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Online Edition - Vol. VIII, No. 3: May 2002

Lay preaching okayed, but the homily belongs to priests

Emphasizing that "[p]reaching the Word of God is among the principal duties of those who have received the sacrament of orders", a diocesan bishop in the United States may grant permission for a lay person "to preach, to offer spiritual conferences or give instructions in churches", provided "necessity requires it ... or it seems useful in particular cases", according to a "complementary norm" of the Code of Canon Law 766 adopted by the US bishops at their November 2001 meeting. The universal canon prohibits preaching by laity.

The complementary norm for Canon 766 became effective January 15, 2002, after it had received the necessary recognitio (approval) by the Congregation for Bishops.

The norm lists examples of circumstances that may influence the bishop's decision to permit laymen to preach: "the absence or shortage of clergy, particular language requirements, or the demonstrated expertise or experience of the lay faithful concerned".

The lay faithful who may be permitted to preach, the norm states, "must be orthodox in faith, and well-qualified, both by the witness of their lives as Christians and by a preparation for preaching appropriate to the circumstances".

The norm specifies, however, that this lay preaching cannot take place during Mass when the homily would be given, nor can it be considered a homily, which is always reserved to the priest:

In providing for preaching by the lay faithful the diocesan bishop may never dispense from the norm which reserves the homily to the sacred ministers (c. 767.1; cfr. Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law, 26 May 1987, in AAS 79 [1987], 1249). Preaching by the lay faithful may not take place within the Celebration of the Eucharist at the moment reserved for the homily.

Other US "complementary norms"

New exceptions to the Code of Canon Law for the Church in the United States are listed on the USCCB web site, www.usccb.org, in the Canon law section. Recently approved "complementary norms" include conditions for priests, religious and laity to present Catholic doctrine in regular appearances on radio or television.

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