The statement is excellent, and hits the right notes - notes which are often studiously avoided in official Vatican documents, which consistently ignore the evidence emerging from theological research.
In this connection, may I add a few wonkish and somewhat lengthy observations. Two things have struck me: the first is the challenge which the document mounts, correctly, against having a "priesthood" in Christianity, as a development foreign to the words of both Jesus and the early church as recorded in the NT.
On this point, I often quote James Dunn, for many years Lightfoot Professor of Divinity in the Dept of Theology at the University of Durham, now Emeritus Lightfoot Professor, and one of the top Pauline scholars in the world:
"What is so astonishing is the complete absence from its pages [New Testament] of a distinction between ‘priest’ and ‘laity’….It has never failed to astonish me that a principle so clearly formulated could be so blatantly ignored or side-stepped by those who insist that nevertheless, despite Hebrews, an order of priesthood is necessary within Christianity. To use Hebrews 5.1 to justify or explain Christian priesthood, as Vatican II does, while ignoring the thrust and argument of the Letter as a whole is a form of
eisegesis which ranks more as abuse than as correct use of Scripture. Similarly the argument that the function of Christian priests is to represent the one true priesthood of Christ reads more like a rationalization than a justification. And since it interposes once again a mediator of grace between believer and God, when the concern of Hebrews was to convince his readers that such mediation was no longer necessary, it can hardly look for support to Hebrews in good faith. Mormons who operate with two orders of priesthood, the Aaronic and the Melchizedek, seem to have misunderstood the argument of the Letter still more. But the mistake is basically the same. What price the canonical authority of Hebrews when one of its principal concerns is treated so casually and twisted to serve a variation of the very case it was written to oppose?
... Could it be that this is one of the most important underlying reasons why the issue of church order has prove so impracticable? Because the major authority by all Christians (The New Testament) has been effectively discounted and ignored?
From J. Dunn, "Church Ministry: A View from New Testament Theology," in Dunn and J. M. Mackey, New Testament Theology in Dialogue: Christology and Ministry
(London: SPCK, 1987), 121–40 (125–6).
Or, if you need a "Catholic" quote (Dunn is Anglican), you can quote the late Herbert Haag’s concluding sentence of his more recent study on the development of a distinct clergy during the early centuries of Christianity (my translation):
"For nearly four hundred years an “ordained” [
Priesterweihe] was not necessary for the performance of the Eucharist. Why should it be essential today?
". Again, ". . . in the first two hundred years not a consecration [
Weihe], but a commission [
Auftrag] was the determining criterion for the presidency at the Eucharistic celebration . . .
Haag, Worauf es ankommt - Wollte Jesus eine Zwei-Stände-Kirche?
(Freiburg: Herder, 1997) pp. 111 and 46 respectively.
Or, more recently, Robert Egan SJ in a debate about the ordination of women (where he argued in favour of it):
"There was no Christian “priesthood” in the early church. It made an entrance into Christian discourse only slowly and metaphorically in the second and third centuries as a way of thinking about elders and overseers. To make the category of “priesthood” the decisive one, then, separates us from the first three centuries of church history, as well as from the testimony of the New Testament
Presentation available at https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/why-not-0
, the entire article is well worth a read.
The second thing that positively struck me is the final point of the bullet list at the end, and the final paragraph. They are both very valuable, and can find their firm scriptural grounding in the crucial chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians. About this passage, Dunn again has made important observations:
"[The] idea of mono-ministry or ministerial autocracy - that is, of all the most important gifts concentrated on one man (even an apostle) or in a select group - is one which Paul dismissed with some ridicule
" in 1 Cor. 12, as I said, especially verses 29-30.
As I remark in my book on Democracy in the Christian Church: An Historical, Theological and Political Case
(London: Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2012), the importance of the principle that Paul enunciates there - that there MUST be a division of labour according to everybody's charisms, and that NO ONE individual or ministry can centralize on himself all ministries and tasks) is that it is one of the only two explicitly "political" principles (i.e. teachings concerning the correct way to structure our social and political relations and institutions) unambiguously advanced in the entire NT - the other being that concerning the exercise of authority as service rather than dominion.
If you put those two points together, you get a discipleship of equals where, as Paul insists in 1 Cor 12, there must be a division of labour according to everybody's charisms/talents. Which is what the document suggests at the end.
This still leaves some problems that need to be addressed, and might make the subject of a future document:
How do we reconcile this vision of equality and division of labour with the old but non-scriptural understanding of the Christian priesthood as the one ministry with exclusive power to evaluate, select, coordinate and govern all other ministries? What should be the process, more concretely, for evaluating, selecting, and coordinating the various ministries?
My suggestions, very briefly: the priesthood needs to be re-interpreted as one ministry among many, namely, the ministry of spiritual guidance (thus taking priests on their words, in light of the fact that spiritual guidance is one of the key tasks that, historically, they hierarchy said was distinctive about them).
On the other hand, the ministry of coordination (i.e. the NT "episkope" or "oversight" - as distinct from micro-management) should be exercised by those people the community will deem most suitable to represent them, because he or she will have the task of making choices regarding the direction of common action according to the desires, needs, priories, values and goals of the community.
Those interested can find a much more detailed explanation of those problems in the final two chapters of my book, which address the historical, canonical, and scriptural evidence.