Someone raised the issue of the role of the laity in the Church, especially since the Second Vatican Council. I, however, have seen the role of the laity sometimes completely skewed.
Case in point: Last year, I attended a Catholic Mass in another province. There were about 40 priests present. However, as they processed up from behind the altar to partake of the Precious Blood, an army of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHCs) came forward. The wine had been brought in glass pitchers and after consecration, the Precious Blood was poured into glass goblets that were given to the EMHCs, mostly women, who then stood next to the person (mostly also EMHCs) who distributed Holy Communion. I watched aghast as people came forward, took the Precious Body in their fingers and dipped it into Precious Blood, with only a passing concern for possible spills.
The role of the laity in the Church has, in some quarters since Vatican II, stressed the role in ministry within the confines of the Holy Mass, whether it's the lay readers, cantors, liturgists, or EMHCs.
With a shortage of vocations and an uptick of lay theological training, many dioceses have solved their priest shortages by putting lay ministers in charge of a range of diocesan activities, such as youth ministries, catechesis, and so on. However, could this expansion of non-consecrated ministry in the church be partly responsible for the drying up of vocations? If I'm a young man and I see that I can serve the Church in ministry, get paid reasonably well and don't have to be a celibate priest, what's the incentive for the latter?
This has also contributed to what some critics have described as the feminization of the Church, despite the all-male priesthood. Father may be the parish priest, but behind the scenes most of the parish team might be female.
In the Ordinariate, we will need to think of how we encourage vocations to the celibate priesthood, and ensure those vocations come from men who could be good husbands and fathers but give up those goods for the greater good of serving the Church. We need to find a way to make sure there are more Mercers and Wilkinsons in the pipeline — lifelong celibates who could eventually become full bishops in the Catholic Church.
I have had it said to me there needs to be more openings for women, more obvious routes for women in the Ordinariate, to exercise their spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ. I confess, I bristle. I like our all-male altar parties and I think the only way men will be brought back into the Church is if there is a masculine approach to worship. Otherwise, you might notice a certain phenomenon — when women start running things, the men stay home or find something else to do. Some of this is a sad abdication of their roles as priests and fathers in the home. Yes, we women will lead when we have to, but strong women like me can not stand being around men I can push around or who leave me having to run things because they haplessly sit around waiting for someone else to take initiative. Grrrrrr!
But the other reason I bristle is because I think to myself, "What am I, chopped liver?"
Is not what I do an exercise of my spiritual gifts as a woman in the Church? My work puts me directly in contact with cardinals and archbishops and I have never been treated as less than equal because I am a woman. On that wonderful day I got to meet the Holy Father, the nun who handled press credentials took both my hands in hers, fixed her eyes on me, and told me to never forget the importance of what I do as a journalist. "It is an apostolate," she said.
I think of others in our small parish who are out in the world but serving God. My friend Barbara who is a family doctor not only saves lives, literally, but works closely with other doctors concerned about conscience rights, religious freedom and human dignity.
My friend Mary is a high school math teacher, but whose love for her students speaks volumes about the Gospel without a word needing to be spoken. That's what lay ministry is supposed to look like. None of us is clamoring to be an EMHC. (Though I did joke with our former bishop Carl Reid about asking to be one.)
We have so many others who contribute in various ways, either through through volunteer efforts both with the church and outside or through their work. The role of the laity, as St. Josemaria Escriva pointed out, is out in the world, making the ordinary work of their lives a holy Work of God, Opus Dei.
The role of the priest is different. He is the stand-in for Christ and without the priest there would be no Eucharist. He equips us with the sacraments so we can move into the world, full of all the graces we need.
That said, what are some roles for women in the Ordinariate that may even see them licensed for certain activities such as hospital, or prison or other work?
What can we do to encourage vocations to both the celibate and the married priesthood? How can we create a critical mass of celibate ordinands who are both normal and masculine so that they have community and support for the counter-cultural sacrifice they are making?
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