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
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
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
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
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
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