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Pope outlines vision for lay ministry; Vatican to publish document on those who have remarried outside the Church

April 24, 2023

In an April 22 address to the second plenary assembly of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, Pope Francis outlined his vision of lay ministry in the Church.

In his apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia (Praedicate Evangelium, 2022), Pope Francis established that curial dicasteries should hold plenary sessions, typically every two years, that involve all of their members (Article 26). The theme of the Dicastery’s second plenary assembly, held from April 20 to 22, was “Laity and Ministry in a Synodal Church,” with special reference to Praedicate Evangelium, Article 133, which involves the institution of new ministries.

The Dicastery, in addition to its leadership, has 28 members and 23 consultors. The Dicastery noted that “some 35” members and consultors were in attendance at the plenary assembly.

Before the papal address, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the Dicastery’s prefect, delivered a brief Italian-language greeting to the Pope, in which he stated that

  • the Dicastery is in the initial stages of reflection on the development of a specific ministry for married couples to those whose marriages are “experiencing crises and problems of all kinds”
  • the Dicastery is “also working on the preparation of a text that will specifically concern, as you wished, Your Holiness, men and women who, having a failed marriage behind them, live in new unions.”

Cardinal Farrell did not say when the Vatican would publish this document on those who have remarried outside the Church.

In his address to participants in the Dicastery’s second plenary assembly, Pope Francis distinguished between

  • the instituted lay ministries of lector, acolyte, and catechist, which involve “a public intervention of the Church—a specific act of institution,” and are “connected with ordained ministry, because they involve various forms of participation in the task that is proper to them, even if it does not demand the sacrament of Ordination.”
  • a much broader field of lay ministry

“Lay ministeriality,” the Pope stated, is based upon the Sacrament of Baptism and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. By virtue of Baptism, all of the faithful—the laity, the consecrated, and the ordained—are “believers in Christ, His disciples, and are therefore required to take part in the mission He entrusted to the Church, also through the assumption of determined ministries.”

“The ministeriality of the faithful, and of laypeople in particular, stems from the charism that the Holy Spirit distributes within the People of God for its edification: first a charism appears, inspired by the Spirit; then, the Church acknowledges this charism as a useful service to the community; finally, in a third moment, it is introduced and a specific ministry spreads,” he continued.

Common examples of this broader non-instituted lay ministry, said the Pope, are “supplementary services,” such as reader and extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. The Pope noted that “pastors can entrust certain supplementary functions to laypeople, that is, temporary services, as in the case of the proclamation of the Word of the distribution of the Eucharist.” But in addition to such services, “the laity can carry out a range of tasks, which express their participation in the prophetic and regal function of Christ: not only within the Church, but also in the environments where they are integrated. There are some that are supplementary, but there are others that come from the baptismal origin of the laity.”

Examples of these other services include

  • those “linked to old and new forms of poverty, as well as migrants, who urgently require action of welcome and solidarity. In these areas of charity, many services can arise that take the form of genuine ministries.”
  • a ministry of evangelization, arising from the Sacrament to Marriage, to one’s children and other married couples. Citing documents by Popes St. Paul VI and St. John Paul II, Pope Francis—as he has done in the past—offered high praise of St. Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation on evangelization (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1975). “This exhortation of St. Paul VI is valid today, it is current. Please: pick it up again, reread it, it is very topical. With so many things, when one finds them again (one says): ‘Ah look, the farsighted Montini.’ You can see there, that farsightedness of the great saint who led the Church.”
  • “many other” ministries that “could be added, acknowledged in various ways by the ecclesial authorities as expressions of the ministeriality of the Church in a broad sense.”

Pope Francis then expressed his anger at “self-referential” lay ministers who are not focused on service:

One thing we must remember, though: these ministries, services, offices, must never become self-referential. I get angry when I see lay ministers who—pardon the expression—are “puffed up” by this ministry. This is ministerial, but it is not Christian. They are pagan ministers, full of themselves, aren’t they? Beware of this: they must never become self-referential. Service is one-directional, it is not a round trip: that will never do ... At times you see laypeople and they seem to be default priests. Please: clean up this problem.

In concluding his address, Pope Francis stated the various types of ministeriality that he listed have two things in common: mission and service.

In particular, I like to emphasize that at the root of the term ministry there is the word minus, which means “minor’... Those who follow Jesus are not afraid to make themselves “inferior,” “minor,” to place themselves at the service of others. Indeed, Jesus himself taught us: “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mk 10: 43-44). Here lies the true motivation that must inspire any of faithful who assume an ecclesial task, any commitment to Christian witness in the reality where he or she lives: the willingness to serve the brethren, and in them, to serve Christ.

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Pope Francis established the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life in 2016, and the Dicastery held its first plenary assembly in 2019, devoted to “the identity and mission of the lay faithful in the world.” The Pope delivered an address at the time (Vatican News summary), in which he warned against the clericalization of the laity, spoke about the importance of women, and emphasized that permanent deacons should be removed from the altar:

They become permanent deacons, and instead of being the custodians of the service in the diocese, they immediately look at the altar and end up being “failed priests,” halfway priests. I advise the bishops: “Remove the deacons from the altar,” that they go to service. They are the caretakers of service, not first-rate altar boys or second-rate priests.

The Pope’s request that permanent deacons be removed from ministry at the altar is difficult to reconcile with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, St. Paul VI, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, and other Vatican documents. Oddly, the Holy See Press Office made no mention of the Pope’s November 16, 2019 address to the first plenary assembly of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life in its English-language bulletin, and the Vatican has not published an English translation of the Pope’s 2019 address, despite its significance.

 


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