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Instruction on the Priest

On 18 October 2002 the Congregation for the Clergy published "The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community".

According n. 30 of this one, it is in continuity with:

Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests (1994)

Ecclesiae de mysterio (1997)

The Priest and the Third Christian Millennium, Teacher of the Word, Minister of the Sacraments and Leader of the Community (2000)

What's new in this document? There is additional attention to others in the parish. But despite this it does not mention "instituted acolyte" or "instituted lector".

There are encouraging words about the need for law and order in the Church:

"... In order to make progress, the life and mission of the Church requires order, rules and laws governing conduct - in short, a disciplinary regime. Prejudice against ecclesiastical discipline has to be overcome, beginning with the very expression itself. Fear of citing ecclesiastical discipline or requiring the fulfilment of its demands must also be overcome. When the norms of ecclesiastical discipline are observed, tensions are avoided which otherwise would compromise the unitary pastoral effectiveness which the Church needs so as to fulfil her mission of evangelization. ..." (n. 15)

Of these laws special attention is given to liturgical laws:

"... Among the various aspects of ecclesiastical discipline, docility to the Church's liturgical laws and dispositions, that is to say, fidelity to the norms which organize divine worship in accordance the will of the Eternal High Priest and of his Mystical Body, merits special importance. ..." (n. 15).

There is some mention of responsibilities that lay people have:

"... The ministerial function of service to the community, which is based on configuration with Christ, demands a knowledge of, and respect for, the specific role of the lay faithful, and the encouragement of every possible means of having all assume their proper responsibilities. ..." (n. 16)

Regarding movement between parishes there are sensible instructions:

"... The increasing mobility of contemporary society makes it all the more necessary that the parish does not become introspective. Rather, it should welcome the faithful of other parishes and avoid discouraging its own parishioners from participating in the life of other parishes, rectories or chaplaincies. ..." (n. 22)

But I find this passage confusing:

"... In its title dedicated to the rights and duties of the lay faithful, the Code distinguishes between those competencies or functions which properly belong to all the lay faithful by right or duty, and those deriving from collaboration with the pastoral ministry. These latter are a capacitas or habilitas whose exercise depends on being called by the Church's lawful pastors. Thus, they are in no sense, "rights". ..." (n. 23)

The heading or title being referred to is "TITLE II: THE OBLIGATION AND RIGHTS OF THE LAY MEMBERS OF CHRIST'S FAITHFUL". It begins by saying these canons give people rights: "Lay members of Christ's faithful have the obligations and rights enumerated in the canons of this title ...". What basis can there be for saying the canons do not give rights?

Take a specific example. Who should do the first reading at Mass? Is it the priest's duty? Clearly not.

"The reader has his own proper function in the eucharistic celebration and should exercise this even though ministers of higher rank may be present." (General Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass (LM), n. 51, Cf: 1970 & 1975 GIRM 66, 2000 & 2002 GIRM 99.)

So is the reader "collaborating with the pastoral ministry"? In a sense -- bishops, priests, deacons, acolytes and lectors all collaborate, they all work together. But it is also reasonable to say an instituted lector is performing his ministry and has a right to do so. If he is present other lay people should not do the first reading, nor should a deacon, priest or bishop. For this job he is the ordinary minister and others are extraordinary ministers. "The readers ministry, which is conferred through a liturgical rite, must be held in respect." (LM 51).

Hopefully there will be more conversation, documentation and action to promote respect for the ministry of Instituted Lector.

By J.R. Lilburne, 24 October 2002. I give what I have written on this page to the public domain. Canon Law extracts from 1997 Harper Collins edition.

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The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community