Pope: Lay ministers must serve and never become self-referential
Pope Francis addresses participants in Plenary Assembly of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life and reflects on the meaning of ministeriality in the Church and on the role of laypeople which must be focused on mission and service.
Laypeople in the Church can carry out many instituted ministries, substitute services, assignments and offices, which, however, “must never become self-referential”, but always tend "to transform society" by “bringing Christian values into the social, political and economic world” of our time.
Pope Francis made this remark on Saturday in his address to the members of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life as they concluded their Plenary Assembly on the theme “The laity and ministeriality in the synodal Church”.
Welcoming the participants in the Clementine Hall, the Pope reaffirmed that "the willingness to serve the brethren, and in them, to serve Christ" is the true motivation that must inspire any faithful who assumes an ecclesial task and any commitment to Christian witness in the reality where he or she lives”.
The origin of the ministeriality of the Church
Referring to the theme of the three-day session, Pope Francis reflected on the meaning of ministeriality in the Church and on the role of laypeople in this context.
He noted that when we speak of Church ministries in general, the thought immediately goes to “instituted” ministries such as the ones of lector, acolyte, and catechist “which are all well known”.
However, he said, these instituted ministries “do not represent the full extent of the ministeriality of the Church, which is broader and, ever since the first Christian communities, regards all the faithful”.
The common priesthood of all the faithful based on Baptism
The Pope recalled that its origin lies in Baptism and in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
“Indeed the Sacrament is the root the common priesthood of all the faithful which “is is in turn expressed in the ministries”.
This is because all the baptized – whether lay people, celibate, married people, priests, religious – are Christifideles, that is believers in Christ, “and are therefore required to take part in the mission He entrusted to the Church, also through the assumption of determined ministries”.
The ministry of the laity in particular, the Pope continued, also “stems from the charism that the Holy Spirit distributes within the People of God for its edification”. This, the Pope said, explains even more clearly why “the ministeriality of the Church cannot be reduced merely to instituted ministries, but rather embraces a far vaster field”.
Participating in the prophetic and regal function of Christ
Even today, as in the first Christian communities, “as in the original communities, faced with particular pastoral needs, without resorting to the institution of ministries, pastors can entrust certain supplementary functions to laypeople, that is, temporary services, as in the case of the proclamation of the Word of the distribution of the Eucharist.”
Moreover, Pope Francis continues, “besides the instituted ministries, supplementary services, and other regularly entrusted offices, the laity can carry out a range of tasks, which express their participation in the prophetic and regal function of Christ: not only within the Church, but also in the environments where they live”, for example in reaching out to those affected by old and new forms of poverty, including migrants.
The Pope also mentioned the field of family ministry which is all the more relevant today in light the of the many challenges the family is facing and which was another focus of the Plenary.
Recalling the magisterium of Pope St. John Paul II and of Pope St. Paul VI, Pope Francis highlighted, amongst other things, the educational mission of the family as a ministry of evangelization.
Mission and service
All these ministries, services, assignments and offices, the Pope emphasized , “must never become self-referential” and have two fundamental things in common: "Mission and service", because they "are an expression of the one mission of the Church and all are forms of service to others”.
“I like to emphasize that at the root of the term ministry there is the word minus, which means “minor”. And Jesus said so: those who command should make themselves the smallest, otherwise they do not know how to command. It is a small detail, but of great importance. Those who follow Jesus are not afraid to make themselves “inferior”, “minor”, to place themselves at the service of others. Indeed, Jesus himself taught us: “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mk 10,43-44).”
“Only by serving his brothers and sisters and, in them, Christ”, Pope Francis concluded, will “all the baptized be able to discover the meaning of their own life, joyfully experiencing being ‘a mission on this earth’ that is, being called, in different ways and forms, to ‘bring light, bless, enliven, raise up, heal and free’ .