In early Latin translations of the New Testament, ministerium and its cognates were used to translate διακονία and its cognates, as well as the less frequent λειτουργία. The best English rendering of diakonia is the word "service." The New Testament uses the term for activities in the Church which issue from the graces of the Spirit and build up the body of the faithful. The less commonly used leitourgia intimates that these activities bear the character of true worship, since they build up the priestly people in whom God is glorified.
In ecclesiastical usage ministerium came to be used almost exclusively of the ordained members of the Church. It took on connotations of power and official authority which the original Greek term does not possess. This use of words is itself a sign of the growing tendency to reduce the laity to a passive role in the Church and to confide mission and responsibility predominantly to the clergy. Vatican II gave sanction to a trend to reverse this
situation that had begun earlier in the century. In its documents the Council continued to reserve the vocabulary of ministry for bishops, presbyters, and deacons, while using terms such as munus, missio, charisma, apostolatus and officium for the works of the laity. By reason of such usage, it was able to maintain a distinction between the role of ordained ministers and that of the laity, while at the same time recognizing the active part which the latter have in the mission of the Church and in service to the community. Furthermore, the Council recalled the original meaning of ministry or diakonia and stressed the need for the ordained to model their ministry on the service of Jesus Christ. Since then, there has been even greater attention given to the use of the word diakonia in the New Testament sources, and a deeper examination of the relation between the ministries of the laity and those of the ordained.
Origin of Ministries. The many ministries derive from the charisms, or gifts of service, which are given by the Spirit. The coordination of these gifts to the service of the common good is also the work of the Spirit. Every ministry is modelled on that of Jesus Christ (cf. Lk 22.24–27) and all power (εξουσία) in the Church is a share in his power (cf. Mt 28.18–20). The good of the Church and its mission requires order and leadership. The early Church turned to the Twelve (known by Luke as Apostles) or to their immediate associates, such as Paul, for this service.
That much, in brief, is the position which emerges from an exegesis of the New Testament. When little attention was given to the ministries of lay persons, it was enough for theology to explain that the power and authority of the bishops derive from the mission given by Christ to the Apostles. Given a broader concept of ministry, theology has to take other factors into account and offer a different synthesis. Three converging principles may serve this purpose. They are the Pauline teaching on the Body, the relation of all ministries to the model of the Twelve, and the action of the Spirit in the Church through time.
Pauline Teaching. The Pauline image of the Body expresses the Church's relation to Christ and his Spirit and is an effective image of her unity in plurality. Amongst other things, it brings home the corporate nature of her life and mission, as well as the personal share which each member has in the gifts of the Body and service to its life. On the basis of this image Vatican II can refer to the Church as the sacramentum seu signum et instrumentum intimae cum Deo unionis totiusque generis humani unitatis ("sacrament or sign of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind" Lumen gentium 1.1). Ministries contribute to the reality and witness of this corporate life and mission.
Apostles as Model. The Twelve are an eschatological image of the Church of the New Covenant, which, filled with the Holy Spirit as foretold by the Prophets, takes part in the banquet prepared by God for the Christ. Being likewise the Apostles sent by Christ, they transmit not only a life of discipleship and faith but also the mission which they received from him. Ministries in the Church derive from this mission and are modelled on that of the Twelve, in whom the early community found exemplars of disciple, pastor, and missionary.
Action of the Spirit. It follows from this that ministry is by the gift of the Spirit a share in the mission and saving power (exousia ) of God in Christ. The intervention of the Spirit is necessary, since it is the role of the Spirit to keep alive the historical remembrance of Christ and the Twelve, while at the same time providing for that newness of creation which each epoch requires. Indeed, the remembrance is itself a source of fresh creativity, since it gives the Church an eschatological focus on history, a grasp that the Church is always an event, and the realization that she lives constantly under the judgment of God and in his hope.
A conclusion to draw from this eschatological model is that a call to mission and service is already given in the Sacraments of initiation whereby a person becomes a member of the eschatological community. Vatican Council II recognizes this in many ways, not least in its Decree on Priestly Ministry when it implies that ordination specifies the mission already given at initiation (Presbyterorum ordinis 1.2). Of every adult Christian it can be said that her/his call is determined by the gifts of the Spirit, of which there is a guarantee in the Sacraments of initiation. For some, these are given special recognition and a new sacramental role through the Sacrament of Order.
Classification of Ministries. Different classifications or typologies of ministries are offered to explain their respective contributions to the life of the Church. The division offered by the Council is based on the theology of the triple office of Christ, namely, that of Priest, Prophet, and King. The works of both laity and ordained ministers are diversified in terms of their participation in one or other of these offices (Lumen gentium 9–12).
Another classification, more descriptive in character, is based more directly on the New Testament. It distinguishes ministries of word, sacrament, and care, drawing either from the listings of ministries (e.g. Rom 12.6–8; 1 Cor 12.4–11.28–31; Eph 4.11) or from what is known in other ways, of life in the New Testament Church. The principal ministries of the word are those of the apostles, the prophets, and the teachers, but the listings cited would also allow inclusion of such gifts as exhortation, tongues, and the discernment of spirits from the listings quoted. Of the ministry of sacrament or worship little specific is said in the New Testament. The foundation on which such ministry is explained naturally lies in what is said of the Eucharist and Baptism, and some would also draw from texts on the presidency of communities (e.g. Rom 12.8; Heb 13.17.23); but this is rather uncertain ground. An important feature in this classification is the recognition given to the ministries of care. The category includes the service of tables (cf. Acts 6.1–6); the care of the sick (cf. Jas 5.13–16), the widow, and the orphan (cf. Acts6.1–6; Jas 1.27); healing (1 Cor 12.10); and the administration of community goods (cf. 1 Cor 12.28 on administrators and helpers). Sometimes in theology the New Testament word diakonia is used for this category alone instead of being employed for all ministries. The works falling into this category have equal status with the ministries of word and liturgy. Hence they are not to be judged inferior or less necessary. Their exercise in the life of the Church today is not a mere repetition of New Testament days, but takes on new needs and new forms.
Another classification of ministries distinguishes them by way of their relation to those aspects of the Church's life that are designated by the Greek words μαρτήρια, διάκονία, and κοινονία (witness, service, communion). A similar distinction refers them to the Church's mission to evangelize, to the inner life of each community, and to the relations fostered between communities. This is to take up the notes of the Church which are its apostolicity, its unity, and its catholicity, and to relate ministries to them.
Clearly, no classification of ministries is adequate or exhaustive, nor may it be used to restrict development of new ministries or new ways of exercising old ones. A first limitation to be found in every classification is that some ministries overlap the types given. Thus the promotion of justice and peace could be classed under word, since it pertains to prophecy and to teaching, but it could also be classified under care, since it promotes human welfare in Christ's name. A second limitation to any typology is that the types may not appear to be comprehensive. Thus in the second classification mentioned, some would posit judgment as a fourth class of ministry, while others include it under word and still others place it under sacrament, relating it thus to the Sacrament of binding and loosing. Awareness of these shortcomings is a reminder that theology's task is to understand the wonders of the Church's variety in unity, not to establish stringent categories.
Ordained Ministry. Both history and dogma distinguish between ordained ministry and other ministries. It is less clear where the nature of this distinction resides. Given the new respect for lay ministries the question has become a more acute one in recent theology. Many things are involved in the discussion, including the nature of ecclesiastical authority, the offices reserved to the ordained, the purpose of the Sacrament of Order for the life of the Church, and the structure internal to the Sacrament. It is now more commonly recognized that the theology of Order derives from the theology of the Church and not vice versa as in an earlier system. Likewise, the authority of Order has to be related to common responsibility and mission of the community and is incomprehensible outside that context.
The call to ordained ministry comes as a special call from Christ and the Spirit, but it is mediated through the Church and requires sacramental incorporation into the ministerial college to be effective. How this mediation is to be effected is both a practical and a theological crux. The intervention of the episcopacy as the normal way of proceeding is not in question. It is more difficult to determine the just part played by the faithful in the choice of ministers and in the transmission of office. It is also difficult to assess situations where leadership and sacramental presidency have been assumed or granted outside the normal channels of episcopal succession.
Ordained ministers are certainly not mere delegates of the community. To say this would be to deny the unique source of power in Christ and the Spirit. At the same time, a rigid identification of episcopal succession with apostolic succession ignores all other authority and ministry in the Church and has serious practical as well as theological consequences. To express the delicacy of the relationship between the ordained minister and the community, some recent theology prefers images or concepts of leadership and presidency to those of power and jurisdiction. It is further pointed out that the authority of office is normally grounded in the spiritual authority of the person to whom the office is confided. Those dogmas that affirm that the power of Christ works in the Sacraments despite the unworthiness of the minister speak to unhealthy situations to give assurance that the grace of Christ is not rendered void by bad ministers, but such dogmas do not constitute the basic principles for a theology of Order.
When the Eucharist is taken as the central point and summation of the Church's life and mystery, then the liturgical presidency of the ordained minister can be understood as the focal point of the community's relation to the Trinity. Ministry and authority are thus related to the service of the Church as a communion in faith and worship. There is also room in this image for a proper recognition of the power and spiritual authority of the nonordained ministries, since the word presidency does not suggest a monopoly of worship. It is rather the encouragement, the recognition, and the ordering in unity and harmony of all ministries, relating them in the liturgy to the communion of the Church and the glory of the Father.
Lay Ministries. Besides the multiple problems concerning the relation of ordained to common ministries, the Church today also discusses the institutionalization of some lay ministries. This means a designation to a particular function, made by the hierarchy at some level and recognized as a common procedure rather than as a unique instance. Specifically, the motu proprio of Paul VI, Ministeria quaedam (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 64 529–534), promoted the institutionalization of the functions of acolyte and lector for the universal Church. It also urged local episcopates to consider the need for other ministries deserving of similar recognition in their respective constituencies. Hence there are movements towards setting up formal appointment to the ministries of catechist, psalmist, marriage counsellor, or even that of lay president in communities which have no resident ordained pastor.
This practice may be either promotional or restrictive, or perhaps a combination of both. While the intention of Ministeria quaedam was to promote a wider share of the laity in liturgical and catechetical roles, its implementation at times appears restrictive. This is all too easily the case when it is supplemented by the appointment of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. It can very easily happen that what of its nature belongs to all is in practice confined to the few, in the interests of what is deemed better order. To take the Lord's Body to other Christians and to read God's Word in the liturgy are offices which of their nature can be carried out by any mature Christian. At the moment some disciplinary measures may be needed to regulate this, but in the long run the phase of lay ministering marked by the institutionalization of these offices can only be temporary.
The question then remains whether similar procedures might be used to promote other ministries, particularly urgent for the life and mission of the Church at a given time and in a given place. Coming readily to mind is the need to promote ministries that work for justice or those that take up the call to dialogue with other religions. Whether the process of institutionalization can ever fully avoid forms of neoclericalism is an open question. Hence it may be more fitting to think in terms of a testing and discernment of gifts and ministries within communities and of their subsequent incorporation into the communion of faith and worship through prayer and mutual encouragement.
Bibliography: y.-m. congar, Ministères et communion ecclésiale (Paris 1971). b. cooke, Ministry to Word and Sacraments. History and Theology (Philadelphia 1976). j. delorme, ed., Le Ministère et les ministères selon le Nouveau Testament. Dossier exégétique et réflexion théologique (Paris 1974). m. g. lawler, A Theology of Ministry (Kansas City 1990). t. f. o'meara, Theology of Ministry (New York 2000). k. b. osborne, Ministry: Lay Ministry in the Roman Catholic Church (New York 1993). k. b. osborne, Priesthood: A History of the Ordained Ministry in the Roman Catholic Church (New York 1988). d. n. power, Gifts That Differ: Lay Ministries Established and Unestablished (New York 1985). j. provost, ed., Official Ministry in a New Age (Washington, D.C. 1981). e. schillebeeckx, The Church With a Human Face: A New and Expanded Theology of Ministry (New York 1988). e. hill, Ministry and Authority in the Catholic Church (London 1988). n. mitchell, Mission and Ministry: History and Theology in the Sacrament of Order (Wilmington, Del. 1982).
[d. n. power/eds.]