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Rediscovering mission of laity


By Paul J. Philibert OP, Liturgical Press Collegeville, Minnesota, $35.95

Reviewed by Barbara Flynn

FR Paul Philibert, professor of pastoral theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, believes passionately that the time is right to awaken the conscience of the lay faithful to their taking hold of and living out the implications and responsibilities of being “a priestly people”.

In this very readable book, carefully referenced (annotated) at the end of each of the eight chapters, he explores systematically the doctrine of “the priesthood of the faithful”.

Philibert’s work is timely in the context of today’s Church.

Specifically, he analyses the concept of “priesthood of the faithful”, laying out the theological foundations of the metaphor in a discussion accessible to lay readership.

Broadly speaking, the author of this inspiring book breathes life into Christian religious metaphors which, though employed often in Church talk, are scarcely understood in the implications they hold for the baptised in living out the mission of their baptism.

In chapter one, Philibert introduces the theological concept, “priesthood of the whole Christ, head and members” as a point of departure to examine critically some sociological and spiritual concerns characterising the terrain of today’s Church.

Among the current critical predicaments identified by the author in relation to the baptised are lack of commitment and connectedness, irregular participation in the sacraments by many and ignorance among the baptised of the meaning of “priesthood of the baptised”, a term that derives from their identity in Christ received through anointing in the Holy Spirit at baptism.

In chapters two to four, Philibert breaks open the meaning of the metaphor, “priesthood of the faithful”, exploring its implications for the baptised.

He probes deeply the theological and spiritual significance of living one’s baptism as a lifelong commitment to the mission of Christ.

Philibert argues that communion and intimacy with God that a baptised person experiences through faith in the power of the Holy Spirit, if fully internalised, will empower and activate the individual to want to live as a “dynamic and expressive member of the Body of Christ”.

Philibert’s exploration of the implications of the core theological truths which lie embedded in the metaphor, “priesthood of the faithful”, open up to the baptised their identity in Christ the Priest.

Chapters three to six provide a rich and carefully explained catechesis for understanding how the baptised might more effectively unite themselves through the power of the Holy Spirit with the sacrifice of Christ with the lives of one another during celebration of the Eucharist.

The true nature of Christian existence, Philibert asserts, is life offered to God through the Spirit in union with Christ’s sacrifice for service and mission to others.

Additionally, in chapters three to six, the author discusses with clarity the significance to the baptised of understanding with the heart the potential of God’s spirit, received at baptism, to transform their every day lived experiences for the spread of God’s kingdom.

Philibert applauds the positive influence several post-Vatican II lay movements have had on the spiritual formation of members and on their commitment to their baptismal mission.

He contends that personal spiritual transformation of the laity occurs when individually, conscientiously, intentionally and prayerfully, the baptised acknowledge that they live in the Spirit of Christ.

Out of this transforming realisation they are enabled to live out the responsibilities of their baptism “placing their lives at the service of the Kingdom of God”.

Philibert boldly asserts that the Church, the Body of Christ, visible in the world as the baptised faithful, can be revitalised when its members are awakened to consciously “own” and live out their true identity as Christ’s Body in the world.

To realise this vision for revitalisation of the Church he advocates that the faithful be formed through catechesis in their understanding of the theology of “priesthood of the faithful” and “priesthood of the baptised”.

The author advises that the ordained priesthood is not diminished in significance or in its essential role and function but remains the central core to the very life and existence of a sacramentally nourished Church.

The ordained priesthood stands within the concept “priesthood of the faithful” and, as an indispensable element, functions in interaction and complementarity within the concept.

Philibert draws heavily on teachings from Vatican II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and writings from respected theologians as he confidently propounds aspects of his thesis for achieving a living revitalised Church.

The Priesthood of the Faithful is a substantive work deserving study by people in the pews, ordained priests, adult faith formation groups and those recently confirmed in the Catholic faith through adult initiation.

The content speaks not only to the lay faithful, but to the ordained priesthood and those in religious life.

The systematic approach, with chapters divided into focused sub-sections, lends itself to the development of a series of parish based or deanery based discussions on “understanding and living the mission of the baptised”.

I recommend this spiritually enriching book as a valuable faith education resource.

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