Lay Leaders of Liturgy


With the greater frequency of lay led liturgy in parishes, some questions and issues are beginning to emerge concerning those who lead the liturgies. Lay leaders of liturgy are (i) discerned, (ii) trained and (iii) delegated for their ministry. I will look at each of these in turn.

I have heard of instances where certain people in a parish have taken it upon themselves to lead worship when required as if it is their right. The Guidelines for Lay Leaders of Liturgy for the Archdiocese of Brisbane state that explicit delegation from the archbishop is required for all lay leaders of liturgy. The decision about who leads liturgy is made by the pastoral leadership of the parish, not by an individual.
Firstly, there should be an assessment of the parish, its liturgical/pastoral needs and resources. Secondly, there should be a prayerful discernment of those who would best lead the community’s worship in the absence of a priest or deacon. While care is required to ensure that the ministry does not become one person’s exclusive domain, most parishes will need no more than 5 or 6 lay leaders of liturgy.
The qualities that are required by a leader of public worship include an understanding of leadership as service, a sense of prayer, both private and communal, the ability to communicate with clergy and parishioners alike and a pastoral sensitivity to the needs of others.
It is important that those people who are chosen are accepted and respected by the community as a whole. Like all liturgical ministers, they need to display a genuine commitment to the parish community and its mission and not be present only when rostered to lead liturgy.

For delegation as a lay leader of liturgy on Sundays or weekdays, competence is required in understanding the liturgical structures of the Liturgy of the Word, the patterns of public prayer, and the basics of the Sacramentary, Lectionary, and the Liturgy of the Hours. The candidate also needs the basic skills of presiding at liturgy and coordinating liturgical ministries. Experience in leading prayer with small groups in the parish, for example, is a decided advantage.
I have heard comments to the effect that lay people shouldn’t be expected to attend formation courses before they take on the role of leading liturgy, but all important roles in life require training. Ordained clergy spend many hours at the seminary studying and practising the art of presiding at liturgy. How can lay people be expected to do it well without adequate preparation?

The parish priest makes a formal request to the archbishop for delegation of those people who have been discerned as appropriate leaders of liturgy for the parish. The request sets out evidence of competency for the delegation requested.
In Brisbane, there are three levels of delegation within the lay leadership of liturgy; delegation to lead Sunday or weekday worship, delegation to preach on the Scripture readings and delegation to preside at liturgies of the Order of Christian Funerals.
The archbishop’s delegation of lay leaders of liturgy is for a set term, usually three years, and for the nominating parish only, that is, they minister only within their own parish community. The lay leader of liturgy is publicly commissioned in the local parish.

Elizabeth Harrington