Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 7, 2000
Priesthood and social change
At the end of our Eucharistic celebration, the priest dismisses the congregation, saying, "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord." The Mass is over, but it also continues through the love and service the laity provide in their daily lives in the secular world.
The Eucharist is "the source and summit of Christian life," said the Second Vatican Council. The Eucharist is not the sum total of Christian living, but it is intimately connected with that which lies beyond the Mass. That is why a strong and vital priesthood is essential to the transformation of society.
Priests themselves are not social agents. Nor do they have an active role in political and social change. But if laity are to live up to their call to permeate and penetrate society with the Gospel then there must be priests who preach the Gospel and who are "stewards of the mysteries of God" (Vatican II).
When Pope John Paul met with priests and seminarians during his 1984 visit to Canada, he referred to "the co-responsibility of laity and priests." This co-responsibility is not primarily a matter of lay people assuming tasks once reserved to the clergy. The work of priests enables lay people, the pope said, "to share in (the Church's) witness, especially in regard to temporal realities."
Our world talks less and less about God. Yet if God is forgotten, humanity is debased. When we lose our connection to the sacred, we become like beasts. We abandon our much-treasured freedom by wallowing in the most degrading of activities.
A primary role of the priest is to celebrate the sacraments - to bring the living presence of Christ. Without the priesthood, we would retain the ability to witness to the Gospel and to draw others to it. But we would be cut off from the Eucharist - the source and summit of Christian life - and the sacrament of Reconciliation. Our lived faith would be far less than it ought to be.
Again in his 1984 talk to the priests, the pope said, "We must, more than ever, see to it that the voice of Christianity has a right to be heard in this country . . . so that the developing culture may at the very least feel challenged by Christian values and take them into account."
Too often, in the effort to emphasize the role of laity in recent years, the priesthood has been denigrated. This sets up a false dichotomy. The reality is that a vibrant priesthood is essential to the transformation of society with Gospel values. Just as a Church without the laity would be ridiculous, so too do the laity need the priesthood in order to fulfill their mission.
Today our Church and society suffer greatly from a precipitous drop in the number of priestly vocations in the last 30 years. We know we must reverse this situation if our Church is to be a vital part of society.
We depend on God's grace . . . and we know God will not let us down. We also depend on a positive response from those whom God is calling to the priestly ministry.
Amidst all the articles on religious vocations in this issue of the WCR is one on a study that found parishes with certain characteristics, including regular Eucharistic Adoration, are more likely to produce religious vocations. There is nothing magic about this. For in Eucharistic Adoration, we focus our attention on Christ's real presence in the Bread of Life. Such a turning of our attention to the source and summit of Christian life will quicken our awareness of what is truly important. And it can only help us to understand the importance of the priesthood in enabling the full spectrum of Christian life to flourish.
The priesthood is one of God's greatest gifts to his people. It is a gift we should treasure both in those already serving as priests and in those whom Christ is today calling to begin the journey toward the altar - toward becoming stewards of his mysteries for the transformation of the world.
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