1100 L Tue 8 Jan 2002
There was a story in catholicnews.com on 2 January 2002 with
the headline: Bishops cannot require priests to use altar
girls, Vatican says.
It was reporting on a response in the December edition of
Notitiae, the bulletin of the Congregation for Divine Worship
and the Discipline of the Sacraments. That the priest should
choose the altar servers is consistent with the 2000 edition
of the General Instruction to the Roman Missal:
107. The liturgical functions which are not proper to the
priest or the deacon, and which are listed above (nos. 100-106),
may be entrusted to suitable laity chosen by the pastor or rector
of the church through a liturigical blessing or a temporary deputation.
The function of altar servers is regulated by the norms established
by the Bishop for his diocese.
This also seems consistent with the 1983 Code of Canon Law,
230.3 Where the needs of the Church require and ministers
are not available, lay people, even though they are not lectors
or acolytes, can supply certain of their functions ...
528.2 ... Under the authority of the diocesan Bishop, the
parish priest must direct this liturgy in his own parish, and
he is bound to be on guard against abuses.
529.2 The parish priest is to recognise and promote the specific
role which the lay members of Chirst's faithful have in the mission
of the Church, ...
Perhaps the surprising thing, what made it newsworthy and
interesting, is that the Vatican is promoting the law rather
than what the bishop says. Part of the ordination rite for priests
has the bishop ask him:
Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?
To which the reply is "I do." But to operate effectively
the Church has laws, rather than individual bishops given individual
instructions to be obeyed.
Yesterday I read something by Peter Drucker, from the book
The need for clear authority
One more thing is needed to make responsibility acceptable
to the workers on all levels: they need to have the security
of a clear authority structure. They have to know what areas
and decisions are beyond their power and therefore reserved for
a different or a higher authority. They have to know where to
go for a decision. They have to know whose decision to listen
to, and whose order, no matter how peremptory, to disregard as
coming from an 'unauthorized' source, that is from someone who
has no right to give orders to this or that worker in this or
Also, every organization stands under the threat of the 'common
peril'. There is always the chance of an emergency situation
which has not been anticipated and for which there are no rules.
The common peril may be physical - in business it will more often
be economic. Whatever its nature, one person has to make
the decision in such a situation, and fast, or everybody is endangered.
Who this individual is has to be known in advance, or there is
chaos. And this leader has to be able to say, 'This needs to
be done; you do it; this way.' The survival of
the group depends on his or her unquestioned authority. Without
it no one in the group can feel secure. (Heinemann, 1974, 1982,
Cardinal George wrote in his column of 6 January 2002:
... Individualism in religious faith and practice is background
to many of the disputes in the Church today. Judging when an
individual voice is prophetic and when it is simply maverick
is a discernment that takes time, and the Church is slow to judge
on important issues and must be respectful always of persons.
But some of the disputes today are turf wars that erupt when
individuals want to do it "their way", no matter the
clear and settled teaching of the Church and despite the tradition
that unites us to Christ through the ages. ...
It is encouraging to see progress being made in clarifying
authority within the Church.
Copyright J.R. Lilburne 8 January 2002. Updated 20 January 2004.