To preach or not to preach? Lay homiletics
An earlier post on Bishop Murphy’s pastoral letter ending services with the distribution of communion (to better highlight the connection between the mass offered by a priest and the eucharist, among other things) spun into an interesting discussion of homilies and lay preaching. Or not.
Apropos, CNS has a story out of St. Paul in which the recently retired Archbishop Harry Flynn announces the end of a fairly wide and longstanding practice of allowing lay people to give homilies at mass. Some 29 parishes have been employing the practice for 25 years, and in a letter last January Flynn gave the date of his retirement–May 2–as the date by which those parishes should begin developing alternate plans. Without getting into the always-neuralgic issue of hierarchical politics, I think it is safe to say–without intending undue criticism–that Flynn’s action was a nod to his replacement, Archbishop John Nienstadt, who has a more conservative take on church practices.
Flynn said he had not been aware of how many parishes were using the practice. “There has to be that kind of training and theological background that even a person with a master’s degree in theology would not have,” he said. “The church does not want people just standing up there and giving opinions or even things they’ve read in books.”
The move has caused a good deal of anger, understandably. And the matter does not seem clear cut. In 2005 the Swiss bishops, who for various cultural, historical and practical reasons–very few priests–are often on the leading edge of reforms–received permission from the Vatican to use as preachers the very kind of lay experts that Flynn said could not preach. The general secretary of the Swiss bishops’ conference, Agnell Rickenmann, said that the two declarations were partly a response to the shortage of priests in Switzerland, but also reflected the Swiss Church’s “independence.” According to the Tablet, he said: ”In Switzerland we have a 30-year tradition of theologically trained lay people active in the Church.”
A year earlier, Father Edward McNamara, ZENIT’s liturgy maven, also addressed this question in a 2004 column that cites the relevant bans against lay preaching as set forth in Redemptionis Sacramentum. The document includes a number of proscriptions, including this:
No. 65 continues: “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. This practice is reprobated, so that it cannot be permitted to attain the force of custom.”
McNamara’s column was answering a question from a Minnesota parishioner, and McNamara concluded that what may have been possible before was no longer licit. The CNS story seems to mark the culmination of this “experiment.” At least here.
What to make of it all?