Institution And Sacrament Print
Wednesday, 17 January 2007 21:46

Written by JACK

On an earlier post, discussion turned to the institutional and charismatic dimensions of the Church and how there isn't a dichotomy between the two. I made mention of an insightful comment by then-Cardinal Ratzinger that I had found on the subject and thought I would follow up on it with a post.

As a member of a lay ecclesial movement, I am often asked how it affects my involvement with my local parish and whether I see these two aspects of the Church's life as opposed to each other. (I do not, for the record.) In response to a comment on Integrity, I started a series (still incomplete) called "Parishes vs. Movements?". In looking at the question of why movements at all, I stumbled across the following quote of Cardinal Ratzinger:

The duality of institution and event, or institution and charism, immediately suggests itself as a fundamental model for resolving the question. But if we try to analyze the two terms more closely in order to arrive at valid rules for defining their relationship, something unexpected happens. The concept of "institution" comes to pieces in our hands when we try to give it a precise theological definition. After all, what are the fundamental institutional factors in the Church, the permanent organization that gives the Church its distinctive shape? The answer is, of course, sacramental office in its different degrees: bishop, priest, deacon. The sacrament that, significantly, bears the name ordo is, in the end, the sole permanent and binding structure that forms so to say the fixed organizational pattern of the Church and makes the Church an "institution." But it was not until this century that it became customary, for reasons of ecumenical expediency, to designate the sacrament of ordo simply as "office" [Amt]. This usage places ordo entirely in the light of institution and the institutional. But this "office" is a "sacrament," and this fact signals a break with the ordinary sociological understanding of institutions. That this structural element of the Church, which is the only permanent one, is a sacrament, means that it must be perpetually recreated by God. It is not at the Church's disposal, it is not simply there, and the Church cannot set it up on its own initiative. It comes into being only secondarily through a call on the part of the Church. It is created primarily by God's call to this man, which is to say, only charismatically-pneumatologically. By the same token, the only attitude in which it can be accepted and lived is one unceasingly shaped by the newness of the vocation, by the unmanipulable freedom of the pneuma. The reason -- ultimately, the only reason -- why there can be a priest shortage is this. The Church cannot simply appoint "officials" by itself, but must await the call from God. This is why it has been held from the beginning that this office cannot be made by the institution, but has to be impetrated from God.
I found this a striking explanation of how the charismatic and institutional dimensions of the Church are intertwined.