Participation in Protestant Events

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Participation in Protestant Events

ROME, 27 NOV. 2007 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Is it correct for a priest to take part in a Protestant funeral by doing a reading and being up with the minister? Further, is it correct for a lay Catholic to do readings at a Protestant marriage or baptism? — K.C., Melbourne, Australia

A: The essential lines of a response to this question are outlined in the Ecumenical Directory published by the Holy See. Referring to non-sacramental Protestant worship, such as funerals, it says:

"117. In some situations, the official prayer of a Church may be preferred to ecumenical services specially prepared for the occasion. Participation in such celebrations as Morning or Evening Prayer, special vigils, etc., will enable people of different liturgical traditions — Catholic, Eastern, Anglican and Protestant — to understand each other's community prayer better and to share more deeply in traditions which often have developed from common roots.

"118. In liturgical celebrations taking place in other Churches and ecclesial Communities, Catholics are encouraged to take part in the psalms, responses, hymns and common actions of the Church in which they are guests. If invited by their hosts, they may read a lesson or preach.

"119. Regarding assistance at liturgical worship of this type, there should be a meticulous regard for the sensibilities of the clergy and people of all the Christian Communities concerned, as well as for local customs which may vary according to time, place, persons and circumstances…. Catholic clergy invited to be present at a celebration of another Church or ecclesial Community may wear the appropriate dress or insignia of their ecclesiastical office, if it is agreeable to their hosts."

While there is no specific mention of a priest or other Catholic assisting at Protestant baptisms and weddings, the document gives the following general norm for Catholic participation in Protestant sacramental worship:

"135. For the reading of Scripture and preaching during other than Eucharistic celebrations, the norms given above (n. 118) are to be applied." Catholics may also serve as witnesses at other Christian weddings as may Protestants at Catholic ones (Directory, No. 136).

The case of a priest assisting at a mixed marriage in an official capacity is more complex and is often subject to special laws emanated by each bishops' conference. These laws adapt the general indications given in canon law and the Ecumenical Directory to a particular country.

Therefore we may conclude that a Catholic priest or layperson may participate as a guest at a Protestant funeral, wedding or baptism for any justified reason. This is especially likely to happen in countries where many churches and ecclesial communities are present beside the Catholic Church.

If invited, a Catholic priest may read a lesson, preach and may also impart to Protestants any appropriate blessings from the Catholic Book of Blessings (Directory, No. 121).

* * *

Follow-up: Participation in Protestant Events [12-11-2007]

Related to the question of a priest participating in a Protestant funeral (see Nov. 27), a Taiwanese reader had asked about praying for the non-baptized.

"Many times," he wrote, "the Catholic faithful would ask priests to offer Masses for non-baptized relatives, living or deceased. Can the priests do that? What I know is that Masses can only be offered for Catholics; and that rosaries (and other prayers), mortifications, good works, etc., can be offered for these non-baptized."

I believe that a distinction must be made. It is not possible to offer a public funeral Mass, or even a funeral service, for a person who was never a Christian, as most of the prayers and rites suppose that the person had received baptism or at least had been a catechumen.

At the same time, the public rites are one thing and the priest's personal intentions in offering the Mass is another. Most days the priest's intention has no effect on the external rites except, perhaps, for a brief mention at the beginning of Mass that it is being offered for a specific intention.

In this latter sense of the personal intention there would be no essential difference in offering a Mass or praying a rosary except that the objective effectiveness of the Mass is infinitely greater than any other form of prayer.

Thus a priest may accept a request to offer his personal intention at Mass for people who are not Christians, just as he may pray for his own non-baptized friends and relatives.

Likewise, any Catholic can offer his or her participation at Mass for a non-Christian.

We also touched on this theme, especially regarding praying for public figures, in our columns last March 6 and March 20.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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