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You are here: Documents > The Other Sacraments and Sacramentals > On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest  Back one page.

Table of Contents
Table of ContentsPart I-I. The Common Priesthood of the Faithful and the Ministerial PriesthoodEndnotes

Premiss

The source of the call addressed to all members of the Mystical Body to participate actively in the mission and edification of the People of God, is to be found in the mystery of the Church. The People of God participate in this call through the dynamic of an organic communion in accord with their diverse ministries and charisms. The call has been forcefully repeated in the documents of the Magisterium, particularly since the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council [1] and thereafter. This is especially true of the last three General Ordinary Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops which reaffirmed the particular identities of the lay faithful and of sacred ministers and religious, in their proper dignity and diversity of functions. These Assemblies encouraged all the faithful to build up the Church by collaborating, in communion, for the salvation of the world.

The necessity and importance of apostolic action on the part of the lay faithful in present and future evangelization must be borne in mind. The Church cannot put aside this task because it is part of her very nature, as the 'People of God', and also because she has need of it in order to realize her own mission of evangelization.

This call for the active participation of all the faithful in the mission of the Church has not been unheard. The 1987 Synod of Bishops observed "The Holy Spirit continues to renew the youthfulness of the Church and has inspired new aspirations towards holiness and the participation of so many lay faithful. This is witnessed, among other ways, in the new manner of active collaboration among priests, religious and the lay faithful; by active participation in the Liturgy; in the proclamation of the Word of God and catechesis; in the multiplicity of services and tasks entrusted to the lay faithful and fulfilled by them; by the flourishing of groups, associations and spiritual movements as well as by lay commitment to the life of the Church and in the fuller and meaningful participation of women in the development of society".[2] This was likewise verified in the preparation for the 1994 Synod of Bishops on Religious Life where it is stated: "Through all, there should be a sincere desire to instill an authentic rapport of communion and of collaboration between the Bishops, institutes of consecrated life, the secular clergy and the laity".[3] In the subsequent Post-Synodal Exhortation the Supreme Pontiff confirmed the specific contribution of religious life in the mission and the building up of the Church.[4]

In effect, a collaboration of all the faithful exists in both orders of the Church's mission; whether it is in the spiritual order, bringing the message of Christ and his grace to men, or, in the temporal one, permeating and perfecting secular reality with the evangelical spirit.[5] This is especially true in the primary areas of evangelization and sanctification - "It is in this sphere most of all that the lay apostolate and the pastoral ministry complete each other".[6] In these areas, the lay faithful of both sexes, have innumerable opportunities to be actively involved. This is possible through bearing consistent witness in their personal, family and social lives by proclaiming and sharing the gospel of Christ in every situation in which they find themselves, and by their involvement with the task of explaining, defending, and correctly applying Christian principals to the problems of today's world.[7] In particular, Pastors are exhorted to "...acknowledge and foster the ministries, the offices and roles of the lay faithful that find their foundation in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, indeed for a good many of them, in the Sacrament of Matrimony".[8]

The present reality is that there has been an astonishing growth of pastoral initiatives in this area. This is especially true after the notable impetus given by the Second Vatican Council and the Pontifical Magisterium in this regard.

The priority of the task of the New Evangelization, which involves all the People of God, requires that, today in particular, in addition to a "special activism" on the part of priests, there be also a full recovery of the awareness of the secular nature of the mission of the laity.[9]

This enterprise opens vast horizons, some of which have yet to be explored, for the lay faithful. The faithful can be active in this particular moment of history in areas of culture, in the arts and theatre, scientific research, labor, means of communication, politics, and the economy, etc. They are also called to a greater creativity in seeking out ever more effective means whereby these environments can find the fullness of their meaning in Christ.[10]

In this great field of complementary activity, whether considering the specifically spiritual and religious, or the consecratio mundi, there exists a more restricted area namely, the sacred ministry of the clergy. In this ministry the lay faithful, men or women and non-ordained members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, are called to assist. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council refers particularly to this when it teaches: "The hierarchy entrusts the laity with certain charges more closely connected with the duties of pastors: in the teaching of Christian doctrine, for example, in certain liturgical actions in the care of souls".[11]

Since these tasks are most closely linked to the duties of pastors, (which office requires reception of the sacrament of Orders), it is necessary that all who are in any way involved in this collaboration, exercise particular care to safeguard the nature and mission of sacred ministry and the vocation and secular character of the lay faithful. It must be remembered that "collaboration with" does not, in fact, mean "substitution for".

It must be noted with great satisfaction that in many Particular Churches the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the pastoral ministry of the clergy has developed in a very positive fashion. It has borne an abundance of good fruits while, at the same time being mindful of the boundaries established by the nature of the sacraments and of the diversity of charisms and ecclesiastical functions. It has also brought about bounteous and tangible results in situations of a shortage or scarcity of sacred ministers.[12] In situations of emergency and chronic necessity in certain communities, some of the faithful, despite lacking the character of the sacrament of Orders, have acted appropriately and within their proper limits, in dealing with these realities. The necessary aspect of hierarchical relationship has been maintained while constantly seeking to remedy the situation of emergency.[13] Such faithful are called and deputed to assume specific duties which are as important as they are sensitive. Sustained by the grace of the Lord and by their sacred ministers journeying alongside them, they are well received by the communities which they serve. Sacred Pastors are extremely grateful for the generosity with which numerous religious and lay faithful present themselves for this specific service, carried out with a loyal "sensus Ecclesiae" and an edifying dedication. Particular thanks and encouragement should be extended to those who carry out these tasks in situations of persecution of the Christian community. This is also true for mission territories, whether these be geographical or cultural, and for places where the Church is newly planted or where the presence of the priest is only sporadic.[14]

This is not the place to develop the theological and pastoral richness of the role of the lay faithful in the Church which has already been amply treated in the Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici.

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.

These matters cause the grave pastoral responsibility of many to be recalled. This is especially true of Bishops [15] whose task it is to promote and ensure observance of the universal discipline of the Church founded on certain doctrinal principles already clearly enunciated by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council[16] and by the Pontifical Magisterium[17] thereafter.

This document came into being as a result of deliberations within our Dicasteries as well as from a Symposium attended by representatives of the Episcopates most affected by the problem. Finally, there was an extensive consultation of many Presidents of Conferences of Bishops, of individual Prelates, as well as with experts from the various ecclesiastical disciplines and from different parts of the world. From all of the foregoing, a clear convergence emerged which is faithfully presented in this Instruction. However, the document does not claim to be exhaustive nor can it address every possible variation which might present itself. It is limited to consideration of the best known of these as there is great variety of particular circumstance possible which can give rise to these situations.

This text was drawn up based on the solid foundation of the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium of the Church and is entrusted for its faithful application, first of all to the Bishops most affected by the issues raised. It is also brought to the attention of the Prelates of those ecclesiastical jurisdictions where, even though the practices described are not found in those territories at this time, given their rapid diffusion, such situation could change quickly.

Before addressing the concrete situations which were presented to us, it is necessary to look briefly at the essential theological elements underlying the significance of Holy Orders in the organic make-up of the Church. This is so that the ecclesiastical discipline will be understood better in light of the truth and of ecclesial communion which are concerned with promoting the rights and obligations of all, and for which in the Church "the salvation of souls must always be the supreme law".[18]

Table of ContentsPart I-I. The Common Priesthood of the Faithful and the Ministerial PriesthoodEndnotes

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You are here: Documents > The Other Sacraments and Sacramentals > On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest  Back one page.

Home | New | FAQ | Search | Forum | Links


All contents © copyright, 1998-2014
The Catholic Liturgical Library
http://www.catholicliturgy.com