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  • The Laity and Liturgical Preaching:What Are the Necessary Theological and Canonical Requirements?
  • John Chrysostom Kozlowski OP (bio)

I. Introduction

"The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword."1 In his farewell speech at Miletus, St. Paul speaks of the power of this word: "And now I commend you to God and to that gracious word of his that can build you up and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated."2 The word of God, "living and effective," can build up the Christian community in faith, hope, and love, and must be proclaimed in various forms of preaching. Although the preaching of the word of God can occur in a variety of settings, the focus here will be on liturgical preaching during the time reserved for the homily, and more specifically, lay liturgical preaching.

Since the time of the Second Vatican Council the laity's role in preaching and bearing witness to the Gospel, "whether it is convenient or inconvenient," has been given more prominence.3 The council's decree on the apostolate of the laity, Apostolicam actuositatem (1965), calls for members of the lay Christian faithful to be "true apostles" who "seek the occasion to proclaim Christ in words, either to non-believers to bring them to the faith, or to believers to instruct and strengthen them and to call them to a more fervent life."4 Pope John Paul II's 1988 post-synodal apostolic exhortation, [End Page 240] Christifideles laici, echoes Apostolicam actuositatem when stating that the laity "have the vocation and mission of proclaiming the Gospel."5 In his 2010 post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict XVI indicates that no believer in Christ is dispensed from proclaiming the word of God on account of the fact that, "[t]he Church, as a mystery of communion, is thus entirely missionary, and everyone, according to his or her proper state in life, is called to give an incisive contribution to the proclamation of Christ."6 Undoubtedly, the Church earnestly desires and needs all the faithful to engage in the proclamation of the word of God.

Notwithstanding the conciliar and post-conciliar empowerment of the laity to preach the word of God, their role in liturgical preaching is only permissible in specific circumstances. The following observations will first trace the development of the laity's role in liturgical preaching in the United States since the time of Vatican II. This presentation of sources will include: the 1917 code, the relevant documents of Vatican II, various post-conciliar documents, the 1983 code, and pertinent texts issued since the promulgation of the 1983 code. These sources will show when it is possible for a member of the lay Christian faithful to preach during the liturgy at the time reserved for the homily.

Following the presentation of sources, two theological-canonical analyses will attempt to explicate the ius vigens with regard to clerical and lay liturgical preaching. It is important to consider the theological and canonical requirements of clerical liturgical preaching as it will help to explain why the term "homily" only describes the liturgical preaching of the ordained. Also, a presentation of the theological and canonical requirements of clerical liturgical preaching will highlight the unicity of the theological and canonical requirements of lay liturgical preaching. The theological section of each analysis will be sacramentally based—the clerical analysis in the sacrament of orders and the lay analysis in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. The canonical sections will stress the relationship between the preacher and the congregation. A brief conclusion will then summarize the necessary [End Page 241] requirements for permitting a member of the lay Christian faithful to preach during a liturgical celebration at the time reserved for the homily.

II. Sources—Tracing the Development of Lay Liturgical Preaching Since the 1917 Code

The purpose of this presentation of sources is to illustrate the development of lay liturgical preaching. After the presentation of the relevant canons of the 1917 code, the terms "liturgical preaching" and "preaching" will be used throughout this text to refer to the liturgical preaching of a lay person or a cleric at the time reserved...


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