Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Liturgical Abuse of the Week Returns! 

A close friend of mine recently informed me that the pastor of his suburban parish occasionally invites the lay parish administrator to offer the homily in his stead. His reason, upon being asked, was that he was overstretched on Sundays (spread between three parishes) and lacked the energy to deliver multiple homilies.

Now in my past diocese I had the frequent experience of laypersons being invited to give 'reflections' or 'informative reports' in place of the priest's normal homily (a convenient way to dive in and out of the loopholes left in the liturgical canons), but these occasions were at least accompanied by an explanation that this was in place of the homily, rather than a proper homily. In the case currently in question, no such explanation was offered. When questioned about whether or not this practice was permissible, the priest replied that his Archbishop had given explicit permission.

Now, my knowledge of liturgical law is admittedly musty; and, of course, one of the first rules of liturgy is that the bishop is the 'first liturgist' in his diocese, and is generally given a pretty broad authority in liturgical matters. Experience teaches us not to be so hasty to jump to conclusions. So I did some consultation with some personal contacts in liturgical offices, and did some digging into sources myself, to find out whether or not this was in fact a breach of liturgical law.

Most recently, we have this from 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, '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. 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.'

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. This practice is reprobated, so that it cannot be permitted to attain the force of custom.

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.
Referenced here is Can. 767 §1 of the Code of Canon Law:

The most important form of preaching is the homily, which is part of the liturgy, and is reserved to a priest or deacon. In the course of the liturgical year, the mysteries of faith and the rules of Christian living are to be expounded in the homily from the sacred text.
A second reference is to the Practical Provisions of the Instruction Ecclesiae de Mysterio, Article 3 §1:

The homily, therefore, 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. 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 since this is not merely a disciplinary law but one which touches upon the closely connected functions of teaching and sanctifying.
Cited also is a dubium from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, which is available here only in Latin:

Can. 767, § 1 (cf. AAS, LXXIX, 1987,1249)

Patres Pontificiae Commissionis Codici Iuris Canonici Authhentice Interpretando proposito in plenario coetu die 26 maii 1987 dubio, quod sequitur, respondendum esse censuerunt ut infra:

D. « Utrum Episcopus dioecesanus dispensare valeat a praescripto can. 767, § 1, quo sacerdoti aut diacono homilia reservatur »

[My rough sight translation: 'Whether a diocesan bishop can validly dispense from the prescripts of can. 767 § 1, which reserves the homily to a priest or deacon?']

R. Negative.
What is left unclarified here is the precise definition of a homily. Lay preaching, surprisingly, has never been formally forbidden from laypersons; what is forbidden is the preaching of a homily, which is a particular and 'eminent form' of preaching (Ecclesiae Mysterio, Article 3 §1). Exactly what defines a homily is left somewhat nebulous in the legal texts, but there is a broad sense of consensus among canonists that three fundamental characteristics are constitutive of a homily: (1) he who delivers it - in this case, an ordained minister; (2) its content - the central mysteries of the faith, the guiding principles of the Christian life, based upon the sacred texts and the liturgical year (qua per anni liturgici cursum ex textu sacro fidei mysteria et normae vitae christianae exponuntia, Ibid.); and (3) its place in the liturgy - between the proclamation of the Gospel and the prayers of the faithful.

Therefore, if a layperson is permited to 'preach' (using the term in a generic sense), the content or placement of this preaching cannot possess the fundamental characteristics of a homily - i.e., bearing on the central mysteries of the faith, etc., or being positioned between the Gospel and the prayers of the faithful; if it does, then it becomes subject to the norms which govern homilies, including its being reserved to the ordained. And as has been outlined above, the diocesan ordinary has no authority to abrogate ecclesiastical law on this subject. Thus, while a bishop has a certain amount of discretion over the practice of lay preaching, broadly speaking - say, an informative report given before Mass begins, or a reflection given after communion - he has no discretion in the preaching of the homily, which is governed by the aforementioned provisions. All bishops, even the Bishop of Rome, has no authority to transgress the law of the Church.

# posted by Jamie : 3:33 PM


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