Ministry -- III. The Forms of the Ordained Ministry
A. Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons
M19. The New Testament does not describe a single pattern of ministry which
might serve as a blueprint or continuing norm for all future ministry in the
Church. In the New Testament there appears rather a variety of forms which existed
at different places and times. As the Holy Spirit continued to lead the Church
in life, worship and mission, certain elements from this early variety were
further developed and became settled into a more universal pattern of ministry.
During the second and third centuries, a threefold pattern of bishop, presbyter
and deacon became established as the pattern of ordained ministry throughout
the Church. In succeeding centuries, the ministry by bishop, presbyter and deacon
underwent considerable changes in its practical exercise. At some points of
crisis in the history of the Church, the continuing functions of ministry were
in some places and communities distributed according to structures other than
the predominant threefold pattern. Sometimes appeal was made to the New Testament
in Justification of these other patterns. In other cases, the restructuring
of ministry was held to lie within the competence of the Church as it adapted
to changed circumstances.
M20. It is important to be aware of the changes the threefold ministry has
undergone in the history of the Church. In the earliest instances, where threefold
ministry is mentioned, the reference is to the local eucharistic community.
The bishop was the leader of the community. He was ordained and installed to
proclaim the Word and preside over the celebration of the eucharist. He was
surrounded by a college of presbyters and by deacons who assisted in his tasks.
In this context the bishop's ministry was a focus of unity within the whole
M21. Soon, however, the functions were modified. Bishops began increasingly
to exercise episkopé over several local communities at the same time.
In the first generation, apostles had exercised episkopé in the 'der
Church. Later Timothy and Titus are recorded to have fulfilled a function of
episkopé in a given area. Later again this apostolic task is carried
out in a new way by the bishops. They provide a focus for unity in life and
witness within areas comprising several eucharistic communities. As a consequence,
presbyters and deacons are assigned new roles. The presbyters become the leaders
of the local eucharistic community, and as assistants of the bishops, deacons
receive responsibilities in the larger area.
M22. Although there is no single New Testament pattern, although the Spirit
has many times led the Church to adapt its ministries to contextual needs, and
although other forms of the ordained ministry have been blessed with the gifts
of the Holy Spirit, nevertheless the threefold ministry of bishop, presbyter
and deacon may serve today as an expression of the unity we seek and also as
a means for achieving it. Historically, it is true to say, the threefold ministry
became the generally accepted pattern in the Church of the early centuries and
is still retained today by many churches. In the fulfilment of their mission
and service the churches need people who in different ways express and perform
the tasks of the ordained ministry in its diaconal, presbyteral and episcopal
aspects and functions.
M23. The Church as the body of Christ and the eschatological people of God
is constituted by the Holy Spirit through a diversity of gifts or ministries.
Among these gifts a ministry of episkopé is necessary to express and
safeguard the unity of the body. Every church needs this ministry of unity in
some form in order to be the Church of God, the one body of Christ, a sign of
the unity of all in the Kingdom.
M24. The threefold pattern stands evidently in need of reform. In some churches
the collegial dimension of leadership in the eucharistic community has suffered
diminution. In others, the function of deacons has been reduced to an assistant
role in the celebration of the liturgy: they have ceased to fulfill any function
with regard to the diaconal witness of the Church. In general, the relation
of the presbyterate to the episcopal ministry has been discussed throughout
the centuries, and the degree of the presbyter's participation in the episcopal
ministry is still for many an unresolved question of far-reaching ecumenical
importance. In some cases, churches which have not formally kept the threefold
form have, in fact, maintained certain of its original patterns.
M25. The traditional threefold pattern thus raises questions for all the churches.
Churches maintaining the threefold pattern will need to ask how its potential
can be fully developed for the most effective witness of the Church in this
world. In this task churches not having the threefold pattern should also participate.
They will further need to ask themselves whether the threefold pattern as developed
does not have , a powerful claim to be accepted by them.
B. Guiding Principles for the Exercise of the Ordained Ministry in the Church
M26. Three considerations are important in this respect. The ordained ministry
should be exercised in a personal, collegial and communal way. It should be
personal because the presence of Christ among his people can most effectively
be pointed to by the person ordained to proclaim the Gospel and to call the
community to serve the Lord in unity of life and witness. It should also be
collegial, for there is need for a college of ordained ministers sharing in
the common task of representing the concerns of the community. Finally, the
intimate relationship between the ordained ministry and the community should
find expression in a communal dimension where the exercise of the ordained ministry
is rooted in the life of the community and requires the community's effective
participation in the discovery of God's will and the guidance of the Spirit.
M27. The ordained ministry needs to be constitutionally or canonically ordered
and exercised in the Church in such a way that each of these three dimensions
can find adequate expression. At the level of the local eucharistic community
there is need for an ordained minister acting within a collegial body. Strong
emphasis should be placed on the active participation of all members in the
life and the decision-making of the community. At the regional level there is
again need for an ordained minister exercising a service of unity. The collegial
and communal dimensions will find expression in regular representative synodal
C. Functions of Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons
M28. What can then be said about the functions and even the titles of bishops,
presbyters and deacons? A uniform answer to this question is not required for
the mutual recognition of the ordained ministry. The following considerations
on functions are, however, offered in a tentative way.
M29. Bishops preach the Word, preside at the sacraments, and administer discipline
in such a way as to be representative pastoral ministers of oversight, continuity
and unity in the Church. They have pastoral oversight of the area to which they
are called. They serve the apostolicity and unity of the Church's teaching,
worship and sacramental life. They have responsibility for leadership in the
Church's mission. They relate the Christian community in their area to the wider
Church, and the universal Church to their community. They, in communion with
the presbyters and deacons and the whole community, are responsible for the
orderly transfer of ministerial authority in the Church.
M30. Presbyters serve as pastoral ministers of Word and sacraments in a local
eucharistic community. They are preachers and teachers of the faith, exercise
pastoral care, and bear responsibility for the discipline of the congregation
to the end that the world may believe and that the entire membership of the
Church may be renewed, strengthened and equipped in ministry. Presbyters have
particular responsibility for the preparation of members for Christian life
M31. Deacons represent to the Church its calling as servant in the world. By
struggling in Christ's name with the myriad needs of societies and persons,
deacons exemplify the interdependence of worship and service in the Church's
life. They exercise responsibility in the worship of the congregation: for example
by reading the scriptures, preaching and leading the people in prayer. They
help in the teaching of the congregation. They exercise a ministry of love within
the community. They fulfil certain administrative tasks and may be elected to
responsibilities for governance.
In many churches there is today considerable uncertainty about the need, the
rationale, the status and the functions of deacons. In what sense can the
diaconate be considered part of the ordained ministry? What is it that distinguishes
it from other ministries in the Church (catechists, musicians, etc.)? Why
should deacons be ordained while these other ministries do not receive ordination?
If they are ordained, do they receive ordination in the full sense of the
word or is their ordination only the first step towards ordination as presbyters?
Today, there is a strong tendency in many churches to restore the diaconate
as an ordained ministry with its own dignity and meant to be exercised for
life. As the churches move closer together there may be united in this office
ministries now existing in a variety of forms and under a variety of names.
Differences in ordering the diaconal ministry should not be regarded as a
hindrance for the mutual recognition of the ordained ministries.
D. Variety of Charisms
M32. The community which lives in the power of the Spirit will be characterized
by a variety of charisms. The Spirit is the giver of diverse gifts which enrich
the life of the community. In order to enhance their effectiveness, the community
win recognize publicly certain of these charisms. While some serve permanent
needs in, the life of the community, others will be temporary. Men and women
in the communities of religious orders fulfil a service which is of particular
importance for the life of the Church. The ordained ministry, which is itself
a charism, must not become a hindrance for the variety of these charisms. On
the contrary, it will help the community to discover the gifts bestowed on it
by the Holy Spirit and will equip members of the body to serve in a variety
M33. In the history of the Church there have been times when the truth of the
Gospel could only be preserved through prophetic and charismatic leaders. Often
new impulses could find their way into the life of the Church only in unusual
ways. At times reforms required a special ministry. The ordained ministers and
the whole community will need to be attentive to the challenge of such special