FR David Pascoe (CL 30/4/00) writes: “Fr Hanlon equates laying on of hands with ordination and hence sees the latter as evident in the action accounted for in the Acts of the Apostles (6:1-8).
“Ordination as a designated liturgical practice of the Church took some centuries to develop into the ritual meaning we would recognise today.” I have difficulty understanding exactly what Father intends!
Fair distribution of bread among members of this post-Ascension, Christian commune, suffered from the age-old failing of racial prejudice. The matter was serious as people, drawn to this messianic commune where the Spirit operated in great power (Acts 5:12, 6:8), had sold their property and gave the proceeds to the apostles for the common good. If a section was to be ripped off, it badly damages the credibility of this community and could lead to a serious division. There can be no doubt as to the apostles’ serious, if not direct involvement, in the daily distribution. The communal property was given to them (Acts 4:35) and the deceit of Ananias and Sapphira was severely punished (Acts 5:1-11). The daily distribution was apparently taken up by brethren focused on resources. Their moral failure showed the community that effective living out of the gospel, could not be left to people who simply had interest in and ability with resources. These people had found a niche according to their natural tendencies, but were ignorant of the way.
The apostles recognised their direct, personal responsibility for the way the gospel is lived in the community, (others are appointed or the apostles distribute) as well as the way it is preached. With the community increasing, they also recognise a need to delegate. Their right and duty to preach the Word had been gained by the special instruction of Jesus over the period of his ministry, and could not at that time be delegated. But a fair daily distribution of food needed a particular attitude, rather than special and intensive training.
The people chosen by the community may also have had some natural penchant for property, but they also “filled with the Spirit and with wisdom” (Acts 6:3). It is clear that the apostles believed that they were giving over part of their ministry (ibid). The laying on of hands therefore, is an act conferring on the recipients a part of the apostolic character and involving a generous gift of grace from the Holy Spirit. These recipients would have apostolic authority to deal with any problem in this area in the future. We must view this as constituting what has since become to be termed “ordination”. By this time we would have a more detailed understanding of this sacrament, but perhaps a diminished sense of its spiritual power and significance.
The Church does need to look at the origins and character of its ministry, clear in its mind that these are to serve in bringing the believing community to gospel conformity in Jesus, as was the object in instituting the diaconate. Rome’s capacity to organise and maintain political order was a widely admire skill. It was not lost on the early Church and our generally well organised hierarchical structure owes much to it. This is not all bad, but the problem is that the well oiled canonical functioning of this structure can become, for many, the central object of the Church where Jesus primarily wanted a cohesiveness of love in faith. The abolition of the female diaconate by the regional Council of Orleans in 533 AD is ample demonstration of the strong, and sometimes counter-traditional influence, culture had on the form of ministry.
J.K. CREEVEY West End, Qld