecrated life.” (On the Front Lines p. 65) When we distinguish, we do not divide or break off, however.
Following Aumann, who quotes extensively from our readings in Lumen Gentium and Christifideles Laici, when we distinguish our particular roles in the Church it makes more evident our function in the world. Aumann goes on to say, “However, one must be careful not to place in opposition the secular character of the laity and their active participation in the church.” (ibid.) Clergy and the Lay Faithful have differing but cooperative relationships with the world and each other. If the whole of Church is intended to be merely a liturgical play that we put on on Sundays (or even daily) then it can make sense to “fight” for the “best roles” in that play. However, the Mass is our ongoing participation in the self-offering of the Son to the Father (CCC ¶1367 ff), and thus is the continual sanctification of the Faithful for the purpose of sanctifying (and evangelizing) the Temporal order.
By way of example, communion at Mass should be distributed by the Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. These are bishops, priests, and deacons, (CIC 910 ¶1). Canon Law also allows for installed Acolytes and other members of the lay faithful (CIC 910 ¶2) to assist as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. In this text, the terms “Ordinary” and “Extraordinary” help us to distinguish between these roles. The lay faithful cooperate with clergy in various actions by way of “filling in gaps” when shortages in the ordinary ministers require this supply (CL 23, also cited in Aumann on p.96) but this does not change the function of the laity in the world or in the Church.
John Paul counsels us to ensure that the Lay Faithful act in these liturgical duties in a way conforming “to their specific lay vocation”, avoiding “clericalization” (ibid). Be aware we’re filling in.
The purpose of this distinction between ordinary and extraordinary is not to keep lay people “in their place” in terms of the “best roles” in a Liturgical Play, but rather to ensure that the liturgical action of the Church shows exactly what God is doing in the Mass: re-presenting the self-offering of Son to the Father for the sanctification of the world. When an Extraordinary Minister does the work, the work gets done, but the liturgical icon of the action of Christ in the world (through his body the Church) is not presented fully.
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