Women in Church Leadership
Unheard Homilies: Ending the Silencing of Catholic Women

Too often, women's voices are silenced in our churches. Stories of female biblical leaders are omitted or made optional in our lectionary and women.  Although canon law allows for it (see below), in many places lay preaching has been terminated or is not allowed. 

Here is an short analysis of what the 1983 Code of Canon Law permits and why we should care written by Sr. Christine Schenk:

Canon 766: "Lay persons can be permitted to preach in a church or oratory, if necessity requires it in certain circumstances or it seems advantageous in particular cases, according to the prescripts of the conference of bishops and without prejudice to canon 767, §1."

Canon 767, §1: "Among the forms of preaching, the homily, which is part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or deacon, is preeminent; in the homily the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian life are to be explained from the sacred text during the course of the liturgical year."

In 2001, to fulfill the prescriptive requirements of Canon 766, the U.S. bishops' conference issued norms for lay preaching, which says, in part: "The lay faithful may be permitted to exercise this [preaching] ministry in churches and oratories." The conference named three "illustrative" cases: "the absence or shortage of clergy, particular language requirements, or the demonstrated expertise or experience of the lay faithful concerned." It also carefully stipulated: "Preaching by the lay faithful may not take place within the Celebration of the Eucharist at the moment reserved for the homily."

Even though the 2004 Vatican document Redemptionis Sacramentum sought to restrict lay preaching even further, canonical experts say it remains a nonlegislative document "that implements but does not supersede already existing law." Thus, the more expansive U.S. bishops' norms are lawful, depending on if and how the diocesan bishop wants to implement them.

Proponents of lay preaching at Mass, such as Matthew Clark, interpreted the bishops' norms with some latitude and permitted lay reflection on the Gospel to be given after "in dialogue" with the priest presider or placed just before or after the prayers of the faithful.  Here is a statement from Clark's 1982 pastoral letter:

It is entirely possible that the Spirit of God is even now granting to the Church at large and to our local church true prophets, men and women through whom the Spirit of God will inspire and renew us. No one of us can claim on personal authority that he or she does not possess this gift of prophecy nor can any one of us claim from God's hand this extraordinary power. But all of us -- bishop and housewife, priest and lay person, monk and religious woman -- can and must be open to [its] advent among us. It remains to those who preside over the Church to decide the presence of true prophecy and even they must be extremely careful not to make premature, unprayerful judgments and so to "extinguish the Spirit."

Resources

FutureChurch has begun posting homilies and reflections by women.  CLICK HERE to find them.  

Partners in Preaching is an organization that has trained more than 500 skilled lay preachers

FutureChurch is working for women deacons to end the silencing of Catholic women at Mass.