Monday, September 26, 2011

Lay Ministers? That Doesn't Even Compute

I've discussed before how the logic of the clergy as a sort of caste apart from the laity has led to the bizarre situation of a sort of "middle class" in the Church and/or the liturgy (with permanent deacons straddling an awkward territory in between).

And I do mean "and/or," as the two don't necessarily overlap entirely; the religiously literate "lay clergy" I've discussed (and of which I'd count myself and probably the readers of this blog), and the sort of lay "tribunes" who absurdly "represent the laity" in the sanctuary as readers and altar-women and EMHCs...are often two separate groups of people, two different mentalities (the "lay clergy" are, frankly, often balk at the idea of volunteering for such roles.)

I was reminded of these strands of thought at the church I've been attending near my temporary lodging recently, where besides the priest, there are like twelve chairs in the sanctuary, filled with women in albs and secular clothing. The latter are readers (not even vested in anything; secular lay clothing apparently being taken as befitting the Liturgy of the Word according to Protestantesque notions), but the former don't even have any particularly discernible role (children act as the actual altar servers) until it comes time for distribution of communion when most of them are EMHCs. The rest of the time they loom there like some Grand Council of Emasculation on their haughty thrones, as if present merely to assert the final symbolic castration of the poor already institutionally eunuchized priest.

But again, as I said in that post of mine on lay readers, the logic behind lay "participants" in the liturgy (or even just making arbitrary lay people, especially women, be visible in the sanctuary) seems to:
...come from some idea that if the priest just appropriated the role for himself, then he would be limiting the opportunities for "participation" on the part of the people. And at Sunday Masses especially (with readers, altar servers, EMHC's, having lay people bring up the gifts at the Offertory, etc) they seem to act like the liturgy is some sort of audience-participation game-show where getting as many people involved as possible is ideal. The priest just doing the readings himself would be "exclusivist" or something like that...

But, of course, 98% of the congregation is still not involved "actively" like that. They can't be. There's only going to be one reader, a few servers, a couple people carrying up the gifts, a handful of EMHC's. So in some ways it is just as "exclusive" as ever; it's just exclusive to a privileged group of [...] volunteers, a self-selected group, rather than to just clerics.

The justification given, then, is usually that the lay participants in the sanctuary "represent" the rest of us, and that we will feel like we are participating through them, that we will identify with them.

Of course, this is ironically indicative of an extremely entrenched clericalism. Because it implies that we in the pews couldn't possibly identify with the priest. Oh no, he couldn't possibly adequately represent the congregation in the sanctuary, so we need to have some plebeian tribune up there to represent "our" interests, to be the laity's proxy in the liturgy.

But of course, that's all "clergy" are in the end. That's what priests are: simply members of the church appointed to act as the representative of the congregation before God in the sanctuary, just as Christ was the mediator between God and Man. This idea that lay people need to see another lay person in the sanctuary to identify with in their participation, instead of identifying in participation with the priest himself, stems from an essentialization of the clergy as objectively different than the laity in caste, rather than as being defined precisely as simply the community's representative in the sanctuary.

And even when the priest is taking the role of the Other during liturgy (ie, in persona christi)...the Eastern churches, at least, then use the deacon as the symbolic mediator between him and the congregation (like the Church is between us and Christ), as the congregation's proxy or point of identification. Not some random unvested lay person (and certainly not a woman) waltzing up there and inserting the profane and secular into the sacred.
And that's just the point: all "clerics" ultimately are, traditionally, are those deputized (that's what an ordination is; a deputization) for public ministry in the church, being appointed as a public representative of the Church, a public "pray-er," able to act in the name of the whole church community in liturgy. It's exactly because they are clergy that they can represent the rest of us. If lay people feel they aren't adequately represented by a cleric, or women by a man...well, I really don't know Whom they think mediates between them and the Father.

And of course, this is why there were minor orders. These roles were devolved from the functions originally proper to the diaconate and made a class of minor clerics to fill various public functions in liturgy and the church. This idea after Vatican II of "lay ministries" (instituted lector and acolyte) is a paradox, as all "clerics" are...are members of the church instituted to be public ministers in liturgy! That's what "clergy" are. Only the essentialization of the clergy as a "class" earning their keep by full-time work for the Church and bound by celibacy and other obligations ruined this logic.

To me, the idea of an "instituted" acolyte who is specified as specifically a "lay ministry" as opposed to clergy is an insane idea, as all the minor ordination was, actually, was just such an "institution" or deputization to fulfill that role in liturgy. And limiting the "instituted ministry" to men makes this idea of essentially "lay" ministries in liturgy even more absurd (especially when you do allow female "substitutes," but not the actual institution; this creates, like, two bizarre extra layers between the "real" clergy and the just-plain-laity).

Of course, the Vatican II logic may be based on the Sacrament Orders being divinely established in only three grades, and thus on an attempt to make the hierarchal constitution of the Church more "theologically" based. But the minor orders and subdiaconate were creations of the Church, sacramentals, that devolved from the who cares? Can't there be legitimate development beyond the "essentials" like that? And besides, if they really wanted to stick to that logic then...they should have just ordained all acolytes and lectors as deacons!! (Rather than trying to establish them as essentially "lay" ministries).

Of course, this really all started long before Vatican II by having unordained lay servers. Why not just ordain them to acolyte? If all a minor ordination is, basically, is delegating someone to take a certain function in liturgy as a publicly deputized representative of the Church in public prayer...isn't a boy delegated to serve at the altar already basically that? So why make the distinction regarding withholding the minor ordination?

Well, because the clerical state was essentialized as something else (and something more worldly, and attached to benefices and such). Because the minor orders became just a stepping stone in seminaries to "real" clergy-hood (ie, celibate, bound by the Office, etc). So we deputized a second class of lay men to "substitute" for real clergy, even though that's all clergy are! (Someone deputized to serve in liturgy). The history here is sad and frustrating and illogical.

I imagine a world where all sorts of men from the parish are ordained to the minor orders (or even the major!) rather than this idea of needing lay "substitutes" or (bizarrely) "lay ministers" according to a radically altered notion of the lay/clerical distinction. Of course, that would require a notion of the clergy not bound by celibacy (which minor clerics actually weren't!) or having it be a full-time job or caste requiring all sorts of markers of distinction. But I've discussed all this before; we need a small parish model fully stocked with volunteer clerics (of all orders) truly drawn from men in the community.

I'll follow up soon with another post on the question of women in all this.

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