A canon lawyer has backed a proposal from Catholic women that laypeople be allowed to preach in Masses.

– Vatican II “clearly emphasised that all the baptised and confirmed are empowered to proclaim the Word of God”

The Church’s argument for reserving homilies to priests – that the one who presides over the “table of the bread” should also be the one to preside over the “table of world” – “is weighty, but not necessarily absolute”, Professor Thomas Schüller told Münster diocesan media outlet Kirche + Leben June 10.

Schüller was analysing the petition Catholic women of the local Münster branch of the Catholic Women’s Association of Germany (KFD) made May 27 to their bishop, Felix Genn, asking him to bring the lay sermon during the Eucharist out of the shadows and thereby take a step towards righting the clericalist and gender injustice in the Church.

“By excluding laypeople from preaching, the Church’s witness of faith is reduced and the witness of women and the significance of the Gospel in female life contexts is hidden”, the KFD told Genn as part of the justification for their request.

In response to the petition for lay sermons, head of the Münster diocesan pastoral department Maria Bubenitschek said that while she understood the position of the Münster KFD – and while lay preaching during Masses was tolerated in some dioceses – the practice needed to be approved on a worldwide or at least national Church level, and not just on a local one.

According to Schüller – a professor of canon law at the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Münster – there are more than sufficient reasons to permit that more widespread approval, not least of all because deacons – who do not preside over the Eucharistic table – are also permitted to preach.

“Moreover, the Second Vatican Council clearly emphasised in both the liturgical and ecclesiastical Constitutions that all the baptised and confirmed are empowered to proclaim the Word of God”, Schüller explained.

That’s a teaching Pope Francis has confirmed over and again, the theologian continued, not least of all in his recognition in the post-Amazon Synod apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia that in that region “the laity can proclaim God’s word”.

– “No legal security” for those who engage in an already widespread practice

The Code of Canon Law states that, save in cases of necessity, the homily during the liturgy is reserved to the bishop, priest or deacon.

But Schüller said that sermons given by laypeople are actually already widespread in Germany, and that from Vatican II until 1988 a special dispensation allowing laypeople to preach was actually in force in the country until it was rescinded by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

The question, then, the theologian explained, is that “there is no legal security” for those laypeople who are already preaching in Masses.

“In the case of a crisis they, but also the tolerating priests and bishops, are without rights”, Schüller warned.

To remedy that situation, the professor said he was in favour “of a theologically well-founded legalisation” of the “paracanonical practice” that is the lay sermon during Mass, which he recalled is also prevalent in German-speaking Switzerland and Austria.

A perfect occasion for that “legalisation” could be the German Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform process, Schüller added, calling on the bishops of Germany’s 27 dioceses to line up to make a unified petition to Rome for the lay homily.

On issues such as lay preaching, “the more uniformly a bishops’ conference justifies such an petition to Rome the greater the likelihood that it will at least have to deal with the content”, the theologian explained.

More stories on Novena on the ministries of laypeople:

Catholic women in Münster call on bishop to allow laypeople to preach in Masses

German Bishops’ chair warns without more women’s leadership “the Church will soon be finished”

German archbishop demands Church increase quota of women in leadership positions

German bishop urges “spiritual revolution”: “We have to break out of the prison of a perfect Church”

German Catholic women take to pulpit to fight against gender injustice, clericalism


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.