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September 28, 2006


Steve Cavanaugh

While I can't disagree with Jimmy on how the two terms are used, I think that a time of confusion is precisely the time to more carefully define terms and articles of faith. It is such times of confusion about Really Important Things (RIT) that prompts meetings of ecumenical councils.

The confusion about the nature of an apostolate and a ministry doesn't rise to the level of RIT, but is important. I think a further look at the terms is helpful. An apostle is one who is sent out; the most distinctive feature of the apostles ministry is their command to make disciples of the nations, and that is why even those far separated in time from the Twelve, like Patrick or Cyril and Methodius are referred to as the Apostles of the churches they helped found. And so I would contend that an apostolate is an organized effort at Christian witness of some sort aimed at those outside the Church (or at least not aimed at those active within the Church). Ministry, on other hand, is work aimed at those within the Church.

I would call catechesis a ministry; evangelization an apostolate. I always refer to our work in the St. Vincent de Paul society as an apostolate; although I am in a very small minority in doing so.



I was under the impression that "ministry" is the word Protestants tend to use for what Catholics would call an apostolate. If there is some overlap nowadays (with Catholics starting a "ministry") it would be due to a few Catholics adopting Protestant modes of speaking, perhaps because of the Charismatic movement or the influx of Evangelical converts into the Church.

I could be wrong, though. I must admit I've never fully researched the matter.

In Jesu et Maria,



I tend to lump all the "churchy" activities that laypeople do under the "ministry" heading-- music, lector, catechist, EMOC, etc. And, sadly, it seems that many people are of the opinion that only these official types of "ministry" are the ones worth doing.

Meanwhile, any less-formal activities I engage in-- encouraging a friend to come back to Confession for instance-- I tend to describe as "apostolate."

Because of the "clericalization of the laity" that some people have been so bent on since VII, and because they tend to throw around the term "ministry" in that context, I tend to really shy away from that term whenever possible. It's picked up a lot of baggage.


The problem I see with the term "Ministry" being overused as it is, is the common assumption that those in these "ministries" are "ministers" which is a title reserved to the clergy (deacon, priest, bishop) who are the only ordinary ministers.

Furthering this confusion, we have folks who are okay calling themselves "youth ministers" (which they aren't) but would never call themselves 'priests' which we are (by virtue of our baptism). We aren't 'ministerial priests' but we are priests, in the one priesthood of Christ.

I see, so you don't have a problem calling yourself a priest.


nope! Nor did St. Peter have a problem telling us we were priests, and nor did the Jewish people who knew when the Messiah came he would restore Israel as a nation of priests.

So why a problem with "minister"?


Because laypeople are not 'ministers' - that term is reserved for those in the ministerial priesthood (The clergy).
If a laymen is to act as a minister, it is always 'extraordinary'. Thus to refer to a laymen as a 'minister' without qualification is to blur the line between ministers and laymen.

Tim J.

Well, being a "nation of priets" didn't stop the Lord form giving Israel a seperate, sacred priesthood.

I would certainly never call myself a priest, while shying away from the word "misistry". Talk about confusing.

Tim J.

Sorry, that should be "ministry", not "misistry".


Tim, thats a shame as you are a priest in the one priesthood of Christ. You should honor that.


recommended reading: http://robertaconnor.blogspot.com/2005/10/specific-difference-between-laymen-and.html

PRIEST: one authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion especially as a mediatory agent between humans and God; specifically : an Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic clergyman ranking below a bishop and above a deacon

2 a : one officiating or assisting the officiant in church worship b : a clergyman especially of a Protestant communion
3 a : the superior of one of several religious orders -- called also minister-general b : the assistant to the rector or the bursar of a Jesuit house

Tim J.

ct -

So, does that mean that all are "priests" in the same sense, and have the same function? That there is no seperate, sacred priesthood?

If so, how do you account for the OT priesthood? It was God's idea, you know.

A priest is one who offers sacrifice. Certainly in that sense we are all "priests" in a metaphorical sense (we are all called to make ourselves a sacrifice), but the OT Priesthood was established by God for the ministry of the altar, to offer the temple sacrifice in a unique way, just as the NT Priesthood was established for the ministry of the altar, to offer the sacrifice of the Eucharist.

These two senses of the word "priest" are not mutually exclusive, but I don't think you will find in the bible any common Jewish man glibly referring to himself as a priest unless he really WAS one of the Levitical priesthood. In fact, I expect there would have been a stiff penalty for anyone who did this.

That we are all "priests" in a metaphorical sense means NEITHER that there is no literal priesthood, NOR that we are all priests in the literal sense.

Same goes for people calling themselves "apostles" or "bishops".


We are equally priests in the one priesthood of Christ, however God set aside some of these priests to serve as ministers (clergy). That is the teaching of the Church, but it is not evident in our common language.
I have Jewish friends, who very much recognize themselves as priests.
Again, this is a good read by an Opus Dei chaplain which elaborates on this concept: http://robertaconnor.blogspot.com/2005/10/specific-difference-between-laymen-and.html

Tim J.

ct -

For a bit there, I thought you were a Protestant arguing against the NT priesthood.

I get your point, I guess, but I maintain that if we are all equally priests, it is in the metaphorical sense, and not the literal sense wherein we can lay claim to the title "priest".

We are not all "in persona Christi" in the same sense as the members of the ordained priesthood.

They differ, not just in function, but in a fundamental spiritial sense. They have been given specific gifts - gifts that WE DON'T HAVE -through the sacrament of ordination.

Tim J.

"They differ, not just in function, but in a fundamental spiritial sense."

Sorry, "spiritual" sense.


That's new to me. Are they specifically kohanim? I never heard a Jewish person refer to themselves as a "priest" unless they meant "kohen", which would be a priest in the limited sense of being someone (a male descendant of Aaron) authorized to offer sacrifices in the Temple.


It is in the sense of each Jewish home being its own temple, and the father, like Father Abraham (the first priest, not a levite) administered the blessings onto the family.
You can easily see how this translates to the domestic church teaching.


Tim, I submit it is no different than in the Vatican City, there are "Cardinal Priests, Cardinal Deacons, etc..." depending on what function they serve at their particular church. Regardless of function, they are still cardinarls as we are still priests though we are common, not ministerial.
We could translate that as a ordained deacon being a "priest deacon" but we don't in our common language, but rather simply refer to ourselves as laymen, and clergy by their degree of holy orders.

Unfortunately, I believe this has led us to the lackluster participation by the laity in the holy Mass. If more recognized they were participating as priests in this sacrifice, we'd be more reverent and more active I believe.
Instead, the response has been to pretend we are 'ministers' and pervert the ontological difference between laymen and clergy even further.



The general or baptismal priesthood is not a "metaphorical" priesthood. It is different in essence from the ministerial, but it is not a metaphor to say that we are all priests by virtue of our baptism. Your offering of yourself, your life, your work, and your relationships to God (including and especially at Mass, united to the sacrifice of Christ's body and blood) is a real offering, not a "metaphorical" offering, whatever that would mean.

To my mind, the trouble with "ministry" and "minister" is the ordinary-language clerical connotations, except within evangelical subcultures wherein I've heard people speak of "my ministry as a housewife" and such things, which sounds strange precisely because it conflicts with the ordinary connotation of "ministry."

J.R. Stoodley

Perhaps the worst use is the term "Lay Ecclesial Minister" and "Campus Minister."

At least to me with my Protestant background, "lay minister" sounds like a contradiction in terms. Campus Minister, though the term may be neccessary on some kind of University adminsistrative level in some places, definitly sounds like a clergy position, yet when it is used it often refers to a layperson.

J.R. Stoodley


All the baptized participate in the priesthood of Christ. However, the Sacrament of Holy Orders changes a man spiritually and endows him with the grace to act in the person of Christ. This is the difference. It is not just an administrative or honorary difference (as is the case with Cardinal decons vs. Cardinal priests) but an actual spiritual and sacramental difference.

At mass we all do offer up the body and blood of Christ, being united to him through baptism including to that sacrifice, but the laypeople do not act in the person of Christ at the consecration. Only the ordained priest does. This ability to act in the person of Christ at the Sacrifice of the Mass makes him a priest in a way the rest of us will never be. It is not even a difference in degree, but a difference in kind.

we are all priests by virtue of our baptism

I know a few women who'd be happy to hear that.

J.R. Stoodley

I know a few women who'd be happy to hear that

Good, they too share in the priesthood of Christ. However, it is definitely impossible for them to receive Holy Orders.

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

John Lilburne

Jimmy wrote that the "... 1997 Instruction on Collaboration was notably concerned about the use of the term "ministry" in certain contexts involving lay individuals...".

I think it would be more accurate to say it was concerned about using the term for "some lay individuals". It has: "§ 3. The non-ordained faithful may be generically designated "extraordinary ministers" when deputed by competent authority to discharge, solely by way of supply, those offices mentioned in Canon 230, § 3(56) and in Canons 943 and 1112. Naturally, the concrete term may be applied to those to whom functions are canonically entrusted e.g. catechists, acolytes, lectors etc."

So, for example, an instituted lector is not an extraordinary minister to proclaim the first reading. He is the ordinary minister to do this. If we are saying they have "ministries" but are not "ministers" then it seems to put a strain on the English language.


stoodly, certaintly, however it is important to note there is but one priesthood, and we are all equal participants in it. Ministerial priests are set aside for a different function and given the graces to perform that function, that is true.

Matt McDonald

stoodly, certaintly, however it is important to note there is but one priesthood, and we are all equal participants in it. Ministerial priests are set aside for a different function and given the graces to perform that function, that is true.

That may be so, but there are different orders within this priesthood, and to avoid blurring the lines between the laity and those who have been ordained to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass we commonly only refer to those men as "priests". Clarity in this area is important to avoid scandal.


Matt, if you read through my comments, as well as the article I posted, I think you'll get a better idea of where i'm coming from. The real scandal is in improperly calling lay people 'ministers'.
Failure to recognize yourself as a priest dishonors your dignity as a christian.

Some Day

Well ministers, when speaking correctly, refer to one who exercises a minsterial function. A priest, deacon or one who recieves minor orders is a minster. Now our baptism gives us the PPK character, but to a much lesser degree than an ordained one. To use the word ministry, as it has been introduced now, is what I believe in Spanish is called by theologans the "pneumatic church". This is where differences and hierarchy are eliminated in the Church. That is an error.
The same as refering yourself as "christian".
That is true, yet that catholic sense of things is eliminated and resembles more the "protestants are the same as us because we all love Christ"
These things give a bad spirit to the words, even when in the bare language is true. It is to "say heresy without saying it".
Now apostolate is what everyone who is Catholic and tries with the Grace of God to perfect others and make them more holy does. Everyone can and should do apostolate. And with everyone. But norms and common sense are neccesary. To go to a prostitute and try to convert them might even be a sin on your part for Occasion of Sin.
But in general, always try to do apostolate with everyone. Apostolate is not done by us, but through us. It is only to want and let it happen.
Which implies to pray and make sacrifices for Our Lady bless it. Apostolate can be from talking to a person about even worldly things but slowly and tactifuly raise the level, till eventually it reaches to God.

Matt McDonald


I don't think the big problem with us dishonoring our dignity as Christians today is because we fail to recognize ourselves as priests who perform the sacrifice, but because we fail to recognize ourselves as the victim of the sacrifice.


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