Lay Leaders of liturgical prayer trained with view to future

New lay leaders of liturgy leaders for the Auckland diocese.

The Auckland Liturgy Centre has run a training course for lay leaders of liturgical prayer, with the objective of “future-proofing” public worship against the declining number of priests.

Liturgy and Ministry coordinator Randall Ramos said that the course was attended by 52 ministers of the Word and/or Holy Communion. It was held one Saturday a month for five months.

“While currently, we (Auckland diocese) are still quite alright with most parishes having one or two priests on-site, the inevitable future is that that number will flip. That imbalance will come to fruition where we will have more parish communities as opposed to clergy . . . in the very near future,” he said.

He said that some dioceses, both in New Zealand and other parts of the world, are already experiencing a shortage of priests, and are relying on lay leaders, particularly in the rural areas.

Mr Ramos said that this is not a new ministry, and the centre had already held something similar in terms of formation in the past.

“But this is mainly coming out of the diocesan and continental phases of the synod, where a lot of the responses have been about [people’s concern for] either lack of priests or lack of interest in priesthood,” he said.

Mr Ramos said that it is a valid concern, as he noted how parishes rely on priests, not only for Mass and liturgy, but also for leadership.

“What happens if you turn up for a Sunday service or Mass, and there is no priest? Do we close the door and send everyone home? Or do we stand there not knowing what to do?”

“When it comes down to it, our faith does not call us to gather in public worship and prayer only in the presence of an ordained clergy. Our faith calls us as a community to come together for public worship, wherever that may be, whatever the circumstances may be,” he said.

He said that the lay leader cannot consecrate the host and offer a homily, but he or she can distribute hosts previously consecrated by a priest to become Holy Eucharist, and offer a reflection on the Gospel.

“We are not looking for lay presiders to take over a role that requires someone that has been trained and [has] studied for seven years and ordained,” he said.

Mr Ramos said that the course is just the start of the participants’ formation as lay leaders. He said that they have been sent back to their parishes and encouraged to continue their formation.

He said that the parish priest, staff, teams and leaders have been asked to support the participants in their ongoing formation, particularly in writing their reflections on the readings of the day.

Mr Ramos acknowledged that more than half of the participants would not be presiding at liturgies.

“The course is about looking ahead and creating this familiarity with people from our congregations so that, when that time comes, and we start to see lay presiders, it’s not too much of a shock,” he said.

He said that the course covered topics such as: basic theology of ministry, foundations of liturgy, preaching and the lectionary, and more topical questions such as – how welcoming are our communities, ecumenical factors, and the safeguarding aspects of our Church.

Mr Ramos said that the feedback was good, and that participants found a new appreciation for their current roles as ministers of the Word and/or Liturgy.

“Being a lay leader does require you to take ownership of your leadership role as opposed to being passive. As Catholics, we are so used to being passive in the pews, I think. We’re relying on the presider, the ordained clergy, to lead that public worship. Whereas, we are all called for a more full, active and conscious participation,” he said.

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Rowena Orejana

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