PrayTell posts the question on the Future of the Liturgist. I offered a spot of doubt on the long term future of lay ecclesial ministry, including liturgy. Except for music directors of old, there is very little historical precedent for liturgists, youth ministers, religious educators, and even school teachers, principals, and business managers. All are relatively recent additions to the parish staff, and all are mostly limited to select communities in the First World. In the US, there’s a certain ingrained professionalist approach to parish ministry, especially large parish ministry. Many of our Catholics are used to “service,” and will gladly hire experts to provide it.
I think it’s valid to ask if lay professionals are a transient phenomenon. Let’s remember that the proper lay sphere is in the world. It is in the world that we should be carrying the banner of the Gospel, guiding public policy, holding elective office, giving witness, evangelizing, reinforcing Catholic culture. Lay people, like the CHA. Not bishops. Not clergy.
For the administration of the Church, we have the challenge of large parishes, not to mention large dioceses. In the past century, we had multiple members of the clergy for each phenomenon. The hierarchy has decided, directly or by historical drift, to maintain these large collections of professionals. So a certain staff size is expected, by both parishioners and leaders. When there aren’t enough priests, lay people take over. We clap ourselves on the back for being so progressive and forward-looking, but are we really?
So I think as long as bishops permit large parishes there will be professional liturgists of some sort. Musical lay people, certainly.
In the PrayTell thread, Rita Ferrone details the difference between two sorts of liturgists. Some parishes employ a coordinator, volunteer or paid, to organize the details of liturgical life: recruiting and training volunteers, plus managing them. Depending on the liturgical inclination of the priest(s) these “super-sacristans” might share duties with clergy. Or duties could be delegated to lay people, either staff members (in large and medium-sized parishes) or parishioners (in small parishes, but also some larger ones).
I think liturgists of this sort we will always have with us.
Then you have lay people with professional degrees and/or experience who assist in deeper matters: advising the pastor on parish policy, performing in-depth formation for volunteers and the parish, advancing initiatives in music, theology, or the arts. Most often, I’ve been placed in the position of both sorts, and also a third: being a manager of the largest cadre of parish volunteers.
I’ve spoken of this before, but not often: I believe the ideal parish is large enough to fill a fair-sized church for Sunday Mass, but only one such liturgy per weekend. To realize the full potential of Sacrosanctum Concilium, I’d think three liturgies a day are perfect: Lauds, Mass, and Vespers. Would such a parish need a professional liturgist in addition to a liturgically-minded pastor? Probably not. But our parishes don’t look like that yet, do they? That would be real progress: smaller intentional communities, and a lot more of them than we have parishes today.
The uncertainty about the continuing liturgical reform, and its direction places many parishes in a spot. Clergy formation in liturgy is still spotty. Many guys realize they lack the initiative and knowledge to actively serve the parish as a liturgist, so they hire someone or get a volunteer to organize the ministries, and possibly work toward initiatives like implementing new rites and translations.
My sense is that if we continue in any kind of reform mode, that someone will need to make connections. And with American pragmatism sailing the pastoral boat in many locales, the ordained clergy will do what they alone can do–the sacraments. What can’t get fit on the plate goes to lay people. Getting competent people is a priority, and usually these folks will get paid for it if the time commitment is large and the expertise on a high level.
As an aside, I don’t think this model is the healthiest for clergy. They weren’t ordained to be a sacramental supplier. Obviously, a deeper collaboration between clergy and laity would be healthy for everyone involved. But I don’t see our present pope, brilliant mind that he has, thinking in deep terms like this.
Back in my ideal parish, I could foresee a handful of well-formed parishioners taking on both liturgist roles in concert with the pastor. Frankly, that has a certain appeal. In another thirty years when I retire, let me know if such a parish exists. I’d want to worship and live there. Meanwhile, I think Americans will continue to see a professional class of lay ministers, and liturgists will be counted among them. The more upheaval in the Church, the longer they will be with us. It’s a curious thing: people who want to turn back the clock will keep the pendulum going, and will continue to produce work for lots of us. If, that is, we’re willing to keep laboring under these conditions.