In April Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Baker, Oregon
issued a pastoral letter
addressed to lay ministers (including the 'Catechist, Liturgical Reader, Cantor, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and other Church positions which entail a presumption of orthodoxy'), who were informed that they would be henceforth required to subscribe to an 'Affirmation of Faith' (whose contents were derived, verbatim, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church). Those who refused, for any reason, would be expected to step down quietly but immediately. After a handful of symbolic resignations
, things have quieted down a bit in Baker. There was a general sense, however, especially among disaffected and left-leaning Catholics, that some foul
play had been involved, and the controversy had more than a few liberal pundits scrambling for their Code of Canon Law. The question, at least in the public sphere, seems to have been hanging: Is there, in fact, any basis in the tradition for requiring such a statement of faith of ministers? Or more specifically, for requiring it of lay ministers, such as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist?
The most recent instruction from Rome on liturgical abuses, Redemptionis Sacramentum
, includes a short paragraph on this question:
"The lay Christian faithful called to give assistance at liturgical celebrations should be well instructed and must be those whose Christian life, morals and fidelity to the Church's Magisterium recommend them. It is fitting that such a one should have received a liturgical formation in accordance with his or her age, condition, state of life, and religious culture. No one should be selected whose designation could cause consternation for the faithful" (46).
These required expectations of so-called 'lay ecclesial ministers'('LEMons,' as they're known in these parts) are serious enough to have merited inclusion in an Instruction on liturgical abuses, thereby making their failure to be met this week's Liturgical Abuse of the Week (TM).
Of greater import than RS, perhaps, is the document which is footnoted in the last sentence, a 1973 Instruction from the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments entitled Immensae Caritatis: On Facilitating Reception Of Communion In Certain Circumstances. This document, significant for its time, seems to have been the first concrete provision for extraordinary ministers of the Holy Eucharist; hence, it lays out the norms requisite for the appointment of laypersons for this task. The pivotal declaration to this end is set forth as follows:
"Local Ordinaries possess the faculty enabling them to permit fit persons, each chosen by name as a special minister, in a given instance or for a set period or even permanently, to give communion to themselves and others of the faithful and to carry it to the sick residing at home."
A little further down, the term 'fit' is clarified:
"The faithful who are special ministers of communion must be persons whose good qualities of Christian life, faith, and morals recommend them. Let them strive to be worthy of this great office, foster their own devotion to the eucharist, and show an example to the rest of the faithful by their own devotion and reverence toward the most august sacrament of the altar. No one is to be chosen whose appointment the faithful might find disquieting."
Bishop Vasa's Affirmation of Faith, then, seems not only in accordance with the liturgical norms of our tradition; even more, it seems to be one of the more effective means of upholding and protecting these norms. Without regarding it as the 'normative' means of carrying them out (one would hope this wouldn't be necessary), it certainly ought to be considered a 'viable' means, and one wonders why it isn't yet (to my knowledge, at least) being imitated.
Now, getting back to Ms. Hens, one of our symbolic resignations in the initial fallout from Bishop Vasa's letter. "I happen to believe that many of the teachings on human sexuality are just plain faulty . . . I don't want to be held to those teachings. I cannot give my full assent," says Ms. Hens. Ms. Hens may well have been one of the persons Bishop Vasa had in mind in the following statement, which is, I think, bears repeating:
"Such persons can become a 'cause of stumbling' and if a Pastor or Bishop fails to act to correct the 'false teaching' then he too incurs the Lord's condemnation as a 'cause of stumbling' . . . . As I have reflected and prayed about [the failure of bishops to protect children from sexual abuse] for the past year I have become increasing convinced that there may be another much more subtle form of episcopal negligence which also has the potential to harm children, not only emotionally and physically, but primarily spiritually . . . I am convinced that causing the little ones to stumble could also apply when those commissioned by the Church to be witnesses to and examples for them give witness to values or beliefs incompatible with the authentic teachings of the Church."