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
- 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
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
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
- What can lay ministers do in relation to the
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
Only the ordained ministers may administer the sacraments. Lay ministers
play a very important role in preparing those who are to receive the
- Do you need to go to school to be a lay
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
- 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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October 04, 2010