Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lay People- What is the proper way to participate in Church life?

Last week, the girls and I were at a Roman-rite parish because of Nutcracker craziness, but this past weekend was back to 'normal.' While both parishes had strong points, it really bothered me when the lay people were circling the tabernacle and opening it and divvying up the Precious Blood into different glass goblets at the Western church. I've been thinking of what I believe are the best ways that lay people can be vital members of the body of Christ and help the Church along her way. Please remember, these are my opinions; there are Church documents and theologians to give serious, drawn-out answers. We moms are pretty practical.

There is a difference between ordained men and the laity. For some, this statement is about as obvious as the sun setting in the West. All of us need to remember that there are roles for every baptized person in the Church. The priest should be consumed with life at the altar. The deacon has a role in proclaiming the Gospel as the priest does. Lectors and cantors should be receptive to the needs of the priest and the people while maintaining reverence and dignity worthy of God's house. The laity have important roles as members of the parish, but they should leave the altar to the priest.

How does the laity leave the altar to the priest? First of all, the priest preaches, celebrates the sacraments and distributes Eucharist to the faithful. Lay people do not preach- perhaps they give short talks on practical matters after the final blessing or at coffee time. They don't celebrate the sacraments and they don't confuse others by actions that could be perceived as a priest's job. They don't distribute the Eucharist; they prepare extra songs during distribution time. It will take longer to distribute the sacrament, so this is 'meditation' time- before and after a believer receives the Eucharist or a blessing. The priest does his duty when he prepares the people for this change, perhaps giving printed prayers for lay people to pray silently while they are waiting for the Eucharist distribution to finish. The priest does his duty when he asks the choir or cantor to prepare reverent songs during this time. The priest does his duty when he is available for the sacrament of confession before Liturgy (Mass) as well as a longer time on Saturday. And if he is available for confession before Mass, that means he has to leave a lot of the practical work to lay people...

How can the priest leave practical work to lay people? Some priests micro-manage everything from song selection to whether the faithful can kneel after receiving the Eucharist (I suppose that was bishops). It seems in today's modern world, people want to be what they aren't and they have a difficult time accepting their roles. A priest should never 'give' homily time to a lay person- it is not his time to give. Preaching on the Gospel is the priest's duty. But what is not necessarily his duty? If the priest has well-catechized, faithful lay people, he can relax and leave many of the day to day duties to them. Frequent (and short) meetings will verify that all is well for the priest is the bishop of his parish. Boys and men trained in the action of the altar can join  the priest during the Liturgy (although it is possible in the Roman rite to have girls as altar servers, this leads to confusion as to why women cannot be ordained  as Catholic priests). Girls and women can participate in traditionally feminine roles such as flower arranging, linens, meal organizing and caring for shut-in parish members. Girls and women can be bell-ringers and  icon writers. All lay people can read the epistles and sing in the choir or as a cantor- while in the past these were minor orders because the roles are outside of the altar, it should not lead to confusion.

More Ideas on Lay Involvement
  •  Ask the priest how you can help. Maybe you are an accountant and can help with the books. Maybe the same 5 people have been on the pastoral council and new blood is needed. Maybe you can watch the little ones while the priest trains altar boys. Maybe you can drive an older parishioner to church. If your heart is open, the possibilities are endless- at least until the altar. :)
  • Don't accept a job that is the priest's. Sometimes it's hard if the lay person knows better than the priest. Chalk it up to misguided pastoral notions. If he asks you to do a presentation on the newest fundraising, say you would be happy to do so after the final blessing. Defend your priest to the finance committee who has all power over the church money when he wants to know how much money is in the accounts. Both priest and lay people should be involved with the parish bookkeeping.  
  • Be creative with participation- especially when it comes to girls. Remember that Mary the Mother of God, Mary Magdalene and others sat at the feet of Jesus when he taught (a radical idea for that time) yet they weren't apostles. Women have a different role than men in the Catholic Church. Let's say you want your daughter to be involved in church beyond going to Mass, but you don't want her to be an altar girl. Perhaps she can volunteer as a bell ringer or a choir member. She could help the person in charge of the bulletin if she has a literary bent. If she is artistic, she could learn how to write (paint) icons- this would be a permanent gift to her parish that she would be very proud of. And of course, children can help with coffee hour and prepare songs to sing. 
  • Don't insist on always doing the same job. This is a tough one. Just because you have the best singing voice in the parish does not mean that you always get to sing "O Holy Night" on Christmas Eve. Just because your family always brings the coffee doesn't mean that another family cannot also give. The only person who is guaranteed a job at the parish is the priest with the altar. Even he should step aside humbly when another person wants to make his world-famous cabbage rolls. We should be open to new ideas. 
  • For Eastern Catholic parishes with a married priest- please don't assume that he and his family can do it all- or that we want to do it all. Yes, a married priest has assistants on-call 24/7, but he is the only one ordained. I homeschool my four children and also work part-time as a college instructor.  One of my vocal chords is paralyzed. I am limited to what I can do. Our parish missions could use more help from lay people- the participation we do get is wonderful and welcome!
 A parish should be a loving family; there's enough work to go around.


    1. This is a vast question...how exactly do you mean? I have some thoughts, but not sure what to say at this point...

    2. WHOOPS! I didn't post the post! Back in 15 minutes.... :)

    3. Haha! I thought it was a very open-ended question and wanted to see what others wrote before I chimed in again. I'm glad I poked back in to see if anyone had replied. I have some thoughts, I'll be back when I'm a little less busy...on a deadline @ work, shouldn't even be HERE!

    4. here's what i really hate about some of the Chruchs Lay Persons/helpers. -this is not how all of the Churches up here work, but i've noticed it at all that have Lay Persons helping with the Eucharist- they rub hand sanitizer all over their hands and arms before stepping up to the alter and then giving out the Body and Blood of Christ.

      what do you think?

    5. mkoleary- They are probably doing this to show the people that they are clean- don't need to worry about germs. But it just isn't in the rubrics. They could easily wash their hands in the sacristy. Anyone who is really sick shouldn't be distributing anyway.

      We Byzantines have only priests and deacons distribute Eucharist and it is done by intinction (this is the licit way to do it in the Byzantine rite)- so of course, the people must be 'fed'- no hands involved. This is what I am used to- and I think it is easier

    6. Preoteasa,

      this seems to be a little unbalanced. There is much more to the life of the Church than liturgy or private devotions. This is fundamentally what went awry in the Latin Church --- for all the discussion of lay involvement in the life of the Church it all came down to what happens in the sanctuary or in Church.

      Reading the Acts of the Apostles we see that the Church from a rather ignominious start was actively involved in works of charity and works of mercy. These were directly linked to the life of the Church. So, looking after widows and orphans, alms giving, and attending to the poor.

      The Apostle James makes it quite clear about what is needed in the life of the Church - and liturgy, despite its importance, does not rate a mention: "Faith without good works is dead."

      The lay faithful have a much greater duty to society in general.

      Perhaps I am laying too much weight upon the title of this post. For years I have turning up to events and discovering that I was the only layperson attending who had a job "in the world", and have been treated as a bit of a leper. Certainly, it has been made clear that I am second class Catholic because I have a secular profession.

      I understand that you are discussing the life of the parish --- but what strikes me as missing is the good works and attending to the widows and orphans &c. The parish should extend to beyond the celebration of the liturgy.

    7. BEAR- I hear you! I didn't focus on Church life outside of Church except when I alluded to lay people driving an older member to church- it follows that this older person would be looked after by these lay people

      Other examples of lay involvement outside of the Liturgy-
      -pro-life works, either in the political sphere or knitting booties
      -helping in the church kitchen, perhaps extending aid to homeless
      -visiting those in prison and hospitals

      So many ways to help! Both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are guides to what we lay people can do.

      I am sorry that others have not accepted your help. It is those with secular jobs that make the religious life possible- think of the rich sponsors of art and architecture in years past. In any case, you are baptized- so you have an important role in the Church.

      We all share in Christ's priesthood whether or not we are ordained- I am just sensitive with excessive lay involvement at the altar- this is a problem in the US and Western Europe

    8. Oooooo.... another Eastern Catholic blogger. We may be a minority but we're never silent.


    9. Crescat- I just want fellow Catholics to know we exist! :) The Pope likes us- I swear!

    10. Personally, I don't like female altar servers or lay Eucharistic ministers. But to me, it is a matter of obedience. The Bishop has said they are allowable, so it is not my place to fight it, vent about it, silently rebel against it, etc. Even if the Bishop is wrong, I am not wrong in obeying him. And quite probably, he is right :). My opinion on the subject does not matter.--Diane

    11. Diane- I see where you are coming from- I didn't 'storm out' of the Western-rite Mass because there were girl altar servers- but for my daughters, I don't want them up there- so if we were Western-rite, I personally would look for alternatives to participation. When they are adults, it is their choice- of course, this is done with love and not judgement- just what is best for my family- I hope I make sense... :)

    12. That makes complete sense to me.

      My son serves the altar, and my daughter does not (my other daughters are too young). But I have explained to her clearly my reasoning, being careful not to question the authority of the Church through the Bishop.

      And my reason is that I do not want her in the line of fire of those who do not want her up there. There are those vocal people at my church, and yes, they do tell the poor little girls their opinions.

      We are very involved in many ways at our parish, so I'm not really searching for involvement--if anything, we are too involved, it sometimes strains our family schedule. But you are right; people need to look around for ways to serve (myself included) that they don't necessarily expect. I am always disappointed by the lack of involvement on the part of many at our parish.

      Anyway, sorry I am rambling on. I do enjoy your blog very much.--Diane

    13. Hmmm.....I tend to agree with the gist of what you are saying, but how to do it amidst a sea of those who believe otherwise. Thanks for the post!

    14. Father- I've been thinking about your post...I don't know the specifics of your situation- let's say you really would rather not have altar girls: what to do when they are licit in the Roman rite? First of all: start some activities for the girls- Little Flowers, Junior Catholic Daughters, bell ringers- make sure that well-behaved pre-teen girls and older are able to be in choirs and altar society, etc. I promise you that there are some families that don't have their girls on the altar and they would like something for their girls to do. To increase reverence with altar servers, install a dress code- not with an iron hand, but in God's mercy expect the children to wear dress shoes, modest clothing and long hair is pulled back with no adornment. Also- you might have one or two adult male altar servers (really more like sacristans) up on the altar with you.
      If you decide to reduce the number of extraordinary Eucharistic ministers, just ask the choir or cantor to have two extra, reverent songs picked out. If you use words like 'reverent', they know what you want, but they have the freedom to choose specifics.
      These are just some ideas- I don't know your situation specifically. Think of your method as 'a frog in a pot,' go slowly with real, positive changes in love and mercy.
      As their priest, you have the duty to lead your people towards all that is good and holy- just looking at your website- I bet you could write this post much better than I!

      A fun activity- every homiliy- quickly start with a few questions from the Baltimore catechism. I'm a little weary of lay people blaming clergy that they were not properly catechized- nothing is secret, open the Bible and some books- Moses and Jesus are not contemporaries...

    15. One thing not clear with my comment above- father wouldn't do away with girl altar servers if his bishop has allowed them- he would give girls options for participation and also emphasize the 'male' at the altar with adult male altar servers

    16. Thanks for your response, though I was not so much referring to female altar servers as commenting upon your blog as a whole. I think that we have lost quite a bit of our understanding of roles in the church and as a result we many times have unreasonable expectations. For example, we in the Latin Rite do have extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist which I am not opposed to, but what sometimes is troublesome in when those extraordinary ministers get upset when another member of the clergy, an ordinary minister of the Eucharist, shows up. It shows a lack of understanding of the role of clergy as being the person who normally fulfills this role. There is also, at least from what I have observed, a tendency to think ministry only means clerical liturgical ministry and that I will only be recognized for this type of ministry.

      Of course the opposite are those, clergy included, who want to make ourselves just like everyone else. When you have been ordained you are set apart.

      I think what struck me most in your post, however, was your comments about priests allowing those who have the gifts to use those gifts and for them to focus on priestly things. This is what I meant when I was saying it is difficult. I know many of my brother priests and I would like nothing more than to simply be priests, but many times other things, that could be accomplished by others, are expected of us.

      It always worries me to hear a priest say something like, I would like to have time for prayer, but I just have too many other obligations. Or, my work is my prayer. My own thought is that if I don't have enough time for prayer, something is extremely wrong.

      Anyway, thanks for your thoughts and I am glad to have found your blog.

      1. The real problem is if you don't have time to drink. That's serious.

      2. I think a priest should be required to take the last names of his bishop. That way he completely surrenders his personhood to the will of his superior. Consider for a moment a man, who upon marriage, takes his wife's name. Would that not be the most counter cultural, self negating act possible? That's the level of dedication we need in the priesthood. We need men willing to become baby-like, emotionless man pu55ies willing to take orders and carry them out without question. You know. Like a man completely controlled by his overbearing wife.

    17. "Lay people do not preach"

      This would be news to my friends who are Dominican nuns.

    18. Katherine- Tell us more! Very interesting...but what I mostly meant was that the time for the homily shouldn't be filled with stewardship appeals and the like. Do these nuns preach during a normal parish Sunday Mass- or just at the convent to fellow nuns and perhaps retreatants?

    19. "Dominican" is, of course, a nickame. The proper name for these women religious is "the Order of Preachers."

      I agree that the homily is the homily, not the place for general announcements. Equally true is that preaching is preaching and suggesting it is just something done in the middle of Mass may more impoverishes our faith as junking up the homily with other matters.

      The Dominican nuns accept the calling to preach. I wish other lay people would as well. Frank Sheed and Maise Ward used to preach on street corners. I have been at meetings at very poor (economically) parishes with people with very little formal education when they have stood up and testified to their faith with such spiritual depth that you could have knocked me over with a feather from their witness.

      In my parish we frequently have lay preaching following Vespers. It can be wonderfully fullfilling from a spiritual standpoint.

    20. Father Mathis- sorry I didn't publish your comment- it went into my spam folder for some reason!

    21. Father,

      I also want to thank you for your post. I serve as a Eucharistic Minister in the Roman Catholic Church. I hear your point. Persoanlly, I rather not serve as a Eucharistic Minister. I find it somewhat frighting. But my parish has a great need for trained eucharistic ministers and I have accepted the request to serve. I thinbk it actually would be somewhat irreverent to have the long 'intermission' in the Mass that would be the case if we did not have Eucharistic Ministers.

      I do spend much time preparing myself spiritually for this ministry. While I am actually happy to be excused when scheduled, I just ask that I be given a phone call when this is known rather than some unclear hand signals during Mass. That is what upsets this EM. I mean, they have no trouble telephoning me for the Archbishop's Appeal!

      On the other issue I will put my cards on the table. We have altar servers who are potential priestly candidates. We have others -- girls, Downs Syndrome and other handicaps which make them ineligible for the priesthood. I don't see how one conflicts with the other.

    22. This post is old, I know, but I'm commenting anyway. ;)

      I agree with you- it bothers me terribly, all these things: girl servers, extraordinary ministers, communion in the hand; I don't know what I can do to change it, but for my part I don't let my daughters serve, I receive on the tongue (I'd kneel if I didn't make a scene), and I'll even dance around in the line to be on Father's side for distribution! I'll explain my actions to people, and hope their awareness of the sacred is heightened. I think that's what it boils down to- things that add to the reverence of what we're doing... making people think and realize what the Mass is! It's all taken too lightly, IMHO.

    23. Please don't assume that he and his family can do it all- or that we want to do it all. Yes, a married priest has assistants on-call 24/7, but he is the only one ordained.



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