Ministry in the Church

Ministry in the Church: A historical and Pastoral Approach.  2nd edition.  By Paul Bernier. Maryknoll, NY.  Orbis Books, 2015. xxv, 382 p.

Paul Bernier, former editor of Emmanuel Magazine, published his first edition of Ministry in the Church with Twenty Third Publications in 1992. Orbis Books makes his second edition available in 2020. It is considered very highly by many theologians familiar with this topic and continues as a standard text in seminaries and universities. He has reworked his treatment of the diaconate and evaluates the post-conciliar developments and the unsolved issues which remain today.

The subtitle of his work underscores the historical and pastoral perspective which is so necessary in treating the subject of the church and its ministry. Vatican II was far more aware of the development of doctrine than Trent or Vatican I. The history of this development is clearly brought out by Bernier. The pastoral approach of Vatican II is underscored in the language of Vatican II and its ecumenical sensitivity. Thanks to John Henry Cardinal Newman, the importance of the laity in the Church and his study of the development of doctrine were very helpful to the dialogue within Vatican II. It is recognized very much in the theology of our day.

Ten chapters of the book underscore the various emphases from the Apostolic Age (27 to 70 CE) with the Foundations of Ministry within the Church as communities. The Post-Apostolic Ages follows (70-110 CE) Ministry as Charism followed by the Period of Establishment (110-313 CE) From Ministry to Bishop. Next is From State Church to Collapse (313-500 CE) Priesthood as Ministry. The Feudal Period follows to East/West Split (500-1054 CE) The Monastery as Minister. Chapter six follows as the Age of Scholasticism (1054-1414 CE) Ministry as Hierarchy. (St Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure and many other scholastics developed the theology of character as related to the power to consecrate the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.) Chapter seven is the End of the Medieval Church 1414-1565 CE). Chapter eight treats the Fortress Church (1565-1962 CE) Ministry as Cult. Chapter nine is the Period of Aggiornamento (1962-1965 CE) The Reappraisal of Ministry. Chapter ten is the New Theology of Vatican II The Reappraisal of Presbyteral Ministry.

As Bernier demonstrates in the last chapters of his work, there are unsolved issues that continue to need careful distinctions and continued dialogue. The role of women in the church today and in the centuries that follow, ministry, lay/cleric divide are only some of these issues. Ordained priests and bishops as well as deacons, have a special character and difference from the baptismal character of the laity. All Christians share in the mission of Jesus Christ as priest, king and prophet. But the priesthood of the ordained, as Vatican II indicates, have an essential difference though they are related. In addition, there are issues that need to be studied and the approach of Bernier’s work brings light and understanding. Bernier and Orbis Books deserve our congratulations on bringing this new edition into the twenty-first century and the needs of the people of God and glory of Jesus Christ are well served.