In a story last week in The Tablet.
Lay sermons permitted, Vatican tells Swiss bishops. Proposals by Swiss bishops to allow lay theologians to give sermons and Protestants to receive Communion have met with the approval of the Curia in Rome, Bishop Amédée Grab, president of the Swiss bishops’ conference, said this week.
I was highly skeptical of this story when I saw it and figured I would not have to wait too long to see it debunked. Permission for lay theologians to give homilies would be a direct violation of canon law. This of course is not a doctrinal issue and is more of a prudential decision regarding the liturgy, but if the Church did allow this than canon law would have to be changed first. The same article had said that this would be allowed for "emergency situations" and I would really like to know what situation calls for an emergency pinch homilist. The Mass would required that a priest or bishop be there to celebrate Mass in the first place and homilies are only required for Sundays and other Holy Days of Obligation.
Giving Communion to Protestants in situations other than impending death and their acceptance of the Catholic view of the Eucharist goes way beyond just the prohibitions in canon law. Saint Paul did not mince words for those who did not discern the body and blood of the Lord and it would also be wrong for someone to give an amen to what they do not in fact believe.
In a story today the rest of the story comes out. The Swiss Bishops received no such permission for these changes. Their Bishop’s conference recently wrote two documents on these subjects prior to the ad limina visit at the beginning of this month. One of the two documents actually condemns the intercelebration of Catholic priests and Protestant ministers and says:
"Unfortunately there are still obstacles on the path to the full unity of all Christians. Such barriers, however, may not be overcome by simplifications, playing down the seriousness of the open questions, as this is the case with intercelebrations of Catholic priests and Reformed ministers. In order to be able to celebrate the Eucharist of the Lord together sometime in the future, Catholics and Protestants must gather regularly and continue to pray with each other."
Their other document approves of lay people giving meditations or homilies during the Mass Redemptionis. This of course is in direct violation of both canon law and Redemptionis Sacramentum.
The Swiss Catholic lay organization ‘Pro Ecclesia" responded to the Bishop’s document.
"The documents of the Swiss bishops’ conference are surprising and worrying us, because they do not comply with the instructions of the magisterium". "Such a procedure appears to be a deliberate step to confront Rome with completed facts. Even more it contradicts the vow of obedience of the bishops to the Holy Father." The lay organisation was convinced that neither the Pope nor the concerned church authorities would grant Switzerland concessions, as these would put the unity of church at risk.
The article also included this:
A Swiss priest wrote in a kath.net article: "Our bishops are real world champions in blandishing crisis". He criticised that the bishops open a lengthy dialogue on liturgical abuses rather than calling their subordinates to obedience. The Swiss bishops state that "in some dioceses of Switzerland certain customs have developed that are not foreseen in the currently valid liturgical guidelines of the church universal." The priest remarks: "Our bishops state this in a way, as it would not affect their authority and responsibility as overseers of the local church." He concludes:"For me, as a priest, all this liturgical disobedience is really wearisome."
Suffragan bishop Paul Vollmar of Zurich told in a radio interview, that during a meeting on liturgical aspects, his German and Austrian colleagues have rebuked the idea to allow homilies by lay people: "Suddenly all of them approached me and said: You Swiss are really the pestilence in Europe."
Bishop Amédée Grab: Homilies by lay people are not allowed
At the end we have the same bishop quoted in last weeks article saying exactly the opposite, though I this one in a case of not the bishop flip-flopping but the press creating a story. The quote of the day has to go to the Swiss priest who said "For me, as a priest, all this liturgical disobedience is really wearisome." Can I get an Amen? It seems like bishop Paul Vollmar of Zurich is engaging in a bit of hyperbole when we said that his German and Austrian colleagues have each told him that the Swiss are really the pestilence in Europe. I believe German Cardinal Ratzinger would take a dim view of many of the Swiss Bishop’s efforts, I doubt if he or other fellow bishops would say such a thing (though some might think it.)
The alleged harsh words of German and Austrian bishops concerning the Swiss church could neither be confirmed nor denied by these two bishops. They stated, however, that especially in Switzerland it is very important to foster the insight that there exists an universal church, and that the Swiss Catholics are not autonomous but integrated in this universal church under the authority of the Holy Father.
Yes we must foster the insight regardless of whether it is true or not. Here is paragraph from their document "Laity in the Service of the Church" I
In the sense of this law, which we neither want to abolish nor to declare to be irrelevant, we state the following concerning the practical liturgical experience in the German-speaking dioceses of Switzerland: The appropriate proclamation of the gospel, fulfilling the actual needs of the believers, requires a longer and careful time of preparation; first in the theological studies, and then for each single sermon. In order to fulfil this requirement ,and to somewhat relieve the priests, which are growing older and getting fewer, we agree that pastoral assistants with an appropriate education and preparation, being assigned for pastoral care by a bishop (missio canonica) may give a sermon or meditation in lieu of the homily, provided that the celebrating priest agrees with this. It shall be expressed in an appropriate way, by a blessing of the celebrating priest or by his introductory word, that the preaching person interprets the word of god as a substitute for the celebrant. A priest celebrating as a temporary help, which is able and willing to prepare and give the homily by himself, may not be denied this right, otherwise we consider this to be an abuse.
I found the start of this paragraph to be really funny. We do not want to abolish the law or declare it irrelevant, but here is how we go about doing it. Taking a look a the relevant Canon:
Can. 767 §1. Among the forms of preaching, the homily, which is part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or deacon, is preeminent; in the homily the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian life are to be explained from the sacred text during the course of the liturgical year.
§2. A homily must be given at all Masses on Sundays and holy days of obligation which are celebrated with a congregation, and it cannot be omitted except for a grave cause.
§3. It is strongly recommended that if there is a sufficient congregation, a homily is to be given even at Masses celebrated during the week, especially during the time of Advent and Lent or on the occasion of some feast day or a sorrowful event.
§4. It is for the pastor or rector of a church to take care that these prescripts are observed conscientiously.
And from Redemptionis Sacramentum:
[64.] The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself, “should ordinarily be given by the Priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating Priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a Deacon, but never to a layperson. 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”
Update: From an article published on 19, Feb, 2005
However, in an update to our earlier posting on this site, the Austrian Kath.net news service – which had a journalist at the press conference – directly contradicts The Tablet.
It says: "[Bishop] Grab of Church stressed during the press conference, that "no priest shall be hindered to preach, and that no lay people are allowed to give a homily."