Ministries and functions the lay faithful can exercise in the Catholic church

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2010

44 Pages, Grade: 1.5


Table of content


A. Introduction
1. Authorization of Lay Ministries
2. General Requirements for the Exercise of Ecclesiastical Offices and Functions by
3. Procedure of Admission of Lay Faithful to Ecclesiastical Offices and Functions
4. Application of the Term ‘Ministry’ to Lay Activities in the Church
5. Limit to Lay Ministry
6. Loss of Ecclesiastical Offices and Functions
a) Loss of office/function by reason of expiry of predetermined time
b) Loss of office/function by reason of reaching the age limit
c) Loss of office/function by resignation
d) Loss of office/function by reason of transfer
e) Loss of office/function by reason of removal
f) Loss of office by reason of deprivation

B. Lay Persons and Ecclesiastical Offices/Functions

C. Categories of Lay Ministries
1. Lay ministries: Teaching Office
a) Catechists
b) Lay Preacher
c) Theology Teachers
d) Lay Missionaries
e) Mass Media Evangelizers
2. Lay Ministries: Sanctifying Office (Liturgical Ministries)
a) Instituted or Installed Acolyte
b) Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Communion
c) Instituted or Installed Lectors
d) Commissioned Readers
e) Leaders of Public Prayer
f) Altar Servers or Knights (and Ladies) of the Blessed Sacrament.
g) Psalmists
h) Commentators
i) Cantors or Music Directors
j) Sacristans
k) Choir
l) Organists, drummers, guitarists, trumpeters, etc.
m) Church Ushers
n) Collectors
o) Masters of Ceremony (Liturgical team)
p) Presiders of Funeral Services
q) Assistants at Marriages
r) Extraordinary Minister of Baptism
3. Lay Ministries: Governing Office (Pastoral Ministries)
a) Judges in Ecclesiastical Tribunals
b) Assessors
c) Auditors
d) Chancellors or Notaries
e) Promoters of Justice
f) Defenders of the Bond
g) Parish Pastoral Administrators
h) Diocesan and Parish Pastoral Council Members
i) Finance Administrators
j. Diocesan Finance Committee Members
k) Parish Finance Committee Members
l) Social Action Group Members

D. Conclusion



In the early Church, the question of who was a lay person or who was not a cleric was not much of a concern since the Church acted as one body. Any action taken by the part of the Church members involved the action of the whole Church. However, this does not mean that in the nascent Church all the members formed a kind of amorphous body in which there were no distinctions. Since the genesis of the Church, there has been a distinction among her members.

There are two different categories of Christ’s faithful. There are the clerics and the lay faithful. The clerics are the ordained members and the lay faithful are the non-ordained members. The two groups are not regarded as different ontologically. One group is not more important or more a member of the Church than the other. Both categories have rights and obligations in the Church.

All who are baptized or are received into the Church are regarded as Christ’s faithful. The term “Christ’s faithful” applies to all baptized Christians regardless of their state or rank in the Church. As one is baptized or received into the Church, he or she gains membership by the virtue of the baptism that is recognized as sacramental.

One undeniable fact about the Church is that it is composed of a great number of faithful who fall under the category of the members referred to as the laity or lay faithful. In this regard, it is important to direct maximum attention to the majority of the membership of the Church. Fortunately, the concept of the Ecclesia as portrayed vividly in the conciliar documents of Vatican II favors to a considerable extent the reflection on the laity whose presence in the Church was not given the desired attention in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Any critical deliberation on Christifideles must not ignore the invaluable presence of the laity in the Church. The Church in a sense is more “lay” than “clerical’ as far as numerical membership is concerned.

Even though the Church has more lay members than clerics, the laity seemed to have had no mission to undertake in her in the past centuries. Although some lay people, over the ages, especially throughout the Middle-Ages and early Modern times, were very active in the world, they ordinarily undertook a rather passive role in the Church, and they did not meddle in ecclesiastical affairs. Simply, the lay faithful in the Church during the course of history were denied any ministry. Some lay persons became scholars and apologists for the Catholic faith, yet official ecclesiastical documents did not speak of their faith-based achievements as mission or ministry. The term “ministry” and “mission” were commonly used for the clergy, but not applied to the activities of the lay faithful.

It is an interesting venture to explore extensively the 1983 Code of Canon Law which takes a beautiful stance from the 1917 Code regarding the laity in order to bring to the fore all that concerns the juridical status and role of the laity. It is imperative to unfold to the lay persons the significance of their place and role in their respective Christian communities.

According to c. 228 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law lay people who are qualified and suitable can be admitted to ecclesiastical offices and functions by the sacred pastors. This paves a way for the active lay involvement in the life and work of the Church.

However, there are limits to lay ministries. These limits need to be observed so that there will be harmony and understanding among all those who are involved in ministries in the Church. Observance and respect of the limits to one’s ministry will remove the situations that can cause conflict between lay persons who are admitted to exercise offices and functions in the Church, and the clergy.

A. Introduction

There are various offices that the lay faithful can assume in the Church in order to participate in the mission of Christ. The participation of the lay faithful in those offices allowed to them in the Church should not be regarded as participation in the apostolate of the hierarchy; rather it should be viewed as their participation in the life and work of the Church. However, every apostolate in a particular Church is under the care of the diocesan Bishop, who authorizes and supervises all works of the apostolate of his diocese. The diocesan Bishop has oversight role over all pastoral activities in his diocese. He can issue guidelines and determine what title should be attributed to holders of certain offices within his territory. He has the authority to delineate the limits of lay ministry as well as to admit, transfer, deprive or remove from office.

1. Authorization of Lay Ministries

Authorization of lay ministry is the process by which lay persons in the Church are chosen/selected/designated and properly prepared to undertake certain recognized activities or offices in the Church and are allowed to do so by a competent ecclesiastical authority.

There is then a need for every lay ministry to be authorized by the diocesan Bishop for his diocese. Lay activities in the Church receive much higher recognition when they are properly authorized by the diocesan Bishop. This authorization is necessary since carrying out these ministerial responsibilities is in the interest of the particular Church. Lay ministry, when authorized by the diocesan Bishop belongs to the Church and is carried out in the name of the Church. In turn, the authorization should be documented so as to serve as a proof of existence of a particular lay activity allowed in a particular diocese.

2. General Requirements for the Exercise of Ecclesiastical Offices and Functions by Lay Ministers

Apart from the specific qualifications for lay ministry in the Church, there are general requirements for those lay persons who are to be admitted to exercise ecclesiastical offices or functions. For a lay person to be considered for admission to offices and functions in the Church, he must be in full communion with the Church, verified by bonds of profession, sacraments and ecclesiastical governance.[i] In addition, he or she must have the suitability for the particular office or function that he or she will be admitted to exercise in the Church. Concerning the suitability he or she must possess those qualities which are required by law or by competent authority.[ii]

3. Procedure of Admission of Lay Faithful to Ecclesiastical Offices and Functions

Admission of lay persons to ecclesiastical offices and functions or simply to lay ministry should go through a process. There must be a procedure which must be observed in admitting lay persons to exercise ecclesial activities allowed to them to perform in the Church. The author makes a suggestion of a procedure which can be observed in that regard.

i) The diocesan Bishop or another person delegated by him should first of all identify the areas and roles that in his judgment need the assistance of lay ministers so as to know the suitability of the lay persons to elect or select for a particular ministry or activity.
ii) Selection of candidates for lay ministry: The selection or election should be carried out on the basis of proposal from a competent authority, response to the proposal by prospective candidates. The following qualifications should be taken into consideration while designating lay persons for some offices or functions: catholicity, age, residence, appropriate education, language, moral integrity, status of life, training for a particular ministry in question, experience, competence, etc.
iii) Acknowledgment of the competence of the candidate for lay ministry.
iv) Type of ministerial role to be performed ( certification)
v) Appointment of those selected to specific office/position/function
vi) Appointment should be done with a written letter to the individual lay persons selected. The appointment letter should state the following: responsibilities of the appointment, delineation of the obligation, those who are responsible for supervision of the particular office or function, tenure of office, voluntary or paid ministry, time for commencement of exercise of office or function, the title that accompanies any exercise of an office or function etc.
vii) Announcement of the appointment to the community where the appointed lay minister will carry out his task.
viii) Commissioning of the selected lay persons for lay ministry: The admission or commissioning of the lay ministers should take place during liturgical celebration where majority of the members of the parish or faithful of the diocese where the lay minister will serve so that those who are present can witness and also recognize the lay function to be carried out by the lay minister as an officially acceptable function and a duty duly to be performed by the appointed lay person. There should be a simple ceremony of commissioning/admission of lay persons to lay ministry with a prescribed rite.[iii] This kind of ceremony should mark the admission to ecclesiastical offices and functions, and as such, it denotes the call to lay ministry.

4. Application of the Term ‘Ministry’ to Lay Activities in the Church

The term ‘ministry’ is derived from the latin word ministerium which means ministry, service, office or duty. This term has become a common place in the Church because of its inflated use.

In the early Latin versions of scripture, “ministerium’ was used as the translation of the Greek “diakonia”. The common English translation of “diakonia” is “service”. In later ecclesiastical usage, “ministerium” was applied exclusively to the clergy and became associated with the power and authority of ecclesiastical office.[iv]

It is clear from the above that the original usage of the Greek word diakonia had no exclusive connection with power and authority of ecclesiastical offices. However, before Vatican Council II, the Church applied the term “ministry” in a limited and exclusive manner to the ordained ministry. The 1983 Code of Canon Law is lenient in the usage of the term ministry to some lay activities in the Church on the basis of the fact that the lay persons also share in the munera of Christ or in the ministry of Christ.[v]

Both clerics and lay people share in the munera of Christ. “Each “munus” has two levels of participation- that of all of the faithful and that of the hierarchy.”[vi] With regard to the laity, the priestly munus of Jesus is continued and promoted by uniting all the activities of life to the Eucharistic sacrifice thereby effecting the consecration of the world to God.[vii] On the other hand, the priestly function of the hierarchy is fulfilled in the munus of the sanctifying, which takes into consideration the Eucharistic sacrifice and the overall liturgical worship of the Church.[viii]

The prophetic munus (office) of Christ is fulfilled by the laity through giving witness to Christ through reception and exercise of charisms they received for the benefit of the Church such as seen in the teaching, preaching, and instructions in schools and catechetical endeavors in the Church. For the ordained members, this prophetic munus is the teaching office which includes the actions of the official magisterium, preaching, instruction in schools, catechetical etc.

The lay persons exercise the kingly munus of Christ by executing their task of bringing the secular world into the reign of God and thus harmonize the secular world with the Church[ix], while the hierarchy exercises the same munus through administration and execution of jurisdiction to which the laity can cooperate to certain degree.[x]

There is a provision for a degree of interchange between these two spheres of activities- the world and the Church. For example, there is a possibility for the lay person to hold Church offices which is in fact part of the office of governing,[xi] or the clerics entrusting the lay persons to duties of which pertain to the office of teaching or duties which pertain to the office of sanctifying.[xii] There is no clear boundary in regard to this interchange.[xiii] Hence, to apply the term “ministry” to the activities of the lay persons in the Church is in the right direction.

Some Vatican Council II documents describe lay activities as “ministry”. The activities of servers at the altar, lectors, musicians, choir, commentators are referred to as true liturgical ministries.[xiv] There are also indications in some Vatican II documents and post conciliar documents which apply the term in question to lay persons, for example, the lay people who are part of the diocesan curia acting as assistants in the pastoral ministry of the bishop are in fact helping the Bishop in the governance of the diocese and therefore, are doing ministry.[xv] The Declaration on Christian Education No. 7 applies the term “ministry” to two forms of teaching and the lay who teach doctrines (that is the first form) to children exercise true ministry;[xvi] and the term “ministry” is also applied to the second form of teaching being that in the Catholic schools (The Declaration on Christian Education No. 8).[xvii]

The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity is the first document to apply the term “ministry” to lay activities in the secular sphere. It applies the term “ministry” to lay activities which are fulfillment of the triple munera of Christ by the People of God.[xviii] The catechists are called ministers in the Vatican II document Ad Gentes;[xix] and Catholic Action is referred to as a ministry.[xx] Missionaries, who are engaged in the mission of the Church, (whether clerics or lay), are also regarded as ministers.[xxi]

5. Limit to Lay Ministry

Lay ministers should be made to understand that by being admitted to participate in certain offices and functions in the Church, they are not in a way admitted to interfere with the ministry of the ordained in any measure. They should be aware of the fact that they assist the pastors or cooperate with them in fulfillment of the mission of the Church. Lay ministers should have love for the whole Catholic Church and should strive to be in full communion with the Church and be united in mind and heart with the pastors and with the Pope as a successor of St. Peter.

Those functions in the Church which are reserved exclusively to the pastors because they involve the care of souls ( for example, celebration of the Holy Eucharist, hearing of confession, etc) should never be exercised by any lay minister except in cases of those ministries they can exercise whereby they must exercise them under the direction of a pastor.[xxii] During their formation the limit of each lay ministry should clearly be explained to the lay ministers.

6. Loss of Ecclesiastical Offices and Functions

There are various ways by which lay persons who are admitted to ecclesiastical offices and function can lose their offices and functions. The 1983 Code of Canon Law stipulated the various ways by which ecclesiastical offices are lost by those who exercise them. The same may to some degree be applied to the exercise of certain functions which fall under lay ministry in the Church.

a) Loss of office/function by reason of expiry of predetermined time

Ecclesiastical offices to which lay persons are admitted to exercise may be conferred for a predetermined period of time. The predetermined period of time for the exercise of any of the offices may be specified in the letter of appointment at the expiry of which the lay person exercising the office or function loses his office.[xxiii]

b) Loss of office/function by reason of reaching the age limit

In admission of lay persons to exercise ecclesiastical offices, age limit may be set with regard to some offices. Once reached, those lay persons who exercise such offices have to leave office. Once the competent authority communicates this in writing to a lay minister, he loses the office by that reason.[xxiv]

c) Loss of office/function by resignation

A lay minister can resign from office in a personally responsible manner and for just reason. He can do that in writing to the competent authority.[xxv]

d) Loss of office/function by reason of transfer

A lay minister can lose his office by transfer from one office to another by the competent authority.[xxvi] Grave reason is required if the transfer is done against the will of the lay minister.[xxvii] For the transfer to have an effect, it must be notified to the lay minister who is being transferred to another office.[xxviii]

e) Loss of office/function by reason of removal

A lay minster can be removed from office, and by that fact he loses his office. This is done either by a decree of the competent authority lawfully issued or by virtue of the law itself, that is, if the lay minister publicly defected from the Catholic faith or from the communion with the Church and if this is established by a declaration of a competent authority.[xxix]

f) Loss of office by reason of deprivation

A lay minister can lose ecclesiastical office by being deprived of the office as a punishment for an offence.[xxx]

B. Lay Persons and Ecclesiastical Offices/Functions

Canon 145§1 states that an ecclesiastical office is any post which by divine or ecclesiastical disposition is established in a stable manner and for furthering spiritual purpose. The lay faithful are capable of exercising in the Church such offices, which are categorized under the tria munera of Christ, that is, the three-fold office of Christ, namely: the teaching office, sanctifying office, and governing office.

There is a diversity of ministries in the Church. One can identify three categories of lay ministry which pertain to the three offices of the Church. There are also different types of lay ministries, namely, installed ministries, commissioned/assigned ministries, and de facto ministries.

Types of Lay Ministries

1. Installed Ministers: The installed ministers are also referred to as “extraordinary” ministers. They exercise some functions in the Church when the circumstance and needs of the Church require that they substitute for the ordinary ministers when they (ordained ministers) are not available.

2. Commissioned/Assigned Ministers: These ministers are those who are formally deputed or commissioned to undertake many ministries which received recognition in the Church.

3 . De facto Ministers: These are ministers who are neither installed nor commissioned but exercise wide variety of ministries.


[i] c. 205.

[ii] c. 149§1.

[iii] The rite should be observed within a liturgical celebration.

4E. Rinere, “Conciliar and Canonical Applications of ‘ministry’ to the Laity”, in The Jurist 47, 1987, p. 204.

[v] Ibid, p. 206.

[vi] Cfr. LG, 19; 34.

[vii] Cfr. LG, 19; 34.

[viii] Cfr. CD, 15.

[ix] Cfr. LG, 36.

[x] Cfr. E. Rinere, Op. cit., p 206.

[xi] Cfr. LG, 33.

[xii] Cfr. AA, 24.

[xiii] Cfr. E. Rinere, op. cit. p. 207.

[xiv] Cfr. SC, 112; 29; 35.

[xv] Cfr. CD, 27; AAS 58 (1966) 687.

[xvi] Cfr. AAS 58 (1966) 734.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Cfr. Elissa Rinere, op. cit., p. 210; AAS 58 ( 1966) 842.

[xix] Cfr. AG, 15; 17.

[xx] Ibid,

[xxi] Ibid.;23; 24; 26.

[xxii] c. 517§2.

[xxiii] c. 184. §§ 1, 2,3.

[xxiv] c. 186.

[xxv] c. 187.

[xxvi] c. 190§1.

[xxvii] c. 190§2.

[xxviii] c.190§3.

[xxix] c. 194. § 1. 1°,2°,3°;§ 2.

[xxx] c. 196.

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Ignatius Ayivor (Author), 2010, Ministries and functions the lay faithful can exercise in the Catholic church, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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