e-mail us
Instruction on Lay Collaboration

The following are excerpts from the “Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest,” a document signed by eight Vatican offices and issued with the “specific” approval of John Paul II. This material comes from a preliminary form of the document provided to Bishop Robert Hoffman of Toledo, Ohio, in preparation for the U.S. bishops’ meeting in mid-November.

It must be noted with great satisfaction that in many particular churches the collaboration of the non-ordained in the pastoral ministry of the clergy has developed in a very positive fashion. It has borne an abundance of good fruits while at the same time being mindful of the boundaries established by the nature of the sacraments and of the diversity of charisms and ecclesiastical functions.

* * *

The scope of this present document is simply to provide a clear, authoritative response to the many pressing requests which have come to our dicasteries [curial offices] from bishops, priests and laity seeking clarification in the light of specific cases of new forms of “pastoral activity” of the non-ordained on both parochial and diocesan levels.

* * *

Only the sacrament of orders gives the ordained minister a particular participation in the office of Christ, the shepherd and head in his eternal priesthood. This doctrine needs to be reaffirmed especially in light of certain practices which seek to compensate for numerical shortages of ordained ministers arising in some communities. In some instances, such have given rise to an idea of the common priesthood of the faithful which mistakes its nature and specific meaning. Amongst other things, it can encourage a reduction in vocations to the (ministerial) priesthood and obscure the specific purpose of seminaries as places of formation for the ordained ministry.

* * *

The document issues clarifications in several areas. They include:

  • Directing, coordinating, moderating or governing the parish ... are the competencies of a priest alone.
  • It is unlawful for the non-ordained faithful to assume titles such as “pastor,” “chaplain”, “coordinator”, “moderator” or other such similar titles which can confuse their role and that of the pastor, who is always a bishop or priest.
  • Diocesan and parochial pastoral councils and parochial finance councils, of which non-ordained faithful are members, enjoy a consultative vote only and cannot in any way become deliberative structures.
  • The homily during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist must be reserved to the sacred minister, priest or deacon to the exclusion of the non-ordained faithful, even if these should have responsibilities as pastoral assistants or catechists in whatever type of community or group.
  • In no instance may the homily be entrusted to priests or deacons who have lost the clerical state or who have abandoned the sacred ministry.
  • In eucharistic celebrations, deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers — for example, especially the eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology — or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest. Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same priest celebrant. In the same way, the use of sacred vestments which are reserved to priests or deacons (stoles, chasubles or dalmatics) at liturgical ceremonies by non-ordained members of the faithful is clearly unlawful.
  • Extraordinary ministers may distribute Holy Communion at eucharistic celebrations only when there are no ordained ministers present or when those ordained ministers present at a liturgical celebration are truly unable to distribute Holy Communion.
  • Since they are not priests, in no instance may the non-ordained perform anointings either with the Oil of the Sick or any other oil.
* * *

It should also be understood that these clarifications and distinctions do not stem from a concern to defend clerical privileges but from the need to be obedient to the will of Christ, and to respect the constitutive form which he indelibly impressed on his church.

The complete text of the Instruction is available at www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cclergy/documents/

National Catholic Reporter, December 5, 1997