|In short, clericalism is de facto denial of the Church as the Body of Christ, for in the body all organs are related and different only in their functions, but not in their essence. And the more clericalism “clericalizes” (the traditional image of the bishop or the priest – emphasized by his clothes, hair, e.g., the bishop in full regalia!), the more the Church itself becomes more worldly; spiritually submits itself to this world…Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Taken from his Journals, Page 310.|
Growing up I was taught that a liturgy can never be celebrated without the active presence of the laity. As I began to ponder this point it began to make sense to me. However, I did not see it the other way around, which is to say, if we do have the laity but the "priest is not present" then the celebration of the liturgy cannot go on. This understanding is simply not true. It is the people who make up the church and it is the gathering of the people that allow for the celebration of the liturgy to take place.
What is clericalism? Clericalism is the idea that elevates ordained priests to some "higher" position within the church. People are sold on the fact that priests are not "normal humans", that they possess special "powers" acquired on the day of ordination, and based on the power given to them are separated from the rest of the church community. I do believe these ideas may be correct in some instances. I also believe the priests receive divine grace from God however in understanding what this means we have overturned the definition and misunderstood the priesthood entirely.
Many believe the liturgy is something that the priest "does". The priest becomes the provider of services (i.e. Liturgy, Baptisms, Marriages etc) and the people come to partake of these services because somehow the work of the priest allows them to be present for the liturgy or baptism etc. This is simply a misunderstanding that breeds the culture of clericalism that is alive within many church communities today. Even the language and attitudes people have towards these services deepen the divide between community and individualism which gives life to clericalism. For example, people "order various services" (i.e. Baptism) by making an appointment with the priest and make sure to invite there "close" friends and completing the service in isolation of the wider community. Everything that church provides and gives is bestowed on behalf of all and for all. Individualism and isolation is the starting point of empowering the priests to a level that deems "special status", while somehow the laity is on a "lower" level than the priest. Some people do understand they must participate in the life of the Church when they involve the entire community. But many lay people treat the church as a shop of spells and the priest is the one dispensing them.
Contrary to what you may believe, priests do not possess anything that the church does not possess. The royal priesthood, which is mentioned at large in the book of Hebrews and 1 Peter (2.9) applies not only to the priest but to all who are in the body of Christ. The body of Christ can be partaken of by all who come and see and taste from the bread which gives life to all. Therefore, the priesthood cannot "exist" outside of the church, instead, the priesthood is a quality based on what the church has given to us and in giving us the body of Christ we are then called to be the priesthood for the life of the world. If we understand the priesthood as a natural way of life, given to us by the church, then the liturgy also become the function of the church as a way to restore life and not something that is performed for 3 hours on a Sunday morning. The Liturgy is the life of the church in union with Christ and not a product produced by the clergy and purchased by the laity. The liturgy has no price! The liturgy is the gathering of the people united in love which is lived out for all who come and taste the beauty of all that is good.
Sadly, the way religious services are organized today is reduced to a show at the expense of the laity. Private prayers are done out of sight not allowing the laity to participate in the active service. Of course, the people should be praying during the service, and we usually conclude that this is how the people are active in the service. Consider the following: if a priest is not serving and is simply praying in the church during the liturgy officiated by another priest, we say the priest is not serving, even if he takes communion. This is the status of the laity in our churches: they are not serving.
It is true that a priest cannot serve the liturgy alone, but the "where two or three are gathered together" clause requires only one chanter in addition to the priest and this fulfills the rule. Imagine if we require a larger group in order to celebrate the liturgy. People would feel responsible to be in church in order for the liturgy to take place. The laity would feel a sense obligation to be in the church in order for the liturgy to take place. Think of the liturgy as a family gathers for a dinner. Can the dinner take place if one member of the family is not present? The dinner can proceed on but it would not have the same feeling. Everyone would be talking about the one missing family member. Can this rule also apply to the liturgy? If we can change our mindset about the liturgy, beginning with the process of the faithful coming together, with God's children answering the call of the Father and gathering like olive shoots around His table (Psalm 128:3), alive, growing, producing fruit, and connected to one root. The idea that the liturgy begins with my willful act of manifesting my membership in the church by gathering together with my family in Christ for the common work of the liturgy may become more real for the laity.