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).
(I should note that in August 2016, Pope Francis appointed a commission of six men and six women to study the issue of women deacons, with a particular focus on their ministry in the early church.)
In certain areas of the U.S. where priests are not available to celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday, services are guided by a Vatican document called “Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest.” In such settings, a layperson can be delegated by the local bishop to offer an explanation and reflection on the biblical readings for the service.
Interestingly, L’Osservatore Romano (the semi-official Vatican newspaper) published in March 2016 a series of essays that advocated that women be permitted to preach from the pulpit at Mass and noted that this was a regular practice during the first thousand years of Christianity.
Q. I am a Catholic woman who is planning to marry a Jewish man. He is uncomfortable with having a Catholic priest preside at the wedding, and he says this would be awkward for his family as well. Are there ways to have a “neutral” presider celebrate the service and still have the marriage recognized by the Catholic Church?
(I have told my husband-to-be that my only “requirement” is that the wedding be seen as valid in the church’s eyes.) Is this possible, and what would I need to do to make it happen? (Cleveland)
A. Yes, in a situation like this a diocese is able to give permission ahead of time for a marriage ceremony to take place in a nonsectarian setting, witnessed by a civil official, and have that marriage be recognized by the Catholic Church. You and your fiance should speak with a local priest to see that the proper paperwork is completed.
But how about, instead, doing a joint religious ceremony that would highlight the role of God in a marriage and seek the Lord’s blessings? I have several times done such a wedding service together with a rabbi.
Only one — either the rabbi or the priest — would be designated as the responsible civil official to receive a couple’s vows, but both the rabbi and the priest could offer prayers from their own traditions and appropriate blessings. (Two or three times, we have even used the chuppah, the traditional canopy under which Jewish couples pronounce their wedding vows accompanied by both sets of parents.)
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr. Albany, New York 12203.