Q. What is the appropriate training and work for a lay minister?
J.L., via e-mail
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Indeed, what is a lay minister? You ask a very important question that is loaded with consequence and goes to the heart of what many consider the essence of the Second Vatican Council — namely, the universal call to holiness.
Are laypeople called to work full time for the Church, in a parish, in a rectory, at the chancery? I suppose some are called to do that. But the vast majority of the non-ordained faithful are called to seek and find and imitate Christ in the midst of their daily duties and occupations. Rather than bringing the laity into the sanctuary and the chancery, the laity need to bring Christ into the midst of the world: into Wall Street, Madison Avenue, Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the university, and the mass media — that is, all the modern areopagi that Pope John Paul II recognized as the locus points for the new evangelization.
Even so, the lay faithful will not change the world if they are not first changed by Christ, unless they spend time on their knees before Our Lord in the holy Eucharist, unless they frequently renew their souls in the Sacrament of Penance, and unless they humbly attempt to live by faith in accordance with the teachings of Christ passed on by the Church. Either the Catholic and Christian laity will change the world, or the world will change them.
So, simply put, the appropriate training for a “lay minister” will be found in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I believe that any formal program for the training of lay ministers must be based on these pillars.
For those who wish to assist ordained ministers in their work, it will be helpful to read and study the instruction “On certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the sacred ministry of the priest,” an important document from the Holy See (1997) co-signed by the heads of eight departments (dicasteries) in the Vatican.
As for the proper tasks of duly trained lay ministers, I think it’s helpful to think in the categories of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick, visit those in prison, house the homeless, bury the dead, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinner, comfort the afflicted, counsel the doubtful, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses, pray for the living and the dead.
The best part about practicing the works of mercy is that it fills our hearts with joy and peace and makes us much more human.
Still, for anyone drawn to serving the Church as a lay minister, it will be helpful to review Canons 228-231 of the Code of Canon Law.