Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Power to the Lay People

March 22nd, 2011, Promulgated by Dr. K

A regular contributor to the site sent us a link earlier today to the newly enhanced St. John of Rochester (Fairport) home page. In particular, the reader directed us to the staff biography page for Ms. Barbara Hesenius, who is listed as pastoral associate of the parish. Below is a screen shot. Give particular attention when you look at this image to the ridiculous laundry list of pastoral duties entrusted to this lay person:

Ms. Hesenius bio (click above to enlarge)

I don’t know what your impression is after seeing this list, but mine was WOW! It seems like this one lay person does almost everything that might need to be done at this parish, including a few items which a priest or deacon should do. Is there anything left for the parish priest aside from saying Mass and administering the Sacraments? The priest’s profile page is rather barren in comparison, with no listed pastoral duties.

There are a couple of items in Ms. Hesenius’ list that I’d like to take a look at. First, what does it mean to be “emergency backup coverage for Pastor”? According to the staff page, the parish has three priests (granted, two are retired) and two deacons. That must be some kind of emergency for there ever to be a need for Ms. Hesenius to become the pastor’s emergency backup. Would the three priests and two deacons have to become stranded on a desert island for this to happen? If there were ever a true emergency, I am sure that the bishop would appoint a Parochial Administrator or some priest to handle the necessary duties at this parish.

Second, as we have so clearly laid out on this site several times before, lay persons enjoy no privilege to preach during the Mass. Despite the clear norms and liturgical laws from the Catholic Church forbidding lay homilies at Mass, we have been told that this lay pastoral associate regularly delivers homilies.  Below is audio from their website of  Ms. Hesenius preaching the homily at a St. John of Rochester Mass on February 20th.  The lay preaching begins at 1:50 and lasts the duration of the 14 min homily.


I can’t wait for 2012 to arrive in the hope that our next bishop will actually enforce the Church’s norms on preaching, instead of manipulating them so as to advance the role of women in the liturgy to quasi-priest status.

Third, there is no reason for Ms. Hesenius or anyone at this parish to lead “Scripture/Communion services” with three priests and two deacons on the staff. Such services exist only for areas with a true shortage of priests where people would have to travel great distances to attend Mass. I’m sorry Diocese of Rochester leaders who like to suggest otherwise, but we do not yet have a priest shortage in this diocese. There are plenty of area Masses for the parishioners of St. John of Rochester to attend that Scripture/Communion services are unnecessary even in the unthinkable fantasy scenario that all the priests and deacons become stranded on an island. Let’s assume that these services take place at nursing homes instead of the church. Why can’t the three priests and two deacons preside at these Masses or services?

One last comment on this parish’s staff page. How come the two deacons are listed as “diaconate teams” with their wives? I know that sometimes the deacon’s wife may assist her husband with marriage counseling, but the only one of the pair to possess Holy Orders is the ordained deacon, not the deacon’s wife.

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15 Responses to “Power to the Lay People”

  1. Ben Anderson says:

    Ms. Hesenius led my wife and I’s marriage preparation (I was still a protestant then).

  2. Bernie says:

    “Regular preaching as scheduled and at other times”

    Rome, you have a ‘call waiting!’

  3. Bernie says:

    “REGULAR” preaching as “SCHEDULED”

    Rome, answer PLEASE!

  4. Gretchen G says:

    Yikes: “Regular preaching as scheduled…”, “Conduct funeral and cemetery services…”, “Conduct pastoral visits to hospitals, nursing home, homebound…”

    After receiving her Master of Pastoral Studies, she chose to move to the Diocese of Rochester. Hmmm, pretty telling, don’t you think?

    And if you had any doubts, the ultimate proof of bad – “Barbara is an avid Boston Red Soxs (sic) fan.”

    Shoot, they can’t even spell “Red Sox” correctly!

  5. And as I’ve urged before, as soon as this busy lady mounts the lectern at Mass, plainly and audibly say, “Lay preaching is not permitted during the time reserved for the homily” (or something to that effect).

  6. Matt says:

    The female EMHC’s at St Anne sitting in the pew in front of me didn’t take too kindly to my muttered exhortation that Sr Joan “sit down and shut up”

  7. Like I said, plainly and audibly (to the preacher), not rudely.

  8. Scott W. says:

    Yep, for me (and for others I’ll) be, I stopped reading after “regular preaching”. How long Lord?

  9. annonymouse says:

    Lay persons are allowed under canon law to preach in churches and oratories, with the exception of the homily at Mass, which is reserved to the ordained priest or deacon. Lay persons can conduct funeral services and graveside services (although obviously not funerals that include Mass).

    I think it would be better if we had priests to perform many of these functions, but sadly, and for many reasons, we do not. My first reaction (other than the bullet about regular preaching which rightfully turned off some others) was one of thankfulness that she is serving the parish faithful and that these things are being done.

  10. Abaccio says:

    “Emergency backup for pastor” What in the world does that mean? “Supervise altar services” What?!

  11. anonymous says:

    I’ll never forget when this lady was pastoral associate here. I met with her to see if I could volunteer (for the first time in my life) in the parish. We wanted to be more involved as a newly married couple in the parish. She told me all I could iron do was iron linens or vestments for mass. You can imagine how rip snorting mad I was. I didn’t go back there till she was gone.

  12. anonymous says:

    typo above- all I could do was iron… this usual when someone wants to volunteer for a parish?, not the way to help new parishioners feel involved or welcome at all! , the memory makes my blood pressure rise, why did u have to put that photo up there?

  13. Anonymous says:

    I very much agree with this article–however–there very much so IS a priest shortage in the DOR. At SJR, not so much (leaving no reason for preaching etc by the pastoral associate) however in other parts of the diocese, the priests are aging and there is a shortage.

  14. Abaccio says:

    If only there were young men who wanted to become priests, but were denied by the bishop due to their orthodoxy. If only….

  15. Monk says:

    A “plastic” smile if I ever saw one! Is there a hint of a Roman Collar in her blouse style?

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