In the light of the Holy Spirit and of their own experience as members of Pobal De, God’s people in Ireland, a gathering of men and women from all over the country, who have met on this Laetare Sunday, 1987, present these reflections to their fellow Christians.
They offer them especially to the Catholic Bishops of Ireland and to all taking part in the Synod on the Laity, to be held in Rome later this year. We have come together in the joy and hope of our fellowship with Jesus Christ, out of love for the Church, and desiring to do what we can to promote the values of the Gospel.
It is our earnest wish that lay men and women should be able to exercise the many ministries open to them by reason of their membership of the Church and the gifts which they have received from the Holy Spirit. Regarding the present circumstances of the Irish Church, it would be a disservice to voice an optimism which we do not feel.
It would be dangerously misleading to veil our discontent behind a facade of false loyalty. We want the bishops to know our opinion on matters which concern the good of the Church. We want them to reflect our anxiety in what they say to the Synod on the Laity, both in the submissions which may be required of them at the preparatory stage and in their contributions to the debate when discussion has opened in Rome.
High among our forebodings is a fear for the very survival of the Irish Church. We cannot ignore the widespread alienation of young people from the Catholic faith. We cannot accept that this comes about solely, or even in large measure, from the social circumstances of the age in which we live. The Church itself alienates the young.
While fully acknowledging our own neglect in doing as much as we might have done in the past, we feel it necessary to say that the centralisation of authority in the Holy See and the manner in which that authority has been exercised in recent years do not help.
It was sad to learn that the Irish bishops felt unable to make recommendations concerning inter-Church marriages because they knew that the Holy See would reject what they believed it proper to propose. Disregard for local wishes now characterises the procedures for nominating bishops to Irish dioceses.
We cannot stress too strongly that a dismissive attitude on the part of the Holy See towards the local Church breeds the apathy which so quickly leads to alienation. It would be wrong to think that the attitude of Rome goes unnoticed among the Irish laity or that is has no bearing on the perception of the Church by Irish youth and the disadvantaged in the national community.
We think it vitally important that the hierarchy should avoid any appearance of standing apart from their fellow Catholics or give the impression of overriding the laity in anything pertaining to the rights of Christians.
We trust, for example, that the bishops will publish all submissions which they make to the Holy See so that Irish Catholics may know all that is being said in their name. We feel that the bishops’ duty to their people in this matter should take precedence over conformity with directives from offices in the Vatican.
We also trust that the choice of persons to represent the Irish laity in any activity related to the Synod will be left to laity themselves. It would be entirely invidious for the hierarchy to intrude upon the right of the laity to name their own spokespersons and representatives.
We raise these issues to illustrate how the Irish Church can be injured by pre-conciliar approaches which still create barriers and condition attitudes among the people of God and which should have no place in the Church of the Second Vatican Council.
What the Irish laity’s role should be within that Church we now set out as we see it, together with an indication of change which we believe must be undertaken without delay, in good faith and full cooperation between bishops, priests and people.
People of God
By reason of our Baptism, our Confirmation and our participation in the Eucharist, we are all full and equal members of the Church and have both the right and the duty to function as such. In practice, however, many of the laity feel great frustration because they believe that they are not listened to by the clergy and are made to feel unwanted at the level of parish and diocesan decision-making, in which they should, in fact, be involved.
Through this involvement, the desirable partnership between the laity, the ordained ministers and the bishops can be made practical reality. There should be a definite programme to include the parents and wider family in the spiritual education of children, especially during preparation for reception of the sacraments which mark their growth into full membership of the Church. Steps should also be taken to ensure that all the laity are kept fully aware of their rights as well as of their duties.
The Christian community can best come to understand and express itself through small groups, based on friendship. The variety and richness of ministries can be readily identified in such groups, which enable Christians to support and encourage one another.
This vision is based on the concept of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles: They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).
It follows that the familiar system of parish organisation will have to be radically overhauled. It is possible to envisage the emergence of basic communities under lay leadership, with ordained ministers being called from within and for the local community.
Irish Catholics need to note that fundamentalist cults have been making considerable headway by promoting the development of intimate groupings of this kind. Communication
There is a lack of communication within the Church which seriously hinders many of the people of God in understanding their rights and duties as Christians. In particular, all have a duty to listen and all have a right to be heard. It is important that the Church authorities be seen to listen to the laity, just as they properly expect the laity to listen to them. Communication within the Church will have to be facilitated.
Clergy and laity must cooperate in the establishment of suitable structures such as pastoral councils, the encouragement of an unfettered press within the Church at local, diocesan and national level and the promotion of imaginative means of articulating felt wants within the community.
The laity have the right to avail themselves of the opportunity to use the gifts of the Spirit with which they have been endowed in the service of the Church, and to be supported in using this opportunity. They have the right and the duty to act consciously as Christians in the world and to be supported when they do so.
The full-time employment of lay people on pastoral work should be actively encouraged in parishes and dioceses. Laity employed should be paid adequate salaries and be guaranteed the security of employment which would be normal in secular occupations. In this way the Church would be able to draw fully upon the talents with which its members have been endowed by the Spirit.
We believe that the task of promoting the growth of faith belongs to all members of the Church. The division of the Church into clergy and laity is not only inappropriate, but is also unacceptable, and we are not willing to put up with it any longer. We know that maintaining the division leads both to great hurt among lay people and to great loneliness among the clergy.
If a community vision of shared responsibility for developing the life of faith is ever to become a reality, we need to focus on faith as relationship with God rather than merely as a set of doctrines.
We need to relate the development of faith to real life, to see faith as calling us to become more fully human – for our relationship with God should increase our capacity to relate more deeply with others.
We must have the courage to call on the gifts of the laity and to trust lay people to work as Church. This will require programmes to educate laity and clergy in their full roles. While the family remains the core unit in Church and in society, and while family prayer remains fundamental, we need new forms of community involvement as well.
There is an urgent need to encourage and give a special place to small groups in which to develop a sense of belonging, so that people can gain a proprietary sense of Church and learn from one another.
We believe that the laity must become part of the decision-making process in the Church, their powers extending to the election of bishops as in the early Church, the re-location of clergy and the selection of candidates for training for the priesthood.
We foresee that greater community involvement would enable the laity to show their concern about the loneliness of the lives of priests and to express their care for their priests. We believe that priests should have the option to marry.
The liturgy should be related to daily life, and should be adapted to the needs of the people. We also believe that there is a deep need for the Church to place as much emphasis on the affective and emotional content of faith as on the doctrinal.
We must help people to see God as loving and concerned rather than judgmental. There is a need to preach hope as well as faith and love. We call for a greater recognition of the feminine in the life of the Church, and especially in the training of priests.
As lay Catholics we accept that we must have the courage to live out in our lives the love of Jesus, and we must be prepared to take the initiative towards building a more vibrant Church.
The Rite for the Christian Initiation of Adults and other similar programmes must be made available in all parishes. The religious education of children in schools should be supplemented by such programmes as the RCIA. We must provide for young children forms of liturgy and prayer other than the adult experience: we recommend Sunday schools and liturgies for children.
We recommend that liturgy be adapted to people’s needs. People should not be forced to adapt to a standard liturgy. The feminine and masculine qualities in all people should be recognised and appreciated in order to break down the intellectual bias in Church teaching.
There must be repentance and reconciliation between the teaching Church and the learning Church, prompted by a recognition that certain teachings and practices have alienated and hurt many. The hierarchy must admit when they are wrong. So must the laity.
The office holders in the Church must draw on the gifts of the laity, must be prepared to trust the laity to work as Church, and must ensure that lay people can exercise a proprietary sense of responsibility.
There is an immediate need to channel greatly increased resources into programmes to enable lay people to educate themselves in the faith, and in every parish a budget must be provided for the education and formation of the laity. Like-to-like ministries (e.g., youth to youth, the bereaved to bereaved) must be encouraged.
Aware that we have the right and duty because of our Baptism to participate fully in public worship, many of us lay people feel angry and frustrated that, twenty years on, Vatican II’s vision of active participation by all in a renewed liturgy is still far from full realisation. The gifts which lay people can bring to liturgical celebration are under-valued and underused. There must be a full and equal role for women.
There is an urgent need for greater education of both clergy and laity if the celebration of the liturgy is to be more meaningful and more effective, helping people to relate both to God in Jesus Christ and to each other.
Renewal and innovation
Creativity should be encouraged, in the interests of making worship more relevant to people’s lives and a more effective stimulus to Christian action. Other forms of worship, both old and new, outside of the Mass, should be encouraged and developed, at individual and community level.
We also recommend that there should be much greater access to Holy Communion under both species, that the prayer of the faithful should always be composed as well as spoken by the faithful themselves, and that more use should be made in the liturgy of specifically Irish cultural resources.
There must be greater emphasis on the Liturgy of the Word and ways must be found of worshipping with other Christian denominations. Progress toward the introduction of inter-communion should be encouraged, especially for inter-Church families.
Sensitivity must be shown toward people with special needs, (for example, the deaf, the mentally handicapped, coeliacs, people in wheel chairs) so that nobody will feel excluded from full participation in worship. Adult eucharistic liturgies are unsuited to children and must be adapted for use in special children’s liturgies.
Vatican II called us to take on our responsibilities as the people of God when it said that the laity should not imagine that their pastors could provide a concrete solution for every problem which might arise.
This was not even the pastors’ mission. Instead, said the council, it was for the laity, enlightened by Christian wisdom and attending closely to the teaching authority of the Church, to adopt their own distinctive role (Gaudium et Spes, 43).
We are unhappy that the hierarchy of the Church has handed down moral decisions in the form of declarations to lay men and women, who have had to accept them whether or not they touched or answered the felt problems of daily life.
Our vision of the moral life is one of freedom to love and serve all people in community (Gal 5:13ff). A community morality which springs from the lived experience of the Christian community, based on the gospels, and is accepted as a true expression of what the community believes, will lead to freedom to love and serve the world.
Moral teaching can be lived only if it springs from the moral conviction of the community; it cannot be lived in the abstract. Major moral questions to be addressed by the community in Ireland relate to injustice, poverty, homelessness, unemployment, violence, the arms race, the environment, the black economy, the rights of children, and finally sexual morality.
To ensure that the laity are fully involved in the evolution of moral teaching, we need adequate structures at local and national level for expressing the moral experience of lay people from every area of life.
An appropriate lay organisation, similar to the Conference of Major Religious Superiors and the National Conference of Priests, should be an independent constituent part of the institutional Church.
Many women in Ireland are angry and alienated. Others have gone beyond anger into a state of apathy. However, large numbers are willing to look constructively towards the future, given the opportunity. We urgently question the morality of the Church’s position on women.
Within the Church women have been patronised and excluded from the decision-making process. This results in their experience being devalued. The Church is impoverished when women are denied equality and their gifts are stifled. The dignity of woman requires that we must object when the hierarchy of the Church proceeds without dialogue to pronounce on issues pertaining to women.
We are too often presented with a false image of Mary which does not speak to women’s lived experience. It distorts the gospel Mary and gives a false model of womanhood. Many clergy continue to be trained into a system of control. This system removes them from important human experiences. It distances them from the experience of the laity and creates a divide between spiritual and human caring.
The institutional Church is failing to serve the needs of our young people (50% of our population). We believe that women must voice their questions and convictions without fear and so we recommend:
- A use of language that includes women as well as men (e.g., not ‘you formed man in your own image and likeness and set him over the whole world’).
- Readings which reflect the subjection of women should be dropped, as has happened with references to slavery.
- We call for the holding of a National Pastoral Congress organised through the dioceses.
- We strongly request the democratic election of delegates, women and men, to the Episcopal Commission for the Laity, and that this commission be accountable to the laity.
- We recommend that the ordained ministry be open to all, including the married, and that priests be free to marry.
- We regret the stifling of the gifts of priests who feel compelled by present norms to seek laicisation. We recommend that they be authorised and encouraged to exercise their priestly ministry.
- The cry of women for peace and justice, which is the cry of Jesus, must be listened to.
At the outset we deprecated the expression of an optimism which we do not feel. But optimism is not hope, and in hope we are on the sure ground of God’s saving love through which we are called to holiness and the service of humanity.
The Church of Christ exists in the world and for the world, so that the enemies of his kingdom may be overcome: injustice, poverty, violence, oppression, fear, and all the fruits of sin. To this vocation we dedicate ourselves, knowing that we must rid ourselves of the beam in our own eye before we attempt to take away the mote in our neighbour’s.