The earliest books of the New Testament present a rich
diversity of ministries for men and women that were not necessarily
formalized by the laying on of hands. Paul, for one, describes his calling
as a "leitourgeia," a public service. Our word
"liturgy" takes on that meaning: a good work carried out
publicly by us.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul cites the diversity of gifts used
to build up the community. People stepped forward to apply their talents
for the common good. Through these gifts, the Holy Spirit is manifested
The first leaders of the Jerusalem community introduced
flexible structures of ministry to serve the needs of all segments of the
growing Church. Today, with our Church experiencing similar strains, the
birthing and support of new ministries are vital to our survival.
The [Second Vatican Council's] Constitution on the Sacred
Liturgy emphasized that there are different gifts, but one spirit
requiring discernment; that liturgy is not a private act but the work of
the whole Church; that members have an obligation to participate with the
priest; and that there are different roles and offices.
That understanding of the Church would have an impact on
other documents from the Vatican Council. The Dogmatic Constitution on the
Church, for example, presented a new image of the Church, one not defined
in strictly hierarchical terms. Other images were introduced: The Church
is a mystery...there is a universal call to holiness...all baptized
members are empowered by the Spirit to serve..."the people of
God" is synonymous with "the mystical body of Christ."
Cardinal Avery Dulles, who teaches at Fordham University,
said this year: "Prior to any mandate from the hierarchy, [the laity]
already participate in the saving mission of the Church through Baptism
and Confirmation. Through these sacraments, the Lord Himself commissions
[the laity] to the apostolate. Far from being merely passive recipients of
the ministrations of the hierarchy, all the lay faithful have a positive
role to play; they are called to make their own contribution to the growth
and sanctification of the Church."
John Paul II urged the faithful to "realize that,
because of their common priesthood received in Baptism, they participate
in the offering of the Eucharist."
Bishop Howard J. Hubbard wrote a pastoral letter in 2005
titled "The Mission of the Contemporary Parish." In it, he
described how all of a parish's worship, faith formation and social
services are related to the mission of Jesus; and he stressed new bywords
for all of us to heed -- evangelical daring, ecumenical openness and
social justice advocacy.
Our good experiences in the 40-50 years since the Second
Vatican Council include these:
* More people being called to different ministries than
* a new appreciation for tradition -- the whole tradition,
e.g., the early Church, not only the Middle Ages;
* a reform of rituals, language, music and spaces;
* laity taking advantage of continuing education
* a revitalized interest in spirituality, prompted by
learning more about mystics both in the east and west, and the
availability of houses of prayer;
* liturgical reform being informed by history,
archaeology, Scripture scholarship, inculturation and emerging theologies;
* an understanding of the liturgy not as the premier
devotional act delivered by a few to others but as a living memorial of
the paschal event -- the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus
Christ -- a memorial that we are all urged to embrace as our own.
But, as the rector of the school of theology I attended
once said, "there are thorns in every rose bush." Mixed in with
the joys and hopes of a post-conciliar Church, other matters challenge us:
* the abuse scandal, which will take a long time to heal;
* demographic shifts with people moving out of New York
State and migration paths to the U.S.A. coming not just from the European
* aging infrastructures and faith communities, that is,
buildings costly to maintain and hard to fill on Sundays;
* a need to foster a collaborative concern about what is
required to maintain a Catholic presence in the cities, suburbs and rural
areas of our Diocese; and
* some evidence of a restoration effort underway to
correct liturgical errors, which is okay, but not at the expense of the
reform and renewal that has taken such a solid root.
In this time, all people of the Church have to remeasure
their stature in the Church. Those who are ordained will have let go of
privileged status. Those who are not ordained will have to rise up and
recognize their baptismal status.
Vlacev Havel, a writer and former president of the Czech
Republic, once remarked: "Today, many things indicate that something
is on the way out and something else is painfully being born. It is as if
something were crumbling, decaying and exhausting itself, while something
else, still indistinct, is rising from the rubble."
On the first Pentecost, the old order was passing away for
the Jews and Gentiles of the early Church community, but the new order was
not yet in place. They were afraid. They huddled together. They found
strength in their solidarity.
So, too, we are experiencing a time of transition in our
Church. It is not a time of death; rather, it is a moment in the cosmic
unfolding when we are being asked to renew our ourselves, restate our
baptismal commitments, and work for reconciliation, justice and peace.
Accept your rightful role and take your place in the
Church. In the words of our Bishop: "In so doing, you are truly
beacons of light, anchors of hope, vessels of caring, and instruments of
justice in a Church, society and world which desperately need such."
(These are portions of a talk given by Father Vosko in
June to an assembly of lay liturgical ministers from parishes in
Schenectady County. A priest of the Albany Diocese, he is an
internationally known designer of churches and liturgical consultant.)