Page 5, 4th September 1964

4th September 1964
Page 5
Page 5, 4th September 1964 — Why not Lay Preachers?

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People: Bruce M. Cooper


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Why not Lay Preachers?

SI11,—A good deal has been written about the role of the laity L-7 in the Church. Might I throw one more pebble into the pool and suggest that the laity could play a constructive part in the life of the Church as lay preachers?

Lay preaching is something we associate immediately as evangelical (as though that is a pejorative word) and low church, practised by Christians who reject a priestdominated society. We can so easily be trapped and imprisoned by words that they prevent us thinking afresh.

In the nonconformist churches particularly, the use of lay preachers is not merely an attempt to give personal witness to Christian truths; it is a means of supplementing the resources and energies of a depleted ministry. Some chapels would have no formal religious worship at all if lay preachers did not play an important part in the religious life of the community.

For us, as Catholics, the fundamental act of worship must remain the Mass. No amount of hymn singing or pious devotions will alter the fact. And although we are in need of more vocations to the priesthood, in this country at least, there is not such a desperate shortage of priests that most people who want to cannot reasonably get to Mass.

The role of laymen as lay preachers would be to augment rather than replace the work of the priesthood. In a small way something similar to lay-preaching already takes place in some churches. I refer to the practice of lay members reading out the epistle and gospel in English whilst the priest is saying it in Latin, and not merely at Passiontide. This practice will, of course, cease in Advent with the introduction of the vernacular into parts of the Mass.

It seems a small step from reciting the gospel to adding a short commentary on it. There are a number of reasons why laypreaching is feasible. To put it at its worst. some clerical sermons are so unbelievably had that it would be difficult to imagine any. thing worse. By bad I mean trite, unrelated to life as it is lived, how people think and feel, and delivered with scant regard to some of the accepted conventions of public speaking.

The value of lay preaching should not be a negative one. There is a much more positive aspect. Am I wrong in saying that a layman bearing witness to his faith, as sometimes we see it on television, is much more convincing than when a priest does so?

We feel when we watch him in the Epilogue, for instance, that he has a vested interest in the matter. He is professionally employed to bear witness. It would

he unseemly somehow if he expressed doubt or difficulty. A layman may find it much more of a battle to hold to the integrity of his belief, and his words would reveal this. Despite living in the world he could reveal that he had found the full joy and conviction of faith.

It may be objected that the layman is not as orthodox or wellread as the priest. This may have been so in the last century. One suspects even today that there is still a clerical preference for proletarians ,(in the original sense of the word), accompanied by subconscious hankerings after that vaguely pastoral society in which the clergy are the learned and the leaders, paternally governing a flock of the faithful who have simple faith to guide them and numerous children to keep them out of mischief. But with widespread university education this is no longer the case. Indeed the roles may soon be reversed.

Not that I would suggest for a moment that only university graduates are capable of preaching. Nor would the layman preach every Sunday or usurp the priest's right and duly to guide his flock. His appearances would be occasional. It would he fortifying though to hear a layman voice his thoughts. If need he, if there was fear of heresy, he could clear (with the priest beforehand) what roughly he was going to say.

It would be interesting to hear the clergy's view of my suggestion. Would they welcome with open arms (particularly those of them for whom it is torture to go into the pulpit) the chance of someone relieving them of that bind of preparing a sermon Sunday after Sunday? Do they not feel sometimes that they are running out of ideas, that they are getting a bit too stale, looking up what they said last year on the umpteenth Sunday after Pentecost?

Might the priest not pick up a few ideas himself. see the advantages of a different approach and modify his own preaching? Or would he feel that his position is being jeopardised and that, if a layman is a particularly eloquent speaker, invidious comparisons arc going to he drawn? This could he lessened by having a number of laymen taking it in turn to preach, and as I have said the use of thorn would be occasional rather than all the time,

Bruce M. Cooper, Middlesbrough.

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