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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Who Preaches is Just as Important

Fr. Z alerted readers to a sad development in the Twin Cities (Minnesota) area.  As noted in the Star Tribune's online blog by writer Rose French:

At a recent Sunday Mass at St. Edward Catholic church in Bloomington, a woman stepped up to the podium on the altar -- and started to preach.

For at least one parishioner, the act of a female lay person (albeit with a master’s degree in theology from St. Paul seminary) addressing the congregation during the homily portion of the worship service was too out of bounds.

So the parishioner contacted the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis after the Jan. 23 service. And not long after, the Rev. Peter Laird, the archdiocese vicar general, spoke to St. Edward’s pastor, the Rev. Mike Tegeder, about the situation.

According to Tegeder, Laird said it was not appropriate for a lay person to preach during the homily, the part of the Mass when priests or deacons usually reflect on the Gospel and scripture. Tegeder said Laird indicated it was only OK for lay people to preach or make comments after Holy Communion, near the end of Mass.

Tegeder, however, stands by his move to allow the woman to address the congregation about the issue of adult faith formation at St. Edward, an area she’s in charge of leading at the church -- one of the largest in the Twin Cities with nearly 6,400 members.

Tegeder maintains lay parishioners have many skills and gifts to offer churches and their talents should not be wasted.

“She probably is more competent than most priests when it comes to putting together a good message,” said Tegeder, a frequent critic of Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt. “She has basically the same training as a priest.”
As many parishes across the country (including those in the Twin Cities) struggle with a growing shortage of priests, lay participation in church ministry (or lack thereof) can have very real impact on a church’s existence, proponents of lay preachers say. Also, they maintain that lay preachers allow for a diversity of voices and views to be heard within the church.

For decades, the Catholic Church did allow for lay followers to preach during Mass -- a practice approved of in the 1960s at the Vatican II council. The idea behind lay preaching was to encourage greater participation by non-clergy members in the Mass and other church activities.

In 2004, however, the Vatican amended the practice to say lay people could only preach or make comments following Holy Communion, near the end of Mass.

Twin Cities archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath said the archdiocese is following the policies of the Vatican.

“The purpose of the homily at the Mass is to interpret the Gospel,” McGrath said. “Normally a priest is far more qualified to deliver that message. Also there’s an opportunity there for wrong teaching or misinterpretation (with lay preachers).”

Tegeder said the woman parishioner is scheduled to preach at an April 11 Lenten penance service at St. Edward’s, which is not a Mass. He’d also like her to preach at a Mass celebrating Mother’s Day in May. He said he’s not sure yet if he’ll ask her to preach during the homily or after communion.

This is wrong on so many levels.  Fr. Z pointed out that "lay preaching" is outright forbidden by Redemptionis Sacramentum:

[64.] The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself,142 "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.143 In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a Priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate".144

[65.] 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 §1.145 This practice is reprobated, so that it cannot be permitted to attain the force of custom.

However,  while Ms. French states that the Vatican issued this mandate in 2004, it seems to me that she did not do her homework.  Ecclesia de Mysterio, what many consider to be the precursor to Redemptionis Sacramentum, states that:

The homily, therefore, during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, must be reserved to the sacred minister, Priest or Deacon(69) to the exclusion of the non-ordained faithful, even if these should have responsibilities as "pastoral assistants" or catechists in whatever type of community or group. This exclusion is not based on the preaching ability of sacred ministers nor their theological preparation, but on that function which is reserved to them in virtue of having received the Sacrament of Holy Orders. For the same reason the diocesan Bishop cannot validly dispense from the canonical norm(70) since this is not merely a disciplinary law but one which touches upon the closely connected functions of teaching and sanctifying

Fr. Tegeder extols the woman's gifts .  However, this is not about how wonderful a speaker she may be; it is about the fact that because she is not ordained to the diaconate nor to the priesthood, she cannot preach during the Mass.

As a woman, I am not offended in the least that I cannot preach.  In fact,  I find both Fr. Tegeder's actions and the woman's cooperation in this matter troubling and disconcerting.   The norms and rubrics that the Church mandates for her liturgies are there to give us the freedom to worship God in a proper and authentic form.  From the very beginning of the Church's history, Christ charged the Apostles and their successors, the bishops, and their collaborators, the priests and the deacons, with the duty of preaching the Word of God.   Women like St. Mary Magdalene and Sussanna, gave of their time and resources to minister to Jesus and tend to the welfare of the Apostolic band.   The Blessed Mother, for her part, constantly reminds us to "do whatever He tells you."

This "doing whatever He tells you" also means obeying the mandates of the Church in their entirety. 

Sadly, Fr. Tegeder is not the only one who seems to see fit to disregard and defy the mandates of the Holy See.   There have been instances when even those who are studying for the priesthood, the seminarians, have taken the pulpit during the time reserved for the celebrant to preach the homily.  Redemptionis Sacramentum also applies to them as well:

[66.] 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.146
This repeats the language found in Ecclesia de Mysterio, which also states that:

For the same reason, the practice, on some occasions, of entrusting the preaching of the homily to seminarians or theology students who are not clerics(71) is not permitted. Indeed, the homily should not be regarded as a training for some future ministry.
Vocations Directors should know better than to allow this.  Seminarians should also know better.   If seminarians and the laity feel this compelling need to preach, they can certainly do this away from the Church's liturgical celebrations.   Even Fr. Tegeder's suggestion that the woman in question preach during the Lenten communal penance celebration is suspect.  Inasmuch as this is not the Mass, because this service is done in conjunction with the Sacrament of Penance, it should, I believe, fall to the priest to do.  

If Fr. Tegeder believes that the woman has gifts, perhaps she can share them by writing weekly reflections in the bulletin (so long as they remain consistent with Church teaching).

In any event, we should pray for Fr. Tegeder and other pastors who allow the laity (seminarians, included) to preach.  We should pray to St. John Vianney that he intercede and guide these individuals to follow with docile humility what the Church requires.

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