ROME, 11 MARCH 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: Could a layperson, with the diocesan bishop's permission, licitly
preach after the Gospel at the Good Friday liturgy, since it is not a
C.F., Oakland, California
A: Laypeople may preach on certain occasions. The 2004 instruction "Redemptionis
Sacramentum," in No. 161, states:
"As was already noted above, the homily on account of its importance and
its nature is reserved to the Priest or Deacon during Mass. As regards
other forms of preaching, if necessity demands it in particular
circumstances, or if usefulness suggests it in special cases, lay
members of Christ's faithful may be allowed to preach in a church or in
an oratory outside Mass in accordance with the norm of law. [The Code of
Canon Law, Canon 766] This may be done only on account of a scarcity of
sacred ministers in certain places, in order to meet the need, and it
may not be transformed from an exceptional measure into an ordinary
practice, nor may it be understood as an authentic form of the
advancement of the laity. All must remember besides that the faculty for
giving such permission belongs to the local Ordinary, and this as
regards individual instances; this permission is not the competence of
anyone else, even if they are Priests or Deacons."
Some canonists argue that "Redemptionis Sacramentum," along with a 1997
instruction regarding the collaboration of the laity with the priestly
ministry, is more restrictive regarding lay preaching than the Code of
This indeed appears to be the case and was perhaps intentional.
Certainly the documents in question were all duly approved by Pope John
Paul II, who also promulgated the Code.
The prohibition of laypeople delivering the homily is much more
stringent, and the Holy See has even gone so far as to state that that
the diocesan bishop does not have the authority to permit a layperson to
give the homily.
The reasons why the bishop cannot give this dispensation were adduced in
the above-mentioned 1997 document: "[T]his is not merely a disciplinary
law but one which touches upon the closely connected functions of
teaching and sanctifying" (Article 3, No. 1).
It could be argued that even though the Good Friday celebration is not a
Mass, the brief homily foreseen in the rubrics is for all intents and
purposes of the same category as the homily during a Eucharistic
celebration insofar as it "touches upon the closely connected functions
of teaching and sanctifying" in the same way as during the Mass. In this
case it is strictly reserved to an ordained minister.
Even if we were not before a homily in the same sense as during a Mass,
a layperson would not be allowed to preach, since a priest is always
present at the Good Friday celebration. And "Redemptionis Sacramentum"
clearly states that lay preaching in a church or oratory is allowed
"only on account of scarcity of sacred ministers."
Thus the requisite conditions for permitting lay preaching are never met
during the Good Friday celebration.
A priest is almost surely present because the possibility of celebrating
the Good Friday service of the Passion with holy Communion is tied
intimately with the celebration of the Maundy Thursday Mass the
preceding evening. The norms for the Easter celebrations (No. 54)
stipulate that the rite of transfer to the altar of repose "may not be
carried out if the liturgy of the Lord's Passion will not be celebrated
in that same church on the following day."
As far as I know, the Holy See has not approved any official rite for
celebrating a version of the Easter triduum in the absence of a priest.
Even though it does not have to be the same priest who presides at both
celebrations, the union of the two celebrations assures that a priest
will be available to preside on Good Friday.