Our family is fond of the writings of G.K. Chesterton. Both his fiction (for example, those Father Brown stories) and his non fiction ( one of my favorites is What Is Wrong With The World?).
Chesterton was a convert to Catholicism and sometimes I can relate to his experiences. When sitting in the pew recently, one of his experiences, his quotes, on conversion, came to mind.
Chesterton wrote of the process of exploring and learning about the Catholic Faith…. that while this process is most enjoyable, it is “easier than joining the Catholic Church and much easier than trying to live the Catholic life.”
Well, it is just that when one becomes a Catholic, one starts to live within parish communities. One starts to experience liturgy in a variety of parishes and one starts to see the human frailties. This can be the beauty of Catholicism, acceptance of us all, warts and all. The Church is both divine and human, and so it cannot deviate from Truth., even though it may be made up of people who stray in human nature.
Why, then, did Chesterton’s quote spring to mind in church?
I could see the human straying, in liturgy, in not seeking to understand the Church’s teaching.
With regard to laity, not priests. Although the laity have not been formed correctly in this regard by their pastors.
You know, the priesthood of believers means that we all share in the ministry, the prayer, the role of the Church. No one denies this principle.
But how sad it is to see laity trying to replace or emulate or compete with the role of the ordained priesthood.
We all have roles to play. The role of the laity, however, is different to the role of the priest.
And not all priests or lay people understand this. They talk about ministry… Ministry of Holy Communion ( forgetting that these are Extraordinary Ministers and not to be there as an automatic occurrence), the Ministry of Music , of Lectors and, yes, of Collectors (handing out the baskets at the collection time is a ministry? Yes, or so it is said in some parishes).
Or we see Acolytes who try to take on the priest’s role, cleaning sacred vessels while ignoring the concelebrating priest, deciding to hold a Communion service because Father has been delayed.
Acolytes are not mini priests.
Neither are parish committee members or chairpersons. We do not need what amounts to a second homily from the committee member, exhorting us to be a family, to grow in faith.
These misconceptions can make it more difficult than it should be, to sit in the pew and pray…and thus I sympathise with G. K. Chesterton’s thoughts.
To put the record straight, this is not a matter of criticism. It is just an upholding of Church teaching.
To put the record straight, this is not a matter of personal taste in liturgy but a matter of incorrect understanding of the teaching of the Church on the role of the laity, especially in liturgy. An incorrect teaching or lack of knowledge of the documents of Vatican II and of ensuing documents.
But don’t take my word for it. Read Christifideles Laici, Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, written in 1987.
“In the same Synod Assembly ( the Synod of Bishops, 1987) , however, a critical judgment was voiced along with these positive elements, about a too-indiscriminate use of the word “ministry”, the confusion and the equating of the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood, the lack of observance of ecclesiastical laws and norms, the arbitrary interpretation of the concept of “supply”, the tendency towards a “clericalization” of the lay faithful and the risk of creating, in reality, an ecclesial structure of parallel service to that
founded on the Sacrament of Orders.”
Definitely post Vatican II. And defining the distinct but important roles of the laity ( the common priesthood) and the ministerial priesthood. A warning against making lay people into mini priests, a warning against bandying around the word ministry, lest the word and the role be devalued. A warning because, let’s face it, if we, the laity, do everything except the consecration during the .liturgy, then our role in temporal affairs, that is to say, bringing the Gospel to the world, is devalued. It may be seen as unimportant unless it has a religious title. Whereas you and I both know that often it is that living and sharing the Gospel in our every day life, in the workplace, that is very effective in spreading the Good News.
And a warning because when this happens, then the role of the priest or of the religious brother is devalued, too. If lay people take communion to the sick , as a standard practice and not when a brother or priest is unavailable or busy, if lay people take over the liturgy or the Communion Service as standard practice, if those and other activities are undertaken as a matter of course and not when needed, if these are seen as ordinary and not extraordinary, then what encouragement is there for a young man to enter the religious life and/or priesthood? He may feel a call but see that this call can perhaps be fulfilled in many lay ministries and at seemingly less cost to self
These roles may initially be undertaken to help with the so-called vocation crisis but in the end they become one way to perpetuate the vocation crisis.
“Precisely to overcome these dangers the Synod Fathers have insisted on the necessity to express with greater clarity, and with a more precise terminology, both the unity of the Church’s mission in which all the baptized participate, and the substantial diversity of the ministry of Pastors which is rooted in the Sacrament of Orders, all the while respecting the other ministries, offices and roles in the Church, which are rooted in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. In the first place, then, it is necessary that in acknowledging and in conferring various ministries, offices and roles on the lay faithful, the Pastors exercise the maximum care to institute them on the basis of Baptism in which these tasks are rooted. It is also necessary that Pastors guard against a facile yet abusive recourse to a presumed “situation of emergency” or to “supply by necessity”, where objectively this does not exist or where alternative possibilities could exist through better pastoral planning. ” Christifideles Laici again.