Dominican friar Timothy Radcliffe spoke on Priests and Laity – An Interrelationship for Life. Photo: SPICatholics learnt about the important and distinctive roles that priests and laypeople play in the Church at a recent talk

A Christ-centred Church would be a “grown-up Church in which the laity can use their talents and gifts”, a Dominican friar told some 200 Catholics recently.

Every baptised Christian has been anointed priest, prophet and king, and therefore should live as such, said Fr Timothy Radcliffe in his talk, Priests and Laity – An Interrelationship for Life.

The July 8 event, held at the Church of St Mary of the Angels, was organised by the Singapore Pastoral Institute.

In his talk, Fr Radcliffe explored how priests and laity can be mutually supportive and work together without rivalry.

Explaining the “priesthood of the laity”, the 67-year-old popular speaker and author said Christians share in Christ’s priesthood when they “mediate” God’s love to others.

He gave as examples when husbands and wives delight in each other, when people take delight in their descendants, when healthcare workers tend to patients and when one just calls another’s name tenderly.

The former Master of the Dominican order, who conducted the July 9-13 priests’ retreat, said Christians also act as instruments of God’s love when they give thanks to God and when they pray for others, such as when parents pray for their children and attend Mass in their place when the latter stray from the Church.

Explaining laypeople’s role as “prophets”, Fr Radcliffe said this is not about foretelling the future but “speaking God’s true and creative word”.

“Our deepest responsibility is to speak words [that] nourish people and make them strong,” he said.

Christians exercise this ministry many times daily in their communication with others, and teachers, writers, poets, journalists and politicians are people who have a special prophetic vocation as their lives are “bound up with words”, he said.

Fr Radcliffe said that sharing in Christ’s kingship means having a voice in the community, nation, society and Church. However, he cautions against the Church becoming a “straight democracy” in which decisions are “simply taken by majority vote”.

It would take time for the laity to find their voice in Church, and initially there could be some ranting, posturing or the making of ignorant claims contrary to Church’s teaching, he said.

Nevertheless, one should look for the little bits of truth in all of this, he said, adding that one should not silence the people but “talk with them and help them find the words they are looking”.

Giving laypeople a voice does not make the clergy lose authority, he said.

Quoting theologian Henry Newman, Fr Radcliffe explained that there are three kinds of authorities and that neither should dominate – the authority of devotion shared by everyone in his or her experience of God in prayer and liturgy, the authority of reason shared by theologians and academics in their respective fields, and the authority of government – the hierarchy of the Church.

For the Church to flourish, it is important to recognise the words of the baptised people, Fr Radcliffe said.

He noted that laypeople have experience in areas that priests do not have. However, laypeople must also recognise the authority of the Church hierarchy “when it makes pronouncements on the teaching of the faith”.

During the question-and-answer session that followed, Fr Radcliffe urged priests and laypeople to build friendships to foster dialogue.

Many participants said they found Fr Radcliffe’s talk enlightening.

Ms Francesca Tan said she found the idea of laypeople exercising their roles as “priests” new.

Ms Teresa Luo said the talk was “engaging, easy to understand” and clear. She shared that she gained a good understanding of the laity’s role, and that both priests and laypeople have important roles with both parties being equal.

Mr Timothy de Souza, who serves in St Mary’s Parish Pastoral Council, said the talk “puts in very clear perspective what I as a lay person have to do in my own parish”.

Redemptorist Fr Jacob Ong said he agrees that the laity have a legitimate role to play in the building of the Church. He added that it would be sad if priests were to curb the role of the laity who have been “consecrated” through baptism.

By Darren Boon
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