Lay Preaching Comes to an End in the Diocese of Rochester

Democrat & Chronicle reports that Bishop Salvatore Matano plans to curtail lay preaching in the Diocese of Rochester in an effort to bring the diocese into compliance with Redemptionis Sacramentum and Canon Law. Lay preaching in the Diocese of Rochester began in the mid-1970s.

In discussing his recent decision to discontinue lay preaching in Rochester, Bishop Matano is quoted as saying:

It is not a policy shift as regards to the universal law of the church…I am trying to help the faithful understand what is the universal law of the church and how important it is that in the celebration of Mass, we do what the church asks of us.

According to Democrat & Chronicle, “the reversal is perhaps the starkest example yet of the contrasting stewardship of Matano with his predecessor, Bishop Matthew Clark, under whom the diocese earned a reputation as among the most liberal in the country.”

Redemptionis Sacramentum confronts the issue head-on and very clearly affirms canon 767 §1:

[64.] 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. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a Priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate”.

[65.] 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.

[66.] 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.

While I understand the reasoning behind canon 767 §1, perhaps it is time to revisit whether the prohibition against lay preaching should stand today.

Several thoughts come to mind. First, I know many dioceses which allow seminarians to deliver homilies in clear violation of RS and canon 767 §1. It is important that seminarians gain experience during formation delivering a homily to a parish, and not simply to their fellow seminarians and lay colleagues. It is a clear inconsistency in the application of RS and canon 767 §1 when seminarians are allowed to preach but laity are not.

Second, there are many lay ministers who hold a Master of Divinity or another degree, which makes them just as capable at delivering a homily as a priest or deacon. The M.Div. is no longer the exclusive purview of the clergy. Many M.Div. programs, including our own here at Saint John’s, require a class in homiletics for both their lay and ordination-bound candidates. Why should one group or “class” within the Church be allowed to preach and not the other? To me this in no way suggests a blurring of the “line” between the laity and the clergy. Rather, it is a realization that good preachers are not always ordained. Bishop Matano and others respond by “encourag[ing] women and laypeople to preach at prayer groups and other parish functions outside the homily.” In my experience, the opportunities Bishop Matano speaks about simply do not exist.

Lastly, we must take seriously the need for the faithful to hear a variety of voices in the Church. The fullness of the scriptures is lost when only a few people in a parish are allowed to deliver a homily during the 52 Sundays of the liturgical year.

Bishop Matano’s decision to discontinue the practice of lay preaching in Rochester has caused me to think about canon 767 §1, and consider the possibility of officially allowing qualified lay ministers to give “reflections” during Mass.


  1. This is an area where I think that I agree with Bishop Matano, though I have great respect and admiration for Bishop Clarke. There are many lay people who are far more articulate than many clergy, but it is a question of undermining the role of the clergy. Many retired priests are brought in to parishes where a “Parish Life Director” does everything but celebrate Eucharist and are essentially relegated to “saying mass.” Lay ministry is great, but it cannot be at the expense of ordained ministry.

  2. Why focus on preaching during Mass? There are plenty of untapped opportunities for lay people to preach outside of Mass; personally I’d love to see the adoption of Sunday Vespers in parishes, led by lay people with lay preaching.

  3. I can see why the Bishop did this, but I have two concerns.

    First, we know that young Catholic women are disengaging from the Catholic Church, more than in any other Christian denomination in the US. How much will this exacerbate the problem?

    Second, when the Bishop speaks of what “the church” is asking of us, by “church” he seems to mean “the Congregation for Divine Worship.” I wish there were a stronger sense of what Pope Francis says in Evangelii Gaudium, that Sentire cum ecclesia means with the whole church, not just the hierarchy. In this understanding, what “the church” is asking for might look quite different.


  4. This was the diocese of my formative years, when I was in grad school and in my twenties. The notion that Rochester is or was one of the more liberal dioceses in the US brings a smile. I did not find it so.

    Matthew Clark was a middle-of-the-road bishop who listened to lay people. That he has somehow become a paragon of progressive Catholicism is probably a statement about the Congregation of Bishops 1978-2013 more than it is about the state of theology in upstate New York.

    My own experience as a lay preacher and theology student was at Communion Services, where the lay staff did not bother to have a turn. Our pastoral associate was assigned to a Friday service, and she didn’t show. One of my friends from the preaching group and I decided that if anyone was going to preach, we could wait for the First Reading and Psalm before letting “the Spirit decide” which of us was getting up.

    A truly progressive diocese would have had a bit more discernment (real) and organization, though I will say that from the 80’s, the Liturgy of the Hours was widely promoted, at least for diocesan-sponsored prayer at workshops and such.

    Bishop Clark, from his earliest years there, listened to women and respected lay people. His pastoral letter on women in the Church, Fire in the Thornbush, was groundbreaking in many ways. It involved listening sessions and wide consultation before it was published in 1982. Note that date: a year before the USCCB began turning out its peak work on Peace and the Economy.

    When the USCCB began working on its own document, Bishop Clark didn’t just lean on his earlier work. Discussion groups and meetings were convened in the late 80’s. The dialogue was begun anew.

    I am aware that the CDWDS considers an inseparable link between presidency at the Eucharist and preaching the homily. Either the case is weak, or I just haven’t been convinced by the weak arguments in favor of that.

    One might think that seminarians should be discerned in part based on their ability to preach. Or are we just rolling the dice, crossing our ecclesiastical fingers, and hoping for the best?

    Ultimately, a bishop is responsible for preaching in his diocese. And making sure his clergy preach well and with credibility. Seems like a lot to put on one man. Seems like the kind of thing for which one would want broad support. Like the curia would actually have a sense of service to bishops and to the Church, at least its 1978-2013 edition.

    My overall sense: shrug.

  5. I’m happy I’m in a US archdiocese with a long & active ministry of lay preaching. The basic requirements:
    (1) “irregularly scheduled”: e.g. there’s not a pattern.
    (2) related to a particular area where the lay person has a particular area of expertise: finances, ethnic & cultural ministries/foreign languages, children,…and being a woman, being the usual ones.
    (3) it’s framed by a the priest’s homily (with the reflection in the middle).

    And apologies for a vast over-simplification of my observations from around here: I’m struck by how often our more tenured priests and deacons are more open to the Holy Spirit has to say through others. The more recently ordained to be more certain of what the Holy Spirit is saying through themselves. Which person out there, who has heard a lot of homilies, isn’t blown away by a new preacher, opening up for us a portion of Sacred Scripture in a way we had never heard before?

    I suspect people will find creative ways around Matano’s decree in Rochester, just as they have everywhere else.

  6. While I understand the reasoning behind canon 767 §1, perhaps it is time to revisit whether the prohibition against lay preaching should stand today.


    It would help the discussion, or at least me, if you could expand on:

    1) Your understanding of the reasons for this canon; and
    2) Why you think those reasons no longer hold, or at least should not be determinative.

    Jonathan F. Sullivan and I are having this same discussion over at another place, together with a few others, and this is the point we are stuck on.

    Any light you could shed would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

    1. @Scott Smith – comment #6:

      Scott, sorry for my delay. I have had a busy day catching up on things that I missed while I was away at NPM.

      I think that many people have already answered your question for me. But I will highlight just a few comments which resonate with my own thinking…

      Paul Inwood #11 – the preaching of a priest is “safe”

      Mark Miller #12 – “the relationship of presiding and the Eucharistic Prayer itself with teaching and preaching”

      Dominic McManus #13 – “The homily should ordinarily be given by the priest-celebrant himself, because he is the one who presides over the liturgical assembly.”

      Dominic #14 – “The homiletic revival since the Council has certainly been one of it’s great fruits, but by associating the homily with authoritative persons (bishops, priests, and deacons), as well as authoritative spaces (the ambo and the chair), the homily itself becomes a quasi-magisterial act.”

      I think these reasons are the chief reasons behind the prohibition against lay preaching during Mass. I could be wrong though…

      1. @Nathan Chase – comment #30:


        Thank you very much for your response.

        I can see #12, #13 and #14 as part of the reasoning behind the canon.

        Paul at #11 does not seem a fair assessment, as the rules also frown on non-celebrating bishops, and do not allow lay religious with canonical responsibility (say an abbess), which would be what you might expect if it was a matter of safe hands.

        It if helps anyone, from a conservative perspective, my questions at #6 are the kind of thing which needs to be addressed before we can support these type of changes.

        Someone needs to do the work to show why the Church has these kind of rules from a historical, theological and doctrinal perspective, and perhaps how those reasons were mistaken or no longer apply. We conservatives know things can and must change at times, but a well supported case needs to be made.

        To take an example, I am aware of the reasons why the rules around canonical form of marriages came to be, and how those reasons no longer apply in the world as it now is. Therefore I am comfortable with those rules changing – But I do not have the same comfort with lay preaching at Mass.

  7. I am not sure how I feel about this in the abstract – what theoretically, is best? Why do we insist on priests/deacons? I have assumed that it is because they have training in church doctrine in a way that tends to insure a consistent message, and I can see value in that. Not many of us have M. Div. degrees, and in my corner of the US, the great majority who do are Protestants who would not be proclaiming Catholic Church teaching, except in coincidental cases where we find agreement, so I am not sure it’s really a qualification.

    In the actual world, we have a lot of lame homilies delivered by priests and deacons (actually, in my experience mostly by deacons – maybe they don’t get enough opportunity to develop skills) and good preaching that a congregation hears and understands and accepts internally is better than bad preaching which has none of those characteristics. So, I guess I am not so much in favor of lay preaching for its own sake, but I am definitely in favor of better preaching from wherever it is sourced.

    1. @Charles Day – comment #7:
      Protestants who would not be proclaiming Catholic Church teaching

      Well, can we be sure the Catholics who would preach (lay or ordained) would be proclaiming Catholic Church teaching? 😉

  8. Well it would be nice that, if the bishops are going to keep preaching to the ordained only, they send the ordained off to learn how to preach. Rare is the priest who preaches well.

  9. As a lay Catholic woman from the Diocese of Rochester, I find it disheartening that Bishop Matano has decided to cease lay reflections of the Gospel readings at the time reserved for the homily.

    I can think of several scripture readings such as the visit of Mary to Elizabeth and the appearance and commission given to Mary Magdalene on the day of Jesus Resurrection that cry out for a “reflection” by a lay woman during the Liturgy of the Word. I agree with Nathan that the fullness of these scripture readings are lost when they are always told from a male perspective.

    If Pope Francis wants the Church to “create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church,” then he needs to start with the Liturgy – not the Roman Curia. So much God-given talent is being wasted in the Church because of fear.

  10. Unfortunately, this is only one of many attempts to reverse the legacy of his predecessor. He was sent here as the last of the Burke appointments to bring Rochester back into line with curial and canonical prescriptions — after his rumored accession to St. Louis or Hartford failed. In the process, he has shown himself to be contemptuous of the clergy, including endless letters sent out to order them to comply with various canons — letters with which he has been bombarded from day one by angry conservatives who despised Matthew Clark. He spends a good part of his day responding personally to every letter he receives. His view of the laity bespeaks a woefully inadequate ecclesiology as evidenced in one of his early “pastoral” letters. Many of the staff at the chancery have quit or retired and have been subject to frequent temper tantrums and other abusive behaviors that are reserved for subordinates while he puts on a charm offensive in public venues. There is massive disaffection among the priests and lay ecclesial ministers with the exception of the newly-ordained Tridentine types. He regularly berates priests who are discovered not to be wearing his version of clerical attire and has pronounced his dislike for priests taking a day off. The preaching issue has awakened some of the laity to what is going on — but I doubt there will be a rebellion from the pews. I also doubt there will be much blowback from the priests as occurred recently in Venice FL whose bishop sounds pretty much like a carbon copy of Matano. Fortunately, we will have to endure this bureaucratic pharisaism for only eight more years. By then the preaching issue will probably be moot as there will few clergy left to preach and even fewer laity left to listen. And all this from a bishop who is constantly begging people who have gone away to “come home” because “we miss you.” Right.

  11. Canon 767 §1 seems to be founded on the notion that priests are “safe” and can therefore be allowed to preach without risk. Redemptionis Sacramentum and the latest incarnation of GIRM seem intent on putting the priest back on a pedestal.

    One wonders whether the Bishop’s next step might be to emphasize GIRM 66, which seems to indicate that even deacons should not preach too often:

    The Homily should ordinarily be given by the Priest Celebrant himself or be entrusted by him to a concelebrating Priest, or from time to time and, if appropriate, to the Deacon, but never to a lay person.

  12. I think the issue should be framed in terms of the importance of the presider-Celebrant being the normal preacher, as opposed to another priest or minister. This is good liturgical practice, emphasizing the relationship of presiding and the Eucharistic Prayer itself with teaching and preaching.

    Still, the rules see exceptions. Once the Episcopal Church said the priest should preach but that, “from time to time Christian men (sic) may give talks ‘during the sermon time.’ ”

    This was changed to “godly persons,” and now is customarily ignored.

  13. This is a genuinely complicated issue. I think we’d all be better off recognizing that upfront so that’s what I’m doing–acknowledging that the issue of lay preaching is complex and that people of good will and theological proficiency can come down on different sides on this. I don’t know anything at all about Bishop Clark, but it seems to me that Nathan’s original post had to do with the issue at play and not the particular situation. If I’m mistaken on that point then I apologize.

    I’m a Dominican–a member of the Order of Preachers–and we are taught from our earliest days that a genuine tension exists in our vocation. First, that all members of the Order: priest-friars, cooperator brothers, cloistered nuns, active sisters, and lay associates are all really, truly, and actually members of the Order, and are therefore preachers. At the same time we are reminded regularly that when St. Dominic first approached the Holy Father about founding the Order the pope famously replied, “Why would I want to found an order of bishops?” From ancient times preaching as associated with office belongs most properly to the bishop, both as a guarantee of orthodoxy, but also in view of his office. When we Dominicans (or anyone else, for that matter) exercise the office of preaching, then, we are participating in and assisting with the bishop’s own munus of preaching. Of course, we’re only able to do this in view of our baptism; and so the tension remains.

    For my money, and I’m surprised no one else has pointed this out thus far, the canonical prohibition on lay preaching has more to do with the character of the liturgy itself. The homily should ordinarily be given by the priest-celebrant himself, because he is the one who presides over the liturgical assembly. Deacons, then, and even priest-concelebrants, or worse, pop-up priests preaching seven Masses that weekend, are in a certainly sense “extraordinary ministers” of the homily.

  14. So could a priest “entrust” the delivery of the homily to a layperson as well as to another priest or deacon? Sure, and it has happened, but it muddles ecclesiological relations. Now ecclesiology is, historically, somewhat muddy, so some might propose to do this for precisely that reason. But I’m not so sure. The homiletic revival since the Council has certainly been one of it’s great fruits, but by associating the homily with authoritative persons (bishops, priests, and deacons), as well as authoritative spaces (the ambo and the chair), the homily itself becomes a quasi-magisterial act. For this reason, if for no other, I would argue that the prohibition makes sense. Of course there are smarter laypeople than priests or deacons, and of course many of them are better public speakers, but they haven’t been invested with the same kind of authority that the ordained have. Now you might argue that the current pool of potential candidates for ordination is too limited, and that might be a very fair conversation, but it’s a different conversation. Then the question is no longer, “Why can’t lay people preach?” but rather, “Why can’t fill-in-the-blank be ordained?” That’s why I don’t really think the argument in favor of lay preaching in order to stem the tide of fleeing females really flies. If they’re going to leave because women can’t be ordained then they’re not going to stay because the pastoral associate occasionally gets to give a reflection at Mass.

    For my money the real danger here is too easily conflating “preaching” with “Homiletics”. Homiletics is a genre, a specific type of preaching, but it is not the only type and perhaps not even the most important. I have too often seen a desire to preach at Mass overwhelm one’s overall vocation to preach, and subsequently neglect other opportunities for preaching or try to impose a kind of homiletic method on a retreat talk, an RCIA session, or even a catechism lesson for children. Which is why one preaching course, for the laity or the ordained,…

    1. @Dominic McManus, OP – comment #14:
      Okay, that’s the tradition. But is it optimal practice? Does it underscore an old and tired model of professionalism: the priest does all the stuff, the choir sings all the music, the people pay up? Is preaching an aspect of the liturgy that, say in our day and age, is important enough to entrust only to people (who may not be clergy) who are trained to do it effectively?

      I actually think your observation about conflation is spot on. And not only for the venues of “talking,” but also involving non-preachers in the work of research, topic choice, preparation, and evaluation: a good “progressive” approach to preaching that perhaps Bishop Clark didn’t emphasize and isn’t even in Bishop Matano’s ballpark.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #16:

        I see what you’re saying. I guess what I’m arguing for, or at least wondering about, is whether or not this really is about “professionalism”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a preaching teacher so I do think good preparation is important, but I’m not clear that, say, Patristic preaching was done by the bishop because he was the best preacher. It seems to me that what’s going on here is a number of ecclesiologies are bumping up against each other in the context of the liturgy and that necessarily is creating tension and conflict. I guess where my hesitancy or reticence is coming is from an imprecise evaluation of the preaching in question. I mean, the claim seems to me to be, “We have had lay preachers in Diocese X. They were effective preachers. Therefore they should be permitted.” But what metric is being used to determine their effectiveness? I’m not saying that they aren’t effective, but I’m wondering what makes it so. Is it the “Lay-ness” of the preacher in question or just their abilities as a preacher? If so, then does it make more sense to simply advocate for their ordination? Obviously I understand that’s a non-starter for some people, but I’m just trying to get my arms around the situation. Thoughts?

      2. @Dominic McManus, OP – comment #18:
        Determining effectiveness … that should be part of what the bishops proposed in 1981 in Fulfilled in Your Hearing, then pastors largely ignored. I would say parishioners have the best bead on effective and fruitful preaching.

        Sure, some law-apologists might say, “People are only looking for what makes them feel good.” The irony is that traditionalism itself may be the most indulgent feel-good vector in the Church today.

        I think if bishops and pastors listened more to insightful lay people in the pews, they would get a pretty clear sense of their effectiveness, or lack thereof. And if we’re not interested in finding out what people think of Catholic preaching, then we’re not really attributing much value to the homily at all, are we?

        Let me ask the Dominican: does your order have an evaluation tool for preaching?

        And for the record, my claim would be: This is a significant change, Bishop Matano. But I’m more interested in fruitful and effective preaching. Will this policy make preaching better? And if not, what are your plans to address the more pressing need, namely better Catholic preaching at Mass?

        My sense of this is that maybe the lay preachers get a B-minus for relying too much on old-way/different-people, and the bishop a D-minus for a lack of imagination.

        And lastly, the legislation isn’t as clear cut as one might think. What we are dealing with is a selective interpretation of canons 766-767.

  15. Our beloved former bishop, who was never mistaken for a hard core conservative, used to say “The Church is like your mother; even when you don’t agree with her, she is STILL your mother!”

    The issue here isn’t about who the Church is; rather, the issue is that competent authority in the Church has legislated, and this legislation must be obeyed.

    In the secular world, people say “If you don’t like the law, write your congressman.” Well, if you don’t like this law, write to your local curial representative! Engage your bishop, and anyone else who might have influence with those who have the authority to make the laws.

    But don’t complain about this bishop insisting upon obedience to the law, which is all that he is doing.

    His decision is correct because it is the Church’s decision.

  16. Of course, obedience above all else. But to whom? Certainly not to an abstract code of law through which hierarchs seek to regulate the lives of clergy and laity alike. As the CCL states clearly, “All law is for the good of souls.” Those who have the gift of preaching should preach in accordance with the teaching of Paul. Yes, the one who presides at the sacrifice ought to be the one who can preach, but if he lacks the gift he should appoint someone who has it to break open the word. Have we not long emerged from the time in which we described the Mass with terms like validity and liceity. We surely no longer think that as long as the priest prays the black and does the red that God is praised.

  17. The Diocese of Gaylord had a ban on deacon preaching for a while, which seems to have been lifted.

  18. What fascinates me about this situation is that if a bishop had instructed a parish in his diocese to erect a free standing altar and to cease using the old high altar, to cease giving communion kneeling at an altar rail, to move a tabernacle that is judged to overshadow the altar then all sorts of documents would be cited as authoritative. In this case, appeal to such documents is easily dismissed. Why is that?

  19. Brian Culley : Sounds like lay preaching DID attain the force of custom in Rochester.

    I wouldn’t necessarily say so. Of the 20 or so parishes where I have attended mass in the DOR, I have never seen anyone except a Priest, Deacon, or visiting priest/ deacon (on missionary Sunday) give the homily. It is my understanding that preaching on the part of the laity is somewhat common on the East Side of the city itself in particular. However, even working in the church I am always surprised when I hear someone mention that a parishioner, Pastoral associate, or nun gave the homily. I would say that the majority of parishes in the DOR do not have this happening.

    1. @Elizabeth Pike – comment #26:

      Elizabeth, when I was a member of The Roman Catholic Community of the 19th Ward, a cluster of three Catholic parishes located in the southwest side of Rochester, we had female and male lay preachers at least once or twice a month. I am now a parishioner of St. Joseph’s Church in Penfield (east side of Rochester). St. Joe’s lay female Pastoral Associate, use to provide a “reflection” of the Gospel readings at the time reserved for the homily until Bishop Matano’s directive. I miss hearing her. I really enjoyed her preaching.

  20. @Todd Flowerday (#21): And lastly, the legislation isn’t as clear cut as one might think.


    For the benefit of all, the relevant sections of the CIC, emphasis added:

    766. Lay persons can be permitted to preach in a church or oratory, if necessity requires it in certain circumstances or it seems advantageous in particular cases, according to the prescripts of the conference of bishops and without prejudice to can. 767, §1.

    767 §1. Among the forms of preaching, the homily, which is part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or deacon, is preeminent; in the homily the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian life are to be explained from the sacred text during the course of the liturgical year.

    And the USCCB complementary norms, which came into effect Jan 15, 2002:

    In providing for preaching by the lay faithful the diocesan bishop may never dispense from the norm which reserves the homily to the sacred ministers (c. 767, §1; cfr. Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law, 26 May 1987, in AAS 79 [1987], 1249). Preaching by the lay faithful may not take place within the Celebration of the Eucharist at the moment reserved for the homily.

    All this seems pretty clear cut to me. Of course, one can argue about whether or not the legislation is right, but I really don’t think one attempt to muddy the water by declaring the legislation to be “not… clear cut”.

  21. I think Todd’s suggested refocus is helpful.

    FWIW, I find the attempt to treat the ultimate canon as some kind of universal solvent of annoying legislation ultimately unpersuasive. That same thinking can rationalize a truckload (and then some) of crap progressives would be deeply alarmed by, to say the least.

    Also, the making of a licit liturgical custom takes more than the mere elapsing of a few decades. There are additional technical niceties, and IIRC one of them is that the practice can’t have been expressly reprobated by a legislator with jurisdiction, and unfortunately that is the case with lay preaching of the homily at Mass.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #32:

      Well yes, anyone can preach the gospel, and always have been able.

      The question is can they preach at Mass, on which point the current rules at least are very clear.

      1. @Scott Smith – comment #33:
        I think there’s more to preaching than Mass, and more to the kerygmatic ministry than liturgy. How will this be interpreted? How will the tone of this policy bring either better preaching or a more focused and “proper” lay involvement?

        Doing things is one thing, so to speak. Discerning a wider picture, a deeper and broader ministry is another. Lay preaching may–possibly–be a lazy approach: let’s throw lay people at the problem and see what happens. Bishop Matano may–possibly–be equally lazy: let’s use clergy as our kerygmatic shock troops in the proclamation of the Gospel and see what happens. (Or he might be afraid his cred with the curia will disappear if he doesn’t carry out his marching orders.)

        Here’s a question: is he a bishop or a middle manager? I see a preaching conference was held in Rochester on May 22nd. One day. Not bad. But will it be enough?

      2. @Todd Flowerday – comment #37:

        I think there’s more to preaching than Mass, and more to the kerygmatic ministry than liturgy.

        100% agree. So lets focus on that opportunity, rather than having a go at a bishop for following Church law.

        I think it would be much more interesting and rewarding.

  22. And that phrasing is such that lay people need permission to do it in a church or oratory. And legislators can condition or qualify that permission. As indeed even the next canon does.

  23. Turning to the now 35 year old recommendations in Fulfilled in Your Hearing, is anyone aware if are there any parishes (I am excluding oratories, as intentional communities are their own thing) where homily preparation groups are still used?

  24. The “Directory for Masses with Children” (1973) states at no. 24:

    “With the consent of the pastor or rector of the church, one of the adults may speak to the children after the gospel, especially if the priest finds it difficult to adapt himself to the mentality of children. In this matter the norms soon to be issued by the Congregation for the Clergy should be observed.”

    A few questions:
    1. Is the “Directory for Masses with Children” (1973) still in effect?
    2. Is the permission mentioned above from no. 24 still allowed?
    3. What are the referenced “norms soon to be issued by the Congregation for the Clergy”?

    Of course, the above quote is part of Chapter III: “Masses With Children in Which Only a Few Adults Participate,” and seems to refer to specific limited weekday celebrations (e.g. Catholic school class masses etc.) rather than the Sunday Mass.

  25. Personally, I’d be fine with reducing the homily to a lecture by various outside speakers, as long as the congregation were free to ask questions.

    I wonder, though, who would choose the speakers?

    I hope it would be open to majority vote by the congregation, especially if the expenditure of any parish funds were involved.

  26. I would be curious as to the theological and scriptural reasons behind the canonical ban on lay preaching. Is the gift of preaching only in the purview of the clergy by virtue of their ordination and the laying on of hands? On the other hand, do we not all participate in Christ’s threefold office of Priest, Prophet, and King by virtue of our baptism? I think the argument could be made that a lay person is exercising their baptismal call as priest and prophet through the gift of preaching or, at the very least, through offering a reflection or testimony to the assembled congregation.

    1. @Kevin Ryan – comment #43:

      As far as I can tell, ignoring for the moment any pre-VII Tradition and focusing on ideas which are consistent with the modern liturgical renewal, the main principle which seems to underlay the current rules as outlined in say the GIRM and RS is that the homily is closely linked to the liturgy of the Eucharist, and thus a homily at Mass is restricted to the same people as for the liturgy of the Eucharist.

      For the same reason, the rules also limit the ability of non-celebrating bishops / priests / deacons from giving the homily at Mass, though the fact of their ordination and the link that provides means that restriction is less strict.

      So the logic goes:

      1) The Eucharist needs the ordained.
      2) The Homily at Mass is inextricably linked to the Eucharist.
      3) The Homily at Mass needs the ordained.

      The same logic does not apply outside Mass, so neither does the restriction.

      I doubt the above is all of the reasons, as for example how universal the restriction was in the tradition is unclear to me*, but it is the best I have been able to find.

      * I.e. I think preaching at Mass was restricted to priests etc, but no such restriction universally applied to other types of public preaching, but I have not been able to confirm this.

      1. @Scott Smith – comment #44:

        I wrote Bishop Matano in April after he silenced one of our lay preachers. The Bishop was kind enough to respond to me. He told me the same thing, that preaching during the Liturgy of the Word is rooted in ordination. If that is the case, then why did the Swiss Bishops receive approval from the Holy See in 2005 to allow lay homilies in their respective dioceses?

      2. @Theresa Maccarone – comment #45:


        That link does not make much sense to me. How could lay preachers at Mass be a concession to a lack of priests – A priest has to be there already for Mass.

        Maybe this is related to Word & Communion Services? I don’t know any German, so I can not check.

      3. @Scott Smith – comment #44:

        Thank you for your response, Scott. I suppose it might be beneficial to all of us if this inherent connection between the Eucharist and the homily were expounded on in the future. While I understand and appreciate the logic behind this connection, I’d like to see a substantial argument developed based on contemporary liturgical theology and/or the historicity (or anti-historicity?) of lay preaching.

      4. @Kevin Ryan – comment #46:

        Yes, I think more work needs to be done, ideally by those wanting change. We could then assess the idea with all the needed information.

  27. Rob Klant : Personally, I’d be fine with reducing the homily to a lecture by various outside speakers, as long as the congregation were free to ask questions. I wonder, though, who would choose the speakers? I hope it would be open to majority vote by the congregation, especially if the expenditure of any parish funds were involved.

    We already have too many homilies that are lectures, and homilists who are lecturers.

    1. @Lee Bacchi – comment #47:

      Good point, and I’m wondering now if it’s the main reason for reserving homilies to the ordained: that they are not simply lectures but acts of some sacramental nature (if only by virtue of being integrated to Mass).

  28. Ok, finally found something with more information.

    In the book Lay Preaching: State of the Question by Patricia A. Parachini, there is some coverage of lay preaching at Mass. It seems the reason against are as I outlined above, and it has support from the 4th Lateran Council and Trent (and potentially VII by inferrence).

    This book also outlines some of the reasons advanced for repealing the restriction in the last few decades, which can be located in Google Book’s preview function if anyone is interested.

    This document, at, also gives some of the history (including that laymen, such as Origen pre-ordination, were not allowed to preach at Mass in the period of the early Fathers).

  29. Scott Smith : @Theresa Maccarone – comment #45: Theresa, That link does not make much sense to me. How could lay preachers at Mass be a concession to a lack of priests – A priest has to be there already for Mass.

    Unfortunately, being present does not guarantee that an ordained person can preach successfully. Last week a perfectly pleasant visiting priest from overseas presided at a Sunday Mass in my son’s parish. I checked afterwards, and, because of his poor timing and articulation, none of us were able to tell what he had said, apart from a few isolated words. This is not exceptional – I was completely unable to interpret Pope Benedict’s talk at Hyde Park in 2010, although other speakers were able to be clear on the same sound system. Would our church leaders rather retain control than let the gospel be preached by those who do it best?

    1. @Cathy Wattebot – comment #52:

      None of us were able to tell what he had said, apart from a few isolated words

      How about the rest of the Mass? Could you understand the prayers he said etc? Because, as far as I understand the Church’s current teaching, the homily at Mass is really of a kind with these.

      And if a priest can’t do any of these successfully, serious remedial training would seem to be required.

      Would our church leaders rather retain control than let the gospel be preached by those who do it best?

      We could do without the cheap shots. The Church is more than happy for others to preach. If it were a matter of control, the restriction would be broader than just preaching at Mass.

      1. @Scott Smih – comment #53:
        The rest of the Mass: although in an odd kind of dialect since 2011, the prayers are either exactly the same each week (so known by rote) or follow predictable tracks which make them fairly intelligible. The gospel we tend to know pretty well too. The sermon is quite individual.

        Who is allowed to preach: it sounds as if there are some regional differences with you. I only once in my life heard a woman preach in an RC church – in Germany, an excellent sermon which I still remember, and to be honest I’m pretty sure the PP didn’t have permission but was prepared to take the risk.

        I don’t call any of this situation cheap, but an extravagant waste of the talents God gives.

      2. @Cathy Wattebot – comment #54:

        If people have gifts to share, lets share them. The Church does not prevent lay people preaching, including in a Church. It only prevents them from doing so at Mass.

        Therefore if talents are being wasted, it is not because of this rule. It is because of our own lack of creativity and initiative.

        So suggest a Sunday Vespers with lay preachers. Go out into the world and preach even – To the margins the Pope has called us to. It is not the Church and its Bishops which is stopping these things from happening.

      3. @Scott Smih – comment #53:
        The evidence is all too clear that many prelates are into control-retention these days. Redemptionis Sacramentum is example par excellence of that. There’s hardly a stitch of joy in the whole document. Perhaps bishops can observe the good grace exhibited by lay people who withdraw from preaching. And listen more carefully when other lay people suggest it’s time to improve the homilies.

      4. @Todd Flowerday – comment #56:

        Hardly a stitch of joy here either.

        Perhaps if no one had taken it upon themselves to implement the practices noted in RS on their own authority, and instead sought to include the whole Church in their discernment, there would be some more joy to spread around!

      5. @Scott Smih – comment #59:
        The difference being that we’re having a conversation about a pastoral and theological issue. My task here isn’t to spread joy to those who disagree with me. I was responding to Bill, who was asking about the background of lay preaching. The joy I save for the people who really need it: those who come to Mass, and those who approach my parish for the sacraments.

        Meanwhile, was JP2 right, or wasn’t he? Bishop Matano and RS would seem to say not.

      6. @Todd Flowerday – comment #60:

        The difference being that we’re having a conversation about a pastoral and theological issue.

        RS was not in relation to pastoral and theological issues? And why no joy for us here?

        I personally get lots of enjoyment from these discussions with you – They can be very interesting. I would not be involved in them otherwise. 🙂

        I was responding to Bill, who was asking about the background of lay preaching.

        Well no. Your comment #56, to which I was responding at #59, was itself a response to me at #53. I find Bill’s comments generally unreadable, so I stay out of discussions people are having with him.

        Meanwhile, was JP2 right, or wasn’t he? Bishop Matano and RS would seem to say not.

        Well, yes, St John Paul II was right, when he taught women have a special contribution/genius.

        But Bishop Matano and RS do not contradict this teaching. For example, I as a lay man can not preach at Mass, but that does not the mean the Church does not value whatever my contributions might be. Why would it?

  30. Some thoughts:
    This post’s topic follows some other earlier posts – a bishop decides to enforce a *canon* or *directive* based upon his literal or fundamental interpretation. (e.g. earlier, we had Paprocki’s tabernacle spectacle based upon his reading of one Benedict papal letter of more than 90+ paragraphs and he took half of one paragraph and decided to pronounce a new diocesan regulation. His interpretation ignored the core of what Benedict wrote and meant – but episcopal ideology trumps pastoral good sense.)

    These local episcopal policies play out the age old tension between a centralized/uniform institution and a communal/collegial understanding that unity can include diversity.

    First, as Fr. Ruff stated above, can agree that the literal, black and white take on this liturgical directive is basically correct.
    Second, but it takes the directive (canon) out of context; skips over many other church documents; and narrows the local bishop’s role down to enforcement of literal interpretations of centralize, institutional rules.
    Third, the actual specific canon/directive does allow for *extraordinary* circumstances in which there can be lay preaching (some commenters seem to skip over this or minimize it)
    Fourth, no one has drilled down or investigated why Bishop Clark made the decision he did on lay preaching; what has been the success of that decision, etc. (thus, we are having a discussion in a vacuum or, in some cases, and echo chamber)
    Five, Vatican II laid down principles both liturgical and in the canons (less successfully) about local bishop’s responsibilities to read the pastoral situations, enculturate; address and listen to the signs of the time; and follow VII’s reformed theology that began with baptism and the rights of all catholics (ordination is not first or foremost; and priestly role is seen more as a sub-set in terms of specific ministries for the community);
    Six, many PTB posts have surfaced an alarming but typical pattern in which a new pastor or bishop immediately overturns…

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #57:
      Regarding your number four, lay preaching extends back to his predecessor, Joseph Hogan. I remember many seminarian homilies going back to about 1972-ish, when the diocese sent its priest-trainees to parishes to serve. Mine was one of them.

      When I was in college (1976-80) the lay co-chaplain at the Newman center preached every other weekend, and I think the practice went back a good way into the 70’s.

      When Bishop Clark was gathering feedback for his pastoral letter on women in 1982, and later when more feedback was solicited for the ill-fated USCCB pastoral on women, a good amount of input centered on the role of women in the Church. Do they have a distinctive contribution? A particular genius? How to handle the ordination issue?

      St John Paul argued for special contribution/genius, but I suspect Rochester hardliners were alarmed at the extent Bishops Hogan and Clark took this. Was JP2 right or not? Or was it just a bone to throw at 55% of the faithful? Key question: does a theologically-educated woman’s viewpoint help the Sunday liturgy? Or is the clerical echo chamber enough?

      I’d like to think many of us have indeed drilled deeply into this. A lot of the necessary questions are avoided–no fault of ours. These conversations are impossible in most dioceses. (Note our friend Ben Yanke’s ordinary putting the hammer down on sacramental generosity.) There is a magic cookbook approach to liturgy and ministry in operation these days. Follow the rules, and everything will be coming up roses–1950’s style.

      And regarding number six, am I the only one growing weary of these stories? Where the heck are the Benedict men who are really accomplishing something joyful? And I mean more than a few new dour faces to add to their presbyterates.

  31. Two things …

    I see RS as a political document, not a theological one.

    And if women have a particular genius, how does that genius contribute to the kerygmatic ministry of the Church? If not from the front line of the pulpit, then what about the planning and preparation of the message?

    My problem with the whole affair is that lay preaching and no lay preaching may well be lazy, milquetoast extremes that avoid the real issue. And if men were really all-fired effective as preachers, maybe women wouldn’t be hearing the call to speak up.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #62:

      I thought we already agreed up at #38 that preaching at Mass is not the sum total of the kerygmatic ministry of the Church?

      Also, I don’t think you really believe the pulpit the front line for these purposes. It is really a pretty safe place up the back if you ask me.

  32. Todd – whether it is RS, Matano, Olmsted, Morlino, Paprocki, etc.; what we continue to see is an on-going struggle that has happened for hundreds of years:
    – those that hold to an ecclesiology of a highly centralized, uniform institution vs.
    – those that see the local bishop and church with its Eucharistic communities as the core of the church and its priority.
    Thus, some will see the historical decision of Bishop Clarke as completely devoid of any positive merit…..others will see that his decision was both pastoral and liturgical.

    In terms of RS, etc., was taught that canon law, papal letters (before Benedict’s belief and pronouncement that they are all *definitive* – questionable at best), liturgical directives are at their core pastoral tools (not penal codes or sledgehammers). Folks such as Mantano, Olmsted, Morlino exhibit what my professors used to call – *legal positivism* defined as an abuse of the purpose of canon law or its directives because it views law as literal, black and white, uniform. (BTW – Benedict’s SP suffered from legal positivism – unilateral, institutional directive that masqueraded as definitive and merciful).

    Allow me to mention three areas that support Clarke’s historical decision:
    – circuit riders
    – parish administrators (priestless parishes)
    – foreign priests

    1/3rd of all US parishes or more are now in the above situations (and it will only increase). By stressing ordination and clericalism over the core beliefs in church as sacrament; communal eucharist as the primary sacrament of the church, and the need for local faith leaders, this approach impacts preaching, sacraments. Example – parish leaders prepare folks, they know the parish people, they interact and share faith with the local Eucharistic community. If you approach this with ordination as the key sacrament, you are left with communities that get circuit riders, parish administrators who are responsible and accountable for the life of the parish (except can’t preach); and you have temporary, part time clerics who stop by or foreign priests who can not be understood (yes, there are exceptions). This significantly limits and narrows the vitality of the eucharist and the parish. It turns the pastoral situation upside down – it makes ordination or disciplinary codes more important than the life of the church, parish, or eucharist which is nourished by preaching that can be understood; that comes out of the local community; that reflects the faith of the local community.

    (glad that Mr. Smith can’t understand my comments – which says a lot)

    Some very simple questions to folks such as Matano:
    – if clerical preaching is so important, how many priests in Rochester have ever seen and listened to a video of themselves preaching?
    – if they have, how recent was this experience?
    – how many clerical preachers ask for feedback from the local parish folks?
    – how many clerical preachers have attended an on-going educational class on homiletics in the past ten years?
    – has the diocese required any on-going education on homiletics?
    – do the clerical preachers use any small groups or other local collegaues to prepare homilies?

    Even the ordination liturgy talks about the priest coming out of the local community and being approved by the local community – how often does this *ideal* ever really happen?

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #63:

      glad that Mr. Smith can’t understand my comments – which says a lot

      I am glad you are glad! 🙂

      The irony of it being our priests / bishops fault their preaching can not be understood, but my fault your comments are unreadable, is also amusing me. 😉

  33. “Some very simple questions . . . :
    – if clerical preaching is so important, how many priests in Rochester have ever seen and listened to a video of themselves preaching?
    – if they have, how recent was this experience?
    – how many clerical preachers ask for feedback from the local parish folks?
    – how many clerical preachers have attended an on-going educational class on homiletics in the past ten years?
    – has the diocese required any on-going education on homiletics?
    – do the clerical preachers use any small groups or other local colleagues to prepare homilies? ”

    All excellent questions.

  34. Isn’t this a little ridiculous at this time when we are closing churches because there are not enough priests? In my diocese our priest came out of retirement and can’t even stand long enough to give a homily so our Deacon will provide for this. I hope people will speak up for the good of the church and not a man made law which also has exceptions!

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