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.