Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bishop Flynn forbids lay preaching

Good news from the Diocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, taken from This has already been going around the Net for sometime, but it is worth republishing here [my comments and emphases]:

Father Terry Rassmussen, pastor of St. Joseph in New Hope, finished reading, closed the Book of the Gospels, and stepped away from the ambo. From the congregation, Ginny Untiedt stepped forward.

Clad in a white robe, Untiedt bowed as Father Rassmussen laid his hands on her head and blessed her. She looked up, walked to the ambo and began preaching for the last time.

As many as 29 parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have used lay preachers at Mass during the past 25 years. In January, however, Archbishop Harry Flynn instructed pastors to discontinue the practice. He gave his retirement date - May 2 - as the time by which parishes should develop "a pastoral plan" to end lay preaching [Another lame diocesan-bureaucratic phrase. Why do you need a plan to stop an abuse? Just knock it off!].

In his January letter to pastors, Archbishop Flynn referenced the 2004 Vatican instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," which called eucharistic lay preaching - a non-ordained person reflecting on the Gospel reading at the place in Mass usually [?] reserved for a homily by a priest or deacon - a liturgical abuse [It is funny that Flynn references RS, as if this were a new devlopment or something. Lay preaching is forbidden by the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which RS simply reaffirms. If you take the 25 years that lay preaching has been going on in Flynn's diocese, this takes us back to 1986, meaning that almost as soon as the 83 CIC went into effect, the abuses came in immediately]. Only an ordained person should preach after the Gospel at Mass, Archbishop Flynn said.

Many lay preachers have expressed "enormous grief and anger" [haha] over the directive to stop the practice, said Patricia Hughes Baumer, who co-founded the lay preaching training organization Partners in Preaching with her husband, Fred, in 1997.

Proponents of lay preaching argue that canon law allows the practice [Really? Let's see: Canon 767:1: "Among the forms of preaching the homily is preeminent; it is a part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or to a deacon"] and that both the congregation and pastors benefit from hearing Gospel reflections from diverse voices.

Ending the practice

For many lay preachers, some of whom have been preaching in the archdiocese for more than 25 years, the biggest question is: Why now?

Archbishop Flynn told The Catholic Spirit he was aware of a few parishes practicing lay preaching and that local leaders in the lay preaching movement were aware of his disapproval. He wrote the January letter only after becoming aware that the number of parishes with lay preachers was larger than he realized, he said [Real nice being bishop for years and years and having no clue what is going on in your parishes; somehow, I don't by this argument: either he is really disobedient, or really clueless].

Some have speculated Archbishop Flynn's letter came at this time because he wanted to "clean house" before Archbishop John Nienstedt assumed leadership of the archdiocese, but Archbishop Flynn said this is not the case [Nonsense. This is entirely the case. Nienstedt is a hardcore disciplinarian who would not tolerate such garbage. Read this article from July 16th on some of Nienstedt's disciplinary actions in his former Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota].

Archbishop Flynn said he has explained to Baumer on two occasions why lay preaching during the Mass cannot be promoted. He said canon law does not support the practice of lay preaching at the place of the homily during Mass. The education, formation and ordination of priests and deacons make them uniquely suited to preach during Mass, he said [They are not just uniquely suited: it is an essential part of their ministry! As St. Paul said of himself, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! (1 Cor. 9:16)].

"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, but [rather]: What is the clear teaching about this mystery of our faith?" [Flynn, attempting to justify his decision, actually leads us to a false conclusion: that the reasons a priest or deacon must preach are solely because they have a certain training and background. However, preaching is not about function or expediency. Of course, we want to hear good preaching at Mass, but that is not ultimately what it is about. There are probably any number of people in any parish who could preach better than the pastor, but that doesn't matter. It has nothing to do with training or experience, and everything to do with Holy Orders and the fact that preaching is tied in essentially with what a priest is ordained to do, regardless of whether he is a good speaker with experience or not].

To allow a non-ordained person to preach would also interrupt the action of the Mass, he said. The Scriptures make it clear that it was the role of the presbyters to preach, he added [The New Testament has been around since the first century. How long did it take you to realize this?].

"To preach the Gospel is an extremely important part of the mission of any priest - I cannot overemphasize its importance," Archbishop Flynn said. "I would feel deprived, because this is my vocation to preach the Gospel. And if I were celebrating Mass, and it came time for me to preach - which should be the fruit of my prayer, my experience and the experience of those who [are] in [the] congregation - it would be disruptive to me to have someone else come and break open the Word of God" [I hear this phrase, "break open the word of God," a lot from progressives. There is nothing wrong with it, but I notice that they seem to like it. Anybody else notice this?].

As for priests who appreciate the break from preparing the homily when lay people preach, Archbishop Flynn said they should pray and spend more time in homily preparation because that is the work of the priest [Appreciate the break! What a pity that a bishop has to issue a directive reminding his priests that they ought to preach]. Archbishop Flynn has received letters both from Catholics who support lay preaching and from those who have been deeply distressed by it, he said.

If a lay person must speak or preach at Mass [There is no reason a lay person must speak or preach at Mass. At daily Masses, homilies are optional. On Sundays, if the priest is ill, he can speak only a few brief words and then move on. This seems to be a reflection of the view that exalts the homily to a more exalted place than it traditionally had; i.e., that it enjoys in Protestant churches], it would be appropriate for him or her to address the congregation after the prayer after Communion, he said. Lay people may also preach outside of the Mass.

Feelings of loss

For parishioners accustomed to hearing lay people preach on the Gospel, and for the lay preachers themselves, understanding and accepting this change has proven difficult.

Ruth Hunt, 52, a parishioner at St. Joseph in New Hope, has been preaching for 13 years [How come these lay preachers are always women?]. The number of lay preachers at her parish has fluctuated between five and about 12 [12! I wonder how many Extraordinary Ministers they have!!!], she said. When she first heard that lay preaching would end in her parish, she was filled with a very deep sadness and a sense of loss. The response of many St. Joseph parishioners was similar, she said.

"I was sad that this role of the laity could be something that Jesus didn't want," she said [It is good that she recognizes that this decision comes from the Magisterium (CIC & RS) and as such, we can hear in it the voice of Christ ("He who hears you hears Me"). However, it is unfortunate that she sees this expression of Christ's voice as something "sad"]. Untiedt, 62, has also been preaching for 13 years at St. Joseph and was instrumental in bringing lay preaching to her parish.

After Mass May 4, a parishioner told her that he enjoys hearing lay preachers because he feels like he can identify with their life experiences, she said [I don't want a preacher that I can identify with. I want one who is holy, transcendent, above me, and draws my attention upwards towards holy things. But that's just my preference].

Barb Frey, 51, a parishioner at St. Frances Cabrini in Minneapolis, described preaching as a "humbling, transformative experience." "It's enriched the ecclesiastical understanding of the community," she added [More post-V2 diocesan bureaucratic-pastoral mumbo-jumbo terminology].

Lay preachers at St. Frances Cabrini meet almost weekly throughout the year to read, pray and discuss Scripture together. The parish has had 52 lay preachers in the last 15 years ranging in age from 30 to mid-70s. They are provided seven sources of written material to help them plan what they will say, and many consult additional sources, said Chris Kosowski, the parish's liturgist.

Frank Schweigert, 57, also preaches at St. Frances Cabrini [Okay, well, here's a guy at least]. He grew up in rural Wisconsin where his father sometimes preached in the absence of a priest [As if to insinuate that this is a long-hallowed practice. The fact is, in rural Wisconsin half a century ago, if there was no priest, there would not have been Masses. What he probably remembers is his father speaking at a communion service or a liturgy of the word, but definitely not at a Mass in the 1950's]. He sees lay preaching tied into the archdiocese's Evangelization Initiative and lay people's "ownership of the Gospel."

"Would that we had 1,000 preachers . . . instead of 100," he said. "I don't think that would diminish the role of the priest. It hasn't here" [But it has if the priest is not preaching because to preach and administer sacraments is the priest's role].

After Vatican II encouraged greater participation of the lay faithful in the Mass [*eye twitching*] , some pastors across the nation began to invite their parishioners to preach during the liturgy [And where in the Vatican II documents is that mandated?]. Lay preaching differs from a homily, Baumer said, and is called "lectionary-based liturgical preaching." Homilies, she explained, are reserved for a priest or deacon [This is a nice way of just saying, "It's not as homily unless a priest gives it. A homily, or whatever you want to call it, is the preaching that occurs right after the reading of the Gospel It is the location within the liturgy that determines the homily, not the subject of your preaching on].

Lay preachers do not exist simply to compensate for a shortage of priests, proponents insist. Even if a parish had three full-time priests, it would benefit from lay preachers [Well, that is even worse reasoning than if there was a shortage], said Father Bob Hazel, a retired priest of the archdiocese. When he became pastor at St. Joseph nine years ago, he inherited its lay preaching tradition.

"A good part of preaching is to witness to one's faith - we're not just up there to give catechism," [And that's a crying shame!] Father Hazel said. "Lay preachers can witness to their faith in terms of the difficulty, the problems in the business world, work-a-day world, and in families, and priests just can't do that in the same way" [Nobody says lay people can't do those things: just not at Mass].

Lay preaching was prohibited by canon law until 1983, when a revised Code of Canon Law was promulgated. Canon 766 addresses lay preaching, saying "lay persons can be permitted to preach in a church or oratory, if necessity requires it in certain circumstances or it seems advantageous in particular cases," Baumer said [But it never says they can give a homily during Mass. But I guess that depends upon what your interpretation of the word "homily" is, and then, what your interpretation of the word "is" is].

It is the multiple interpretations of what constitutes a "necessity" or what is "advantageous" that opened the doors to regular lay preaching in parishes across the country, Baumer said [Nope. It is abuse. Plain and simple. These people always try to come off as if thet are just innocently doing what they think the Vatican is telling them to do, while they wink at each other knowing full well that they are dissenting]. In the archdiocese, the practice varied, from an occasional lay preacher to regular, scheduled lay preaching one or more Sundays each month.

Lay preaching is meant to collaborate with the priest's ministry, not substitute for it, Baumer said, just as it is a pastor's responsibility to ensure the education of the faithful, yet share the actual teaching with lay religious education teachers [But that doesn't happen in the Mass, which is the issue here. The CIC says the homily is part of the liturgy, and therefore resreved to those with Holy Orders]. In most cases, pastors invited particular men and women they felt may be called to preach to consider the ministry.

Most, if not all, parishes trained their lay preachers to effectively "break open the word of God" through their own program or through Partners in Preaching's nine-month program. Although it is possible that lay preaching could be mishandled, most lay preachers receive guidance from their pastors or liturgists as they prepare their reflections, Baumer said. Some pastors even read the reflection before it is given [Again, these people are making the mistake that who preaches has to do with whether or not a person is qualified or sufficiently trained].

Archbishop Flynn's letter said that a lay person could speak after the prayer after Communion. But to insert something that refers to the Liturgy of the Word after the Liturgy of the Eucharist does not fit the Mass' liturgical flow, Baumer argues [He's right! And therefore, let's have them not speak after Communion, either!].

Lay preaching also brings a woman's perspective to the Gospels [uh oh, here it comes], Baumer said. "The suppression of lay preaching is simultaneously the suppression of female voices, because no matter how God has gifted a lay woman . . . to break open the Word, the community will not have access to that word as it gathers on Sunday," she said.

Looking to the future

Some parishes have stopped lay preaching completely. Others are looking for new ways to use their lay preachers [i.e., sneaky new ways to dissent]. At St. Joseph, lay preachers will reflect on the day's Scriptures before Mass one Sunday per month.

However, it will be hard to effectively "break open the word" while people are still coming into the church and before they have heard the readings, Hunt said.

Archbishop Nienstedt, who now leads the archdiocese upon Archbishop Flynn's retirement, agrees with his predecessor's position, he said.

"It's not a question of a person's God-given talent [Thank you, Archbishop Nienstedt!]. There may be better speakers, but this priest or deacon, we believe, has been ordained . . . for this sacred service," he said. "There is the power of the Holy Spirit that goes with him that doesn't go to just anyone who has been baptized."

Archbishop Nienstedt said he hopes that people will be understanding of the church's position, but realizes that it might not be easy for them.

"It's awfully hard to explain to somebody why you can't do something next Sunday that you already did last Sunday," he said [Agreed, which is why the best policy would have been for these people to never have been doing this in the first place].

Catholic Spirit editor Joe Towalski contributed to this story.


Bob said...

It took Archbishop Flynn 25 years to notice the real extent of the lay preaching problem in his archdiocese. But maybe we should cut him some slack -- he was also still working on noticing the flagrant liturgical abuses and rampant dissent going on right under his nose in Minneapolis at St. Joan of Arc parish. But by golly, when Fr. Robert Altier stood up to him and opposed his misguided VIRTUS sex-ed program for kids, Flynn lost no time in burying Altier in a new "assignment" as assistant chaplain in a nursing home and suppressing the transcripts of his homilies posted at an independent website. (At least the guy was actually preaching the homilies at his masses, but perhaps that just added to the offense in Flynn's eyes).

Ah, what a busy life an archbishop leads, and how important it is to prioritize!

Anonymous said...

Wish I could find the article (on line) titled, I think, "Bishop for a Day"

It was an interesting attempt at wishful thinking by the author of what would happen if he (as a bishop) actually behaved like a bishop for just one whole day.

It was great reading.... but sad when one thinks how many bishops are not visible shepherds for even one day.