A discussion of the Pope's speech re clarity on lay, priestly vocations to the bishops of the Antilles. I suggest that more should be done by the Pope to promote the lay ministry of Instituted Lector.
 

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1017 K Thu 9 May 2002

In the Pope's speech of 7 May to the bishops of the Antilles he has called for greater clarity on the role of priests and lay people. I am not completely clear about what he said, because half the speech was in French. But in the translation on the Vatican Information Service he said:

... Some persons, we know, affirm that the decrease in the number of priests is the work of the Holy Spirit and that God Himself will lead the Church, making it so that the government of the lay faithful will take the place of the government of priests. Such a statement certainly does not take into account what the Council Fathers said when they sought to promote a greater involvement of the lay faithful in the Church. In their teachings, the Council Fathers simply underscored the deep complementarity between priests and the laity that the symphonic nature of the Church implies.

A poor understanding of this complementarity has sometimes led to a crisis of identity and confidence among priests, and also to forms of commitment by the laity that are too clerical or too politicized.

Involvement by the laity becomes a form of clericalism when the sacramental or liturgical roles that belong to the priest are assumed by the lay faithful or when the latter set out to accomplish tasks of pastoral governing that properly belong to the priest. ...

I think the Pope could be providing more clarity on liturgical roles of the lay faithful. In particular for my ministry of instituted lector. I am not aware of him ever addressing a letter to instituted lectors, as he often does to bishops, priests, deacons and those in the consecrated life. Nor has he said much about the 2002 Roman Missal, such as:

101 In the absence of an instituted reader, other lay people may be designated to proclaim the readings from the Sacred Scriptures. ... (Study Translation, USCCB BCL Secretariat).

What has he said about instituted lectors? I think he has only spoken or written about us three times. In a General Audience of 5 August 1998 where we are mentioned with other lay ministries:

... Among the lay ministries we recall those instituted with a liturgical rite: the offices of lector and acolyte. ...

He discussed us in 1988 in Christifideles Laici, n 23:

In the course of Synod work the Fathers devoted much attention to the Lectorate and the Acolytate. While in the past these ministries existed in the Latin Church only as spiritual steps on route to the ordained ministry, with the motu proprio of Paul VI, Ministeria Quaedam (15 August 1972), they assumed an autonomy and stability, as well as a possibility of their being given to the lay faithful, albeit, only to men. This same fact is expressed in the new Code of Canon Law(77). At this time the Synod Fathers expressed the desire that "the motu proprio Ministeria Quaedam be reconsidered, bearing in mind the present practice of local churches and above all indicating criteria which ought to be used in choosing those destined for each ministry"(78).

His response was to establish a Commission and await its study. In the 1992 Pastores Dabo Vobis in relation to preparation for the priesthood:

58. ... These services can become a specific way of experiencing the ministries of lector, acolyte and deacon.

Why has he said so little? Perhaps its a confronting issue for priests: there are lay ministers in the Church with the rights and duties to perform a specific task in the Mass, just as the priest has rights and duties to perform other tasks.

Perhaps he believes that by promoting a lay ministry more will choose this, rather than the priesthood. This may be true. But failure to follow laws on instituted lectors must be having an adverse effect on vocations to the priesthood and the whole Catholic Church.

I think this is one of the reasons for the "crisis of identity and confidence among priests" that the Pope spoke of. When there are cases of a failure respect the ministry they have before becoming priests, of instituted lector, it is likely to effect their confidence in the priestly ministry as well.

In the speech of 7 May the Pope said:

... What we teach is not always immediately or easily accessible to people today. For this reason there is a need not simply to repeat but to explain. ...

I hope he does more to explain the importance of the liturgical laws and Canon laws about instituted lectors.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 9 May 2002. Last updated 11 May 2002.

Other sites:

The Pope's Speech of 7 May 2002 to the bishops of the Antilles

Report on the speech by Vatican Information Service

Report "Pope asks clarity on lay, priestly vocations"