Thursday, November 06, 2008

Synod: Opening door to Lay Homilies? (part 3)

Last time I signed off with a cryptic reference to lay homilies and the Synod on the Word of God. I was exaggerating a little: the Synod does not call for lay homilies as such. As my dear friend Japhy (who often corrects me when I become overzealous) pointed out, the Synod document specifically mentions in paragraph 50 that the homily is to be preached only by an ordained minister. Fair enough.

However, I am interested not so much in what the document says and does not say, as much as what progressives will stretch the document to mean. Therefore, the question for me is not "Does the working document call for lay homilies?" as much as "Can progressives twist this in any way that seems to imply or lead to lay homilies?" To this second question, the answer is a resounding affirmative.

For the troubling passage in the working document with regards to lay homilies, we need not look to sections 50 and 51 which specifically address the homily as such, but back to paragraph 37 which deals pastoral implications in the context of the ministry of the Word. Paragraph 37 begins by talking about a harmonic unity between the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist. With regards to the liturgy of the Word, it goes on to talk about the vital importance of making the readings meaningful and understandable to the people, so that the hearing of the Readings consitutes a true "encounter" with the Word of God. To this end, the Synod recommends in the middle of section 37:

"In the liturgy of the Word, maximum attention should be given to clear, understandable proclamation of the texts and a homily based on the Word. This requires competent, well-prepared readers who, for this purpose, need to be formed in schools, even ones which might be established by the Diocese [watch this last sentence]. At the same time, the Word of God might be better understood if the lector made a brief introduction on the meaning of the reading to be proclaimed."

Now step back and think about what that says. It was not referring to the pastor giving the homily, otherwise that would be redundant: of course the homily will expound the meaning of the reading. It specifically says lectors, and if it says lectors, we can assume it means the Old Testament and Epistle readings commonly done by lay people in most parishes. Now, we know that lector is an actual office, along with acolytes, who are referred to with lectors in the CIC as "lay men" who have a "stable ministry" (CIC 230:1). Realistically though, how many Novus Ordo parishes have properly instituted lectors or acolytes? Almost none. I certainly don't know of any around here. Instead, we have just a bunch of lay people volunteers doing the readings who are commonly called lectors. Is this not the case? These persons are spoken of in canon 230:2-3:

"Lay people can receive a temporary assignment to the role of lector in liturgical actions...where the needs of the Church require and ministers are not available, lay people, even though they are not lectors or acolytes, can supply certain of their functions, that is, exercise the ministry of the word, preside over liturgical prayers..."

So, we see that though the Church retains the official office of lector, they confer upon any old lay person the exact same duties and responsibilities as a true lector, thus eliminating the distinction. So, let's come back to the Synod document. Knowing that in practice, most lay readers are not lectors (but are errantly called so), and knowing also that the Synod in paragraph 37 has called for "lectors" to give "brief introductions to the meaning of the readings," do you see the potential for a huge abuse to be opened up here?

Imagine, you are at Sunday Mass. A middle-aged woman wearing suit pants comes up in front of the congregation and steps up to the ambo. The reading is from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. She starts off: "Before I begin this reading, I'd just like to give a few insights into the meaning of this passage..." Then follows a five to ten minute "introduction" to the readings prior to the Gospel and the homily. And if you come up to the pastor afterwards and voice your concern, he points to paragraph 37 which encourages lectors to give introductions to the meaning of the readings.

Of course, we know that the woman is not technically a lector. But (and let's be real), do 99% of parishes know or care about the distinction? When they see lector, they translate it as "reader" (which I guess is the literal translation, but that's beside the point). This clause in the working document, if adopted, will encourage lay people doing the Readings to start spouting off their own half-cocked introductions to what they think the readings are about. Even if what they say is good, it is still an inversion of liturgical roles.

What is the meaning of the Synod's statement here? Either it is calling for lay readers to give explications of the Scriptures, or else it is making a statement about the instituted office of lector, in which case it would be next to meaningless since the office of lector is practically extinct in most mainstream NO parishes. I'm telling you, if this gets adopted, we will get the equivalent of lay homilies, only done before the first readings, so they technically will not be called homilies.

Am I drawing correct inferences here?

Just as a little experiment, do a Google images search on the phrase "Catholic Mass lectors" and check out all the pictures that come up.

Next time, the final installation: Synod's fanciful statements on post-Vatican II Church


Jeffrey Pinyan said...

So I've got a reputation now, do I? :)

"Can progressives twist this in any way that seems to imply or lead to lay homilies?" To this second question, the answer is a resounding affirmative.

Certainly, the same way they twisted Canon Law on the subject... and continue to twist it, despite being corrected on the matter several times, such as in 1980 (before the new CIC) in Inaestimabile Donum (n. 3), in 1997 in Ecclesia de Mysterio (Article 3, n. 1), and in 2004 in Redemptionis Sacramentum (n. 64).

At the same time, the Word of God might be better understood if the lector made a brief introduction on the meaning of the reading to be proclaimed.

Hmm, sounds like they're looking to modify the GIRM on this one. Eucharistiae Participationem, from 1973, said the following in paragraph 14: "Among the possibilities for further adaptation which are left to the individual celebrant, it is well to keep in mind the admonitions ... by which the faithful are brought to a deeper understanding of the meaning of the sacred action or any of its parts. Of special importance are those admonitions which the priest himself is invited by the General Instruction on the Roman Missal to compose and deliver; he may introduce the faithful to the Mass of the day before the celebration begins, to the Liturgy of the Word before the readings, or to the Eucharistic Prayer before the Preface; he may summarize the entire sacred action before the dismissal."

It is clear, then, that the envisioned use was an introduction to the Liturgy of the Word as a whole, by the priest, after the Collect.

In 1988, the Instruction Paschale Solemnitatis extended this permission for the Easter Vigil: "The typological import of the Old Testament texts is rooted in the New and is made plain by the prayer pronounced by the celebrating priest after each reading; but it will also be helpful to introduce the people to the meaning of each reading by means of a brief introduction. This introduction may be given by the priest himself or by a deacon." (n. 86)

Now, I'm sure people would love to interpret "may be given" to mean "a priest or deacon MAY give it, or we can delegate it to someone else entirely". But I think it is clear that the interpretation is that the introduction is not mandatory, but if it is given, it is a priest or deacon who gives it.

The present GIRM incorporates this idea: "The presiding priest ... may give the faithful a very brief introduction to the Mass of the day (after the initial Greeting and before the Act of Penitence), to the Liturgy of the Word (before the readings), and to the Eucharistic Prayer (before the Preface), though never during the Eucharistic Prayer itself; he may also make concluding comments to the entire sacred action before the dismissal." (n. 31) "After the Collect, all sit. The priest may, very briefly, introduce the faithful to the Liturgy of the Word." (n. 128)

Again, it is made clear that this brief introduction is made before the Liturgy of the Word as a whole, not before each individual reading. It should also be clear that these introductions are NOT meant to be mini-homilies.

Now for the rude awakening. This idea had already been brought up at the PREVIOUS Synod of Bishops. Proposition 18 says, in part, "The faithful must be helped to appreciate the treasures of the Scripture in the Lectionary, through ... liturgical practices such as" (watch this...) "silence" (a truly noble suggestion, given the lack of silence found in most Masses in the O.F.) "or a few introductory words that help for greater understanding." (LESS SILENCE, MORE TALKING... sorry for shouting.)

And the Holy Father responded to this proposition in Sacramentum Caritatis article 45: "Together with the Synod, I ask that the liturgy of the word always be carefully prepared and celebrated. ... When circumstances so suggest, a few brief words of introduction could be offered in order to focus the attention of the faithful. If it is to be properly understood, the word of God must be listened to and accepted in a spirit of communion with the Church and with a clear awareness of its unity with the sacrament of the Eucharist."

This more recent Synod, though, is trying to change things even more. To me, it seems like: "Not using [extraneous feature]? How about [extraneous feature x 10]?"

In some way, I am sympathetic. Too often people just don't understand the context of the Scripture they are hearing. But is this really the best solution? I haven't read all the propositions of the Synod, but I would hope they suggest that parishes organize Lectionary-based Bible studies (led by an ordained minister if at all possible!) that serve to introduce the faithful to the readings they are going to hear. These Bible study sessions needn't be touchy-feely "faith sharing" parties, but could be Q&A sessions that deal with the history, context, cross-references, etc., of the readings.

I'm trying to organize an informal meeting of this sort of the "lectors" (lay readers, but they don't know it) at my parish... the people who will be reading at the coming Saturday/Sunday Masses should meet one day the preceding week to look over the First and Second Readings -- and the Psalm, Gospel verse, and Gospel, too, really -- to work on diction and pacing, but also to understand what it is they're reading (contextually, historically, theologically, etc.).

Does the Synod suggest this?

Could I go back in time (after going forward in time to enter the episcopacy) and make this proposition?


Is there an orthodox equivalent of "Call to Action" out there for me to join? Like "Call to Right Action" -- I guess that'd be "Call to Orthopraxy", eh? :)

Boniface said...

I am sympathetic to the concept of further Scriptural catechesis as well. But in all of your very helpful quotes above, the context is very clearly that of a priest (as you said) making comments before the liturgy of the Word. No where is it stated that lectors can do this. I know you already know this.

This is what is new about the working document, that it says "lectors" can (not must) make these brief introductions. Lectors, as you and I know, practically equates to whatever lay person is doing the reading. I don't know of anywhere before where the Pope of any Synod has proposed lectors giving explications, do you?

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Right, that is the innovation. It is completely gratuitous: why the push for lay readers to give introductions to the readings?

If the PRIESTS who already have the permission for it ARE doing so, and it isn't working, it's not going to work if laypeople do it; and if it is working, why change it?

If the PRIESTS aren't doing it, there's no reason to get laypeople to do it: either encourage/motivate the priests to do it, or drop the idea altogether.

The other innovation (apart from the Easter Vigil exception) is that these introductions would be before EACH reading, not before the readings altogether.

I know you know this. I just have no one else to talk to about this. :|

Boniface said...

Exactly...if preists either (a) aren't doing it, or (b) it isn't working, then what makes them think having lay people do it will help at all or make it better?

Throwback said...

I saw this as well. Very troubling. If something can be abused, it will be abused.

Keep up the good work, by the way. I've linked to you on my sidebar and will plug this series again when the final installment is up.