The Pope and the Laity

There are so many things that reporters could be writing about during the papal visit. The AP’s Eric Gorski decides to create a controversy.

But Pope Benedict XVI’s Mass in the nation’s capital Thursday was also different from a typical service in another way: Lay people were not asked to distribute Communion, which was administered exclusively by 300 priests and deacons.

That’s what has been done at every papal mass. Lay people in the Catholic Church can be Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion–extraordinary being the key term. The ordinary ministers are priests and deacons. If you have priests and deacons, you don’t need other help.

And this is hardly a matter of the pope wanting to reinforce lay/clergy distinctions (though Catholicism believes that distinction is very real); it’s a matter of acknowledging that different ministries do have different roles.

The article goes on to quote a different point of view …

The Rev. John Wauck, a professor of literature at Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, warned against measuring appreciation for the laity by what they can and can’t do in church.

“The life of the church doesn’t take place in sacristies and parish meeting halls alone,” Wauck said. “It takes place in homes, shops, sports fields, businesses, hospitals … wherever there are Catholics.”

He added: “The relationship between the clergy and the laity can’t be seen in terms of a power struggle. Both are serving the church in their own way.”

Wauck is a priest of Opus Dei, and teaches at the Opus Dei university in Rome, and that represents well the viewpoint of Opus Dei–indeed, of Vatican 2. The role of the laity isn’t a matter of what they can or can’t do in the liturgy; it’s what they do in the world.