Preaching By Lay People


In 2003, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference issued Directives for Preaching by Laypersons. The document makes three key points:

The homily at Mass is reserved to those who have received the sacrament of orders (canon 767 §1).
While preaching is primarily the responsibility of bishops, priests and deacons, the diocesan bishop may admit lay faithful to preach in churches or other sacred places within his diocese when he judges it to be to the spiritual advantage of the faithful. This might be, for example, in the absence of clergy or when there are particular language requirements.
The lay faithful who are to be admitted to preach in a church or oratory must be orthodox in faith, and well qualified, both by the witness of their lives as Christians and by a preparation for preaching appropriate to the circumstances.
The fact that it is both permissible and desirable for of lay people to preach in
particular circumstances was reinforced in the document Redemptionis
Sacramentum published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the
Discipline of the Sacraments in 2004:
“As regards other forms of preaching, if necessity demands it in particular
circumstances, or if usefulness suggests it in special cases, lay members of Christ’s
faithful may be allowed to preach in a Church or in an oratory outside Mass in
accordance with the norm of law.”(#161)

Preaching, or giving a reflection on the scripture, is integral to the community’s hearing of God’s Word, to the sanctification of Sunday, and to their baptismal call to evangelisation and mission. Liturgical preaching is carried out by women and men formed and delegated for this ministry by their bishop.

Each bishop determines the conditions for establishing a process of selection of lay candidates worthy and capable of leading their parish Sunday assembly in its prayer and of preaching/reflecting on the Word of God. He also appoints the candidates to serve in the ministries of leading and preaching in the local parish and commissions them in the community for a specific duration.
In the Archdiocese of Brisbane, two roles are distinguished within the lay leadership of liturgy. The leader delegated to preside does not necessarily receive a delegation to preach on the Scripture readings. The latter requires additional competency in Scripture and theology. While normally those delegated to preach will also be delegated to preside, it is preferable to differentiate these roles in the actual celebration.
For delegation to preach at a lay-led liturgy, the candidate must have a comprehensive theological background as well as skills in public speaking. Theological competence should include Scripture studies and general theology. At this level, formation would usually be equivalent to a Bachelor of Theology or a postgraduate diploma.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal describes the homily as ‘a necessary source of nourishment of the Christian life’ which should ‘take into account the mystery being celebrated and the needs of the listeners’. This offers a guide to those lay people who are delegated preach.

Preaching is about ‘breaking open’ the readings that have been proclaimed in the Liturgy of the Word and assisting the assembly to apply them to their own circumstances. It is an intolerable abuse for anyone to use their delegation to preach as an opportunity to push their own particular theological, liturgical or spiritual agenda.

Elizabeth Harrington