Switzerland: The Bishops Conference and the preaching of the laity

Source: FSSPX News


On January 17, the Swiss bishops distributed two documents, one relating to the mission of lay pastoral workers in the Church and the other to the Eucharist.

 “Laity appointed to the service of the Church”

 Since the 1960s, the laity have been committed to the service of the Church, notably in the field of catechesis. Ten years later, the first pastoral assistants appeared and other laity acting professionally in the Church, at the service of the young and in the social domain. With the fall in the number of priests, these services have expanded and have gradually reached the domains which up until now have belonged solely to the priests, such as preaching, the responsibility of a parish or the administration of baptism.

 In the document “Laity appointed to the service of the Church”, the Swiss Bishops Conference (SBC) lays down the rules and principles to be observed in the collaboration between the laity and priests. It accepts that “pastoral assistants duly formed and prepared, commissioned by the bishop with a canonical mission for pastoral work, deliver, in place of a sermon, a predication or a meditation.” This “with the agreement of the parish priest and the celebrant.”

 Likewise concerning baptism, sometimes administered by lay pastoral workers. The SBC, while expressing caution, acknowledge this possibility. “It can happen that a pastoral assistant receives the extraordinary faculty to confer baptism,” the Swiss bishops emphasize in their document. In accordance with canon law, baptism may be conferred by a layperson “if the ordinary minister is absent or prevented from doing so.” The SBC says they prefer “communal celebrations of baptism, rather than regularly delegating the celebration of baptism to pastoral assistants.”

 The Swiss bishops state that canon law authorizes the “participation of the laity in the exercise of pastoral charge of communities” – in other words, the setting up of lay pastoral workers in charge of a parish community – but always with a priest “invested with the powers and rights of the parish priest. For several years now, many parishes in Switzerland have indeed been entrusted to Gemeinderleiter, pastoral assistants responsible for parishes. According to research carried out by APIC in 2002, more than 30% of parishes in the diocese of Basel have at their head either deacons or lay theologians, men or women.

“Concerning the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum”

 In its document “Concerning the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum”, published by the Vatican in January 2004, the SBC lays down certain rules and principles to be observed in Switzerland. It rejects amongst other things, concelebration between priests and reform pastors, “because as regards ministers, a consensus does not yet exist” (sic). It qualifies this limitation as “indeed scandalous, but which will be abolished only when, between our Churches a true and mutual recognition of ministers and sacraments is established” (re-sic). The Swiss bishops recommend however, the promotion “of other liturgical forms” such as celebrations of the Word, the liturgy of hours, as well as blessings or other forms of celebrations…As regards Eucharistic hospitality to Protestants, the SBC refers us to the rules laid down by the Holy See, which authorize this hospitality in certain circumstances…

 The Swiss bishops also formulate some norms for celebrations. They ask that the “rules of the liturgy, as they are presented in the official book” be followed. In particular, they insist on respect for the texts of the Eucharistic prayers which must not be omitted for the benefit “of privately composed texts”. Other prayers, of praise, of thanksgiving or of blessing, must also be respected in their original text, insist the Swiss bishops. Adapting the celebration to the circumstances, does not mean, for priests and other leaders, “putting their personal stamp on it to the extent of rendering it unrecognizable from one parish to another,” the SBC emphasized, while calling on pastoral workers, priests and laity, and parishioners to listen to each other in case of conflict on the subject of the liturgy…

 Following a media flurry provoked by these two texts, the Swiss Bishops Conference introduced, in a communiqué of January 20, some clarifications on the question of “preaching by the laity”, recalling that the Vatican was in general, not opposed to lay predication, for example, in a celebration in the absence of a priest or during a vigil. “Some questions remain open only in the case of a sermon during a Eucharistic celebration.” The witness of a lay person in the framework of a Eucharistic celebration is absolutely licit according to canon law, according to the Swiss bishops who “wished to widen this possibility of announcement of commissioned laypeople having a pastoral responsibility.”