Don’t be ‘priest substitutes’ – priest reminds laity

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MANILA, September 24, 2014—With lay participation in the Church more active than ever, a priest fears a misreading of Vatican II’s call for lay empowerment tends to “clericalize” the laity, confusing their proper role in the Church with that of priests.

A mother teaches her daughter how to pray the Stations of the Cross. (Photo: CBCP News)

In an essay, Fr. Jerome R. Secillano, parish priest of Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro Parish in Sampaloc, Manila, explains that the situation he calls “clericalizing the laity” arises when the role of lay people in the church revolve around “inner-Church affairs.”

According to him, lay people assist bishops, priests, and deacons—collectively known as clerics—in what is called “inner-Church affairs” which normally involve the formulation of pastoral plans, distribution of Holy Communion, proclamation of the Word, catechism of children, and of couples getting married, building of churches and of other structures, and the celebration of liturgical activities by acting either as choir members, collectors, or sacristans.

‘Inner-church affairs’

While he admits these things are important, Secillano stresses these are not the “high point of the lay apostolate”.

“Sadly, we were stacked and have not moved on.  So today, we see lay people deeply engaged in these ‘inner-church affairs’ serving as assistants or sharers in the ministerial functions of priests, forgetting perhaps that their primordial vocation is to remain ‘in the world’ to be witnesses of Christ as lay apostles and evangelizers in the secular order,” he explained.

Concrete examples of this “misreading” results in “awkward” incidents of lay people imposing on their pastors to adopt certain programs for the parish, lay groups staging rallies against their priests or church leaders making decisions that overrule their parish priests.

“These practices reflect a misreading of the real intent of Vatican Council II as far as lay participation in the church is concerned. They are at best anomalous,” shared Secillano.

Quoting Francis Cardinal Arinze, former Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, he says, “The essential feature of the layperson’s role is the vocation to bring the spirit of Christ into the arenas of secular life from within, that is, into the family, work and profession, trade and commerce, politics and government, mass media, science and culture and national and international relations”.

Holy waiters, drivers, politicians

Secillano points out that when laypersons assume their unique role “in the world” as expounded by Arinze, they become “witnesses of Christ”, or lay apostles.

Citing then pope, now St. John Paul II, the priest shared, “As such they are called to be model husbands and wives, fathers and mothers or children; exemplary politicians or statesmen; ideal doctors, architects, engineers, pilots and lawyers; honest businessmen, bankers and trade unionists; diligent drivers, waiters, security guards and janitors; conscientious actors, sportsmen and musicians.”

“The spirit of lay empowerment in Vatican Council II debunks the model of a hierarchical church which many of us have come to accept. This old paradigm implies a more exclusive rather than an inclusive community of believers. With Vatican II, we no longer see the church as merely the exclusive organization of ordained ministers and of religious men and women but it is the ‘people of God’ [Lumen Gentium 9] with the laity comprising the majority,” he said.

Secillano says that the assistance being offered by lay people in liturgy, in pastoral and finance councils and in membership in different ministries become the immediate effects of this shift in the understanding of what a church is.

By being what they are called to be, Secillano adds, the laity becomes “evangelizers in the secular order.” (Raymond A. Sebastián)

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