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Service or dominion?

In his Rule, St Benedict makes a good deal of both individual and communal responsibility: all are called to participate in a 'school of the Lord's service'. Since Vatican II much ink has been spilt in relation to the question of lay participation in the life of the church. The term 'ministry' has been used so widely that it is said to range from the welcoming of people to the building of the Church to the activities undertaken by extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. Thomas O'Meara (Komonchak et al, "The New Dictionary of Theology" at p657) captured the mood when referring to an 'explosion of ministry'. Thereafter, he identifies 6 characteristics of ministry. Central to his classification is the notion ministry involves an activity for or on behalf of the Christian community which is undertaken: 'for the advent of the Kingdom'. In short: all and any activity worthy of the description must be undertaken in a spirit of service; not the exercise of dominion. Despite this, we have all experienced the parish where particular individuals are allowed to dominate meetings, control groups, define activities, and, ultimately restrict the participation of others and the growth of the Church. The common denominator is invariably a mindset which considers activity within the Church a platform for personal profile and power and ultimately, over the passage of time, entitlement. As a lay person, I recognise that there is much that the laity have to offer in the life of the Church. The universal call to holiness requires that they participate in the life and mission of the Church and do not adopt the role of spectator. However, it is equally important that the laity are reminded of two fundamental matters, namely: 1) it is no part of the lay vocation or apostolate to seek to emulate, or, otherwise trespass upon, the sacramental role and office of the priest; and 2) insofar as the laity are invited to participate in any form of ministry, they discharge a duty which is entrusted to them, not exercising or acquiring any right which cannot be removed from them. As various Diocesan Bishops consider the formulation and adoption of diocesan schemes to enliven church communities, they would do well to give particular attention to the need to educate the laity on these fundamentals.

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