Prepared by Valerie Lubitz
In an unprecedented move, eight Departments of the Holy See issued a joint instruction entitled Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding The Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests. This text has been approved the Holy Father in forma specifica, which means it has the same binding force as the Code of Canon Law.
The document provides a clear, authoritative response to the many pressing requests from bishops, priests and the laity seeking clarification about new forms of "pastoral activities" of the non-ordained on both parochial and diocesan levels.
The instruction begins by pointing out the functional differences between the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood. Among other things, it points out that when there is confusion between the two, a reduction of vocation to the Ministerial Priesthood may occur. The ordained priesthood, however, is absolutely irreplaceable.
Where abusive practices have become wide-spread, the document continues, it is absolutely necessary for those who exercise authority to intervene responsibly.
The Instruction provides a number of practical provisions.
Article 1 addresses the need for appropriate terminology in particular the term "ministry" has been wrongly applied to include lay assistance to the Church's ordained ministers.
Articles 2 and 3 discuss the ministry of the Word and the homily. The liturgical homily, the Instruction states, should hold pride of place. The homily must be reserved to a priest or deacon. The non-ordained faithful are excluded from this task even when they have responsibilities as "pastoral assistants." This exclusion is not based on competent preaching ability, but on reservation of that function to those who have received the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Article 4 talks about the parish priest and the parish and stresses that the bishop is to ensure that every parish is under pastoral care of a priest.
Article 5 regards the structure of laity and ordained collaboration in the particular church asserts that pastoral and finance councils are merely consultative and must always be presided over by the parish priest.
Article 6 concerns Liturgical celebrations. In Eucharistic celebrations, deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers, especially the Eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology - or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest. In the same way, sacred vestments are to be worn only by priests and deacons.
Article 7 deals with the contingency of Sunday Celebrations in the absence of a priest. Eucharistic services do not substitute for the sacrifice of the Mass on Sunday or holy days. In cases where distance or physical conditions are not an obstacle, every effort should be made to encourage and assist the faithful to fulfill this precept.
Article 8 is about the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Such liturgical service is a response to the objective needs of the faithful, especially those of the sick, and to those liturgical assemblies in which there are particularly large numbers of the faithful who wish to receive Holy Communion. This function is supplemental and extraordinary and must be exercised in accordance with the norm of law, and not merely to provide the laity with "honors".
Article 9, on the apostolate to the sick, states that as Eucharistic ministers are not priests, in no instance may the non-ordained perform anointings either with the oil of the sick or any other oil.
Articles 10, 11, and 12 concern lay assistance at marriages, baptisms, and funerals. These articles clarify when the bishop may concede these delegations. The instruction also points out that whenever there is lay collaboration, there must be adherence to the prescribed liturgical norms.
Article 13 on the necessary selection and adequate formation of lay assistants to ordained clergy points out that, any time it becomes necessary for the non-ordained faithful to collaborate with the priest, the competent authority is bound to select lay faithful of sound doctrine and exemplary moral life. They are to be trained in places other than seminaries which are reserved for those preparing for priesthood.
May the Holy Spirit give all of us the grace to see this document as His personal gift to us at this momentous time in history, and assist our bishops and their pastors in implementing its Instructions.