Lay Preaching Ends, Look For Clerical Narcissism

CNS picks up the story as their lead headline today. Before Redemptionis Sacramentum a bishop had the power to authorize lay preaching in his diocese. Aware that some canonists disagreed, it is deceptive at best, and at worst a bold-faced lie to suggest lay preaching in general is a “liturgical abuse,” as some have said.

Archbishop Flynn or any archbishop is well within the power of the old interpretation of CCC 766-767 to put the clamp on the non-ordained preaching. Too bad Flynn takes it so personally:

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. The church does not want people just standing up there and giving opinions or even things they’ve read in books.

Hopefully some presbyters are getting the message, too. A show of hands, please, on all the regurgitated internet or preaching service homilies we’ve heard from the clergy …


To preach the Gospel is an extremely important part of the mission of any priest — I cannot overemphasize its importance. I would feel deprived, because this is my vocation to preach the Gospel.

Archbishop Flynn has a curiously individualistic take on this. I wonder what happens when priests who feel this way end up in a concelebration. I suppose when you’re the bishop you pretty much get to call the shots.


And if I were celebrating Mass, and it came time for me to preach — which should be the fruit of my prayer, my experience and the experience of those who (are) in (the) congregation — it would be disruptive to me to have someone else come and break open the word of God.

So much for the liturgical role of the diaconate in Minneapolis-St Paul.

I realize I’m being a bit unfair to the archbishop. While I have no doubt he is a devoted man of God and probably a decent priest and bishop, the public reasoning given on the end of lay preaching seems pretty milquetoast. It would be enough to say Redemptionis Sacramentum forbids it, that he agrees with that ruling, and with the new bishop hitting town it’s a good time to clean up lay preaching. End of story. Or maybe the yammering about personal deprivation and disruption is just some good old fashioned Catholic Guilt coming to the fore.

If so, good. That means the man’s human.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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8 Responses to Lay Preaching Ends, Look For Clerical Narcissism

  1. My experience with lay preachers is such that I will take clerical narcissism over the narcissism of the clericalized “super-laity” any day.

  2. Liam says:

    Background for those unfamiliar with the terrain here:

    It took until 2001 for the USCCB to finally decree norms (which the Congregation for Clergy in 1997 had reiterated the provision of Canon 766 in “INSTRUCTION ON CERTAIN QUESTIONS REGARDING THE COLLABORATION OF THE NON-ORDAINED FAITHFUL IN THE SACRED MINISTRY OF THE PRIEST” had to be done at the conference level) under Canon 766 to permit lay preaching under authority delegated to ordinaries.

    http://www.usccb.org/norms/766.htm

    And then Redemptionis Sacramentum was issued in 2004.

  3. Clayton says:

    The best practical argument against lay preaching, at least in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, has been lay preaching.

    There is a serious lack of theological depth among many professional lay Catholics. Lots of political depth, not so much theological depth. I mean, when some lay people are preaching after a reading from Malcolm X, rather than the Gospel, you get the sense that an understanding of liturgy and homiletics is rather low.

  4. Liam: it may be me, but I can’t quite follow the flow of your post, it may be you expressed yourself too compactly.

    Todd: I think it’s a bit tendentious for you to say that lay preaching isn’t clearly an abuse, and has been, because I think we both know that what is being complained about isn’t lay preaching in general, but specifically such preaching in the context of the sacred liturgy, particularly the Mass.

    Canon law clearly forbids lay preaching occurring at the point reserved for the homily, which is reserved for an ordained minister, at most Masses; there is an exception for Masses with children, although this is somewhat in tension with the predominant norm, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up being a “loophole” that is closed.

    It would seem from Canon 766 that perhaps a lay preacher can be authorized to preach in the context of non-Mass liturgies, but here too, this seems to me to be in tension with other parts of the Church’s understanding of the liturgy and the necessary role of the clergy in leading liturgy, and preaching in relation to that, vs. non-liturgical prayer.

    That said, I agree with you on this: the explanation of this change, from the Archdiocese, misses a point, when it emphasizes how the clergy have “training and theological background.” Yes, that counts, but the main issue is that such preaching is intrinsically connected to the sacramental action, and thus pertains to those having the sacrament of holy orders, at least as pertains to the homily at Mass. I also think that makes sense in all liturgy, at least when an ordained minister is leading the liturgy, but that is, as mentioned above, not clarified in the Church’s norms.

  5. Liam says:

    Fr Martin

    My apologies:

    1983: Promulgation of current Code. Canon 766 make some provision for lay preaching, but subject to norms duly established by episcopal conferences (that is, individual bishops have no authority to permit except under such norms).

    1997: Instruction reiterates and amplifies on this.

    2001: USCCB, after several years of twists and turns, issues norms.

    2004: Redemptionis Sacramentum clarifies what can and can’t be done in terms of lay preaching.

    Is that better?

  6. Randolph Nichols says:

    Many years ago I was a staff writer for GoodNews, the homilectic service (now defunct)headed by Fr. Joseph Nolan of Boston College. Nolan, who still enjoys a reputation as a stellar preacher, wanted scholars with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Most of his writers had some connection with the Harvard Divinity School, but only Nolan and maybe one other were ordained Catholic clergy. It was not uncommon to drop into mass someplace and be startled by a homily, delivered almost word for word, that one of us had written.

    While I have genuine hesitations about lay people having access to the pulpit, we need to acknowledge that the best preaching often relies on insights of the laity.

  7. Liam, thanks, and no apology needed, the flaw is probably in me, not you, I just needed a little help!

  8. Randolph:

    I heartily agree with your point: “While I have genuine hesitations about lay people having access to the pulpit, we need to acknowledge that the best preaching often relies on insights of the laity” (emphasis added).

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