The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 26, 2023 - 4:30:17

Authority in the Church

Katie van Schaijik, Aug 13, 2021

The meditation for morning prayer in today's issue of Magnificat comes from St. Hippolytus, a Roman priest who was martyred in 236 A.D.

It has to do with the duties of Church governance that belong to the offices of priest and bishop and how those duties are all about service: "serving by night and day, ceaselessly propitiating your countenance and offering the gifts of your holy Church."

It was the first lines, though, that particularly struck me: [my emphasis]

Let the people come together with the presbyters and any bishops who are present on the Lord's day. When all give their consent, they lay hands on the man to be ordained, and the presbytery stands in silence. And all shall keep silence, praying in their heart for the descent of the Holy Spirit. After this, at the request of all, one of the bishops who is present, laying a hand on him...

Note the essential participation of the laity—the local body of believers—in the decision-making surrounding ordination. Their consent is required when it comes to choosing whom to ordain. Their silence, their prayers, their request are part of the invocation of the Holy Spirit.

Today's conventional Catholic thinking and culture preserves at least nominally the idea that the governance of the hierarchy is about service. But it has lost almost completely the idea that the laity have a decision-making role in the Church.

It is, I claim, that lack above all other deficits in the status quo that is stifling the life of the Church. Without it, the leadership of the hierarchy degrades to the mere bureaucracy of earthly power and control, in place of the life-generating dynamic of reciprocal love.