Abp Burke: No ‘right’ to be EMHC, lector, girl server.

The rights of girls and Catholic lay faithful to carry out certain roles on the altar are not prescribed as “rights” within the Church, according to the Church’s top legal authority, Archbishop Raymond Burke. Note that he is not necessarily speaking for or against these things (although one readily sees what his clarification could mean), he is speaking to a specific legal question. As always, comments are welcome – be nice and be respectful, everyone.


  1. Not totally tongue-in-cheek, let me observe that the archbishop affirms the only rights we laypeople have: to pray, pay, and obey.

  2. While Archbishop Burke’s are technically correct, they are poorly worded and timed. However, they do express a sad truth of the Catholic Church; the laity only have the power that the ordained give us. And that power is easily removed when a Pastor, Bishop, Cardinal, or Pope is replaced. It frustrates me, but speaking with the voice of experience, it is the reality of the Catholic Church. It’s been that way for a long time, and will, I think, only get worse in the near future.

    1. While Archbishop Burke’s are technically correct, they are poorly worded and timed.

      In what sense are they poorly timed? It’s the preface to a book tackling current issues in canon law that are of importance to those of us organizing celebrations according to the 1962 Missal, figuring out how the old rules and the new rules work together. Do you propose that we just put off our questions until later until people feel better about hearing the answers?

      There are practical effects here that go beyond whether women can be altar servers. The current code of canon law allows laymen to substitute as lectors, so at our last Good Friday celebration (which has a prophecy, which in the traditional rite is read by a lector) we used a layman to substitute as lector. Archbishop Burke’s commentary suggests that this was an error.

  3. Our brother Raymond could use his knowledge as canonist and position as bishop for teaching moments rather than for irrelevant defenses of the ancien regime. I do not recall that the word “right” ever appears in the New Testament, certainly not with the connotations that the Enlightenment gave to that term. Our scriptural heritage uses terms such as charism, calling and orders, which are not inalienable property of anyone but given by the Spirit. They are tested and confirmed by the church, and we are much the less if true gifts are denied or sidelined. Of course love, God’s essence that is shared by everyone, trumps the others. That word is indeed in scripture and I would like to hear our brother cite it more often.

  4. I agree that it could have been said differently or not at all, but let’s start focusing on the true mission of the laity, to pray, be good stewards of their time, talent and treasure vis a vis the Church and to be obedient to the truths of the Church and canon law. Oh, that applies also to the clergy!
    Finally, let’s focus on how Catholics can form the Church in miniature in their homes, how to witness to their faith, first by their manner of life, and then if need be, by how they can defend their faith or promote it in conversation and finally, that the gift of faith, hope and love is meant to help them, as well as the clergy, to be included in the gift of salvation won for us in Jesus Christ in His sacrifice on the cross and that we want to be united to Him in that awesome act. Finally, the laity’s participation in the Mass as “congregants” who actively listen, respond, contemplate and pray is their most important role; the vast minority of laity who are lectors, extraordinary communion ministers, ushers, greeters, cantors, choir members or musicians are precisely that a minority who serve at the pleasure of the Church in these roles which in no way make them better than any other Catholic who is not a part of an “institutional ministry” of the liturgy.

    1. Thank you for this comment, Fr. McDonald.

      I think a vital point is underscored by Archbishop Burke’s talk of ‘rights.’ That is, the entire enterprise of the Church is not about the I, the Ego, and its selfish desires for power or preferment. Instead, the Church is concerned with the really heroic aim of saving souls through grace and building up the Body of Christ. This is truly God’s work and will. As the Evangelist John says, “He must increase; I must decrease” (3:30).

      When we cooperate with that grace and that will, we draw closer to Jesus Christ who is our Head. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, has a wonderful exposition of the interconnected Body acting out salvation together, which is its proper function. That is what it was made to do and is its proper end. We need each other through Him, with Him, and in Him – much more than we need ourselves.

      1. I apologize: I just saw the conclusion of my comment did not post. 

        As Paul observes and the Church holds, we all have our role, our own vocation, in the sanctification of the Body by God’s grace. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you’… If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Cor 12:21, 26). This is our right – and responsibility – in humility as Christians. 

    2. … the true mission of the laity, to pray, be good stewards of their time, talent and treasure vis a vis the Church and to be obedient to the truths of the Church and canon law.

      As I was saying: Pray, pay, and obey.

      1. R. P. I was trying to make your point but in a positive way as so many people seem to think that the role of the laity to pray, pay and obey is something negative, when in fact when Catholics understand the stewardship way of life and that both laity and clergy are called to it, that it is quite positive and beautiful and the way of Christian discipleship. I didn’t realize you were using it in a positive way. Sorry.

  5. “According to Vatican Radio, the archbishop explained in the preface that due to the motu proprio’s papal origins, it is not just an act of legislation brought about as a “favor” to a specific group for the celebration of the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, the Mass in Latin, but one that applies to the entire Church.”

    This is certainly not what BXVI himself said on 12 Setember 2008:

    “… this Motu Proprio is simply an act of tolerance, with a pastoral aim for people who were formed in this liturgy, love it, know it, and wish to live with this liturgy. It’s a small group because this presupposes a formation in Latin, a formation in a certain culture.”

    And for Burke to say “neither the presence of girls at the altar, nor the participation of lay faithful “belong to the fundamental rights of the baptized” is nothing less than absolute nonsense.

    With regard to the latter, he needs to re-read SC 14: “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as
    “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right [my emphasis] and duty by reason of their baptism.” (ctd)

    1. With regard to the former, he needs to re-read the legislation on particular law in dioceses relating to altar servers, confirmed by the Vatican on 15 March 1994. While this may not belong to the fundamental rights of the baptized as he interprets it, and as this clarification of Canons 230 #2 and#3 provides, it certainly belong within the competence of all episcopal conferences, which is what ultimately counts in parish life, since it supersedes universal law in these areas.

      See also my post in the altar servers thread with the news about girl altar servers at the papal liturgies in Britain next month for a view on which way the wind is blowing.

    2. Paul,

      I don’t think that SC14 means ministerial roles in the liturgy when it speaks of the the right of the baptized to active participation in the liturgy. As much as it puts a bitter taste in my mouth to say it, I think in this case the good archbishop is correct: baptism confers the right and duty to worship God in the liturgy, not the right to minister liturgically.

    3. Paul;

      With regards to SC 14, aren’t you somewhat assuming a rather broad interpretation of what constitutes the participation defined there, and as such, what is included in the definition of “rights” by reason of baptism? It isn’t universally accepted that participation at and on the altar by laity is within the scope of “participation” as put forth in SC 14.

    4. +JMJ+

      If I might add a comment without seeming repetitive, the only place I’ve found in the documents of Vatican II where liturgical ministerial roles are explicitly envisioned for the laity is in Apostolicam Actuositatem 24: “Finally, the hierarchy entrusts to the laity certain functions which are more closely connected with pastoral duties, such as the teaching of Christian doctrine, certain liturgical actions, and the care of souls. By virtue of this mission, the laity are fully subject to higher ecclesiastical control in the performance of this work.”

      1. See SC 29. This concerns the ministries. “Genuine liturgical function” is the key phrase. The priest is no longer required to perform or co-perform the function of these ministers for validity.

      2. +JMJ+

        Thank you, Rita. SC 28 adds context too:

        “28. In liturgical celebrations each person, minister or layman, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy.

        “29. Servers, lectors, commentators, and members of the choir also exercise a genuine liturgical function. They ought, therefore, to discharge their office with the sincere piety and decorum demanded by so exalted a ministry and rightly expected of them by God’s people.”

        This seems to me to be describing existing liturgical roles but not necessarily expanding them to include the laity where they did not already:

        “Servers” – boys filled this role from a very young age.

        “Lectors” – I don’t know if this role was filled by laity before 1962, but given that these other three roles were, I would not be surprised if this were so.

        “Commentators” – laymen were permitted to be commentators (in the absence of clergy) in De Musica Sacra 96a (at the latest).

        “Members of the choir” – laymen and laywomen were permitted in the choir in Musicae Sacrae 74 and again in De Musica Sacra 93a and 100 (at the latest).

      3. There is a change in mentality embodied in this article of SC. There are ministerial roles in the liturgy properly carried out by the laity. They are not delegated aspects of the function of the priest. (The role of the EMHC is different. It IS a delegated aspect of the function of the priest.) “Genuine liturgical function” means too that they actually contribute to forwarding the liturgy’s action, they don’t merely ornament it. The list is not exhaustive or eternal. (Commentators have disappeared from the scene.) But the point is not the examples given. It is the principle of multiple ministries, some of which are properly carried out by the laity.

      4. Rita,

        I think it remains true, however, that the section of SC from which Paul quoted, which speaks of a “right” to participation, is not talking about these ministerial roles. Or at least it does not seem so to me.

      5. +JMJ+

        Rita: “There are ministerial roles in the liturgy properly carried out by the laity. They are not delegated aspects of the function of the priest.”

        But then what do we make of Inter Oecumenici 13b, which says that “Clerics shall frequently exercise the liturgical functions proper to their order, i.e., of deacon, subdeacon, acolyte, reader, as well as those of commentator and cantor.”

        Granted, this may be in the context of priestly training, but this recognizes that there are “liturgical functions proper” to particular orders of cleric.

      6. F.C., article 14 of SC echoes Pius XII, who called participation the “right and duty” of the faithful. What’s new in this article (SC 14)is “by reason of their baptism.” (See my book, Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium, Paulist Press, 2007, p. 31.) Both are talking about the participation of the assembly in the liturgical action as a whole. You are correct in saying that SC does not reference any differentiated lay liturgical ministries. But the context in SC is changed/modified, so it would also be reductive to read SC 14 in isolation.

        SC as a whole reflects the more mature understanding of the nature of the liturgy as an event unfolding by means of a multiplicity of ministries. Perhaps more importantly, the renewed understanding of baptism as the platform for liturgical engagement is critically important.

      7. To try to assimilate these insights into discourse about legal rights is to strap them onto a procrustean bed. But the idea that “no right” to liturgical ministries belongs to the laity can lead to the distortion that sees lay ministry as something which is granted purely by the goodwill of the priest, rather than seeing it as a normal and normative part of the liturgical act, which the priest rightly supports and facilitates. I would see it as gravely abnormal for a priest to willfully eliminate lay ministry, even though if no ministers are present the priest can indeed do it all. Jeffrey, the case of multiple ministries carried out by those in minor orders is preserved alongside this development, thus IO 13b. They co-exist.

        What should not be missed is the shift in paradigm or overall vision of how the liturgy works. It is not a solo performance (private masses notwithstanding), and not either a solo performance with audience. BTW, sincere piety and decorum in ministry is “rightly expected”—by the faithful! (SC 29)

  6. The issue I am concerned about seems to be not poor wording or timing, but one of the general canonical principles: “The second principle states that the subsequent liturgical discipline is only to be introduced in the Extraordinary Form, if this discipline affects a right of the faithful, which follows directly from the sacrament of baptism and serves the eternal salvation of their souls.”

    Having a right to do something is distinct from being legally allowed to do that thing, because if you have a right to do something, any person is wrong to hinder you. If you are legally allowed but do not have a right, you may do the thing, but no one is wrong to hinder you. This principle states that for laypersons, “all liturgical observances that are not compulsory are forbidden.”

    I’m not trying to use this as a sneaky way of forcing the implementation of new disciplines in the EF. I just don’t like this kind of rigidity in rites that are supposed to be pastoral acts of worship. If the same community practices both forms, for example, and wants to substitute a lector as Samuel suggested above, I think such a thing — if not proscribed — should be allowed.

    Perhaps if I knew precisely what didn’t qualify as rights flowing from baptism, I might end up with additional concerns. Good thing that server crashed!

  7. I don’t have a problem with the principle of “no rights” in connection with particular liturgical ministries. I agree. I also agree that no person has a “right” to ordination. Western culture indulges “rights” way too much. Maybe it’s a spinoff of perceived classism: the rich have privileges, and the poor get the leavings.

    A better term in my thinking is “duty” and “responsibility.” When, to satisfy the prescriptions of SC 28, there is a duty and responsibility for lay people to respond. Clergy have duties and responsibilities too. This kind of wording is more suitable, as it reinforces the sacrificial nature of worship, and calls for gifts–not individuals–to be put at service to the faith community.

    1. Todd, I agree with you here. In general I think “rights” is a problematic term for Christian liturgical action because its definition is so exclusively negative. (A right is an action which no other person may rightly hinder.) Better concepts for liturgical law are duty, responsibility, deputization, and calling.

  8. Father McDonald,

    Although I guess one could formally reconcile your statement “…who actively listen, respond, contemplate and pray” with the words of the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, it seems to me that the spirit is somewhat different. In §48, the Constitution, speaking of the laity says “by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him”; the French translation replaces ‘with’ by ‘in union with’:
    “qu’offrant la victime sans tache, non seulement par les mains du prêtre, mais aussi en union avec lui”, which seems to me closer to the original Latin “immaculatam hostiam, non tantum per sacerdotis manus, sed etiam una cum ipso offerentes” (but I would love the much more competent readers of PrayTell to tell me which one is the better translation!).

    The fact that the laity offers the sacrifice in union with the priest seems to be often forgotten in many discussions. (I recently asked my parish priest about the role of the laity and he basically quoted §48, but stopping before this sentence).

    1. Jacques, Thanks for the additional clarification. You are correct and during both forms of the Mass the clergy and laity together offer the Sacrifice through Jesus. Even if a priest offers Mass by himself, he still represents the laity sacramentally just as he represents Christ sacramentally. Obviously it is a clearer sacramental sign for the laity to be present joining the priest in the “offering.” However, the laity cannot celebrate Mass without an ordained priest who sacramentally represents Christ Who is the Head of the body which is the Church. The newer translation in English of the “Orate Fratres” is, Pray (brothers and sisters) that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable…” The Church, meaning clergy and laity together, offer the sacrifice. The priest is in a unique sacramental role of making visible Christ who actually offers Himself to the Father. You really can’t separate Head from members, clergy from laity, the offering is a unified act. But our offering is through Jesus, our High Priest and One Intercessor before the Father.

  9. Seems to me that Archbishop Burke has little use for laypeople especially women and we should all just go away so he and and his friends can troop around in “cappa magnas” and pretend Vatican II never happened.
    But that’s just me.

    1. This is simply not the case. Archbishop Burke is simply defining the legitimate roles of priests and people, which is clearly in line with what Vatican II and every other Council before it supports.

      As for the use of the cappa magna, Vatican II never ever abolished its use, calling for it to be worn on very special and solemn occasions. The occasions Archbishop Burke and others have used it have certainly followed this directive. If you ever go to Rome, you won’t see bishops and cardinals, even Archbishop Burke and his friends, “trooping around” in this solemn vesture no more than you would be “trooping around” your city in an evening gown.

  10. Father McDonald, thank you for your answer.

    I am really not competent to enter into a discussion, but I must admit that I don’t read the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy in the same way than you do. It does not say that the priest represents the laity in some abstract way, which is made more visible when some lay people are actually present. It says, it seems to me quite explicitly, that the lay people who are present at a specific Mass offer the sacrifice with the priest.

    I remember that there was discussion on PrayTell of the new translation of the Orate Frates – in French, we have kept the “this sacrifice, which is also yours”, which seems to correspond better to the spirit of my beloved §48!

    By saying this, I do not think that I am separating Head from members or clergy from laity. To the contrary, they are joined together, each in their own role, in offering the sacrifice. (And this is the reason why I really do not like the kneeling of the faithful at the consecration – it seems to me it transforms them in spectators of something very important done for them as opposed to co-offerers of the sacrifice.)

    1. My only caution is that if one follows your logic, then the laity should also extend their hands for the epiclesis, say aloud the words of institution and perhaps the entire Eucharistic prayer and wear special vestments as the priest does. Christ is the one offering the Sacrifice, the ordained priest represents Him in a sacramental way that the laity does not when the priest is celebrating or con-celebrating. If a priest does not concelebrate and wears choir dress in the sanctuary or sits in in the congregation with the laity, he assumes their posture of kneeling, and manner of participation although he is a member of the clergy.

    2. +JMJ+

      Pope Pius XII described very well how the laity can be said to offer the Eucharist in Mediator Dei 80-104. He also makes it clear that the laity are not “concelebrants” or “co-celebrants” with the priest. (cf. MD 83)

      There is a difference of degree and essence between the baptismal and ministerial priesthood. This difference is manifested in the liturgy by, among other things, different postures and gestures and clothing.

      The fact that we are kneeling, and the priest is not, at the consecration, does not mean we are mere spectators.

  11. I think the archbishop is making a valid point that makes some laity uncomfortable because they assume that the role of the laity at Mass is somehow a “second class” status unless someone is serving as a lector, server, or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

    The American notion of “participation” seems to suggest that unless someone is actively, physically “doing something” at Mass is not what “participation” means in the Catholic Church.

  12. The word ‘right’ is clearly in one sense out of place when we are talking about liturgical ministry of any kind. No one has a right to preside, no one has a right to minister (except perhaps as a function of the community’s right to have access to the Eucharist when the official Church withholds authorization of ministers … but that’s another can of worms).

    Archbishop Burke’s statement runs: ‘among the “rights” of the baptized, assistance by “persons of the feminine sex” at the altar is not included’. The obnoxious point here is not the inapplicability of rights language, but the suggestion that the operative word is ‘feminine’. It alarms me that people in Rome–and US Americans at that, who ought to know a thing or two about human dignity and equality–can say such things.

  13. Allan said My only caution is that if one follows your logic, then the laity should also extend their hands for the epiclesis, say aloud the words of institution and perhaps the entire Eucharistic prayer and wear special vestments as the priest does.

    Allan, this is precisely what is advocated for Masses with children: that they should be standing around the table of the Lord with the presider, modeling his gestures. When he uses the orans position, so will they. When he extends his hands, so will they. When he bows or makes the sign of the cross, so will they.

    Not only does this keep them engaged in what is happening, it is also in fact a seedbed for the priests of tomorrow. If youngsters become used to standing close to the altar, copying what the priest does, it’s going to seem much more natural to them to think of doing the same when they are older.

    (Of course, the fact that there will be girls standing around the altar may be viewed as a complication, but that is the subject of another thread. Talking of which, David Stancliffe has a brilliant article on women bishops in this week’s Tablet.)

    My own view is that in fact not only the children but the adults too should be modeling the presider’s gestures. They may not have the consecratory power which he exercises on their behalf, but they are still in a real sense concelebrants. This, as has already been pointed out, has implications for the posture of the assembly.

    1. I do not say that they should be saying the same words as the priest (although in many parishes, this is precisely what older folk at weekday Mass are semi-instinctively doing — and I do not find that sinful), nor need they be wearing vestments.

      But I know that priests who have experienced the assembly standing throughout the EP, doing the same gestures with them, have testified that they have had an extraordinary and powerful sense of the people being truly with them in the offering of the sacrifice. “Hanging on every word I said” was how one priest described it to me. Far more beneficial than kneeling down and dozing off in the pews, which is what happens all too often.

      It would be interesting to have testimony from Canada, where the episcopal conference encourages the involvement of the assembly by the addition of extra assembly acclamations to the EP. It’s difficult to acclaim on your knees.

    2. Paul, you’ll have to point out in the GIRM for children’s celebrations where this is the case. Is what you say a liturgist’s idea for children’s Masses or what the rubrics suggest is possible. I really don’t know at this point, so help me out. If it is a liturgist’s idea, it is then highly suspect in my mind and thus to be ignored, if in the GIRM as an option, fine.
      As for standing, certainly that could be an option if the Conference of Bishops in a particular country say it can occur on a regular basis–no argument there. In a situation where one is celebrating Mass outside of a building with chairs and kneelers, certainly standing for the EP is better than sitting.

      1. Allan,

        No of course it is not in GIRM. It is the view of pastoral liturgists whose role is to take the rites as we have them and make them come alive for people.

        But this view does not come out of thin air. This is what the Directory on Masses with Children says (para 33):

        “In view of the nature of the liturgy as an activity of the entire person and in view of the psychology of children, participation by means of gestures and posture should be strongly encouraged in Masses with children, with due regard for age and local customs. Much depends not only on the gestures of the priest, but also on the manner in which the children conduct themselves as a community.
        If, in accord with the norm of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, a conference of bishops adapts the gestures and postures at Mass to the mentality of a people, it should take the special condition of children into account or should decide on certain adaptations that are for children only.”

        In the absence of any initiative by episcopal conferences [sic!], pastoral liturgists have explored the implications of this paragraph as regards posture and gesture.

    3. +JMJ+

      Paul, why wasn’t this recommended as a means of fostering vocations before Vatican II? If serving at the altar for the old Latin Mass without mimicking the priest was, for some, an environment which nurtured a vocation to the priesthood, why would people advocate such mimicry for children today?

      (I’m not denying that children 70 years ago and children today are different. I’m just curious why this particular means is suggested.)

      “[Adults] are still in a real sense concelebrants.”

      How is that so? That opinion was expressly rejected by Pope Pius XII in Mediator Dei 83, and I don’t see where in Vatican II such an idea was resurrected. Sac. Conc. (and the other conciliar documents which mention the laity offering the Divine Victim along with the priest) seem to be inline with Mediator Dei, not contradicting it in this regard.

      1. Because the last time the liturgy was reformed before Vatican II, people had not done any scientific study of child psychology. Now they have.

        The goal of such mimicry is not primarily to encourage more vocations, but to encourage children’s developing ability to pray in the bodily way that is most natural to very young children.

  14. It appears to me that Archbishop Burke was referring to the Extraordinary Form Mass: All rules applicable in 1962 would still be in effect for the celebration of that form of the Mass.


    “The statement came in a clarification he wrote about the consequences of the reintroduction of the Latin Rite Mass by Pope Benedict.

    The Catholic Church of Germany recently printed a commentary on the application of Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio, “Summorum Pontificum,” which made Pope St. Pius V’s Latin Rite Mass more widely available. In the preface of the volume, printed for the third”

  15. And as others have commented elsewhere, B16’s goal is to permit the EF but that the rite be modified to fit the “continuous” growth of liturgy via VII e.g. adding english scripture readings, dropping the last gospel, etc.

    It appears that Burke and B16 are not on the same page. Surprise!

  16. Rita – thanks for the education and explanations. It struck me that the dotcommonweal thread about the unacceptance of the Irish bishops resignations and J. Allen’s article on suggested reasons why, revolved around this concept of “rights” or ministries/service. Allen does a good job of outlining how Rome sees bishops sacramentally and theologically but it is in a predominant clerical cultural context….if a bishop is serving a function; providing service and fails to do so, then the church really does not need to protect that clerical position. To pick up on your VII paradigm shift – we start with the sacrament of baptism for all and the responsibilities that flow from this even at the eucharist versus a clerical mindset that starts with holy orders and appears more like a pyramid – so that, lay ministries derive from the bishop/priest. If you start with baptism as the foundation, then Allen’s summary and justifications lose lots of weight and meaning – it becomes an exercise in protecting the clerical world especially bishops.

    Side note – Paul, used your methods with children’s liturgies for years – it is also very effective with high school kids. (a sadness today was watching my children not get this same type of iturgy rather, they have been forced to kneel and sit passively as if it was still 1958) As you well know, the Canadian bishops until a few years ago, were years ahead in their liturgical and pastoral liturgies for their people.

    1. Thanks Bill. I have to get over there and look at what Allen is saying. It would be interesting to see how it looks against this backdrop.

  17. I fear that when we speak about the laity’s rights and obligations, we (clerically) reduce our scope to think only of the laity serving in a ministry. Canon 1247 states “On Sundays and other holydays of obligation, the faithful are obliged to assist at Mass,” and I’ve always found that phrase interesting. “Where are you going?” “I’m off to assist at mass.” “You mean you’re the concelebrant this week?” No. “An extraordinary minister of communion?” No. “A lector? A cantor? Singing in the choir? an RCIA sponsor? an usher? did you help with the art and environment this week? a sacristan?” No, no, no. I’m a lay person assisting at mass in the pew. Now, how we do that fully, consciously, and actively has always seemed to me the starting point of liturgical renewal.

    1. +JMJ+

      David, I agree heartily. Getting people to participate well in the liturgy from the pew first seems far more important than getting them to carry out “ministerial” roles. Once we know how to crawl, then we learn how to walk, and then how to run.

      1. +JMJ+

        Todd, yes, for some people. I’ve read anecdotes (here, maybe, or perhaps on Catholic Answers Forum) of people who only go to Mass the weeks they’re scheduled to do some ministry.

      2. Come to think of it, I would see this sentiment expressed by parents of altar servers, once or twice a year. Otherwise, it’s rare.

        On the other hand, consider the example of the clergy: when was the last time your parish priest went to Mass without presiding or concelebrating? That example may not be the best for the laity to imitate.

      3. +JMJ+

        “When was the last time your parish priest went to Mass without presiding or concelebrating?”

        Mine is a one-priest parish. I don’t know what he does on his day off… he might go to Mass, he might not. I really don’t know. How many of us do?

        On the other hand, my brother (a priest of the Roman Rite) went to an Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy on his vacation, where he was surely not (con)celebrating.

        But I’m not sure the priest, in this instance, is the right model for the laity. Many priests nowadays, because there are so few, celebrate multiple Masses a day. The laity aren’t supposed to spend all morning (and noon and night) involved in ministries in the church. Our apostolate drives us outside the church’s walls.

        At my previous parish (also with only one priest), the pastor would not attend the Mass which he was not celebrating, probably because he needed the time to recover and prepare for his next Mass.

      4. In the parish where I usually celebrate Holy Week, the pastor and the weekend presider (a seminary professor) usually alternate the Holy Week services. The one not presiding assists in a clerical suit, usually sitting in a back row.

        I suspect it is meant to be a statement that you don’t have to have a ministerial role to assist at Mass even if you are ordained, even if it is a very special time of the year.

      5. In the parish in the 1980’s where I was a voluntary pastoral staff member, the priest would not let people have more than one ministry, e.g. I had to leave the choir when I became a pastoral staff member.

        At the time I thought it was just some overly pious interpretation based on the Vatican II liturgical ideal that each was to do his own ministry.

        As someone who has studied voluntarism a lot in the past few years, I have come to appreciate that volunteers just like professionals can really overextend themselves, not only taking on too much but also depriving other people of the benefit of the giving their full talents, and the community from benefiting from the talents of all.

        Parishes often become too dependent upon certain volunteers for certain slots. Ministry both in the parish and the world as well as the people doing ministry might benefit if we encouraged people to alternate between roles in the parish and heighten Christian engagement in other aspects of life.

    2. The subtext of “assist at Mass” is that Mass is the work of the priest, not the work of the people. And that we (lay folks) are there “to assist Father.” This is where the idea derives from that specialized ministries are more important than the assembly’s act of worship.

  18. Suggest that people re-read SC 10, 11, 14, 26-28, 48; and CCC 1136, 1140 and 1144. It is quite clear who the Church regards as celebrating the liturgy, led in these acts by a presbyter (the chief earthly celebrant, assuming we all accept that the chief overall celebrant is Christ the High Priest).

    1. +JMJ+

      I can accept that we all celebrate the liturgy, but I resist the language of “concelebrant” (or “celebrant”) for the laity. The question inevitably will arise about why, if we’re all “concelebrants”, the priest gets to “preside”. Why can’t I preside?

      1. The priest presides because he is ordained. You can’t preside because you’re not ordained. This is precisely what CCC 1141-43 are unpacking. Different folks have different roles in the assembly, but (CCC 1141) “The celebrating assembly is the community of the baptized”.

        You may not like the language of concelebrant, but that reflects the fact of the matter. We all concelebrate because of our membership in that community of the baptized, led by the ‘priest celebrant’ (to use the language of GIRM). That’s his role.

        Some of us have other roles: lector, musician, etc. Why can’t you direct the choir? Because you’re not gifted in that area. Why can’t you distribute Communion? Because you haven’t been trained or commissioned to do so.

        I wonder how you react to this phraseology: “The assembly is the primary minister of the sacrament” ?

        There is another aspect to the presiding question, too: Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest. Sometimes people talk about people presiding over those services. I prefer to speak of the Leader, to distinguish this from Mass, even if it’s a deacon doing the leading.

      2. +JMJ+

        I don’t think the GIRM uses the term “priest celebrant” to distinguish him from “lay (con)celebrants”, but rather other priests who are either concelebrating or in choir or in some other capacity.

        Again, I can accept saying that the whole assembly celebrates the Mass, but not to the point of saying that I am a “celebrant”. That seems to me to be a very particular and technical word.

        Regarding “The assembly is the primary minister of the sacrament”, it doesn’t sound specific enough to me. Does the “assembly” exist without an ordained priest? Without an ordained priest, can the assembly still be the minister of the sacrament?

        Christ is the High Priest (or the High Presbyter?), but my participation in His priesthood is not the same as my pastor’s. I need my priest, and I’m not at all bothered or challenged or threatened or belittled by that.

  19. A lot of this, it seems to me at times, has to do with people’s attitudes regarding who the liturgy “belongs to.” It is not our liturgy at all, it is the prayer and praise of Christ to the Father, in other words, it is the Lord’s liturgy. If that is the case, – and I am sure there will be those out there who will tear my words apart here – but if it is the case, the question as to who presides is such a secondary one.. as Paul says, it is the liturgy of Christ, the High Priest. That is why whenever I see a copy of the ritual book, “Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest,” I sometimes get almost ill. When have we ever had a celebration or ritual that talked about someone being “absent?” Think of all of the people of God who are “absent” for one reason or another for a particular liturgical celebration. We don’t name our rituals according to who presides or who is “not there” to preside, except in this case. If we title our rituals this way, why don’t we talk about who IS there? I know I am in dream-land now, but it would be nice to see a liturgical celebration with a title or sub-title with the phrase, “…. celebration in the presence of the believing assembly.” Presiding and prayer leadership is obviously a critical and important role. But as Paul says, we are “concelebrants.” I am baffled why some are uncomfortable with the baptized being linked to this image. What is the fear of this? Why get bogged down with technicalities in…

  20. regards to this. The ordained (priest or deacon) is our prayer leader, thus the presider or celebrant, and we are celebrating and praying WITH him (con)… we are concelebrants. Sometimes I think we need to get over ourselves.

  21. There are several (not a majority) that seem to propose that the laity have “rights” by virtue of their baptism and that the clergy seem to be a hindrance to these “rights”.

    I would just pose the question– if lay people (male or female) have the “right” to serve as a lector, or EMHC, or altar server, how far does that go?

    As a lay person, should I have a right to my own copy of the tabernacle key, that I might do what I want with the Blessed Sacrament? If we’re talking about exercising our “lay priesthood,” where does that line get drawn and the sacramental priesthood takes over?

    I think that an underlying theme here is a lack of respect for those who were given authority by Christ to lead the flock.

    1. Huh? Why are we jumping to absurd conclusions about the Tabernacle key? I see no connection, unless if this is a (logically invalid) “slippery slope” argument against giving the laity an inch because they’ll want a mile.

      I think the starting point for all this – the starting point for any discussion of ministry – must be the baptism into Christ which unites all the faithful, and not the power Christ allegedly gave to the ordained to do specific liturgical ministries.


      1. Absolutely, Anthony.

        No one has a right to ministry. Ministry is totally gift, and that includes prietshood. In that respect, Burke is correct.

        But all have a right to celebrate within the assembly. And exercising ministerial gifts in that context is not seizing power (hopefully), it is using one’s gifts to serve the community.

      2. Sorry, I was trying to be in-explicit, so as to avoid “pointing the finger” at other commenters– though there are several who seem to be advocating exactly what you’ve addressed, Fr.

        The slippery slope argument was less to do with giving an inch, but actually proceeding from the problem I have seen of the Tabernacle key being “overly available” in our parish.

        Sure, people are EMHC’s, and they take communion to the sick when instructed, but I know for a fact that some are never instructed by father, or even ask permission, but go and take the Tabernacle key and a pyx, and go open the Tabernacle, and take communion to people.

        Or, as in with volunteer sacristans who feel it’s perfectly fine to be able to just open up the Tabernacle, check out the number of hosts, leave the key laying around… I realize that, in some cases, this might be warranted because they have to prepare for Mass, but I have seen it, more often than not, where multiple people are checking on each other, and a laissez faire attitude is adopted about entering the sanctuary, etc. Isn’t this more a function that a priest is responsible for, considering that safeguard of the Eucharist is one of their primary responsibilities?

        If all feel perfectly fine and comfortable coming in to the Sanctuary, opening up the Tabernacle, etc, what message is sent to the laity? Those present before Mass are standing, talking, don’t even recognize something important going on there while all of this is…

  22. I think Anthony is giving voice to a true corrective attitude that we need to have about ministry – it is a call, it is based in baptism, it celebrates charisms and gifts. The “body” is the place of our identity, not a distribution of positions of power. Hello? How can any of us presume or put out there a vision of ministry other than this? Thank you, Anthony, thank you.

  23. One further thought:
    We in the Church, though gifted by the Holy Spirit, must also submit to the Word of God. This is true of all of us, from lay person to Pope and everyone in between. While it is true that no one has a ‘right’ to ministry, this reminder has a rather hollow ring to it when it comes from one who has lots of power and authority in the Church. It gives the impression that the person speaking is not submitting to Scripture’s call to be humble, to submit to others, to serve others, but is using a truth about ministry as a way to put others down. It gives the impression that the speaker is lording it over others, as if Scripture’s teachings on ministry apply only to laity and not to the speaker.

  24. Of course no one, priest or layperson, baptized or unbaptized, has a right to minister in the church. That is why the introduction of rights language into the principle quoted above is so spectacularly unhelpful. Do priests have a right to care for the people of God? Did Peter have a right to feed Christ’s lambs? No, of course not; they are ordained, have been commissioned to do so.

    This is an issue with Christian ethics and rights language in general, according to some scholars in Christian ethics; they have proposed the term “human flourishing” (translating Greek eudaimonia) as a better basic principle for understanding human goods and needs in the context of the natural law.

    See here: Eudaimonia.
    Or for a rather technical article:
    Rasmussen, Human Flourishing and the Appeal to Human Nature.

    It does seem that in the context of helping people cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit in transforming their lives into the eternal life of the Trinity… flourishing is a more appropriate criterion than right.

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