As the pressure upon a declining cohort of ageing ordained priests increases, three new lay ministries – of Lector, Acolyte and Catechist – have been approved for the Irish Catholic Church by the Irish Conference of Bishops – at their Spring meeting in Maynooth, March 7-9.
Recently opened as formally appointed roles to women also, the ministries of Lector and Acolyte are intended to complement the role of parish finance and pastoral councils in maintaining parish life when it may be impossible to have every parish headed by a resident parish priest. Parish Catechists will supplement the role of schools in faith formation and instruction in the parish, including, presumably adult faith formation, especially of parents.
Lectors have an important role in proclaiming the scriptural texts to be read at Mass, before the Gospel text – which is reserved for the priest alone. The difference between proclaiming and reading a text is that proclamation requires an understanding of the meaning and ‘feeling’ of a text – and therefore prior practice and reflection, to catch and convey the ‘spirit’ of the text. The lector will therefore help set the mood in which the entire sequence of texts is heard and absorbed.
The role of Acolyte is that of altar server and the carrying of candles in solemn procession. Traditionally a ‘minor order’ bestowed upon candidates for the priesthood, it will now have a more formal status than that of the altar server in the past.
The Bishops declare in their statement that the establishment of these Ministries reflects the “urgency being ever more felt today to rediscover the co-responsibility of all the baptised in the Church, and the mission of the laity in a particular way.”
“It is hoped that, as the Synodal Pathway in the Irish Church progresses, the development of these Ministries in the life of the Church will benefit from reflection and discernment.”
Working Group for Development of the Ministry of Catechist
“In relation to the Ministry of Catechist, the Bishops decided to establish a working group, including Bishops, priests, and lay people, to reflect on the establishment and development of this Ministry in Ireland. The group will work in conjunction with the Bishops’ Council for Catechetics.”