Recent scandals in the Church have called for, and resulted in, a closer collaboration between priests and laity. I’m deeply sorry for the occasion. But I’m glad for the result. Closer collaboration between priests and laypeople is one of the things we need if we’re going to bring the Gospel to the world.
The collaboration we need doesn’t flatten the distinction between priests and laypeople. On the contrary, collaboration depends on the differences. The key is to see how the differences make us complementary rather than in competition. At our best we’re like a symphony or a team or a body: each part contributing something essential, and relying on the other parts to play their role as well.
To be clear, the key differences between priests and laypeople are not in expertise or in holiness. There’s plenty of expertise and holiness on both sides! There’s loneliness on both sides, too, and pride, and all the sins that mark fallen humanity.
But there is, in the priesthood, a dedication to the Lord alone that gives witness to the Gospel. And there is, in the lay life, concrete and inescapable service to others that gives witness to the Gospel. How can they best work together?
A good model is provided in the sacraments. Without laypeople, there would be no children to bring to the sacraments. Without priests, there would be no sacraments to give grace. The health and growth of the Church comes from a combination of the natural life and the supernatural life together, not from one or the other alone.
The model isn’t perfect, but the underlying point remains: we need each other. Priests have the power to consecrate bread and wine, transforming them into the Body and Blood of Christ. There’s a gift there that’s unique to the ordained priesthood; the life of Jesus won’t reach the world without it. Lay people have the power to consecrate the world, transforming it into something more like the kingdom of God. There’s a gift there that uniquely belongs to the baptismal priesthood of the laity, and the life of Jesus won’t reach the world without it.
To have a good double play this year, Cardinals infielders will need to trust each other to play their respective roles. To have a strong power play through the playoffs, Blues players will need to trust each other to play their respective roles. The same is true of priests and laity when it comes to the task of proclaiming the Gospel. We need to play our individual roles with excellence. But we also need to rely on each other. That’s how we form a championship team: together.
That’s one of my hopes for us as we start this new decade, and one of the needs of the Church at this early stage of the new millennium: for priests and laypeople to listen to each other deeply, and for each to contribute what is uniquely theirs to give in the proclamation of the Gospel and the transformation of the world.
“While the common priesthood of the [laity] is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace — a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit — the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians.”