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Liturgy: Gospel Reflection by a Layperson?

7/28/2004 - 7:00 AM PST

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ROME, JULY 28, 2004 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: After the Gospel reading, sometimes our priest sits in the congregation and a lay minister gets up to give a reflection. When I questioned this practice with our bishop's office, I was told (not by the bishop) that as long as the priest gives a homily, whose duration could be one minute, the lay ministers can give the "reflection." Is this true? -- K.H., Minnesota

A: The recent instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum" has dealt with this point quite clearly and in several places.

No. 64 states: "The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself, 'should ordinarily be given by the Priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating Priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a Deacon, but never to a layperson.'"

No. 65 continues: "It should be borne in mind that any previous norm that may have admitted non-ordained faithful to give the homily during the eucharistic celebration is to be considered abrogated by the norm of canon 767 1. This practice is reprobated, so that it cannot be permitted to attain the force of custom."

No. 66 adds: "The prohibition of the admission of laypersons to preach within the Mass applies also to seminarians, students of theological disciplines, and those who have assumed the function of those known as 'pastoral assistants'; nor is there to be any exception for any other kind of layperson, or group, or community, or association."

This theme is taken up once more in No. 74: "If the need arises for the gathered faithful to be given instruction or testimony by a layperson in a Church concerning the Christian life, it is altogether preferable that this be done outside Mass. Nevertheless, for serious reasons it is permissible that this type of instruction or testimony be given after the Priest has proclaimed the Prayer after Communion. This should not become a regular practice, however. Furthermore, these instructions and testimony should not be of such a nature that they could be confused with the homily, nor is it permissible to dispense with the homily on their account."

And finally in No. 161: "As was already noted above, the homily on account of its importance and its nature is reserved to the Priest or Deacon during Mass. As regards other forms of preaching, if necessity demands it in particular circumstances, or if usefulness suggests it in special cases, lay members of Christ's faithful may be allowed to preach in a church or in an oratory outside Mass in accordance with the norm of law. This may be done only on account of a scarcity of sacred ministers in certain places, in order to meet the need, and it may not be transformed from an exceptional measure into an ordinary practice, nor may it be understood as an authentic form of the advancement of the laity. All must remember besides that the faculty for giving such permission belongs to the local Ordinary and this as regards individual instances; this permission is not the competence of anyone else, even if they are Priests or Deacons."

Therefore it is quite clear that the answer you received from the chancery office (which may have been before the publication of this new instruction) is now quite incorrect. Before this clarification was published it was considered possible that a bishop could authorize a layperson to read a prepared text after the homily on some special occasions. This was always seen as an exception and never a habitual practice.

The reason given in the document for this disposition is that the homily is part of the liturgy itself. As such it is a sacred action and only a sacred minister may carry it out.

Because of this sacred character the Church teaches that the homily is endowed with a special presence of Christ that Pope Paul VI did not hesitate to call a "real presence" on a par with the real presence of Christ in the assembly, in the readings, and in the person of the minister although not on the same level as Christ's substantial presence in the Eucharist.

This special presence, which gives a spiritual efficacy to the homily surpassing the minister's oratorical skills, is possible only if preached by a sacred minister acting as Christ's representative.

No "reflection" of any kind may be given by a layperson during Mass except for those brief, prepared commentaries that may introduce some parts of the celebration according to liturgical norms.

On exceptional occasions, such as when a lay missionary makes an appeal, a testimony may be given after the prayer after Communion. But the homily may not be omitted for this purpose, although the priest may give a ...

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