My friend Fr Ray Blake, parish priest in Brighton, has a good analysis of the phenomenon of lay people – lay women – leading Communion services in the absence of priests. Many of us have had the experience of hearing some ignorant but well-meaning person refer to “Sister’s Mass”, when talking about a Communion service led by a women religious parish employee.
Thus, Fr. Blake with my emphases and cuts:
There is a very interesting piece from the Irish Independent entitled “It’s Mass by any other name as women lead faithful in prayer”. It and the comments following it seem to show a very serious problem in Irish Catholicism. It is about a Sunday lay led Liturgy of the Word with the distribution of Holy Communion. Today too, the Archbishop of Liverpool commissioned some lay people to conduct funeral services in the absence of a priest.
Increasingly in the Europe we are going to be faced with not having enough priests to celebrate Mass on Sundays. There are it strikes me several possibilities.
What happened in this particular parish, a deacon or lay led Liturgy of the Word with the distribution of Holy Communion.
Some other liturgical action takes place such as the singing of the Divine Office, and people “fast” from the Eucharist because their community does not have a priest. [I like this idea.] Or some other liturgical action takes place such as the singing of the Divine Office, and Holy Communion is distributed. [Perhaps simple Exposition without Communion?]
Nothing happens in a particular church and people are expected, if they can, to travel to the nearest Church where there is Mass.
The problem is well illustrated by this story, the deacon or lay led Liturgy of the Word celebrations with the distribution of Holy Communion are mistaken for something “as good as Mass” by both journalists and ordinary lay people. This underlines the serious implications of the loss of an understanding of a sacrificial understanding of the Mass, and consequently the priest as being no more than the compere or community leader, indeed someone whose place can be taken by a deacon or lay-person with little or no loss. [When priesthood is reduced to what one does, then why shouldn't anyone be able to do liturgical functions? Find the person who can do them the best. But, on the contrary, priesthood is about who a man is: sacramentally conformed by Christ to Christ to act as Christ in renewing the Sacrifice of the Cross and the forgiveness of sins.]
The form and structure of such lay led services, which mirror the Mass in everything but the Eucharistic Prayer, only seem to add to the confusion.
The use of women as leaders of such services circumvents the debate we should have, and which most Protestant communities have had, as to whether the Catholic and Apostolic faith actually allows for the oversight, the episkope, of lay women. It is not something which has ever happened in either the East or West, it is something new, we seem to be making a huge theological leap without much thought or debate.
Well, maybe that is not quite correct, I am sure that many liberal theologians have thought this through quite seriously and see it as indeed a way of introducing female priests through the back door. [Rem acu tetigisti.]