ROCHESTER — Although he was visiting the Rochester Diocese for the first time, Dr. Edward Hahenberg said that “I’ve been watching you from a distance ever since Bishop (Matthew H.) Clark started talking about this ‘ministerium’ a few years ago.”
Hahenberg’s remark, made April 30 to approximately 500 people at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, affirmed our diocese’s consciousness regarding what he considers one of the most significant movements in Catholic Church history: the rise of lay ecclesial ministers in the United States over the past four decades.
Hahenberg, an assistant professor of theology at Xavier University, and Sister Amy Hoey, RSM, served as keynote speakers for that day’s Gathering of the Ministerium. Both were instrumental in the development of the 2005 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops document on lay ecclesial ministry, “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.”
The fourth-annual ministerium event brought together people who serve in various leadership positions across the diocese. Participants are invited by Bishop Clark, who had introduced the term ministerium — Latin for “body of ministers” — in 2001 to define those who exercise an official of ecclesial ministry. This group is inclusive of ordained priests and deacons, and also such people who are considered lay ecclesial ministers: women religious, pastoral administrators, pastoral associates, religious-education coordinators, youth ministers, hospital chaplains, campus ministers, prison chaplains, Catholic-school principals, parish volunteers with significant ministerial responsibilities and diocesan employees.
Bishop Clark, in his opening address on April 30, described the Gathering of the Ministerium as “an opportunity for our growth, both personally and corporately.”
“A gathering like this is a real symbol of the corporate body of the leaders moving forward to continue this thing Christ started,” Hahenberg added.
Sister Hoey noted a dramatic rise of lay ecclesial ministers in parishes across the country, saying that as of 2005, there were 30,000 such people working at least 20 hours a week in parishes — an increase of 43 percent over a 15-year period. She observed that whereas parish bulletins of her youth had staff listings that only named priests, many of today’s bulletins list “almost all lay persons continuing the work of that parish.”
Hahenberg and Sister Hoey stated that we’re in the midst of a historic development springing from the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 Document on the Laity.
“The last 40 years stands out as one of the top three or four shifts in the last 2,000 years,” Hahenberg said, likening the rise of lay ecclesial ministry to the flourishing of monasticism in the fifth century, men’s religious orders in the 13th century and women’s religious communities in the 19th century.
Yet the keynoters said that lay ecclesial ministry is still in the process of being defined, instituted and accepted by church leaders and congregations. Hence, the U.S. bishops developed “Co-Workers in the Vineyard” (the full text is available at www.usccb.org/laity/laymin.) Sister Hoey described the document as a general framework for lay ecclesial ministry — “reflective and descriptive, not prescriptive and dogmatic.”