As Pope John Paul II beautifully explained in his Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, each human being has a special calling from God. Lay people have thrilling opportunities to respond to this call in the secular sphere. In the day-to-day, we may lose sight of this. On some - unspoken - level, perhaps, we seem to suspect that the "the sacred ministry of the clergy" constitutes the only legitimate means to respond to God. "Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests" is a corrective.
The Instruction reminds us that "the lay faithful, men or women and non-ordained members of Institutes of Consecrated Life & Societies of Apostolic Life, are called to assist"[emphasis added] in the ministry of the priest. Some particularly interesting excerpts from the Instruction's 13 articles are noted below:
- "Need for an Appropriate Terminology" While the Instructions indicate that confusion has been created through the multiple uses of the terms minister or ministry, it goes on to say that "It is unlawful for the non-ordained faithful to assume titles such as 'pastor', 'chaplain', 'coordinator', 'moderator' or other such similar titles which can confuse their role and that of the Pastor, who is always a Bishop or Priest."
- "The Ministry of the Word....Preaching in churches or oratories by the non-ordained faithful....cannot...be regarded as an ordinary occurrence nor as an authentic promotion of the laity....catechists [are to] take care to instruct those being catechized on the role and figure of the priest as the sole dispenser of the mysteries for which they are preparing."
- "The Homily....during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, must be reserved to the sacred minister, Priest or Deacon 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."
- "The Parish Priest and the Parish....The non-ordained faithful, as happens in many worthy cases, may collaborate effectively in the pastoral ministry of clerics....Provisions regulating such extraordinary form of collaboration are provided by Canon 517, §.2.
§.1. The right understanding and application of this canon...requires that this exceptional provision be used only with strict adherence to conditions contained in it.... §.2. In the same regard, it must be noted that the Parish Priest is the Pastor proper to the parish entrusted to him and remains such until his pastoral office shall have ceased."
- "The Structures of Collaboration in the Particular Church....It is for the Parish Priest to preside at parochial councils. They are to be considered invalid, and hence null and void, any deliberations entered into, (or decisions taken), by a parochial council which has not been presided over by the Parish Priest or which has assembled contrary to his wishes."
- "Liturgical Celebrations....In eucharistic celebrations deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers — e.g. especially the eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology — or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest. Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same priest celebrant....the use of sacred vestments which are reserved to priests or deacons (stoles, chasubles or dalmatics) at liturgical ceremonies by non-ordained members of the faithful is clearly unlawful. Every effort must be made to avoid even the appearance of confusion which can spring from anomalous liturgical practices....To avoid any confusion between sacramental liturgical acts presided over by a priest or deacon, and other acts which the non-ordained faithful may lead, it is always necessary to use clearly distinct ceremonials, especially for the latter."
- "Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest.... A special mandate of the Bishop is necessary for the non-ordained members of the faithful to lead such celebrations. This mandate should contain specific instructions....It must be clearly understood that such celebrations are temporary solutions and the text used at them must be approved by the competent ecclesiastical authority....such celebrations cannot substitute for the eucharistic Sacrifice and that the obligation to attend mass on Sunday and Holy days y[sic] 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 fulfil this precept."
- "The Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion ....Such liturgical service is a response to the objective needs of the faithful especially those of the sick and to those liturgical assemblies in which there are particularly large numbers of the faithful who wish to receive Holy Communion....Extraordinary ministers may distribute Holy Communion at eucharistic celebrations only when there are no ordained ministers present or when those ordained ministers present at a liturgical celebration are truly unable to distribute Holy Communion. They may also exercise this function at eucharistic celebrations where there are particularly large numbers of the faithful and which would be excessively prolonged because of an insufficient number of ordained ministers to distribute Holy Communion....It is...useful for the diocesan bishop to issue particular norms concerning extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion which, in complete harmony with the universal law of the Church, should regulate the exercise of this function in his diocese. Such norms should provide, amongst other things, for matters such as the instruction in eucharistic doctrine of those chosen to be extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, the meaning of the service they provide, the rubrics to be observed, the reverence to be shown for such an august Sacrament and instruction concerning the discipline on admission to Holy Communion. To avoid creating confusion, certain practices are to be avoided and eliminated where such have emerged in particular Churches:
— extraordinary ministers receiving Holy Communion apart from the other faithful as though concelebrants;
— association with the renewal of promises made by priests at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, as well as other categories of faithful who renew religious vows or receive a mandate as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion;
— the habitual use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at Mass thus arbitrarily extending the concept of 'a great number of the faithful'."
- "The Apostolate to the Sick....Innumerable works of charity to the sick are constantly provided by the non-ordained faithful either individually or through community apostolates....In using sacramentals, the non-ordained faithful should ensure that these are in no way regarded as sacraments whose administration is proper and exclusive to the Bishop and to the priest. Since they are not priests, in no instance may the non-ordained perform anointings either with the Oil of the Sick or ony[sic] other oil....It must also be affirmed that the reservation of the ministry of Anointing to the priest is related to the connection of this sacrament to the forgiveness of sin and the worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist. No other person may act as ordinary or extraordinary minister of the sacrament since such constitutes simulation of the sacrament."
- "Assistance at Marriages....With the exception of an extraordinary case due to the absolute absence of both Priests and Deacons who can assist at marriages provided for in Canon 1112 of the Code of Canon Law, no ordained minister may authorize the non-ordained faithful for such assistance. Neither may an ordained minister authorize the non-ordained faithful to ask or receive matrimonial consent according to the norm of Canon 1108 § 2."
- "The Minister of Baptism....absence or the impediment of a sacred minister which renders licit the deputation of the lay faithful to act as an extraordinary minister of Baptism, cannot be defined in terms of the ordinary minister's excessive workload, or his non-residence in the territory of the parish, nor his non-availability on the day on which the parents wish the Baptism to take place. Such reasons are insufficient for the delegation of the non ordained faithful to act as extraordinary ministers of Baptism."
- "Leading the Celebration at Funerals....death and the time of obsequies can be one of the most opportune pastoral moments in which the ordained minister can meet with the non-practising members of the faithful. It is thus desirable that Priests and Deacons, even at some sacrifice to themselves, should preside personally at funeral rites in accordance with local custom, so as to pray for the dead and be close to their families, thus availing of an opportunity for appropriate evangelization. The non-ordained faithful may lead the ecclesiastical obsequies provided that there is a true absence of sacred ministers and that they adhere to the prescribed liturgical norms. Those so deputed should be well prepared both doctrinally and liturgically."
- "Necessary Selection and Adequate Formation Should it become necessary to provide for 'supplementary' assistance in any of the cases mentioned above, the competent Authority is bound to select lay faithful of sound doctrine and exemplary moral life....those chosen should possess that level of formation necessary for the discharge of the responsibilities entrusted to them. In accordance with the norms of particular law, they should perfect their knowledge particularly by attending, in so far as possible, those formation courses organized for them by the competent ecclesiastical Authority in the particular Churches, (in enviornments other than that of the Seminary, as this is reserved solely for those preparing for the priest hood). Great care must be exercised so that these courses conform absolutely to the teaching of the ecclesiastical magisterium and they must be imbued with a true spirituality."