Archbishop orders end to lay preachers at Mass

Minneapolis, May 15, 2008 (CNA). Archbishop of Minneapolis and St. Paul Harry Flynn has ordered an end to lay preaching at parishes in the archdiocese, saying the practice was more widespread than he had realized.

The Catholic Spirit reports that over the past 25 years as many as 29 parishes in the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul have used lay preachers at Mass.

In a letter to pastors in January, Archbishop Flynn ordered them to end the practice. He cited the 2004 Vatican instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” which called lay preaching a liturgical abuse. In lay preaching, a non-ordained person reflects on the Gospel reading at the place in Mass reserved for a homily delivered by a priest or a deacon.

Archbishop Flynn said only an ordained man should preach after the Gospel at Mass. He had set his retirement date, May 2, as a deadline for parishes to develop a “pastoral plan” to end lay preaching at Mass.

Patricia Hughes Baumer, who co-founded the lay preaching training organization Partners in Preaching with her husband Fred in 1997, said many lay preachers have expressed “grief and anger” over the archbishop’s directive to stop the practice.

Proponents of lay preaching, The Catholic Spirit says, claim that the practice is allowed by canon law and argue both the congregation and the pastors benefit from hearing Gospel reflections from diverse voices.

Some have speculated that Archbishop Flynn wanted to “clean house” before Archbishop John Nienstedt assumed leadership of the archdiocese, though Archbishop Flynn said that was not the case.

Archbishop Flynn told the Catholic Spirit that local leaders in the lay preaching movement were aware of his disapproval. Though he knew that a few parishes used lay preachers, he wrote his January letter only after realizing a larger number of parishes were engaged in the practice.

The archbishop said he had told Baumer on two occasions why the practice cannot be promoted. He said that canon law forbids the practice and insisted that the education, formation, and ordination of priests and deacons make them uniquely suited to preach during Mass.

“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, according to The Catholic Spirit. “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?”

He said that allowing a non-ordained person to preach would interrupt the action of the Mass. The Scriptures, he said, make it clear that it was the role of presbyters to preach.

“To preach the Gospel is an extremely important part of the mission of any priest – I cannot overemphasize its importance,” Archbishop Flynn said. If he did not preach, he said, “I would feel deprived, because this is my vocation to preach the Gospel.”

He said that priests should pray and spend more time preparing their homilies because that is their work.

If a layperson must speak or preach at Mass, the archbishop said, it would be appropriate to do so after the prayer after Communion.



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