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Open Letter to Pope Francis on Lay Preaching


May 20, 2017

His Holiness, Pope Francis
Apostolic Palace
00120 Vatican City

Your Holiness:

We, the undersigned, understand and believe that you have the authority to offer your interpretations of the 1983 Code of Canon Law to the universal Church. Specifically, we are requesting that you urge the bishops to take a pastoral and expansive view on lay preaching during the Eucharist.

We make this request for the following reasons.

1. People come to church hungering for a word of inspiration that will get them through the week.

2. Lay preaching is rooted in Scripture and Tradition. Jesus, in his encounters with people, often empowered them to proclaim the Good News. Take the Samaritan Woman at the Well and Mary of Magdala, for example. Leaders of house churches in the first century, men and women alike, preached the Good News during their Eucharistic gatherings. Hildegard of Bingen – outstanding twelfth century abbess, poet, prophet, and more – was invited on preaching tours by Rhineland bishops. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy found the presence of Christ in the worshiping community, as well as in Scripture, priest, and Eucharist; indeed, “all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations” to which all the baptized “have a right and obligation” (paragraph 14). Furthermore, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church assures us that “the holy People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office” (paragraph 12).

3. Preaching is a sacred responsibility, one to which lay people are called and for which they are gifted. Indeed, lay preaching has mushroomed over the last 40 years, and a number of U.S. dioceses have schools to prepare people for this ministry.

4. The 1983 Code of Canon Law confirms that “lay people, like all Christ’s faithful, are deputed to the apostolate by baptism and confirmation” so that God’s salvation might be made known (#225.1). “They can also be called upon to cooperate with Bishops and priests in the exercise of the ministry of the word” (#759). Importantly, lay preaching is possible in circumstances of “necessity” or where “advantageous” (#766), as long as the homily – a unique form of preaching – remains with the ordained (#767.1).

So it is that we advocate for informed lay preaching in today’s Church. We believe

1. that the experience of a gifted and well prepared lay person can often more readily connect with the folks sitting in the pews,

2. that many of our priests are stretched because of fewer numbers, and they no longer have adequate time to prepare a thoughtful homily,

3. and that a priest from another country can be difficult to understand.

But this remains: everyone needs to hear a word of inspiration.

So, then, how might we envision a pastoral and expansive approach to canon law? The local bishop could commission a gifted and well prepared lay person to preach. In such a case, the ordained person could deliver a brief homily before calling upon the lay person to thoughtfully fill out the thrust of the homily. Thus, there would be a continued reflection, but not at exactly the same time as the homily. The ultimate purpose of the homily would be respected and enhanced, all the while calling upon the Spirit-filled gifts of the lay person.

With prayers for your continued good health and courageous leadership,

Gloria Ulterino
498 Stone Rd
Pittsford NY 14534-2858

This letter was also signed by the following:

Theresa Aldridge
Meghan Andrews
Marilyn Antalek
Mary Arnold
Janet Ayer
John G. Balzano
Barbara Balzano
Renate Barlow
Thomas P. Bartolini
Rev. Michael Bausch
Diane Bennett
Matthew Beres
Eric Bessette
Marlene Bessette
Patricia Best Defendorf
Lisa Beyrle
Richard Beyrle
Dennis Boike
John Boroski
Jane Botelho
Joseph Boyle
Katherine Boyle
Nora Bradbury-Haehl
Mary Ann Brunett
Lauren Burruto
William Camp
JoAnne Caputo
Karen Carlo Murphy
Giovina Caroscio
Marilyn Catherine
Maryellen Chapin
Anne Chew
Brian Cleary
Marilyn Clement
Jerry Clement
Christine Coniglio
Judy Conley
Josephine Conlon
Georgia Crissy
Jody DeBell
Rosalyn DellaPietra
Louis DeFabio
Gina Downer
Debbie Doyle
Barbara Englert
John Englert
Dorothy Fait
Lou Farchione
Patricia Fatta
Joan Feffer
Daniel Fisher
Deacon Christopher Fisher, Jr.
Dave Fletcher
Frances Flor
Patrick Fox
John Frawley
Jean Galofaro
Marsha Gates
Linda Gintner
Jacci Glessner
Maria Gonzalez-Smith
Tricia Goodman
Irene Goodwin
Jeannine Gramick
Julie Guenther
Mark Hare
Caroline Harrington

Judy Herlihy
Dawn Herold
Mary Heveron-Smith
Gerald Hickey
Marsha Hickey
Rosemary Hobson
Cathy Houston-Wilson
Susan Howard
Sally Howard
Mary Hussong-Kallen
Robert Hutchins
Thomas Iacubucci
Martha Jodoin
Ronald Jodoin
Kenneth Jones
Margaret Kastner
Kathy Keyes
Rita Kiernan
John Klaus
Fay Knapp
Helen Konz
Kathleen Koss
Richard Koss
Ann Marie LaBellaKnauf
Ruth Lapinski
Walter Lapinski
Jill Leader
Teresa K. Lehr
Bruce Leidal
Anne Leitner
Charlene Lepel
Ellen Lill
Dan Lill
Kathleen Little
Sonja Livingston
Casey Lopata
Marge Ludwig
Theresa Maccarone
Ruth Maier
Barbara Maleski
Sarah Malgieri
Ruth Marchetti
Joe Marchiony
Arlene Marseglia
Judy Martin
Pati Martin
Robert McBride
Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler
Charlene Merrill
Gee Gee Micoli
Richard Micoli
Joyce H. Montanaro
Ernestine Montanaro
Diana Moore
Joy Morris
Gerald Morrison
Christina Nassif
Charles H. Newton III
Paula Niger
Jerry Norton
Lisa O’Brien
Maureen O’Neill
James O’Reilly
Katie O’Toole
Maureen Petrone, CSJ
William Pickett
Kevin Pickhardt 
Kathi Piehler
Robert Pizzutiello
Diane Porcelli
Janice Powalski
Bradley Pritts
Sheila Rock Cayer
Mary Rodas
Dr. Marian Ronan
Deborah Rose-Milavec
Peggy Rosenthal
Ronald Roy
Tom Ruda
Walter Ruehle
Brigid Ryan
Paul Ryan
Mary Scanlon
Colleen Schantz
Elaine Schmidt
Kathy Schmidt
Lucy Schremp
Jackie Schulz
Amy Scobey
Joann Scotty
Marilyn Seitz-Pickett
Ann Shelp
Dorothy Siegel
Mary Silverman
Ursula Slavick
William Slavick
Joan Sobala
Ron Stacy
Frank Staropoli
Sue Staropoli
Elizabeth Sweedo
Gary Sweeney
Fran Sweeney
Maribeth Szilagyi
Lori Trovato
Sally Trued
Deborah Tuttle
Catherine Tuttle
Judy Vaeth
Kimberly Valentine
Angela Verghese
Gerard Vernot
Jan Vogt
Susan Vogt
John Wagner
Billie Warner
Joseph Weber
Elizabeth Webster
Sharon Weidert
Patricia Weisenreder
Rev. Robert Werth
Joseph M. Wielgosz
Eileen Wirley
Kenneth Zablotny
Dr. Damien Zynda

In addition to the 195 names above, 20 signers wished to remain anonymous.

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