It is a properly theological task to examine contemporary events in the light of Church tradition, as well as to examine the traditions and practices of the Church in the light of contemporary events. Among the events in contemporary life crying out for theological reflection are the changes in the structures and "delivery systems" of the various ministerial services that are intrinsic to parish and diocesan life. Once upon a time, in the mythical golden age of American Catholic neighborhood parishes, ministry was what Father did when he said mass for various intentions, administered the sacraments, and taught catechism to children and converts alike. All of that has long since changed, of course, but the lived experience of having both paid and volunteer laypersons engaging in activities at one time associated exclusively with the ordained has yet to find adequate theological description and justification. We know in our Catholic bones that all members of the Body of Christ are to wash one another's feet, but there is not yet in place a commonly accepted theological vision as to how all the members do this work differently, yet all together.
This is the task undertaken by the Collegeville Ministry Seminar, a gathering of ten theologians at St. John's University in August, 2001. The essays in this volume are the product of that seminar. The authors include Michael Downey, Zeni Fox, Richard Gaillardetz, Aurelie Hagstrom, Kenan Osborne, David Power, Thomas Rausch, Elissa Rinere, Kevin Seasoltz, and Susan Wood. Their essays often provide a summary overview of their previous work in their particular area; the result is that the collection as a whole offers a range of "state of the question" perspectives, any one of which can provide an informative point of entry for anyone concerned about the theology and practice of ministry in the Catholic Church in the United States.
The title's keywords—order, baptism, priesthood—provide the thematic axis around which all the essays revolve in some way or another. If the ministerial works of ordained and lay persons are both rooted in a common baptism, what is it that distinguishes sacramental ordination? Conversely, if ministry is proper to the mission of the entire Church, why must the issue always be phrased as the distinctiveness of ordained ministry? What is meant by the properly secular character of the laity (as found in both conciliar and more recent Vatican documents), and how does this affect the concept of lay ministry? If all the baptized share in the threefold munera of Christ, how do the laity live out their prophetic, priestly, and "kingly" roles within the Church? How does the charism of religious life affect the idea of ministry? Should the American bishops consider the possibility, offered by Pope Paul VI, of creating installed ministries for a particular region—an option that could provide institutional and episcopal support, as well as ritual validation, for (e.g.) pastoral associates and religious educators?
The book is theological in its orientation; in her Introduction, Susan Wood devotes about a page and a half to statistical data on the declining number of priests and the growing number of lay ministers. David Power has self-consciously edited his essay and begins with a reflection on the clergy sexual abuse crisis and the importance of a renewed theology of ministry for the future of the Church, although the conference predated by five months the January, 2002 articles in the Boston Globe. The book is not a source for sociological description of the profound demographic changes affecting literally every parish in the country, but a theological response to such descriptions and the kind of reflection that should be required by all in ministry, preparing for ministry, or preparing others for ministry.
Ecclesial documents (to say nothing of diocesan pay scales and personnel policies) often leave the impression that the growing number of lay ministers, and correlative changes in priestly life and ministry, are a temporary state of affairs, something to be endured until the requisite number of seminarians can be recruited. Theologians like the Collegeville Ten know better; may their numbers only increase.