Don´t Confuse Roles of Laity and Priests, Vatican Warns

Cardinal Sodano Writes Letter for Liturgical Week

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 29, 2001 ( The need to avoid both the «clericalization» of the laity and the «secularization» of priests is the essence of a letter signed by the Vatican Secretary of State on behalf of John Paul II.

In the letter published Tuesday by the Vatican Press Office, Cardinal Angelo Sodano acknowledges that, thanks to the work of the Second Vatican Council, «the laity have a clearer awareness of their vocation,» which has led to their more «active participation in the liturgy.»

However, the letter states, over the years the magisterium has also emphasized the importance of «safeguarding and defending the very identity of priests,» conscious of the fact that the laity are called especially to «to give evangelical witness in the world and to order temporal realities according to God´s plan.»

Cardinal Sodano´s letter is addressed to Italian Bishop Luca Brandolini of Sora-Aquino-Pontecorvo, on the occasion of the 52nd Italian Liturgical Week, being held at Trent through Friday. The topic of the meeting is «The Laity in the Liturgy: What Is Their Ministry?»

Alongside well-structured lay ministries, such as that of the missionary and catechist, so-called de facto ministries have been growing in Christian communities, the Vatican secretary of state points out.

A typical example is the extraordinary ministry of the Eucharist, as happens in «in a community that, in an emergency situation, remains without a priest for the celebration of the Lord´s Eucharist.» In such cases, it might be recommended that the faithful «meet in assembly around the Word of God under the guidance of an authorized lay minister,» Cardinal Sodano´s letter explains.

Such a situation, however, is not the norm, the letter notes. The Christian community is centered on the Eucharist, which can only be celebrated by a priest, it says.

There must be no confusion between the royal priesthood of believers and the ministerial priesthood, the cardinal warns. There must be no room for the «clericalization» of the laity, «which runs the risk of creating, in fact, an ecclesial structure of service parallel to the one founded on the sacrament» of Holy Orders, he writes.

At the end of the letter, expressing the feelings of the Holy Father, Cardinal Sodano urges the participants in the Liturgical Week to study further the theological, liturgical, juridical and pastoral implications proper to the ministries entrusted to the laity.

The Vatican has published a document «On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of the Priest» (Aug. 15, 1997). It may be consulted on Vatican Web page:

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