We are already members of our parishes. Why add a lay association? Wouldn't that be redundant at best, competitive and divisive at worst?
No, on the contrary. I believe such associations are, in truth, the prerequisite for our fulfillment and fertility as a body of believers. Think:
Marriage is the essence and image of Love itself. It's the earthly image of the Holy Trinity; it's the prime biblical image for the Church. The Church is the Bride of Christ. The priest, in persona Christi, is called stand in a spousal relation to the people of God. That means that people of God are called to be his complementary opposite, his companion, his equal, not his subordinates, not his peons, as Pope Benedict put it in the passage I quoted in the post below.
Keep in mind, we're talking about corporate subjectivity here. We're not meant to live spousally with the priest as individuals, obviously. That would be adulterous.
John Paul II stressed the mystery of the priesthood as a communal reality with the bishop as its head. The laity, too, I propose, are meant to live and relate to our priests as a communal reality, a corporate person. It's that corporate person who locally forms the spouse of the local priesthood.
Let's go briefly to Genesis. (A close analysis of Genesis was the ground and source of JP II's Theology of the Body, on which I'm basing my proposal.) Remember that in the 2nd creation account, Adam was alone, which God said wasn't good. So what did God do? He put Adam into a deep sleep. Then he withdrew one of his ribs, and from that He created Eve.
Two key points here: 1) God's work of creating Eve was a work of separating-out-from and making distinct. Employing the terms of modern psychology, we could call it an act of "individuation." She had been a part of Adam, now she was to be her own full person. 2) Adam was asleep while she was being created. He had no hand in creating her. Rather, when he woke, he recognized her as a gift from God meant to be his helpmate and companion. "At last! Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone."
As I see it, this is the moment we're at in the Church. The priesthood is effectively alone in "cultivating the earth." He's functioning. He can relate to God, do some gardening and assign names to the beasts. But he's not really flourishing, he's not fruitful, and it's not good. He needs Eve, and we are Eve. We need (under grace) to separate ourselves out from the clericalist structure of the hierarchy and form ourselves into a whole, embodied, communal person.
We won't be starting from scratch (or dust). The core of our identity comes from the heart of the Church. It's always been implicitly present, but until now it's lacked full form. It's time to give it form.
And that work can't be done by the priests. It can only be done by the Holy Spirit working in and through us and our subjectivity, which is to say, our free agency.
A dependent child comes of age through self-differentiation and self-assertion. She begins to see and take responsibility for the boundaries between her and her parents. "I am not them. I am making my own decisions for myself and my life." Likewise, a heretofore dependent laity is being called now to stand on our own two feet, to become who we are in Christ.
I said in an earlier post that right now the laity are like a soul without a body. We're ghostly, ephemeral, unreal, not present to ourselves, not able to act in and upon the world, not visible and relatable as a distinct other to our priests. We need to change that.
And that means we need structure. We need form, embodiment. A lay association of the faithful can give us those.
Consider this analogy: America used to be nothing more than a collection of colonies in a geographical region, with common and competing interests, ideas, desires and impulses. To become "one nation, under God," we needed the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, and then the Constitutional Convention. We needed the Bill of Rights. We needed to establish in law and custom basic principles like separation of powers and federalism.
Or this one: Two separate individuals become one through marriage. It's a sacrament, but it's also an institution and a legal entity with rights and duties and terms recognized by the wider society. That's how a collection of individuals becomes a union, a corporate person. We freely establish ourselves together as one.
This is essentially what I'm proposing: that the laity of each parish form themselves into a distinct people.
In future posts, I'll lay out what I see as the essential elements involved.
This post from last year has more on the same theme, viz. the need to move toward reciprocity in relations between priesthood and laity. This one too.