Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Bishop Clark On Lay Preaching

February 9th, 2010, Promulgated by Dr. K

As most Rochesterians already know, either from first-hand experience with illegal lay preachers in their respective parishes, or from word of mouth, Bishop Clark has long supported the admission of laity to preach part of or the entire homily during Mass contrary to the liturgical norms of the Church. To get a background on this, examine closely Bishop Clark?s comments on lay preaching in a Catholic Courier article published last year, prior to the release of Forward in Hope (can be purchased on Amazon by clicking on the link to the left):

This background will be helpful when we look at Bishop Clark?s comments about lay preaching in his book. As one would expect, Bishop Clark brings up the impermissibility of lay people to preach within the Mass a couple of times in Forward in Hope. Here is what he says on pages 42 and 43, ?This frustration is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the area of preaching. It is widely noticed that many lay ecclesial ministers have gifts for preaching and teaching and that these are grounded in a theological base that is current, orthodox [*chokes on my breakfast*], and engaging. Some churchgoers who say they are insulted by the poor homilies given by some priests are baffled that the lay minister is not permitted to preach except under stringently defined circumstances. Of course, there are other churchgoers who want the priest to preach, no matter what the circumstances.? (42-43).

Why exactly is it the case that lay ecclesial ministers have these gifts for preaching? Could it be that Bishop Clark has been spending a lot of time preparing them to preach homilies during their studies at St. Bernard?s? Were only the diocese to invest that time and effort into offering priests refresher courses in homiletics. It is very interesting that he would claim that these lay preachers are ?grounded in a theological base that is? orthodox? when the very act of delivering a lay homily is a violation of Church liturgical norms. How can we expect an orthodox treatment of what the Church teaches when these lay people are preaching during the homily, which is something itself that is contrary to what the Church teaches! Finally, Bishop Clark admits that lay people are not allowed to preach ?except under stringently defined circumstances.? This is indeed true, as lay people may only preach outside of Mass (i.e- Communion service), and when there exists a true need (i.e- priest it out of town or must tend to five parishes). One would not realize that the circumstances permitting lay preaching are so ?stringently defined? given that many parishes in the Diocese of Rochester have regular Sunday homilies delivered by lay preachers. I hardly consider the model of having a priest speak for 30 seconds followed by a lay homily of ten minutes being a ?stringently defined? circumstance. That seems quite easy to achieve, and this illegal action is committed frequently across the diocese.

Never doubt that Bishop Clark would try his best to find a way around these ?stringently defined circumstances,? for he has a licentiate in Canon Law, and knows how to wiggle his way around it like any person knowledgeable about law would. Here is what the bishop says on page 31: ?What do we do as a parish when our pastor is very old and too weak to preach on Sunday? Is it legitimate or not to call on someone who is trained and skillful at preaching to step forward and do that? Some say, ?Yes, that?s great. Of course, do it.? Others insist that this may not be done. We know that the law is clear. But we know, too, that in the pastoral decisions of bishops, there is a genuine and legitimate leeway.? (31)

First, if the pastor is too old and weak to preach, he?s probably too old and weak to stand for roughly half an hour to offer the Mass. If this old priest can read from the Missal, he can read from his homily notes just fine. By the way, what an insult it is to call Fr. Tyman and Fr. Lawlor ?very old and too weak? because they pass off their preaching duties to Sr. Joan Sobala [ 😉 ]. Second, we see once again that Bishop Clark speaks about Church law, and how it is ?clear? on the matter of lay homilies. The law of course says that they are not allowed. Now watch what Bishop Clark does next: ?But we know, too, that in the pastoral decisions of bishops, there is a genuine and legitimate leeway.? Oh, so the bishop can do whatever he wants? Really?? I didn?t know that the liturgical norms of our Church were merely suggestions and not guidelines. Does it say this at the top of the document: ?These norms are only helpful hints, feel free to disregard them??? Pretty sure it doesn’t. I?m curious what Rome would think about such a thing?

The Diocese of Rochester continues to this very day to permit lay persons, most lacking in orthodoxy, to preach during the Sunday homily. This is forbidden under all circumstances. I will now offer you each and every piece of Church documentation that addresses the topic of lay homilies, should there exist ANY doubt in one?s mind that what the Diocese of Rochester is doing is not kosher with the laws of the Catholic Church. We will also take a look at the DoR?s ?dialogue homily,? to see when such a homily is truly permitted to take place. Commentary and emphasis added.

Code of Canon Law (1983)

Can. 766 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 and without prejudice to can. 767 ?1.” [Meaning you may not use this to ignore or wiggle around Canon 767.1]

Can. 767 ?1 The most important form of preaching is the homily, which is part of the liturgy, and is reserved to a priest or deacon. In the course of the liturgical year, the mysteries of faith and the rules of christian living are to be expounded in the homily from the sacred text.”

Interpretationes Authenticae/ Response to dubium regarding can. 767 ? 1 (1987)

“D. Utrum Episcopus dioecesanus dispensare valeat a praescripto can. 767, ? 1, quo sacerdoti aut diacono homilia reservatur.
R. Negative. “ [The dubium is whether a diocesan bishop can dispense from Canon 767.1, which reserves the homily to the priest or deacon. The Vatican responded, no (negative)]
Liturgicae Instaurationes / Instruction on the Orderly Carrying Out of the Constitution on the Liturgy (1970)
“The homily has as its purpose to explain to the faithful the word of God just proclaimed and to adapt it to the mentality of the times. The priest, therefore, is the homilist; the congregation is to refrain from comments, attempts at dialogue, or anything similar.? [This is the one and only document to refer to dialogue homilies in the sense of the general offering of the Mass. Another document deals with them in children’s Masses, and still others deal with the topic, but refer back to the children’s Mass document]

Inaestimabile Donum/Instruction Concerning Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery (1980)

“The purpose of the homily is to explain to the faithful the Word of God proclaimed in the readings, and to apply its message to the present. Accordingly the homily is to be given by the priest or the deacon

General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2002)

“66. The Homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to the deacon, but never to a lay person

Ecclesiae de Mysterio / On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful In the Sacred Ministry of the Priest (1997)
“Preaching in churches or oratories by the non-ordained faithful can be permitted only as a supply for sacred ministers or for those particular reasons foreseen by the universal law of the Church or by Conferences of Bishops. It cannot, however, be regarded as an ordinary occurrence nor as an authentic promotion of the laity.” [Lay preaching, in general, may not be allowed just because the priest gives boring homilies. It also may not become a regular occurrence]

“The homily, therefore, during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, must be reserved to the sacred minister, Priest or Deacon(69) to the exclusion of the non-ordained faithful, even if these should have responsibilities as “pastoral assistants” or catechists in whatever type of community or group. This exclusion is not based on the preaching ability of sacred ministers nor their theological preparation, but on that function which is reserved to them in virtue of having received the Sacrament of Holy Orders. For the same reason the diocesan Bishop cannot validly dispense from the canonical norm(70) since this is not merely a disciplinary law but one which touches upon the closely connected functions of teaching and sanctifying.”

All previous norms which may have admitted the non-ordained faithful to preaching the homily during the Holy Eucharist are to be considered abrogated by canon 767, ? 1.(72)”

Redemptionis Sacramentum/ On Certain Matters to be Observed or Avoided Regarding the Most Holy Eucharist (2004)

“[64.] The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself,[142] ?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“[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.[145] 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.[146]” [The first part of this passage is the real kicker. Lay people are prohibited from preaching during the Mass; homily or otherwise. That means no reflections, no phony dialogue, nothing!]

“[74.] If the need arises for the gathered faithful to be given instruction or testimony by a layperson in a Church concerning the Christian life,
it is altogether preferable that this be done outside Mass. Nevertheless, for serious reasons it is permissible that this type of instruction or testimony be given after the Priest has proclaimed the Prayer after Communion. This should not become a regular practice, however. Furthermore,
these instructions and testimony should not be of such a nature that they could be confused with the homily,[156] nor is it permissible to dispense with the homily on their account.”

Now let’s look at the DoR’s dialogue homily. You’ll remember from above that Liturgicae Instaurationes says that dialogue may not be used during the homily. The Directory for Masses with Children later offered a provision for dialogue in children Mass homilies:

“48. The homily explaining the word of God should be given great prominence in all Masses with children. Sometimes the homily intended for children should become a dialogue with them, unless it is preferred that they should listen in silence.” [Dialogue of course meaning conversation, and not explications of the priest’s homily or lay preaching]

The true nature of dialogue in the homily is seen in #22: “The principles of active and conscious participation are in a sense even more significant for Masses celebrated with children. Every effort should therefore be made to increase this participation and to make it more intense. For this reason as many children as possible should have special parts in the celebration: for example… responding during the homily (see no. 48)” [Note how it doesn’t mention sharing in the ministry of preaching, or preaching in any way shape matter or form]

Finally, the diocese tries to justify dialogue homilies in all Masses by citing a couple of sources, one of these being Ecclessiae de Mysterio, which says:

?? 3. As an expositional aide and providing it does not delegate the duty of preaching to others, the celebrant minister may make prudent use of “dialogue” in the homily, in accord with the liturgical norms.73?

Several issues: preaching can’t be handed to a layperson, this must be done with respect to the liturgical norms which disallow lay preaching, and the footnote which says…

“(73) Cf. Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory for Masses with children Pueros Baptizatos (1 Nov. 1973), n. 48: AAS 66 (1974), p. 44.”

Which refers us right back to the Directory for Masses with Children.

This concludes our book review. Thank you for reading. If you would like to invite others to read this book, including people in Rome, we’ll help you out with that in the following post.

Previous installments:
6. Charlotte Bruney’s Comments
5. The Diocese of Rochester’s Erroneous Interpretation of Canon 517.2
4. The Role of the Lay Pastoral Administrator in the Mass
3. Creation of a Parallel Hierarchy
2. Bishop Clark On Obedience
1. Backward In Obedience: A Book Review of Forward in Hope

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5 Responses to “Bishop Clark On Lay Preaching”

  1. Persis says:

    Dr. K~
    Thank you for this enlightening and educational review.
    I am especially impressed with today's post, you have given me a lot of information to go through,thanks [I think,:)]

    I do have one small issue with this comment-

    "Isn't it clear by now that St. Bernard's exists only for the reason to justify giving priestly functions to the laity in order to promote the 'priesthood of the faithful' and the expensive of the ordained priesthood?"

    While I will give you, that most of the teaching and most of the students (especially the women)at SBSTM are VERY LIBERAL AND VERY HETERODOX, and that this comment may very well be true in the eyes of "those in charge", it is the only place in Rochester where one can go if one wants to be a Deacon, or if one wants to earn the "credentials" that are needed to work in the DOR in a variety of capacities.

    And, from personal experience, I can tell you that the more I was exposed to the "educational climate" at SBSTM, the more I started to seek out more information, and that is exactly how I found this blog, and others like them. I will admit, in the beginning, I was dead-set against everything that I read here (and other places, I don't want you to think that I am "bashing" CF, my day just wouldn't be the same w/o it!), but as I grow in my knowledge and in my faith, I see more and more that a great disservice has been done to Catholics (especially ones my age and younger) in the DOR, and while SBSTM may help to perpetuate this, in my case, and in some others, my time at SBSTM has made me look at the Church and her documents, norms, etc, as a whole, and not just from my little corner of the DOR.

    While SBSTM may not be the best place for an "orthodox" education, in my case, it has made me start to really look at what it is I really believe, and why I decided to come back to the Catholic church, and in turn has made me realize that the reason I came back is, in part, because the beauty and grandure of our faith, something I may have never realized had it not been for my time at SBSTM.

    Sorry to be so long winded, I just needed to get my 2 cents in!!


  2. Dr. K says:

    Thanks for your comment. I'll remove the item in question.

    ~Dr. K

  3. Gen says:

    Very good points, Persis. I know a few people who teach there, and they do their best to give the guys in the deaconate program the best teaching possible. Like so many things in the DoR, there is potential at SBSTM. It may not be too much right now, but under another administration, it may flourish. I emphasize "may."

  4. Anonymous says:

    ##1.Here in Utica, we have an 80 year old priest who is too weak to stand for mass. So he does the whole mass from his wheelchair. A very reverentaial mass.

    Sorry Bishop Clark, Your argument AGAIN fails to hold water.

    #2. There are graces given to priests and deacons who give faithful homilies. Sorry Bishop Clark: Ma and Pa Kettle priest wanna bees have no graces when preachung so in this and in other aspects of your ministry, you are preventing the life of grace from reaching your flock.

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