ROME, MARCH 3, 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: For the past few years, a growing number of parishes in my
archdiocese have been inviting mainly Protestant but also even Jewish or
other non-Christian religious leaders to preach the Seven Last Words in
a series of meditations that take place between the hours of noon and 3
p.m. on Good Friday. Are the pastors of these parishes obligated to
obtain approval from the local ordinary prior to this taking place? The
reason cannot possibly be that there are not enough educated and
orthodox Catholics available in our archdiocese. Are there any
guidelines on this practice from Rome? And also, do the texts of what
these non-Catholic preachers publicly teach have to be passed by any
Catholic authorities before they are presented to the faithful?
A: I believe that there are two possible sources for an answer to
your question. The first is the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum"
and the second the Ecumenical Directory.
"Redemptionis Sacramentum," No. 161, says: "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. 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."
If inviting a qualified Catholic layperson to preach outside of Mass
requires the explicit permission of the bishop, then it follows that
inviting a non-Catholic would require it even more.
From the Ecumenical Directory perhaps the most relevant number could
be 114 in the chapter on "Prayer in Common": "Under the direction of
those who have proper formation and experience, it may be helpful in
certain cases to arrange for spiritual sharing in the form of days of
recollection, spiritual exercises, groups for the study and sharing of
traditions of spirituality, and more stable associations for a deeper
exploration of a common spiritual life. Serious attention must always be
given to what has been said concerning the recognition of the real
differences of doctrine which exist, as well as to the teaching and
discipline of the Catholic Church concerning sacramental sharing."
Although this would mean that, theoretically at least, it would be
possible to invite a non-Catholic Christian to offer some reflection on
a theme such as Jesus' Seven Last Words, this is not quite the
circumstance envisioned by the directory, which considers this prayer in
common as especially apt to situations where Christian unity is the
Here we cite Nos. 109-110: "109. Prayer in common is recommended for
Catholics and other Christians so that together they may put before God
the needs and problems they share
e.g., peace, social concerns, mutual charity among people, the dignity
of the family, the effects of poverty, hunger and violence, etc. The
same may be said of occasions when, according to circumstances, a
nation, region or community wishes to make a common act of thanksgiving
or petition to God, as on a national holiday, at a time of public
disaster or mourning, on a day set aside for remembrance of those who
have died for their country, etc. This kind of prayer is also
recommended when Christians hold meetings for study or common action.
"110. Shared prayer should, however, be particularly concerned with
the restoration of Christian unity. It can center, e.g. on the mystery
of the Church and its unity, on baptism as a sacramental bond of unity,
or on the renewal of personal and community life as a necessary means to
achieving unity. Prayer of this type is particularly recommended during
the 'Week of Prayer for Christian Unity' or in the period between
Ascension and Pentecost."
None of these documents contemplate the possibility of a Jewish or
other non-Christian preaching to Catholics. This does not mean that a
Jew could never speak to Catholics in some spiritual context, as was
demonstrated recently by a rabbi addressing the Holy Father and the
synod of bishops. Likewise, many Catholics have benefited from the
spiritual insights of Jewish authors.
That said, however, the context of the Good Friday reflection on the
Seven Last Words is not an appropriate venue for such contacts. Only
someone who firmly believes that Jesus is God as well as Lord and Savior
of mankind can truly savor the import of these Words and penetrate their
Even a Protestant Christian would probably miss certain spiritual
values and theological nuances in these Words that are of fundamental
value to Catholics, such as the Gift of Mary as Mother of the Church. A
non-Catholic Eastern Christian would not have this difficulty.
In conclusion, therefore, we would say that while ecumenism and
Jewish-Catholic dialogue are good things, the traditional Good Friday
reflection on the Seven Last Words is not the right locus.