View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lay Preaching Distortion

The Q & A at the end of this was published in 2004 - Redemitionis Sacramentum was published in March of 2004. It makes it clear that lay preaching is not allowed.

Yet in 2009, Father Joseph Hart, Vicar General of the Diocese of Rochester, is reported to have tried to justify it using an earlier document about "dialogue - a document that referred to children, by the way, and not adults - as a way to wiggle around the rules. (Perhaps Father Hart is suggesting that lay people are children?)

In our parish, when Father Steve does a children's Mass, he will have a Q & A with them as part of his homily. He is acting in accord with the norms for dialogue. But when a priest says a few words for a minute or so, then lets a lay person preach at length at the time reserved for the homily, as Father Hart apparently suggested, that clearly is wrong.

I saw this sort of wiggling going on for years at the diocese - including back when I was a reporter/editor for the diocesan newspaper. I can remember people giving me answers that sounded to me like they were spinning and distorting the rules to get their own way - the same sort of thing I saw at Corpus Christi with Father Callan before he gave up all pretence of following Church rules. (To be honest, although the main reason I left the newspaper was to return to teaching, one of the secondary reasons was I was disenchanted with some of the statements, decisions and actions I saw being made by diocesan officials.)

As the response below notes, before the 2004 document was published, it was possible for a bishop to authorize a lay person to read a prepared text after the homily on rare occasions, but that should not have been a regular thing, and it certainly is no longer permitted.

Having read the documents, I think that if this report is accurate - and based on my experience of Father Hart and the diocese, I suspect it is accurate - Father Hart should cease this practice.

Sadly, I think further that the diocesan administration needs to be shaken up.


From ZENIT -

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: After the Gospel reading, sometimes our priest sits in the congregation and a lay minister gets up to give a reflection. When I questioned this practice with our bishop's office, I was told (not by the bishop) that as long as the priest gives a homily, whose duration could be one minute, the lay ministers can give the "reflection." Is this true? — K.H., Minnesota

A: The recent instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum" has dealt with this point quite clearly and in several places. No. 64 states: "The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself, 'should ordinarily be given by the Priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating Priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a Deacon, but never to a layperson.'"

No. 65 continues: "It should be borne in mind that any previous norm that may have admitted non-ordained faithful to give the homily during the eucharistic celebration is to be considered abrogated by the norm of canon 767 §§1. This practice is reprobated, so that it cannot be permitted to attain the force of custom."

No. 66 adds: "The prohibition of the admission of laypersons to preach within the Mass applies also to seminarians, students of theological disciplines, and those who have assumed the function of those known as 'pastoral assistants'; nor is there to be any exception for any other kind of layperson, or group, or community, or association."

This theme is taken up once more in No. 74: "If the need arises for the gathered faithful to be given instruction or testimony by a layperson in a Church concerning the Christian life, it is altogether preferable that this be done outside Mass. Nevertheless, for serious reasons it is permissible that this type of instruction or testimony be given after the Priest has proclaimed the Prayer after Communion. This should not become a regular practice, however. Furthermore, these instructions and testimony should not be of such a nature that they could be confused with the homily, nor is it permissible to dispense with the homily on their account."

And finally in No. 161: "As was already noted above, the homily on account of its importance and its nature is reserved to the Priest or Deacon during Mass. As regards other forms of preaching, if necessity demands it in particular circumstances, or if usefulness suggests it in special cases, lay members of Christ's faithful may be allowed to preach in a church or in an oratory outside Mass in accordance with the norm of law. This may be done only on account of a scarcity of sacred ministers in certain places, in order to meet the need, and it may not be transformed from an exceptional measure into an ordinary practice, nor may it be understood as an authentic form of the advancement of the laity. All must remember besides that the faculty for giving such permission belongs to the local Ordinary and this as regards individual instances; this permission is not the competence of anyone else, even if they are Priests or Deacons."

Therefore it is quite clear that the answer you received from the chancery office (which may have been before the publication of this new instruction) is now quite incorrect. Before this clarification was published it was considered possible that a bishop could authorize a layperson to read a prepared text after the homily on some special occasions. This was always seen as an exception and never a habitual practice.

The reason given in the document for this disposition is that the homily is part of the liturgy itself. As such it is a sacred action and only a sacred minister may carry it out.

Because of this sacred character the Church teaches that the homily is endowed with a special presence of Christ that Pope Paul VI did not hesitate to call a "real presence" on a par with the real presence of Christ in the assembly, in the readings, and in the person of the minister although not on the same level as Christ's substantial presence in the Eucharist.

This special presence, which gives a spiritual efficacy to the homily surpassing the minister's oratorical skills, is possible only if preached by a sacred minister acting as Christ's representative. No "reflection" of any kind may be given by a layperson during Mass except for those brief, prepared commentaries that may introduce some parts of the celebration according to liturgical norms.

On exceptional occasions, such as when a lay missionary makes an appeal, a testimony may be given after the prayer after Communion. But the homily may not be omitted for this purpose, although the priest may give a briefer than usual homily if the time between Masses is rather short.

The priest may sit to listen to a lay testimony after Communion. But he should keep his place at the presidential chair and not sit among the congregation.


Nods to Eugene Michael and Rich Leonardi for point me to this 2004 Q & A.


Blogger Brother Charles said...

The sad part is that there are rich and varied opportunities for lay preaching in our life as church--and our early Franciscan tradition affirms lay preaching very much.

But the liturgical homily is for the ordained to give...and abusing the liturgy by doing something else hurts both the Mass and the lay preacher. By being so "liberal" in their approach, those who do these kind of things only reveal their magical and superstitious sense of the liturgy, because you only need a priest for the "magic" parts, while other ordained ministries can be discarded.

Pax et bonum and happy Lent!

8:43 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

I agree there is a time for lay people to preach - just not at Mass - and that Franciscan tradiion is rich with example.

We should be proclaiming God's
word in the world - in word and action.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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6:32 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

I was there roughly 1980-92. Things started getting really crazy after that, and I left, but as a reporter with the Catholic Courier I continued to cover it. In fact, my last CPA award with the Courier was shared with Rob Cullivan for our articles about Father Callan splitting to form his own church.

6:55 PM  
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7:58 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

I have not heard Faterh Callan preach in more than a decade, so i don't know what he is like these days.

In the 1980s, he stood out because he spoke better than most priests - with energy, enthusiasm, and humor - preached about issues, and was willing to take stances. He was good - though I've heard better in Protestant churches.

Sadly, most of the other priests I heard were dull, were poor speakers, and delivered bland homilies.

Bishop Clark is a dull preacher, for example.

On the other hand, when I have heard him, Father Bob Werth is very good.

10:41 AM  
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12:04 PM  
Blogger Interstate Catholic said...

I think we have all heard (and sat)through homilies that were taken off the internet, read word for word by the priest/deacon with no emotion. Thankfully, that is the exception and not the rule. Most priests/deacons take a good amount of time in preparing and delivering a homily.
Preaching is definitely an important part of catholic worship. You gain or lose parishioners on the quality of preaching at your parish. You only lose parishioners when the rules on who can preach at Sunday Mass are not followed.

2:46 AM  
Blogger Rich Leonardi said...

Bravo, Lee. Thank you for addressing this matter with clarity and courage.

5:39 PM  

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