Letter to Pope Francis Urging Lay Preaching

Catholic faithful of the dioceses of Rochester, New York, have posted an open letter to Pope Francis on their website, “God’s Word, Many Voices,” urging the pontiff to expand lay preaching. The letter advocates for well informed and inspired lay preaching at Mass, which the authors believe can be encouraged in a manner consistent with canon law. You may click here to read the letter and add your signature, and you may read the letter in full below:

November 28, 2016

His Holiness, Pope Francis
Apostolic Palace
00120 Vatican City

Your Holiness:

We, the undersigned, understand and believe that you have the authority to offer your interpretations of the 1983 Code of Canon Law to the universal Church.  Specifically, we are requesting that you urge the bishops to take a pastoral and expansive view on lay preaching during the Eucharist.

We make this request for the following reasons.

(1) People come to church hungering for a word of inspiration that will get them through the week.

(2) Lay preaching is rooted in Scripture and Tradition.  Jesus, in his encounters with people, often empowered them to proclaim the Good News.  Take the Samaritan Woman at the Well and Mary of Magdala, for example.  Leaders of house churches in the first century, men and women alike, preached the Good News during their Eucharistic gatherings.  Hildegard of Bingen – outstanding twelfth century abbess, poet, prophet, and more – was invited on preaching tours by Rhineland bishops.  The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy found the presence of Christ in the worshiping community, as well as in Scripture, priest, and Eucharist; indeed, “all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations” to which all the baptized “have a right and obligation” (paragraph 14).  Furthermore, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church assures us that “the holy People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office” (paragraph 12).

(3) Preaching is a sacred responsibility, one to which lay people are called and for which they are gifted.  Indeed, lay preaching has mushroomed over the last 40 years, and a number of U.S. dioceses have schools to prepare people for this ministry.

(4) The 1983 Code of Canon Law confirms that “lay people, like all Christ’s faithful, are deputed to the apostolate by baptism and confirmation” so that God’s salvation might be made known (#225.1).  “They can also be called upon to cooperate with Bishops and priests in the exercise of the ministry of the word” (#759).  Importantly, lay preaching is possible in circumstances of “necessity” or where “advantageous” (#766), as long as the homily – a unique form of preaching – remains with the ordained (#767.1).

So it is that we advocate for informed lay preaching in today’s Church.  We believe

(1) that the experience of a gifted and well prepared lay person can often more readily connect with the folks sitting in the pews,

(2) that many of our priests are stretched because of fewer numbers, and they no longer have adequate time to prepare a thoughtful homily,

(3) and that a priest from another country can be difficult to understand.

But this remains: everyone needs to hear a word of inspiration.

So, then, how might we envision a pastoral and expansive approach to canon law?  The local bishop could commission a gifted and well prepared lay person to preach.  In such a case, the ordained person could deliver a brief homily before calling upon the lay person to thoughtfully fill out the thrust of the homily.  Thus, there would be a continued reflection, but not at exactly the same time as the homily.  The ultimate purpose of the homily would be respected and enhanced, all the while calling upon the Spirit-filled gifts of the lay person.

With prayers for your continued good health and courageous leadership,

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