I was listening to my pastor preach in my former parish one day when he commented upon the mistaken notion (that’s what he said, or words to that effect) held by many Catholics that the Vatican II Council had called the Church the “People of God”. “Oh no!” he said, and -at least as I remember it – he stabbed his index finger into the air to emphasize his point. The Council, he continued, said the Church was Hierarchical. I started to see red at that point so I don’t really remember where he went from there. I’m figuring, based on other expereinces I’ve had with the man, that he wanted to emphasize the importance of focusing on the Pope and the bishops and the priests when we think of the Church.
In fact, “Lumen Gentium”, the principle Vatican II document on the Church, did describe the Church as the People of God and also said that the Church is hierarchical. Properly understood, there is no contradiction here. We are the People of God because that’s how God forms us – as God did with our ancestors among the Hebrew people – as a community, first and foremost. All other charisms and vocations, includng Holy Orders, are given by the Holy Spirit to people who have already received a more fundamental calling – the call to holiness, to live as the children of God we were always intended to be. It’s the call to which we responded via our baptisms. The Church has a hierachy which serves a critcal and timeless function, but it is not exclusively defined by it.
Seems to me the only folks who find a contradiction between these two concepts would be those who are in some way still locked into a pre-Vatican II view of Church that’s much more one-dimensional. According to this view, those who have been ordained make up the “real” Church. The main purpose of the faithful under that decrepit concept was to “pay, pray, and obey.” It’s an idea portrayed in the context of the CIA in the movie, “The Good Shepherd”, when the main character and major CIA operative in the film (played by Leonardo DiCaprio? Brad Pitt? Matt Damon? Some famous leading man with blond hair?) describes the citizens of America as “guests”.
If the majority of Catholics really believed they were an integral part of the Church and if the majority of clergy really respected the vocation of the laity, how differently might the sex abuse crisis have unfolded? Perhaps it would have never happened at all?
Jim Philipps (3rdmillenniumpilgrim)