In this essay, I will explore what the Catholic Church teaches about non-ordained persons concelebrating/quasi-presiding at Mass as homilists and how that affects the validity of the liturgy itself.
This is an important issue because we have frequently observed in our popular Catholic Mass Nightmare Series on YouTube that liberal Catholic parishes oftentimes have a layperson deliver the homily during the Mass. A few of the most notable examples include Seminarian Drop Out Delivers a Marxist Homily, Lay Karen Giving a VERY LONG Homily, The Homily by a Couple of Child Abusing Skittles, Dr. Lamont Hill Delivers Race Essential Homily, and Wacky Rock & Roll Homily.
What is most disappointing about this trend in Novus Ordo parishes is the fact that it runs contrary to several teachings of the Catholic Church, such as in:
Can. 767 §1. Among the forms of preaching, the homily, which is part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or deacon, is preeminent; in the homily the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian life are to be explained from the sacred text during the course of the liturgical year.
§2. A homily must be given at all Masses on Sundays and holy days of obligation which are celebrated with a congregation, and it cannot be omitted except for a grave cause.Code of Canon Law – Book III – The teaching function of the Church (Cann. 756-780) (vatican.va)
General Instruction of the Roman Missal
66. The homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to the deacon, but never to a lay person. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate.General Instruction of the Roman Missal (vatican.va)
Sacrosanctum Concilium, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Second Vatican Council
22. 1. Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.Sacrosanctum concilium (vatican.va)
2. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.
3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.
INSTRUCTION On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest (1997)
The HomilyICQR – ON CERTAIN QUESTIONS ON COLLABORATION (vatican.va)
§ 1. The homily, being an eminent form of preaching, qua per anni liturgici cursum ex textu sacro fidei mysteria et normae vitae christianae exponuntia, also forms part of the liturgy.
The homily, therefore, during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, must be reserved to the sacred minister, Priest or Deacon to the exclusion of the non-ordained faithful, even if these should have responsibilities as “pastoral assistants” or catechists in whatever type of community or group. This exclusion is not based on the preaching ability of sacred ministers nor their theological preparation, but on that function which is reserved to them in virtue of having received the Sacrament of Holy Orders. For the same reason the diocesan Bishop cannot validly dispense from the canonical norm since this is not merely a disciplinary law but one which touches upon the closely connected functions of teaching and sanctifying.
For the same reason, the practice, on some occasions, of entrusting the preaching of the homily to seminarians or theology students who are not clerics is not permitted. Indeed, the homily should not be regarded as a training for some future ministry.
§ 1. Liturgical actions must always clearly manifest the unity of the People of God as a structured communion. Thus there exists a close link between the ordered exercise of liturgical action and the reflection in the liturgy of the Church’s structured nature.
This happens when all participants, with faith and devotion, discharge those roles proper to them.
§ 2. To promote the proper identity (of various roles) in this area, those abuses which are contrary to the provisions of canon 907 are to be eradicated. In eucharistic celebrations deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers — e.g. especially the eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology — or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest. Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same priest celebrant. It is a grave abuse for any member of the non-ordained faithful to “quasi preside” at the Mass while leaving only that minimal participation to the priest which is necessary to secure validity.Ibid.
As evidenced above, the magisterium has clearly and consistently taught that the homily belongs to the liturgy, and because it belongs to the liturgy, non-ordained or “priests or deacons who have lost the clerical state or who have abandoned the sacred ministry” (ICQR) cannot be entrusted with it.
The Invalidation of a Sacrament vs. the Invalidation of the Liturgy Itself
When the Church speaks in terms of a sacrament not being valid, she is simply stating that the thing that was intended to take place did not take place. As such, the invalidation of a sacrament typically means that the prescribed form for the conferrable of the sacrament was deficient; that is, there was some defect in the form. For example, the Catholic Church only allows two formulas for Baptism, either in conditional Baptism, where the minister says: “If you are not yet baptized, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” or in the case of absolute Baptism, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Any other formula of Baptism is invalid. (Cf. CDF Responses to Questions on the Baptismal Formula).
Likewise, the Latin magisterium teaches that the minimal necessary words for a valid consecration of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist are “This is my body” in offering the bread and “This is my blood” or “This is the chalice of my blood” in offering the wine. If a priest omits any of these essential words, the consecration is invalid.
Along with the correct formula of words, the validity of a sacrament also depends on the correct matter (i.e., physical substance, such as unleaved bread, water, wine) and the right intention on the part of the minister (i.e., is the minister’s intent to do what Church does in this sacrament) of the sacraments who has the authority to administer it.
The liturgy of the Mass is not itself a sacrament; no more than a mother is the milk that her child nurses from, but the liturgy is always the vehicle through which the Holy Eucharist comes to be. The liturgy is also the proper vehicle through which the Sacraments of Holy Matrimony, Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders are conferred. Therefore, we must distinguish between the validity of sacraments and the validity of the celebration of the liturgy itself because it may be the case that the validity of the conferral of the sacrament is secure despite the fact that the liturgy itself was invalidly celebrated.
Although the liturgy is not a sacrament, it is still governed by the same requirements of form, matter, and intention. The form of the liturgy is addressed in Sacrosanctum Concilium, saying, “Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.” Was what the Church prescribed the priests to pray and confess, prayed and confessed, or was it a liturgy that was not approved by ecclesial authorities? The matter of the liturgy is the priest himself, who, In persona Christi (in the person of Christ), our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through his Church. (Cf. CCC 1069). The concern for intention remains the same: does the presiding priest intend to participate in the work of God through the liturgy?
The grave issue of a Mass being invalid impacts whether the faithful have fulfilled their Sunday obligation, regardless of their intent to. For, if there is an absence of the liturgical form, matter, and intent, then the right conclusion is that the thing that the Church intended to take place did not take place.
In the instant case of a lay homilist or a priest or deacon who has lost the clerical state or who has abandoned the sacred ministry delivering the homily, does such extreme participation in an office that has only been assigned to the priest celebrant rise to the grave degree that the matter has been invalidated? This a question that the magisterium should be presented with for a definitive answer, but we have some clues on how she might answer.
The magisterium has already excluded lay persons from offices of the liturgy that are reserved for the priest alone for reasons explained in ICQR, “It is a grave abuse for any member of the non-ordained faithful to “quasi preside” at the Mass while leaving only that minimal participation to the priest which is necessary to secure validity.” Again, the priest must preside over the liturgy, or that which the Church intended to take place did not take place.
Without argument, we can affirm that because the homily is part of the liturgy, a lay person delivering a homily did concelebrate the Mass, and because the homily holds such a valuable place in the Sunday liturgy, we should hold that such an occasion, left the priest with minimal participation. Therefore, even if the Holy Eucharist went on to be validly consecrated, we can say that it was an illicit consecration because of the invalid state (i.e., a non-priest concelebrating the Mass) of the liturgy in which it took place. Moreover, because a liturgy where a lay person concelebrated was invalid, we can also affirm that the Sunday obligation was not satisfied.