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Posted December 9, 2004

Book: Common Calling: The Laity & Governance of the Catholic Church
Editor: Stephen J. Pope
Georgetown University Press, Washington, D.C., pp.272

An Excerpt from the Introduction

This book is intended to contribute to ongoing reflection on the contribution of the laity to the governance of the church. It seeks to address the question: What has been, is, and can be the role of the laity in the governance of the church?

The chapters in part I of this volume provide important historical precedents regarding the status and roles of the laity in the first millennium, but they discuss these precedents in light of the needs of the contemporary church.

The chapters in part II address the contemporary scene, but always with an eye to relevant historical contexts. They consider fundamental theological and moral issues relating to the role of the laity in church governance, including the just-mentioned themes of dialogue, participation, gender equality, and loyalty. Their authors examine these themes from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including systematic theology, sacramental theology, canon law, political science, moral theology, pastoral theology, and management. They speak from dual backgrounds as active believers and academic specialists in their own fields, as both existentially concerned people of faith and learned scholars. It is hoped that the contribution of authors from a variety of relevant disciplines will help to deepen and broaden the ongoing and vitally important discussion about how the laity might be of service to the church. If canon lawyer Ladislas Orsy is correct when he claims (in chapter 13) that we are entering into a new era in the history of the church, then there can be no topic of greater importance for Catholics than the one addressed in these pages.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Conclusion: Looking into the Future

Vatican Council II ended on the feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1965. After the solemn Mass at St. Peter’s, Yves Congar, who contributed so much to the success of the Council, wrote in his diary: “Today, the church is sent to the world: ad gentes, ad populos, Incipiendo, non a Ierosolyma sed a Roma [to nations, to the people. Starting not in Jerusalem but from Rome.] The Council will have an explosive force (va eclater) in the world. The moment of Pentecost that John XXIII has foretold has become a reality today.”

Some forty years later, we look back. Was Congar right? Has the Council become an explosive force among the nations? Do the peoples of the earth see the church coming to them n a new robe and speaking a new message? It seems, it appears, that the opposite has happened. While in some ways the church has become more visible than ever, in other ways it has revealed immense internal weaknesses and the nations are hardly listening. Did Congar misread the times and — in the exultation of the last session of the Council — fall into a false prophecy?

Not so. Congar saw right. He had sharp sight and good perception. Yet — as happened even to biblical prophets before him — he perceived well what was coming, but misjudged the distance of the coming. He saw a faraway event as if it were present. Maybe, in the exultation of singing the great hymn of thanksgiving Te Deum, he failed to realize how much time will be needed to move from insights to practices — from vision to legislation. He was so enticed by the magnificence of the conciliar decisions that he did not notice the obstacles on the way to their implementation. Today the dynamic that dominated the debates of the Council are active again in the universal church; the Council is replayed in the community at large. The currents from the second millennium favoring strong centralization are here and working, but the currents promoting communio (for the third millennium?) Are also present and operating.

At the Council, a strong minority wanted no changes from the post-Tridentine church; they found allies among the faithful after the Council. At the same Council, a majority wanted to renew the church by taking their inspiration from biblical and patristic sources: they found dedicated followers after the great meeting. And — just as it happened forty years ago — the two currents keep colliding.

In our church of today, there is a fair amount of hidden dissent from the Council, mostly in the form of reinterpreting it to the point where it becomes insignificant and irrelevant. Yet, throughout the church, there is also an immense desire for the implementation of the Council’s decisions.

How will it all end? The church is in God’s hands. But while we try to look into the future and we ask, What is to come?, it is right and just to recall again the statement used by ecumenical councils: “placuit Spiritue sancto et nobis” — it pleases the Holy Spirit and us.”

The key to the future is there. Whatever has pleased the Spirit has an intrinsic force that will not get lost in history. What God has initiated, he will bring to a good end. In God’s own time, the Council will emerge in all the splendor and with the radical exigencies that Yves Congar perceived so well. Gregory VII is remembered for having initiated a movement toward a strong centralized government. Perhaps a millennium form now, John XXIII will be remembered for having changed the course of events and set the church on the path for experiencing increasingly the goodness of communio. Bless be his name.

Toward the end of the Council, when the outcome was already certain, Congar wrote in his diary: “vidimus — videbimus mirabilia (we see — we shall see wonders).” The correct answer to our original question — “What will the future hold?” — should be: In God’s own time, vidimus, — videbimus mirabilia: “we see — we shall see wonders.”

Table of Contents:

Part I. Historical Perspectives

1. “Being of One Mind”: Apostolic, authority, persuasion, and Koinonia in New Testament Christianity.
Pheme Perkins

2. St. Cyprian on the role of the laity in decision making in the early church
Francis A. Sullivan, S.J.

3. Laity and the development of doctrine: perspectives from the early church
Francine Cardman

4. Resources for reform from the First Millennium
Michael J. Buckley, S.J.

5. From autonomy to alienation: lay involvement in the governance of the local church
R. Scott Appleby

Part II. Contemporary Perspectives

6. Participatory hierarchy
Terence L. Nichols

7. Feminist theology and a participatory church
Lisa Sowle Cahill

8. Belonging to the laity: a baptist perspective
S. Mark Heim

9. Weathering “The Perfect Storm:: The contribution of canon law
John Beal

10. Voice and loyalty in the church: The People of God, politics and management
Mary Jo Bane

11. Good governance, the domestic church, and religious education
Thomas Groome

12. The emerging role of the Catholic laity: Lessons from the Voice of the Faithful
James E. Post

13. The Church of the Third Millennium: In praise of communio
Ladislas Orsy, S.J.