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FAQs about Lay Ministry

  • What is lay ministry?
    Ministry is the way in which the Church continues what Christ began and still intends, namely, the salvation of humanity and the transformation of the world. All baptized and confirmed Christians receive a call and gifts enabling them to participate in this mssion. When lay people carry out Christ's work as priest, prophet, and king in their own proper way through public activity authorized by the Church, we call this lay ministry.

    In recent years, a growing number of lay persons have prepared for and been appointed to positions of service and leadership in the church. Some of the recent documents of the U. S. Catholic bishops refer to such ministers, who often work full-time for the church, as lay ecclesial ministers.

  • Are deacons considered lay ministers?
    Because deacons have received the Sacrament of Holy Orders, they are among the ordained, not lay, ministers of the church.

  • Are religious brothers and sisters considered lay ministers?
    Because they do not receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders, religious brothers and sisters can be considered lay ministers. Some studies of lay ministers and of persons preparing for lay ministry create a separate category for religious brothers and sisters. In 1992, such religious constituted 41% of parish lay ministers; in 1997, they were 29%.

  • Will lay ministry make up for the priest shortage?
    Lay ministers can help meet the needs of the parish and the church, but there will always be a need for priests. As lay ministers collaborate more and more with priests, priests are freed to do what only they can. Shortage is a relative term. The United States has a much higher ratio of priests to Catholics than many other countries. In a recent document written to the Church in America, Pope John Paul II urged pastors to encourage lay leaders in the community. That, said the Pope, "will lead to a better distribution of tasks enabling priests 'to dedicate themselves to the encounter with and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, and thus to represent better within the community the presence of Jesus who draws his people together.'"

  • What can lay ministers do in relation to the Mass?
    Lay ministers have long been assisting in the celebration of the Liturgy. They have been servers and musicians and choir members for centuries. Since Vatican II, lay ministers have participated by reading the Scripture, reading the general petitions, and serving as extraordinary ministers of communion. Only the ordained priest or bishop can celebrate the Eucharist. In the absence of a priest, a lay minister may lead a Communion service; but that is not Mass.

  • What can lay ministers do in relation to the sacraments?
    Only the ordained ministers may administer the sacraments. Lay ministers play a very important role in preparing those who are to receive the sacraments.

  • Do you need to go to school to be a lay minister?
    Yes. The preparation required depends on the specific kind of ministry. Lectors and extraordinary ministers of Communion must have completed a program, usually quite brief, before they can be commissioned. Those who are preparing for other ministries, e.g. catechist, are often certified for those ministries after they have completed a course of studies which can take up to three years. Still others who might be preparing for a position as pastoral associate or general pastoral minister may be required to have a master's degree in theology, ministry, or a related field. Each diocese determines the preparation it expects of its lay ministers.

  • Why would someone become a lay minister?
    Almost all lay ministers report that they are responding to a "call" from God to give service to the Church. They find fulfillment in integrating their faith and work and in working within a Church environment. They are often encouraged in this call by their pastor or other members of the parish. For the Catholic Church, vocation is more than one's individual experience and requires also the confirmation of that call by the bishop or pastor. Those who experience that call are willing to prepare for ministry, often at some financial and personal cost to themselves. They also realize that salaries for lay ministers, while they have been improving, are not the highest.

  • Are lay ministers happy with their experience?
    Two studies (in 1992 and 1997) by the National Pastoral Life Center in New York City have demonstrated that lay parish ministers are "enormously satisfied" in their ministry. The more recent study is even a little more positive than the first one. More than 90 per cent of those surveyed agreed or agreed strongly with the following statements:
  • ministry has been affirming to me
  • I am adequately able to develop and use my talents in my present position
  • my superiors in the parish are satisfied with my performance as a minister
  • parishioners are satisfied with my performance as a minister
  • my work is recognized and affirmed by the parishioners I serve.

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Last Updated: October 04, 2010