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Fifty years since Paul VI’s Motu Proprio “Ministeria quaedam”

Ministries in the Church Pope Francis calls for a dialogue with Bishops

Pope Francis smiles as he greets bishops as he arrives for a meeting with novices at the Paul VI ...
26 August 2022

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Pope Saint Paul VI’s Motu Proprio “Ministeria quaedam”, Pope Francis reflects on the Apostolic Letter’s impact on instituted and extraordinary ministries, and expresses his desire to open a dialogue with Bishops’ Conferences to continue along the path set out fifty years ago. The following is a summary of the Pope’s message.

Fifty years have passed since Paul VI’s Motu Proprio “Ministeria quae-dam” was published.

The Apostolic Letter reformed the “minor orders”, including that of the Lector for ministry of the Word, and that of the Acolyte for the ministry of the Altar. It also established lay ministries.

To mark the occasion, Pope Francis released a message on Wednesday [24 August] expressing his desire to begin a dialogue with Bishops’ Conferences around the world “in order to be able to share the richness of the ministerial experiences that in these fifty years the Church has lived both as instituted ministries (lectors, acolytes and, only recently, catechists) and as extraordinary and de facto ministries.”

The purpose, the Pope explains, is to “be able to listen to the voice of the Spirit without stopping the process, being careful not to want to force it by imposing choices that are the fruit of ideological viewpoints.”

For this reason, Pope Francis believes that “it is useful to share the experiences of these years, all the more in the spirit of the synodal journey. That experience can offer valuable indications to arrive at a harmonious vision of the question of baptismal ministries and thus continue along our journey.”

Pope Paul VI’s path and
Pope Francis’ Letters

In his message, Pope Francis recalls that Paul VI’s Motu Proprio not only renewed the discipline of the minor orders and the subdiaconate, “but offered the Church an important perspective that was able to inspire further progress.”

The possibility of the further development of ministries was also discussed during the Synod on the Amazon.

Subsequently, Pope Francis wrote two Apostolic Letters addressing the situation: the first, “Spiritus Domini” published on 10 January 2021, allowed women to participate in the Lectorate and Acolytate ministries.

The second, “Antiquum Ministerium” published 10 May, 2021, instituted the ministry of Catechist.

“These two interventions,” the Pope explains, “should not be interpreted as replacing the previous doctrine, but as a further development made possible because it is based on the same principles — consistent with the reflection of the Second Vatican Council” that had inspired Paul VI.

Pope Paul VI, following the requests of many Council Fathers, had in fact fifty years ago “granted the Bishops’ Conferences the possibility of asking the Apostolic See for the establishment of those ministries considered necessary or very useful in their regions. Even the ordination prayer for bishops, during the intercessions, indicates among its principal tasks, that of organizing ministries.”

Foundations of each ministry

Pope Francis explains that “the issue is of fundamental importance for the life of the Church: in fact, there is no Christian community that does not express ministries.”

This is shown in the Letters of St. Paul, where “a widespread ministeriality” is described as “being organized on the basis of two certain foundations”: at the origin of every ministry there is always God who by His Holy Spirit works all things in all, and “the purpose of every ministry is always the common good, the building up of the community.”

Every ministry is therefore “a call from God for the good of the community.”

Thanks to these two central ideas, the Christian community can organize “the variety of ministries that the Spirit stirs up in relation to its concrete situation.”

This organization, the Pope writes, “is not a merely functional fact but is, rather, a careful community discernment in listening to what the Spirit suggests to the Church, in a concrete place and in the present moment of her life.”

Thus, “any ministerial structure that arises from this discernment is dynamic, lively, and flexible like the action of the Spirit: it must be rooted in it ever more deeply lest dynamism become confusion, liveliness be reduced to extemporaneous improvisation, flexibility be transformed into arbitrary and ideological adaptations.”

‘Realities are more important
than ideas’

In his message, Pope Francis continues that “the ecclesiology of communion, the sacramentality of the Church, the complementarity of the common and the ministerial priesthood, and the liturgical visibility of each ministry are the doctrinal principles that, animated by the action of the Spirit, make the variety of ministries harmonious.”

The question of baptismal ministries touches on several aspects that “certainly need to be considered: the terminology used to indicate ministries, their doctrinal foundation, the juridical aspects, the distinctions and relationships between individual ministries, their vocational value, the formation paths, the institutive event that empowers the exercise of a ministry, the liturgical dimension of each ministry.”

These are complex issues, which, the Pope says, “certainly need to continue to deepen,” but without “pretending to define and resolve them in order to then be able to live ministeriality,” because acting in this way “most likely we would not be able to go very far.”

This is why Pope Francis repeats in his message what was already written in the exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” namely that “realities are greater than ideas” and “a constant dialogue must be established between the two, avoiding that the idea ends up separating itself from reality.” The Pope continues by saying that “time is greater than space.”

Therefore, “rather than obsessing over immediate results in resolving all tensions and clarifying every aspect — thus running the risk of truncating them — we must go along with the action of the Spirit of the Lord.”