Prophecy in the Church
I have no competence to speak to the recent document from the CDF to the LCWR. Rather, I would like to use it as a springboard to discuss briefly the place of prophecy within the Church. In one place, the document comments about prophetic activity:
Some speakers claim that dissent from the doctrine of the Church is justified as an exercise of the prophetic office. But this is based upon a mistaken understanding of the dynamic of prophecy in the Church: it justifies dissent by positing the possibility of divergence between the Church’s magisterium and a “legitimate” theological intuition of some of the faithful. “Prophecy,” as a methodological principle, is here directed at the Magisterium and the Church’s pastors, whereas true prophecy is a grace which accompanies the exercise of the responsibilities of the Christian life and ministries within the Church, regulated and verified by the Church’s faith and teaching office.
So what is the role of prophecy in the Church? Is it only to be directed ad extra and never ad intra? Catherine of Siena may have something to say to this point. In either case, prophecy without the utmost respect for magisterium of the Church must be carefully avoided.
Yet that is not to say that there is no place for prophetic speech towards the Church’s teaching authority. Prior to the release of this document, I was struck by two paragraphs from Lumen Gentium. The first is a line from paragraph 4:
Guiding the Church in the way of all truth and unifying her in communion and in the works of ministry, he bestows upon her varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts and in this way directs her.
The construction of this sentence places “charismatic” and “hierarchic” gifts next to each other and implies that they both equally direct the Church. If this is the case, then prophecy has a place in directing the Church, and so also a place in directing the hierarchy. Needless to say, this is part of the prophetic office of all of the faithful beautifully described at Vatican II and particularly elaborated in paragraph 37 of Lumen Gentium.
Notice the sandwich structure of paragraph 37. The first paragraph speaks to the courage the laity must have in confronting their pastors. The second paragraph discusses lay obedience to their pastors, and then the third paragraph returns to the theme of courage and the importance that pastors receive advice from lay members of the Church. I was struck by the use of this word “courage:”
If the occasion should arise this should be done through the institutions established by the Church for that purpose and always with truth, courage and prudence with reverence and charity towards those who, by reason of their office, represent the person of Christ.
The word “courage” is used again in the third paragraph. Interestingly, there were those at the Council who wanted to remove this word from the document. Yet it was retained. The prophetic office requires great courage — as well as “reverence” and “charity,” from those who employ it.
One of the great challenges of the Church in our time is to learn how to balance the charismatic and hierarchic gifts in the Church and in particular how to come to understand the prophetic office of the laity within the institution.