Lector in an Irregular Relationship

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Lector in an Irregular Relationship

ROME, 20 DEC. 2005 (ZENIT)

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: It is liturgically permissible for a person who has married outside the Church to be appointed as a reader at Sunday Mass? The person concerned had been granted an annulment of a previous marriage and desired to be married in the Church. Unfortunately her husband who was not a Catholic refused to seek an annulment of his previous marriage. This is a sensitive pastoral issue; it is understood that readers should be in good standing. Does the parish priest have some discretion in such a matter? — K.O., Christchurch, New Zealand

A: We must take several things into account. A person who has married outside the Church with a proper dispensation is not impeded from acting as a reader or any similar ministry.

Acting as a minister, however, is also a sign of communion and fidelity. And so, the person who carries out this ministry should be in good standing with the Church.

Therefore a general rule of thumb could be that a person whose personal state impedes his or her habitual reception of Communion should not act in any public role in the liturgical assembly.

Given the public nature of the ministry, however, there may be cases when it is not prudent for a person to act in a ministry even if not impeded from receiving Communion.

Thus we may apply to readers and servers what the 1973 instruction "Immensae Caritatis" says regarding the choice of an extraordinary minister: The choice "should never fall upon a person whose designation could cause astonishment to the faithful."

The priest does have certain discretion, not regarding the accession to a ministry of a person who is impeded from receiving Communion, but with respect to the prudent admission of a non-impeded person whose designation may cause perplexity for publicly known reasons.

I do not have sufficient elements to form a judgment regarding the specific case at hand. An experienced canonist could gauge the possibilities of regularizing the marriage without the husband having to recur to an annulment process.

If this can be done, and the wife is once more free to receive Communion, then, before admitting her to a public ministry, it falls upon the priest to weigh such questions as to the notoriety and gravity of the case and the likely reaction of the faithful. ZE05122026

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Follow-up: Lector in an Irregular Relationship [1-17-2006]

After our comments on the criteria for choosing suitable lectors and other ministers (see Dec. 20), an Oregon reader asked: “Our parish is in considerable turmoil about many issues, this being one of them: Is it allowed to have a homosexual man who lives with his partner, as a Eucharistic minister?”

As we mentioned before, the instruction “Immensae Caritatis” indicates that the choice of an extraordinary minister “should never fall upon a person whose designation could cause astonishment to the faithful.”

Note that the norm does not say “scandal” but “astonishment.” This wider, but more ambiguous, category should induce pastors to exercise great pastoral prudence before inviting or accepting people to serve as ministers. They also should weigh carefully any special circumstances that might cause difficulty to a lot of parishioners.

These need not always be negative elements. For example, it might not always be advisable for people actively involved in politics to serve as liturgical ministers if many parishioners find it difficult to dissociate the private and public personae of the former.

Since exercising a liturgical ministry is always a service, nobody is deprived of a right if particular conditions prevent his or her being called.

In the case at hand, we must distinguish between a person who is burdened with same-sex attractions, and a person who is actively living out those attractions.

A person with same-sex attractions who is striving to live a chaste life need not be excluded from lay ministries in the Church, which is not the same as saying that he or she has a right to exercise them.

Here, too, the pastor must weigh carefully the concrete circumstances, such as, for example, the case of a person who had been earlier (and publicly) identified as a practicing homosexual. His or her appearance, say, in the sanctuary, might cause “astonishment” to the faithful who are ignorant of the current spiritual situation.

It is not necessary to serve as a liturgical minister to form part of the Kingdom of heaven. A person who faces special difficulties and who accepts the challenges and sacrifices inherent in living the Christian calling is fully capable of reaching the heights of sanctity.

A person involved in a homosexual relationship cannot serve as a liturgical minister, since this service implies communion with Church teachings and, at least, the daily struggle to live in conformity with those teachings.

In maintaining an ongoing relationship with a same sex-partner, whether openly or hidden, a person dissents from Church teachings and is living in an objectively sinful condition.

Such a person should not normally be receiving holy Communion, much less acting as an extraordinary minister for others.

Certainly, one often hears the argument that only God can know the true condition of someone’s soul.

This is true, but since neither the Church, nor for that matter the individuals concerned, are blessed with divine omniscience, they must be guided by objective Church teachings regarding the particular need of those who struggle with same-sex attractions to live chaste lives and avoid all proximate occasions of sin. ZE06011721

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