Minnesota parish under fire for lay preaching

The problem reportedly surfaced last weekend, and drew the attention of higher-ups in the diocese.

Here’s more, from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune (and I’m sure you can spot the glaring factual error in the second paragraph…):

At a recent Sunday mass at St. Edward Catholic Church in Bloomington, a woman stepped to the lectern on the altar — and started to preach.

Before long, the vicar general of the archdiocese was paying a call to St. Edward’s pastor, the Rev. Mike Tegeder, and reminding him that the rules of Vatican II have changed. Lay people, even someone with a master’s degree in theology from St. Paul Seminary like this woman, can’t give homilies anymore. That job can be done only by priests.

“She probably is more competent than most priests when it comes to putting together a good message,” Tegeder said. “She has basically the same training as a priest.”

As many parishes in the country — including in the Twin Cities — struggle with a growing shortage of priests, the St. Edward’s incident points up tensions over the appropriate place for parishioners since the Vatican started limiting what roles they can play.

The archdiocese says it’s abiding by a Vatican policy change that began in 2004, though church leaders here didn’t actually try to enforce it until 2008, just before Archbishop John Nienstedt’s arrival.

After the Jan. 23 service at St. Edward’s, Tegeder said a parishioner notified the archdiocese that Heidi Busse preached the homily, the part of the mass when priests or deacons typically reflect on the Gospel and scripture. Busse is in charge of adult faith education at St. Edward’s and was preaching about the subject, Tegeder said. Busse could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Tegeder said that the Rev. Peter Laird, the archdiocese vicar general, told him that lay people could only preach after communion, near the end of mass.

“The purpose of the homily at the mass is to interpret the gospel,” said archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath. “Normally a priest is far more qualified to deliver that message. A priest is ordained to preach. Also, there’s an opportunity there for wrong teaching or misinterpretation [with lay preachers].”

Tegeder said Busse is scheduled to preach at an April 11 Lenten penance service at St. Edward’s, which is not a mass. He’d also like her to preach at a mass celebrating Mother’s Day in May. He said he’s not sure yet if he’ll ask her to preach during the homily or after communion.

There’s more at the link, including background on lay preaching.

And is it just me, or does it seem like the last sentence should be, really, a moot point?  Why is the pastor still “not sure” about when she will preach, when the law of the Church has already answered that question?

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25 responses to “Minnesota parish under fire for lay preaching”

  1. “When” has two meanings here: the date, and the point in the Mass where she will “preach.” So what the pastor is not sure about is not completely clear.

  2. The Congregation for the Clergy clarified this item when I was begining formation in 1997. In their document concerning the collaboration with “non-ordained” faithful, they had this to say about thhe homily during Mass:

    § 1. The homily, being an eminent form of preaching, qua per anni liturgici cursum ex textu sacro fidei mysteria et normae vitae christianae exponuntia,(68) also forms part of the liturgy.

    The homily, therefore, during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, must be reserved to the sacred minister, Priest or Deacon(69) to the exclusion of the non-ordained faithful, even if these should have responsibilities as “pastoral assistants” or catechists in whatever type of community or group. This exclusion is not based on the preaching ability of sacred ministers nor their theological preparation, but on that function which is reserved to them in virtue of having received the Sacrament of Holy Orders. For the same reason the diocesan Bishop cannot validly dispense from the canonical norm(70) since this is not merely a disciplinary law but one which touches upon the closely connected functions of teaching and sanctifying.

    For the same reason, the practice, on some occasions, of entrusting the preaching of the homily to seminarians or theology students who are not clerics(71) is not permitted. Indeed, the homily should not be regarded as a training for some future ministry.

    All previous norms which may have admitted the non-ordained faithful to preaching the homily during the Holy Eucharist are to be considered abrogated by canon 767, § 1.(72)

    § 2. A form of instruction designed to promote a greater understanding of the liturgy, including personal testimonies, or the celebration of eucharistic liturgies on special occasions (e.g. day of the Seminary, day of the sick etc.) is lawful, of in harmony with liturgical norms, should such be considered objectively opportune as a means of explicating the regular homily preached by the celebrant priest. Nonetheless, these testimonies or explanations may not be such so as to assume a character which could be confused with the homily.

    § 3. As an expositional aide and providing it does not delegate the duty of preaching to others, the celebrant minister may make prudent use of “dialogue” in the homily, in accord with the liturgical norms.(73)

    § 4. Homilies in non-eucharistic liturgies may be preached by the non-ordained faithful only when expressly permitted by law and when its prescriptions for doing so are observed.

    § 5. In no instance may the homily be entrusted to priests or deacons who have lost the clerical state or who have abandoned the sacred ministry.(74)

  3. As if Holy Mother Church did not have more burning or pressing problems than lay preaching and shared communion.

    I wonder what the esteemed Mr. Peters might have to say about some of the other issues that we face?

    As an active Roman Catholic I submit to all church law. However, I really and truly object to the hue and cry over these matters when all the good juridical Roman Catholic minds seem completely unconcerned with matters such as how to provide food – spiritual and real, solace, comfort and hope to God’s people?

    There is the letter of the law and there is the spirit of the law. We need both.

    Also – is it just me or does anyone find it bitter irony that many women can teach liturgical preaching in seminaries yet not actually preach?

    As for priests being more qualified, that is sadly and regrettably not always the case.

  4. This article is so misleading. Aside from Mass, the laity – men as well as women – can be permitted to preach, under well-defined situations. That preaching might be termed “giving a reflection” as opposed to a homily, but it’s still preaching.

    As a layman as part of a parish staff, I was asked to occasionally give “reflections” during communion services and, when necessary, committal services when our pastor was unavailable. Many people like the concept of a trained layperson preaching on occasion, but many resist, and I encountered both reactions over time.

    This is a matter of an ordained minister being responsible enough to learn and know what the “boundaries” are and why they are present. When the 1997 “Instruction” on participation in ministry by the laity was released, the inside talk was that the reason for its existence was not pushy, overreaching laity, but lazy (or overworked) clergy. (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/laity/documents/rc_con_interdic_doc_15081997_en.html) It’s a matter of catechesis – for laypeople and the ordained alike.

    It’s also a matter of something which people in our Church have said they need – good, clear, competent and challenging preaching.

  5. Fran, with due respect, I think that you may be missing the point … the homily is intrinsically linked to the rest of the liturgy, therefore it should be given by the priest or deacon. This norm should help to elevate the celebrant’s homily! (Good preaching IS a “pressing and burning problem”)
    My parish has inspiring lay people speaking regularly…just after the distribution of Communion or in other circumstances.

  6. It’s not often that a priest neuters himself in public, but I have to hand it to Father Tegeder for doing so in style:

    “She probably is more competent than most priests when it comes to putting together a good message.”

    This isn’t a priest sharing preaching duties with a deacon, who is also ordained to preach and teach. This is a priest who sits down because he admits that this particular woman is more competent than himself.

    As for Fran’s objections, it doesn’t help to make invidious distinction. Also, I beg to differ with you on the matter of more burning and pressing issues.

    The Eucharist is the source and summit of our life in the Church, and the mass has become a plaything for every rebel who figured out that a degree in Liturgy was the ticket to remolding the Mass to suit their fancy. It’s been the battlefield on which every anarchist in the Church has fought their battles, and even though I grew up in the Vovus Ordo strumming my guitar at folk masses, I’m ready to pitch the whole thing and return to the Tridintine in Latin just to shut the anarchists down.

    It’s uncharitable to all concerned to have women preach at Mass. First, it is a violation of Church law. Second, it perpetuates the hope that women can some day be ordained priests, when JP II invoked both the ordinary and extraordinary Magisterium, teaching that priestly ordination is reserved to men alone and that this teaching was, “to be held as DEFINITIVE by all the faithful.”

    Finally, the answer to a priest not being able to cobble together a decent reflection on the scriptures is not to break a pile of Church laws. I won’t recapitulate the thread dealing with homiletic tools for guys too lazy or unable to put together a coherent homily, though I will say this:

    As the father of my home, it is my responsibility to teach my children the faith along with my wife. We do so in simple, direct terms that communicate the truth. That’s my job as the father of my home. The same may be said for the father of the parish. Barring the few really good souls who just can’t do public speaking, most guys are overextended in their commitments and need a slight priority adjustment so that they leave a few hours per week for prayerful contemplation of the Gospels; and since the homily is the laity’s favorite complaint, we can all do our priests a favor by making a few less demands so that they have the time to devote to this all-important function.

  7. Eka, thank you for your civility. I am simply saying that the public outcry over such matters in proportion to real problems and in proportion to the integrity of the Body of Christ is the problem.

    That there should be other preachers – well, that is another matter.

    I however was also commenting on the irony of women who teach liturgical preaching and yet cannot preach.

  8. As I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, just because someone — priest, bishop, deacon — is ORDAINED to preach doesn’t mean that they CAN.

    I dare say: a lot of the people in the pews could do a better job than many of those now in the ambo.

    Dcn. G.

  9. The fact that the Church has other, apparently more urgent, concerns than the question of who may give the homily does not mean that the issue should not be addressed when it arises. We should avoid false dichotomies. We should take care of both. I know that in my diocese we are gearing up for a massive “Catholics Come Home” effort in Lent. I’d hate to think that doing so makes it impossible to insist on proper celebration of the liturgy.

    And, Deacon Greg, as others have pointed out, the question is not one of speaking ability or theological learning. It is a question of the nature of ordination and — which nobody has mentioned — being given the faculty to preach by one’s diocesan bishop.

  10. One of the things being missed here is that there is no rule that the laity cannot preach, only that they cannot give the homily. So there are members of the laity out there who can preach better than priests? then let them preach. We have plenty of non-homily opportunities in the Church for them to preach. But the homily is a particular obligation of the clergy.

    I think the source of many of our liturgical abuses is that the devotional life of so many Catholics is so stunted, that the mass is not only the summit of their worship, it is the extent of their worship. So people often try to shoe-horn into mass all the religious activities that they desire. Liturgical dancing, music that doesn’t really suit the mass, manufactured “rites” that have real meaning but aren’t a part of the liturgical life of the Church, and lay preaching, we stuff them into mass because mass is seen as the only venue. But the reality that we should be expanding out religious life to make more venues where these things are appropriate.

    And Fran,

    This is a burning issue. It’s about the clergy abdicating the responsibilities of their office .. which is also one of the root causes of the abuse problem. And even if other issues are more burning, that does not mean that we ignore this.

  11. Preach the Gospel always…when necessary, use words.

    Me thinks it would serve us all well to remember that above all.

  12. As a Minnesotan–maybe people know this, but this priest has a long history of being a bit of the burr in the side of the Archbishop. I’ve been to this parish (twice–closest to my in-laws, but I stopped when it became such a lightning rod), it is HUGE and wealthy and has tons of programming. I wonder what they’d be like with a less argumentative pastor.

    I’m not in favor of lay preaching at Mass, during the homily period or at any other point. Of course some lay preachers could be better at it, but that actually isn’t the point. Make space for lay preaching in another venue (daily prayer service, etc.)! THAT could be valuable and illuminating.

  13. I suggest that the solution is quite simple: ordain women deacons and find ways for competent lay persons to preach outside the homily.

    God Bless

  14. My understanding is that another speaker can share a presentation with the priest or deacon. So a mother’s day homily could have a priest interact with a mother.

    At my wedding the priest let my father, who is a protestant pastor, give the homily. Later he told me he said a few words after the gospel. That was the homily. My father’s address was just a statement from a guest.

    I have the video of the wedding. The priest said nothing after the gospel. But he wanted what happened to be understood that way.

  15. I’m not sure that it is appropriate for a homilist to share the stage with a mother, a friend or one’s pet dog (as happened in a very unhappy service I attended). The homily is part of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, not personal expression time.

    Deacon Greg, you dare say those in the pew could preach better. I hope you are not daring to suggest that those in the pews should be the ones who are preaching. Didn’t you make some serious promises when you were ordained?

  16. If people want lay preaching and shared communion become a Protestant. I think the integrity of the Mass is a burning issue and if you don’t think so, well how sad.

  17. When I was a Pastoral Associatet, one of my duties was to “preach” once a month at all the masses. Now, I say preach because the pastor tried to be liturgically sound in handling this situation, so I did not give a homily, rather it was a reflection. He would give a homily and then at the end of Mass before the dismissal I was given some time to reflect on the readings. We worked together to be sure that there were no overlaps, inconsistencies, and problems. It worked well for us. The main reason Father wanted this done was to allow the whole Church to know me and my approach to the ministries I was charged with at the church in the context of the readings for that particular week. It seemed to be a good situation for our parish.

    One thing that we have to remember is that the Homily is a liturgical act, not simply someone teaching the assembly. That is why it is reserved for a particular minister. Primarily, the Homily should be given by the presiding Bishop or priest as a liturgical means of further breaking open the word of God. At times it is done by a deacon, however that is not the deacons primary role at Mass. This is noted in the GIRM when it states:

    “The homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to the deacon, but never to a lay person. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a bishop or a priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate. (GIRM 66) ”

    This gets really confused when a Brother or Sister from a religious order comes to Mass to ask for funds to support their community and ministry. Too often I have seen them come up after the Gospel is proclaimed and give a “homily.” These actions often blur the unique distinction of the Homily being a liturgical act and not just a time for being taught or inspired by a very good speaker.

  18. The problem is that so many Catholics have become Protestantized in outlook that they no longer believe that there is a sacrament of Holy Orders which leaves an indeliable character on the ordained man’s soul.

    Grace does build on nature so, ordination won’t make a bad preacher good. But, by ordination the priest or deacon, striving to cooperate with grace to the best of his ability, becomes a channel of grace even through bad preaching.

    We shouldn’t be anti-intellectual, but we also shouldn’t become anti-mystical. If Christ has established an ordained ministry to preach, we mustn’t use worldly criteria to usurp that office.

    Finally, if people are going to Mass primarily for the preaching and not the Holy Eucharist, they have lost their Catholic sensibility.

  19. pagansister,

    I think there would have been the same reaction to a lay man. But men are vastly underrepresented among the ranks of non-custodial parish staff, so it’s not a problem that’s likely to arise often.

  20. Is this restriction of the ministry of the Gospel, taking effect after many years of a more open interpretation under Paul 6 and JP 2, truly a response to lay led heresy and/or incompetence? Or is it a pharisaical spirit at work, misleading the clergy into a fearful protectiveness of their own power and priviledge. Under these rules, the Virgin Mary would not be allowed to proclaim the Gospel though her Magnificat is one of the principal prayers of the Church. Neither would St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena or Mother Teresa, et. al. be allowed to offer a message during the Liturgy of the Word. Also I wonder about St. Francis of Assissi (as he may or may not have been a Deacon) Surely, many of his brothers were simply brothers – they too would not be allowed to offer a message. What is truly motivativing this liturgical restrictiveness. God knows, there is a priest shortage. Who then will preach the Gospel?

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