Sunday, July 21, 2013

What an ending! (Dr Ward's book "On Christian Priesthood")

Dr Robin Ward’s book On Christian Priesthood, published in 2011, is a remarkable volume that seeks to “restore the centrality of priesthood to the understanding of Christian ministry” (note on the back cover). Considerable demands are placed on the reader (I don’t think Fr Ward set out to write an easy book!), but the rewards of perseverance are manifold, and I think the book should be compulsory reading for priests and ordinands. What came to me as a total surprise was the marked change from elegant but dense didacticism to a surge of lyrical language in Ward’s conclusion. The final paragraph in particular deserves a place in any anthology of Anglican readings - perhaps even alongside Gregory Dix’s “Was ever another command so obeyed?”  

. . . Christian cult serves as a preservative of the eschatological vocation of the Church, in which sacred buildings, rites and habits virtuously map out on the landscape of the earthly city the incursion of beatitude.

On the feast of Pentecost the apostles receive the gift of the Holy Spirit with the visible sign of tongues as of fire, and their preaching restores the communion lost to the human race in the confusion of Babel. In the Western Church the Vestments worn to celebrate this feast are red, with an obvious symbolism; for the Byzantine Slavs, however, the colour is green. The descent of the Spirit on the Church is always the well-spring of her fecundity, the renewal of all that is fruitful and the inspiration of all that is of Christ. Renewal in the Church is fidelity to the work of the Spirit, not confidence in our own capacity to achieve it. It is the Holy Spirit whom Christ breathes onto the apostles when he appoints them to be the merciful ministers of reconciliation; it is the gift of the Spirit which Timothy is urged to fan into a flame when he is ordained by the laying on of hands for the oversight of the people of God; it is the Holy Spirit whose invocation consecrates the sacramental sacrifice according to the rite of the oriental liturgies, and so makes tangible the communion which the apostle calls His own. Christian priesthood is the ministry which serves the people of God from the wellsprings of grace appointed by Christ and made abundantly fruitful by the abiding presence of the Spirit, the spring-time of the Church. In the vision of Ezekiel it is the renewed Temple which waters the land and makes it fruitful and consecrated: the cult which nourishes with life; the adoration which does not fail; the cleansing river which saves.


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