(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 24.08.2022).- Here is a translation in English of the Pope’s Message on August 24, in which, in addition to addressing the subject of ministries in the Church, he invites to initiate a dialogue with the Episcopal Conferences to get to know the ministries instituted (readers, acolytes and, just recently, catechists) and the extraordinary ministries, in fact, of the last 50 years.
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MESSSAGE OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS
TO THE BISHOPS, PRIESTS AND DEACONS
TO CONSECRATED PERSONS AND TO THE LAY FAITHFUL
ON THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
OF THE APOSTOLIC LETTER
IN THE FORM OF “MOTU PROPRIO”
OF SAINT PAUL VI
- The fiftieth anniversary of the Apostolic Letter in the form of “Motu Proprio” Ministeria Quaedam of Saint Paul VI [AAS 64 (1972) 529-534], gives us the opportunity to reflect anew on the subject of ministries. In the fruitful context, though not exempt of tensions, which followed Vatican Council II, this document offered the Church an important reflection which not only gave place to the renewal of the discipline regarding the first tonsure, the Minor Orders and the Sub-Diaconate in the Latin Church –as indicated in the title–, but which also offered the Church an important perspective which had the force to inspire further developments.
- The two recent Apostolic Letters, in the form oof “Motu Proprio,” with which I intervened on the subject of the instituted ministries, must be understood in the light of this choice and of the reasons that motivate it. The first, Spiritus Domini of January 10, 2021, modified Canon 230, paragraph 1 of the Code of Canon Law in regard to access of persons of the feminine sex to the instituted ministry of reader and acolyte. The second, Antiquum Ministerium, of May 10, 2021, instituted the ministry of catechist. These two interventions must not be interpreted as a surmounting of the previous doctrine, but as a subsequent development that is made possible because it is based on the same principles –coherent with the reflection of Vatican Council II–, which inspired Ministeria Quaedam. The best way to celebrate today’s significant anniversary is, precisely, to continue reflecting further on the ministries that Saint Paul VI initiated.
- The subject is of fundamental importance for the life of the Church: in fact, there is no Christian community that doesn’t express the ministries. The Pauline Letters, and not only these, are an ample testimony of it. When the Apostle Paul addresses the Church of Corinth, to give an example among the many possible ones, the image that his words draw is that of a community rich in charisms (1 Corinthians 12:4),and ministries (1 Corinthians 14:1; 12:37). The variety of terms used describes an extended ministry, which is organized on the basis of two specific foundations: God is always at the origin of every ministry, Who through His Holy Spirit does all things in everyone (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6); the end of every ministry is the common good (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7), and the building up of the community (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:12). Every ministry is a call of God for the good of the community.
- These two foundations enable the Christian community to organize the variety of ministries , which the Spirit inspires, in relation to the concrete situation it is living. This organization is not a merely functional fact, but a careful community discernment, listening to what the Spirit suggests to the Church, in a concrete place and in the present moment of her life. We have clarifying examples of this discernment in the Acts of the Apostles, precisely in regard to ministerial structures, namely, the group of the Twelve, which had to provide for Judas’ replacement (Acts 1:15-26), and that of the Seven, which had to resolve a community tension that had arisen (Acts 6:1-6). Every ministerial structure born of this discernment is dynamic, alive, and flexible as the action of the Spirit: it must be ever more profoundly rooted in it so that the dynamism does not turn into confusion, the vividness is not reduced to extemporaneous improvisation and the flexibility is not transformed in arbitrary and ideological adaptations.
- In implementing the Conciliar teachings, Saint Paul VI carried out a true discernment in Ministeria Quaedam and pointed out the direction in which the path could continue. In fact, accepting the petitions of quite a few Conciliar Fathers, he revised the existing practice, adapting it to the needs of the time, and recognized the possibility that the Episcopal Conferences would request from the Apostolic See the institution of those ministries considered necessary or very useful in their regions. In the Prayer of the Ordination of a Bishop, in the part of intercessions, pointed out also among his main tasks, is that of ordaining the ministries: “. . . establish the ministries of the Church according to your will … “ (Pontificale Romanum, De Ordinatione Episcopi, Presbyterorum et Diaconorum, Editio typica altera, n. 47, p. 25: “… ut distribuat munera secundum praeceptu tuum…).
- The principles recalled earlier, well rooted in the Gospel and situated in the wider context of the ecclesiology of Vatican Council II, are the common foundation that enables to identify –stimulated by the listening to the concretion of life of the ecclesial communities–, the ministries that here and now build the Church. The ecclesiology of communion, the sacramentality of the Church, the complementarity of the common priesthood and of the ministerial priesthood, the liturgical visibility of each ministry are the doctrinal principles that, animated by the action of the Spirit, make the variety of ministries harmonious.
- If the Church is the Body of Christ, all the serving (ministering) of the incarnate Word must permeate its members, each one of whom, –by his singularity in responding to a personal call of God– manifests a feature of the face of the Servant Christ: the harmony of his action shows the world the beauty of Him who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The Prayer of Ordination of Deacons has a significant expression to describe the variety in unity: “ By the strength of the Holy Spirit you have formed the Church, Body of Christ, diverse and multiple in her charisms, articulated and compact in her members . . . “ (Pontificale Romanum, De Ordinatione Episcopi, Presbyterorum et Diaconorum, Editio typica altera, n. 207, p. 121). 207, p. 121: “Cuius corpus, Ecclesiam tuam, caelestium gratiarum varietam distinctam, suorumque conexam distinctione membrorum, compage mirabili per Spiritum Sanctum unitam…”).
- The question of baptismal ministries touches various aspects, which must certainly be considered: the terminology used to indicate the ministries, their doctrinal foundation, the legal aspects, the distinctions and relations between each of the ministries, their vocational value, the formation itineraries, the instituting event that enables the exercise of a ministry, the liturgical dimension of each ministry. Just from this sole summarized list, one realizes the complexity of the subject: we certainly must continue to reflect further on all these thematic nuclei: however, if we try to define and resolve them, to then be able to live their ministerial nature, we would very probably not get very far. As I recalled in Evangelii Gaudium (n.231-233), the reality is superior to the idea “and a constant dialogue must be established between both, avoiding the idea ending up by being separated from the reality” (n. 231).
Another principle I mentioned in Evangelii Gaudium (n. 222), although in another context, can also be of help: time is superior to space. Instead of the obsession for immediate results in the resolution of all the tensions and the clarification of all the aspects, with which one runs the risk of crystallizing the processes and sometimes trying to stop them (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, no.223), we must follow the action of the Sporit of the Lord, Risen and Ascended into Heaven, who “gave to some the office of Apostles, to others that of prophets, to others that of evangelists and to others that of pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and to the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
- It is the Spirit who, on making us participants –in a different and complementary way–, in the priesthood of Christ, makes all the community ministerial, to build its ecclesial body. The Spirit acts in the areas in which our obedient listening makes His action possible. Ministeria Quaedam opened the door to the renewal of the experience of the ministerial nature of the faithful, reborn in the water of Baptism, confirmed by the seal of the Spirit, nourished by the living Bread come down from Heaven.
- To be able to hear the voice of the Spirit and not halt the process –taking care not to force Him by imposing options that are the fruit of ideological visions– I believe that it is useful to share, all the more so in the synodal journey, the experiences of these years. They can offer valuable pointers to reach a harmonious vision of the question of the baptismal ministries and thus continue on our journey. Therefore, in the coming months, I would like to initiate a dialogue on this subject –in the way it is described– with the Episcopal Conferences, to share the richness of the ministerial experiences that the Church has lived over these fifty years, both as instituted ministries (readers, acolytes and, just recently, catechists) as extraordinary and de facto ministries.
- I entrust our journey to the protection of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. Keeping the Word made flesh in her womb, Mary bears in herself the ministry of her Son, of which she is participant in the manner proper to her. In this, too, she is a perfect icon of the Church, which in the variety of ministries keeps the ministry of Jesus Christ, taking part in His priesthood, each member in the way proper to him/her.
Given in Rome, in Saint John Lateran, on August 15, 2022, Solemnity of the Assumption of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, in the tenth year of my Pontificate.
Translation of the Italian original into Spanish by ZENIT’s Editorial Director and, into English, by Virginia M. Forrester