Monday, April 02, 2007

The Lay Faithful and the Priests

As a pastor of a particular Church, I have been wondering how to effect the harmonious and dynamic relationship between the lay faithful and the priests that would lead not only to the appreciation of their dignity but would also maximize the exercise of their functions as priests, kings and prophets in the parishes. It is true that Canon 208 provides for close collaboration among the faithful when it states: “From their rebirth in Christ, there exists among all the Christian faithful a true equality regarding dignity and action by which they all cooperate in the building up of the Body of Christ according to each one’s own condition and function.” But it does not spell out in the concrete how it looks like and how this could be realized. The early Christian community in Jerusalem as described in the Acts of the Apostles with the members’ concern for one another motivated as they were by the celebration of the Eucharist is usually conjured as the model of how cooperation in the Church would appear. But the complexity of the world of today simply demands for other Church models that would strike that dynamic relationship among its members.

Meantime, a glimmer of it was recently shown me in the Chrism Mass in the Diocese of Tagbilaran. As a new pastor of the place, it was my first time to preside on the liturgy. And there I saw a model how the clergy and the laity could more effectively work together in the building up of the Body of Christ on earth. It was Monday of Holy Week. Priests gathered together in the morning and had a short recollection in preparation for the Chrism Mass and their renewal of their commitment as priests in the Church of Tagbilaran. For a wider perspective of their priesthood they took as their speaker a lay man in the person of Mr. Frank Padilla, the founder of the CFC. In the early afternoon, the lay faithful came in and congregated in the Cathedral, made a recollection with the bishop of Tagbilaran himself as the speaker. After that they made the Holy Hour and Stations of the Cross as their prayer for the priests. It was only after these separate preparations that the Chrism Mass proper was celebrated. It was a Liturgy to behold: the lay people praying for their priests; the priests renewing their commitment to serve the lay faithful with renewed vigor and enthusiasm, the bishop absorbing them all in his own person and office, bringing them all up to God, pleading for His choice blessings for the particular Church, the Diocese of Tagbilaran.

In the ministry of governance, the bishop has the pastoral obligation to assist the lay faithful to understand and to accept the kingly gift that they received in baptism. According to Benedict XVI in his address to the bishops of Provinces of Louisville, Mobile and New Orleans, this kingly office is first expressed in that “royal freedom which enables the faithful to overcome the reign of sin in their own lives and, by serving Christ in others…, to guide them to that King whom to serve is to reign” (ZEO4120520). And since for the lay faithful the exercise of this kingly office is directed to the spread of the Kingdom of Gospel through secular activities, imbuing, that is, the world with the Spirit of Christ so that justice, love and peace may reign, the bishop has to encourage them through catechesis and continuing formation, to recognize their distinctive dignity and mission. As the Pope continued his exhortation: “This means that the laity must be trained to distinguish clearly between their rights and duties as members of the Church and those which they have as members of human society, and encouraged to combine the two harmoniously, recognizing that in every temporal affair they are to be guided by their Christian conscience, since there is no human activity – even in the temporal order –that can be withdrawn from God’s dominion” (ibid.; also, Vatican II, LG, no. 36; also, Canon 227)).

The implication of the words of Benedict XVI is that the lay faithful should not remain as the “long hand of the hierarchy”, a group that moves only when mandated by the bishop and their pastors. They should be empowered. Empowerment here means due recognition of the legitimate freedom of the lay faithful to undertake on their own the apostolate due to the baptism that they received. They are commissioned by the Lord Himself, expected to undertake the spread of the Gospel in their own right and to perform their functions as priests, kings, and prophets by the sheer fact that they are baptized and confirmed. It too means that they have their distinctive role in the mission of the Church. “They live in the world…They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others” (LG 31). And more importantly, it demands from the hierarchy the proper discernment to appreciate the workings of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They are in the world and they are there precisely to reinvigorate the Church in places where the clergy cannot reach. Many of them receive charisms for the building up of the Church. They are not aliens nor are they enemies of the Church; neither do they intend to put up a parallel Church, competitors for the allegiance of the people. They are there because “their specific vocation and their mission is that of expressing the Gospel in their lives and, in that way, of inserting the Gospel as leavening into the reality of the world in which they live and work” (John Paul II, “The Task of the Laity to Permeate”, L’Osservatore Romano, October 15, 1980).

The lay faithful, that is, the young men and women who are acting as leaven of the secular world and the hope of the future of the Church, the married couples who lived the love of Christ in their homes and families. and all the men and women who bring the Gospel to their homes, workplaces, politics and the to the world as a whole, are invaluable members of the local Church. An appreciation of their secularity, their distinctive gifts and apostolate will lead to a greater commitment and shared responsibility.

The bishop has to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit who is forever, living, working and speaking in the baptized individuals and groups of individuals. He should know how to discern the workings of the Spirit, the rich variety of charisms and ministries which are poured upon some lay members for the building up and renewal of the Church. This of course demands from the pastor the conscious effort to listen, to discern, to appreciate, and even to put up structures of communion and participation.

The lay faithful praying for their priests, the priests renewing their commitment to
spend their lives to bring to the lay faithful the Word and the Sacraments, the bishop working for the fruitful collaboration and harmonious cooperation between these two members for the building up of the Body of Christ, was mirrored in the Mass of the Chrism last Holy Monday in the Cathedral of Tagbilaran. It is our fondest hope that this picture of communion and participation in the liturgy be soon transported to the day to day living of the Christian Faithful in the local Church in Bohol.