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Eucharistic Ministers

The Vatican has just released a document called An Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of the Priest co-authored by the Congregation for the Clergy, the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for Bishops, Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Congregation for Institutes of Religious Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts and ordered to be promulgated by His Holiness Pope John Paul II.

The document is a response to perceived anomolies, primarily in the Western World, where Lay pastoral activity has had serious deleterious effect on the understanding of the priesthood and the priestly ministry.

It sets out in some detail what a lay person or non-ordained religious (a Brother or a Nun) can and cannot do instead of a priest in a Parish or a Diocese.

In particular, the document devotes particular attention to the roles the Lay faithful may assume at Mass. To the casual observer, it might seem that the Church requires the Lay faithful to distribute communion, give homilies and the like. You don't have to travel too far these days to find a parish that regularly invites lay people to give "homilies", has at least 4 or 5 lay people distributing Holy Communion (even with the priest not distributing at all) and, in some parishes, invites lay people to read the priest's parts of the Mass, all except the words of consecration themselves. The document seeks to remind Bishops, priests and the faithful of existing canon law on these issues and to guideline new specific guidelines to curb the growth of these anomolies.

Canon 900§1 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law provides:

The only minister who, in the person of Christ, can bring into being the sacrament of the Eucharist, is a validly ordained priest.

Canon 907 provides:

In the celebration of the Eucharist, deacons and lay persons are not permitted to say the prayers, especially the eucharistic prayer, nor to perform the actions which are proper to the celebrating priest.

Canon 910 provides:

§1. The ordinary minister of holy communion is a Bishop, a priest or a deacon.
§2. The extraordinary minister of holy communion is an acolyte, or another of Christ's faithful deputed in accordance with canon 230§3.

Canon 230 provides:

§1. Lay men whose age and talents meet the requirements presribed by decree of the Episcopal Conference, can be given the stable ministry of lector and of acolyte, through the prescribed liturgical rite. This conferral of ministry does not, however, give them a right to sustenance or remuneration from the Church.
§2. Lay people can receive a temporary assignment to the role of lector in liturgical actions. Likewise, all lay people can exercise the roles of commentator, cantor or other such, in accordance with the law.
§3. Where the needs of the Church require and ministers are not available, lay people, even though they are not lectors or acolytes, can supply certain of their functions, that is, exercise the ministry of the word, preside over liturgical prayers, confer baptism and distribute Holy Communion, in accordance with the provisions of the law.

Canon 766 provides:

The laity may be allowed to preach in a church or oratory if in certain circumstances it is necessary, or in particular cases it would be advantageous, according to the provisions of the Episcopal Conference....

The new Instruction makes the following points:

The full text of the document can be read and downloaded at CIN, EWTN or the Vatican Web Site.

The document also has some interesting things to say about the powers of Parish Pastoral Councils.

Pray that our Bishops and priests listen to what is being said and implement it!

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