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Can a woman preach at Mass?

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Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 01/14/17

This question popped up via CNS,and is addressed  by the Rev. Kenneth Doyle:

Q: At Mass, after the Gospel has been read by a priest, can the female parish life director give the homily? With six priests sitting down? At one of our local parishes, this happens regularly. I have been to this church on occasion, and I feel guilty for being there to witness it — but sometimes this is my only option. (I’m afraid to talk to my own parish priest about this, because he might think that I am being critical or judgmental.) (Upstate New York)A. The current guidelines of the Catholic Church on this matter are quite clear. The Code of Canon Law says: “Among the forms of preaching, the homily, which is part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or deacon, is pre-eminent” (No. 767). Similarly, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which serves as the church’s liturgical “rulebook,” says, “The homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself or be entrusted by him to a concelebrating priest, or from time to time and, if appropriate, to the deacon, but never to a layperson” (No. 66)

Read more.

However: there is nothing prohibiting qualified and competent lay women and men from preaching retreats, parish missions, lay-led Communion services in the absence of a priest, and other prayer services (such as Evening Prayer).

The USCCB explains:

Preaching the Word of God is among the principal duties of those who have received the sacrament of orders (cc. 762-764). The lay faithful can be called to cooperate in the exercise of the Ministry of the Word (c. 759). In accord with canon 766 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops hereby decrees that the lay faithful may be permitted to exercise this ministry in churches and oratories, with due regard for the following provisions: If necessity requires it in certain circumstances or it seems useful in particular cases, the diocesan bishop can admit lay faithful to preach, to offer spiritual conferences or give instructions in churches, oratories or other sacred places within his diocese, when he judges it to be to the spiritual advantage of the faithful. In order to assist the diocesan bishop in making an appropriate pastoral decision (Interdicasterial Instruction, Ecclesiae de Mysterio, Article 2 §3), the following circumstances and cases are illustrative: the absence or shortage of clergy, particular language requirements, or the demonstrated expertise or experience of the lay faithful concerned. The lay faithful who are to be admitted to preach in a church or oratory must be orthodox in faith, and well-qualified, both by the witness of their lives as Christians and by a preparation for preaching appropriate to the circumstances. The diocesan bishop will determine the appropriate situations in accord with canon 772, §1. In providing for preaching by the lay faithful the diocesan bishop may never dispense from the norm which reserves the homily to the sacred ministers (c. 767, §1; cfr. Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law, 26 May 1987, in AAS 79 [1987], 1249). Preaching by the lay faithful may not take place within the Celebration of the Eucharist at the moment reserved for the homily.

There’s also a new initiative launched late last year called Catholic Women Preach:

A project of global reach, Catholic Women Preach uses modern technology to bring the voices of diverse Catholic women to the proclamation of the Gospel through web-based resources. Following the liturgical year, Catholic women will reflect on how the texts relate to all Catholics today with a special emphasis on the lives of women, their apostolic call, and their roles in the Church and the world. Their preaching will highlight women traditionally omitted or misrepresented in our lectionary and open the Scripture texts to deepen our understanding of God’s saving presence in the world. Those who view these preaching videos will have the opportunity to see the deep spirituality of Catholic women who preach. Catholic Women Preach provides a well-designed, resource rich and easily accessible website — CatholicWomenPreach.org. — where all the faithful including clergy, catechists, RCIA, parish study groups, campus ministers, retreat leaders, and others in church ministry can:
  • See and hear preaching by well qualified and diverse women reflecting on lectionary texts for Sunday and selected weekday masses and possibly other biblical readings.
  • Inspire Catholics to appreciate the giftedness of Catholic women’s preaching.

You can see some examples of this here. 

Photo: Pixabay

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