The Church, Ministry, and Orders

A few statements on ministry and the orders of the Church:

1) All orders are appointed to exercise the ministries of Jesus Christ and are therefore rooted in Christ’s priesthood;

2) The laity is an order (anointed by Chrism), or priest, prophet, and king;

3) The ministries of Christ vary, so they are appointed to different orders. Not everyone presides, proclaims, witnesses, teaches, visits. There is some overlap between the ministries, but their diversity is the reason for multiple orders. So, for example, we do not have a rotating schedule of laity presiding at Liturgy each week because presidency belongs to the bishop and presbyter.

4) Difference does not translate into superiority because all ministries are exercises of Christ’s priesthood. Therefore, the presbyter is not superior to the deacon; and the bishop is not superior to the lay person. All share the same Baptism and Chrismation, and eat and drink from the same holy body and blood of Christ.

5) While some orders exercise authority, that authority ultimate belongs to Christ; all are therefore accountable to Christ and to the whole of his body – the Church.

6) The status quo of ordered ministry in the Church views the diaconate as a stepping stone to the presbytery. As an exercise of Christ’s priesthood, the diaconate is a holy order. It is erroneous to describe the diaconate as ‘inferior’ to the presbytery, or the laity as more worldly than the episcopate. The orders are all people in one Church. (Analogies of rank can be quite unhelpful in this regard).

7) Ministries evolve. Presbyters did not always preside at the Eucharist. Teachers, prophets, and exorcists were once visible and crucial ministries. Nostalgia for a particular model from a distant past and stifling evolution to preserve the status quo are not helpful.

8) All ministries that exercise Christ’s priesthood are essential – when those ministries are absent or muted, Christ’s body is weakened. We have every reason to encourage the laity to be Christ’s body in the Church and world, and to act as Christ’s body in everyday life.

3 comments

  1. All one has to do is be around clerics touting the importance of their decision making and preaching that the slippery slope of superiority in #4 goes sideways.

    Sure people in liturgies are dressed for their role but when priests are dressed in gold or bishops in long capes and white gloves and speaking a language few understand saying it is a better language than the congregants understand…it speaks of superiority because it looks like superiority.

    It is a refreshing moment when a priest/bishop/archbishop does not exercise superiority in his role but if there were no issues of superiority in the hierarchy, abuse issues (and not just sex abuse) would be minimal, clericalism would be slapped down by the clerics, and the message of Christ’s mercy would be the rule of the day.

    The ministries described are not being supplied by the Church and many lay do not have those men in their communities and are told to be patient until the presbyter can get there. No Communion for you until a presbyter can confect. No you cannot drink from the same Holy Cup (chalice) because that’s the presbyter’s chalice and that is not for you to share.

    No superiority but it sure looks and acts like it.

    Oh if what you are offering in this post would be followed. Thank you Nicholas.

    1. Thank you Deacon Nicholas for this clear summary. I have a couple of questions.

      1. Does a deacon who is ordained a presbyter still remain a deacon?

      2. If the presbyter can do all that the deacon does what is the reason for the diaconate? Or what is essential to each ministry that makes it distinct from the others?

      1. father David –

        1. No
        2. I think some overlap is natural, but there are distinct diaconal ministries – a question that deserves extended reflection, with perhaps some proposals.

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