BY FR. A. McNICHOLL, O.P.
Man is placed at the summit of visible creation. Endowed with intelligence and will, he is meant to draw the universe to himself by knowledge, and then refer it back to its Creator in a free act of loving worship. Man thus lends a voice to mute creatures, expressing on their behalf the impulse to praise God that lies at the centre of every creature.
THE text of the chapter, now before the Vatican Council, on "The People of God and the Laity in Particular" is said to lack a unifying theological principle.
Several Fathers have proposed ways of unifying this otherwise excellent mass of material; that suggested by Bishop Muldoon of Australia, seems worthy of special attention.
The chapter can be unified. he says. around the central notion of incorporation of the faithful into the Mystical Body of Christ, and their consequent union among themselves.
The central "mystery" of the Church is indeed God's calling of all men to the unity of the common divine life given to them by Christ, so that they may be united to Him as members of the body to its head. Entry into this living fellowship with Christ, or incorporation. that is, being made a member of His Body, is effected principally through baptism and faith; the Church is this community of life in Christ made visible to men as a sign. or sacrament, since it both manifests and contains that divine reality.
The Church is thus the means devised by God to bring salvation to man through his vital and personal union with Christ; and since the Church lives with the very life of Our Lord. it is the sign and efficacious reality of His continual presence among men at all limes and in all places.
The Church is Christ. in his everpresent activity in the world; by it, in the words of St. Paul. all things are drawn as to a head in Christ.
The aim of this incorporation is an ever greater conformity of the members to their Head, a "growing up in Christ". a more abundant sharing in His life and in His victory over sin and death.
The main lines of this growth in the likeness of Christ are traced out for us in the triple aspect under which Our Lord is presented to us by tradition : as Priest, as Prophet and as king, Since all men arc called to conformity with Christ, all share to some extent in these three qualities or prerogatives of their Head.
The various aspects of the Christian life of the faithful which are treated of in the text on the laity could be systematically ordered around these central functions of the Head of the Church.
At any rate, they provide us with a convenient frame-work for summarizing the results of the debates in the Council on the role of the laity in the Church, debates which are intended to lay down the general principles which must guide the further discussions connected with the schema dealing specifically with the apostolate of the laity.
It is perhaps understandable that many bishops are reluctant to speak of the priesthood of the laity, fearing that such an expression might lead to confusion or lessen their respect for or obedience to the Hierarchy, and maybe encourage the faithful to make unreasonable demands, or put for
ward claims to powers that belong only to the clergy. It is for that reason that many in the Council have insisted that this concept be very clearly defined and distinguished from the sharing in the priesthood of Christ that is proper to those who have received the sacrament of Orders.
The priesthood of the laity is properly called the universal or spiritual, or perhaps mystical, priesthood, whereas that conferred by the sacrament of Orders is called the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood.
This implies that, by the reception of the sacrament, a special character is imprinted on the soul of him ordained, by which he is made to share in the priesthood of Christ, by being granted the power to offer the sacrifice of the Mass and to absolve the sins of the faithful.
The priesthood of Christ vots exercised most fully on the Cross when He offered Himself totally, as a victim for the world, to His Father, in the external sign of His freely accepted death.
There He offered Himself, in love, as a sacrifice for the glory of His Father and for the salvation of men. He who is ordained has the power to renew, in the Mass, this identical offering, in the name of the entire body of the faithful whom he represents.
But they too offer this sacrifice; they are called to share in the sacrifice, by offering the divine Victim, and offering themselves in union with Him. They are meant to take part actively in the sacrifice, as they are meant to unite themselves to the Victim in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
In this sense, St. Peter exhorted his converts to be "as living stones built up. a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices. acceptable to God by Christ Jesus" (I. Pet., 2.5).
And here he was echoing St. Paul who besought his brethren "to present your bodies a living sacrifice holy, pleasing unto God" (Rom. 12,1); he did not hesitate to address his faithful as "a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood. a holy nation, a purchased people" (I. Pet., 2.9).
The faithful too have their souls marked by a character, that is, not only a sign, but also a ministerial power by which they share in the priestly character and activity of Christ their head. The priesthood of Christ is exercised not only on the Cross and in the Mass. but in the sacramental activity of the Church, and in the prayer of the Church.
In so far as the faithful share in the liturgical life of the Church they are conformed to Christ not only as Head but also as Priest. By baptism they are empowered to take active part in that life of worship and of sacramental union with Christ, and especially to become one with Him in Holy Communion, the end to which all the other sacraments are ordained.
By the sacrament of Confirmation not only are they configured to Christ as Prophet. but the entire dedication of their being and activity to God through union with Christ is strengthened. If the priesthood of Christ is most fully achieved in the total offering of Himself to His Father, that of the Christian demands the full consecration of himself, of his life and actions, to God in union with Christ and as a member of His Church.
Such consecration is the source of all his apostolic activity. as it is also the measure of His fruitful sharing in the liturgical life.
It might perhaps he thought that to stress the priestly character of the Christian vocation could lead people to imagine that being a Christian implied little more than attendance at certain liturgical functions. Paradoxical as it may seem, the opposite is nearer the truth.
Bishop Hannan, Auxiliary of Washington, D.C., both in the Council, and at the press conference organised by the American bishops. referred to the danger of judging the Catholicity of the lawyer. doctor and politician only by his attendance at religions services.
It is rather by his daily activity that he must be judged; the professional man, like any other, should be Catholic all the time, and particularly in the exercise of his duties.
If attendance at Mass is what it should be, full and active sharing in the sacrifice of Christ, thus responding to one's priestly vocation, it would result in the consecration of the whole person and of all his activities to God, all the time. One is not just a Catholic in Church, and merely a human being, much less a materialist, in the work-shop or office.
All the time he should be conscious of the dignity and responsibility of his calling; and few things can bring this home to him more forcibly than making him conscious of his sharing in the priestly character of his Redeemer, and thus of his own mission to bring to others the fruits of salvation won for us by our High Priest.
Insistence on this aspect of the Christian life does more than recall the duty of consecrating oneself entirely to God's service; it reminds us of another aspect of the vocation of the Christian. one that is often forgotten, that of consecrating the world to God, Already in the natural order, man may be considered as the priest of creation; this was a favourite theme of mediaeval writers, especially those of Platonic inspiration.
Man is placed at the summit of visible creation. and endowed with intelligence and will in order to be able to draw all the universe to himself by knowledge, and to refer it back to its Creator in a free act of loving worship. thus lending a voice to mute creatures, and expressing on their behalf the impulse to praise God that lies at the centre of every creature.
Our Lord foretold that on the Cross, as priest, He would draw all things to Himself. When the follower of Christ renews the con secretion of himself through Christ to the Father, he brings not only himself and his works, but the whole of creation, enabling it to attain the end for which it was created, the glory of God.
As man, he is the natural mediator for creation; through his intimate sharing in the sacrifice of Christ he furthers the process of bringing all things as to a head in indeed we have the gen
general principles that underlie all the activity of the apostolate. and a clear summons to closer identification of self with Our Lord, without which any truly Christian apostolate is unthinkable.
And few things could more impress on the faithful the fact that the responsibility for the salvation of the world does not rest entirely on the shoulders of the Hierarchy, but also on all the members of the Body of Christ.
Given this context, it is but natural that the schema should go on, in its last chapter, to speak of Religious who have made a formal consecration, sealed by vow, of their whole being to God.
But the ordinary Christian life is intended to be a dedication or consecration so that every action should hear the imprint of this Christian character.
Bishop Van Zuylen, of Belgium, drew attention to the fact that the exercise of the priesthood of the laity is through those very actions by which they live their ordinary daily lives, when these are criergiz,al by grace and love.
The Christian life is essentially the life of grace. by which one shares in the life of Christ Himself and is incorporated into His Body most fully. so that it conforms the person to Christ as Priest.
Many bishops have pointed out that in countries were the Church is persecuted or driven underground the laity must exercise most fully its spiritual priesthood.
Evidences of such priesthood are to be found in the fact that lay people are the ministers of the sacrament of matrimony, and may in certain circumstances administer baptism, as well as serve at Mass.
Where there are no priests they are called on to take their place, not by performing acts which require the power of Orders. but by exercising their own priesthood in caring for and fostering the life of grace and faith in others, particularly those committed to their care.
It is not surprising that one amendment to chapter two of the schema on the liturgy (No. 9) provides that certain sacramentals may., with permission of the Ordinary, be given by qualified persons, such as parents, catechists or leaching lay-brothers.
A special prayer, to be recited by fathers of families, has been suggested in this connection. Bishop Arneric, of Yugoslavia, affirmed that the laity would draw great inspiration and courage from the realization of their dignity as sharing in the priesthood of Christ, and from the consciousness of what they can do to carry on the mission of Christ.
If there should be no confusion between the sacramental priesthood of the clergy and the spiritual priesthood of the laity, neither should there be separation between them, Both of them point to the one priesthood of Christ, in which they share in different ways; and Cardinal Lefebvre, of France, with Bishop Larrain of Chile, stressed the connection between the two, It is through the sacramental priesthood. in the bishop and priest. that the layman receives the life of grace; it is through them that he is configured to Christ, not only as Head but also as Priest, as Prophet and as King.