John Lilburne's journal about altar girls and authority in the Catholic Church.



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1100 L Tue 8 Jan 2002

There was a story in 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, Canon 529.2:

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 "Management":

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 that area.

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, page 237).

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.

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