Vatican Instruction on the role of the laity is binding on Catholics

Vatican Instruction on the role of the laity is binding on Catholics

Peter Westmore

Apostolic Pro-Nuncio speaking at the Thomas More Centre Summer School

Archbishop Franco Brambilla, the personal representative of the Holy Father in Australia, said that the papally approved Instruction on certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the ministry of priests, and his earlier document Ordinatio Sacerdotalis regarding the impossibility of women’s ordination, were binding on Catholics.

His comments followed public dissent expressed against the former document, particularly its limitations on lay participation on the altar during the celebration of the Mass.

The Archbishop was speaking at the Thomas More Summer School in Melbourne (see also page 9 of the print edition). His topic was titled "Authority in the Church".

He said that some Catholics, including priests, had declared that the recent Instruction on lay collaboration was not to their liking, and they were opposed to its prescriptions.

Ordinary Magisterium

"It is to be noted, however, that this document was approved by the Holy Father in forma specifica. It means that the Pope approved specifically of every detail, ruling out the possibility of any appeal against what the document prescribes."

The Archbishop added, "This is an example of the exercise of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Pope", where the Holy Father, as Vicar of Christ and pastor over the whole Church, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, has "full, supreme and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered" (Lumen Gentium, No. 22).

The Second Vatican Council, he pointed out, required the faithful to give "submission of will and intellect" to the teachings of the Holy Father.

"Submission of will means that the decrees are obeyed, submission of intellect means that acceptance is not a matter of being convinced of the reason for the decision – although every effort should be made to follow the reasoning behind the decree.

"We believe and act with the conviction that Christ promised the Holy Spirit to the successors of Peter, in their mission of teaching and legislating," Archbishop Brambilla said.

The Instruction confirmed the long-standing practice of the Church that lay people were not to be substituted for ordained priests in the celebration of the Mass and preaching of the homily, and that "Extraordinary Ministers" may distribute Holy Communion only "where there are particularly large numbers of the faithful, and which would be excessively prolonged because of an insufficient number of ordained Ministers to distribute Holy Communion."

Among the practices to be "avoided and eliminated where such have emerged [is] the habitual use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at Mass."

The Instruction also set down clear guidelines on other practices which have become common, including Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest.

It said, "It must be clearly understood that such celebrations are temporary solutions, and the text used at them must be approved by the competent ecclesiastical authority.

"The practice of inserting into such celebrations elements proper to the Holy Mass is prohibited. So as to avoid causing error in the minds of the faithful, the use of the Eucharistic Prayers, even in narrative form, at such celebrations is forbidden."

"It should be emphasised for the benefit of those participating, that such celebrations cannot substitute for the Eucharistic sacrifice, and that the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation is satisfied only by attendance at Holy Mass."

The Instruction added that "where the existence of abuses or improper practices has been proved, pastors [i.e. Bishops] will promptly employ those means judged necessary to prevent their dissemination ... Where abusive practices have become widespread, it is absolutely necessary for those who exercise authority to intervene responsibly."

The Papal Instruction was also signed by the Prefects of eight Vatican Congregations, including the Congregations for Bishops and the Clergy, as well as Congregations for Divine Worship and the Doctrine of the Faith.

Archbishop Brambilla said that the Papal statement ruling out women’s ordination in the Catholic Church - Ordinatio Sacerdotalis - was also an exercise of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Pope.

Definitive teaching

In this declaration, the Holy Father said that the Catholic Church did not consider itself authorised to ordain women to the Catholic priesthood, and that the teaching was definitive and final - precluding further debate on the subject.

In his address at the Thomas More Centre, the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio outlined the basis on which authority is exercised in the Church, taking as his starting point the words of the Creed, "We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church."

He showed how this had been derived from Christ’s commands to St Peter and the Apostles and the teachings in other books of the New Testament which have been confirmed and developed throughout the history of the Church by Councils of Bishops and Popes, most recently the Second Vatican Council.

The challenge which now faces both the clergy and laity in Australia is to implement the Papal Instruction, in both the letter and the spirit, rather than simply allow it to gather dust, as has occurred with earlier authoritative papally approved documents.

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