At a recent Sunday Mass at St. Edward Catholic church in Bloomington, a woman stepped up to the podium on the altar -- and started to preach.
For at least one parishioner, the act of a female lay person (albeit with a master’s degree in theology from St. Paul seminary) addressing the congregation during the homily portion of the worship service was too out of bounds.
So the parishioner contacted the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis after the Jan. 23 service. And not long after, the Rev. Peter Laird, the archdiocese vicar general, spoke to St. Edward’s pastor, the Rev. Mike Tegeder, about the situation.
According to Tegeder, Laird said it was not appropriate for a lay person to preach during the homily, the part of the Mass when priests or deacons usually reflect on the Gospel and scripture. Tegeder said Laird indicated it was only OK for lay people to preach or make comments after Holy Communion, near the end of Mass.
Tegeder, however, stands by his move to allow the woman to address the congregation about the issue of adult faith formation at St. Edward, an area she’s in charge of leading at the church -- one of the largest in the Twin Cities with nearly 6,400 members.
Tegeder maintains lay parishioners have many skills and gifts to offer churches and their talents should not be wasted.
“She probably is more competent than most priests when it comes to putting together a good message,” said Tegeder, a frequent critic of Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt. “She has basically the same training as a priest.”
As many parishes across the country (including those in the Twin Cities) struggle with a growing shortage of priests, lay participation in church ministry (or lack thereof) can have very real impact on a church’s existence, proponents of lay preachers say. Also, they maintain that lay preachers allow for a diversity of voices and views to be heard within the church.
For decades, the Catholic Church did allow for lay followers to preach during Mass -- a practice approved of in the 1960s at the Vatican II council. The idea behind lay preaching was to encourage greater participation by non-clergy members in the Mass and other church activities.
In 2004, however, the Vatican amended the practice to say lay people could only preach or make comments following Holy Communion, near the end of Mass.
Twin Cities archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath said the archdiocese is following the policies of the Vatican.
“The purpose of the homily at the Mass is to interpret the Gospel,” McGrath said. “Normally a priest is far more qualified to deliver that message. Also there’s an opportunity there for wrong teaching or misinterpretation (with lay preachers).”
Tegeder said the woman parishioner 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.
What do you think? Should lay parishioners be allowed to preach during the Mass? Are there other churches in the Twin Cities area which use lay preachers?