Lay Apostolate Theology
S1R,—I find the article by Mr. S. B. James in your issue of March 6 a very disturbing document. " It is on the objective fact," he says, " that Jesus was a layman that we must begin to build the lay apostolate." Again, " the priest at the altar points the way to One who was not Himself, in the professional and derivative sense, a priest but a Layman." And he concludes: " The apostolate of the laity finds its strongest argument in the layapostolate of Him Whose grace ecclesiasticism safeguards and transmits."
I must confess I prefer the teaching of St. Peter: " You are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people: that you may declare His virtues, who bath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light " (I Peter, 2, 9). Nowhere in theology have I ever read that Jesus Christ our Lord was a layman. I have heard his titles of Doctor, Shepherd, lawgiver, Messiah, Saviour, Redeemer, Spouse, Judge, King and Priest. I know that Jesus Christ is God made Man for us, but I have always understood that from the instant of His conception in the womb of His Immaculate Mother, He was a priest according to the order of Melchisedech, a view based upon Psalm 109: " From the womb before the day star I begot thee. The Lord bath sworn. and He will not repent: Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchise(tech." And St. Paul was of this opinion in chapter 5 of his epistle to the Hebrews, and in chapter 10 he recalls to • our minds Psalm 39 and explains it thus: " In the which will, we are sanctified by the oblation of the body of Jesus Christ once " (Hebrews 10, 10).
Moreover, the priesthood of Christ diffeis from that of all other Christian priests in that His was substantial, theirs is accidental ; He was a priest in every action, His priesthood was synonomous with His divine mission, in everything that He was and did and said, He was a priest, and is for evermore, It is no argument to establish that 1-le was a layman to adduce " the objective fact " that the Jews did not recognise His priesthood. For this the Jews were condemned, and what is more, they were guilty of the failure to recognise Him as a priest. Did He not read to them at Nazareth the prophecy of Isaias: " The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, wherefore He hath anointed me . . This day is fulfilled this scripture in your cars" (Lc. 5, 18-22 as).
It is a fact that the Jews refused to recognise our Lord for what He was. It is also a fact that for this they were condemned, and it follows that if we seek to build a lay apostolate upon the blindness of the Jews, we shall be building upon a false foundation.
Anyone who wants to know the theological foundation of the lay apostolate has not far to seek. Pius XI never ceased to make it clear that this foundation is the fact that we are all, priests and laity alike, members of the mystical body of Christ. The marvellous consequences of this doctrine have rarely been fully studied, particularly as regards the priesthood of Christ. Yet in St. Peter's appellation of those to whom he wrote as a kingly priesthood, in the theology of the sacramental character bestowed in Baptism and Confirmation, we have a far more solid basis for a lay apostolate, and a far more noble one. After all, what is a layman? If you make your distinction between the profession of priesthood and the laity, then nonCatholics and pagans can equally be called layfolk. But the Church does not make the priesthood the ground of distinction. The Church (Canon 948) distinguishes between the laity and clerics, and there are many clerics who are not priests.
It is not therefore because you are not priests or clerics that you have an apostolate, but because you are Christians, and soldiers of Jesus Christ, by baptism and confirmation as specially deputed to His service as apostles, though not as priests. Pius XI always appeals to baptism and confirmation when indicating the duty of the laity to take part in Catholic Action. See his letter to the Patriarch of Lisbon, and his letter to the Bishops of Mexico, Firmissimarn Constantiam, March 28, 1937. it is in this latter letter that he stresses the Mystical Body as the foundation of Catholic Action.
VINCENT MARSH, Ph.D., S.T.L. (Rev.).
St. Bartholomew's, Warrington Road, Rainhill, Liverpool.
[Mr. James writes: " I explicitly referred to our Lord's High Priesthood and even, in the third section of my article, elaborated the theme, AU that I stated was that this High Priesthood was worked out in terms of the lay life. And this Dr. Marsh seems to concede, for he says: ' He was a priest in every action '—including, of course. His work as a Carpenter.")