This evening I’m re-reading a church document from 1997 on a topic so broad that eight separate Vatican dicasteries (Church departments) were involved in its writing.
I only wish someone somewhere would pay attention to everything it says!
The “Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest” contains a valuable summary of the Church’s teaching on the ministries and duties belonging to the clergy. The calling of the laity is to primarily to bear witness to Christ in all the fields of secular life: family, community, work, culture, civic responsibility; but at times the non-ordained faithful can be called upon to assist priests in carrying out some of their functions.
That’s all legitimate, but in most places I know of, that sort of assistance has undergone a “mission creep”, turning temporary assistance into a new status that seems to make parish volunteers into “mini-clergy” who think of their activity as some sort of right, as a real fulfillment of the vocation of the laity, instead of as a temporary aid to the overburdened priests.
This document reminds us of the limitations of such assistance, in order to avoid confusion in which non-ordained faithful would displace priests or reduce their service to a minimalistic role as functionaries to ensure the validity of the sacraments.
The Instruction includes these (and many more) concrete directives about avoiding abuses:
- “All previous norms which may have admitted the non-ordained faithful to preaching the homily during the Holy Eucharist are to be considered abrogated by canon 767, § 1.”
- [Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest] “cannot substitute for the eucharistic Sacrifice […. The] obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation is satisfied only by attendance at Holy Mass. In cases where distance or physical conditions are not an obstacle, every effort should be made to encourage and assist the faithful to fulfill this precept.”
- The bishop may depute a non-ordained member of the faithful to act as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion for a period of time. A priest may only authorize a lay Catholic to act as an EMHC on a one-time basis(“ad actum”) “in exceptional cases or in unforeseen circumstances”.
- “certain practices are to be avoided and eliminated…”: ” the habitual use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at Mass, thus arbitrarily extending” the claim of particular need due to a “great number of the faithful”.
- “Since they are not priests, in no instance may the non-ordained perform anointings either with the Oil of the Sick or ony other oil.” [This used to be common in lay-led prayers for healing.]
- [If and when there is a need to appoint lay people to provide assistance to priests in these functions…] “the competent Authority is bound to select lay faithful of sound doctrine and exemplary moral life.”
- And: “It should also be understood that these clarifications and distinctions do not stem from a concern to defend clerical privileges but from the need to be obedient to the will of Christ, and to respect the constitutive form which he indelibly impressed on his Church”.