Jun 21, 2018
Recently, a young man considering the priesthood told me that he thought the rise of lay ministry in the Church was threatening the role of the ordained priest.
What our conversation brought home to me was the ongoing confusion regarding the specific identity of and relationship between lay and ordained ministries.
There are many factors that prevent clarity in this area. Chief among them is a failure to observe that while ordained ministry is general and comprehensive, lay ministry is always specific and limited. The ministry of the bishop, for instance, is not focused on any particular area of the life of his diocese. Rather it ranges widely over the whole spectrum of diocesan activities. In the same way, the parish priest is called to carry on a comprehensive and wide-ranging ministry of oversight in his parish. His focus is not on any particular ministry area, but on the right ordering (think “holy orders”) of the parish.
The role of the lay person, on the other hand, is more specific – even if the same person carries on a number of ministerial activities at the same time. In the liturgy, the lay person is a reader, or an extraordinary ministry of Communion, or a musician. In the parish at large, men and women may be participants in one of the many ministries that build up the parish community: a catechist, a servant of charity, a visitor to the sick.
For this reason, a generalized lay ministry should be regarded as extraordinary. This is not to say that a lay person may not perform the more general task of coordinating and directing a group of lay ministers. A director of religious education is a good example here.