The Role of the Laity
Laymen and women are taking increasingly sophisticated jobs within the Church, jobs that used to be performed by priests and members of religious orders. Often, these laypeople have professional training in nursing, social work, or counseling. Priests are getting burned out and are retiring early, and the Church is having difficulty finding young men who can step in to replace them. Fewer men and women are seeking life as monks or nuns. Consequently, laypeople are stepping up to fill the void.
In the liturgy, laypeople take on the role of cantors, music directors, readers, altar servers, and Eucharistic ministers. Some even lead Sunday worship in absence of a priest. They teach youth and adults and participate in marriage preparations, bereavement programs, and ministry with divorced or separated Catholics. Some are involved in Catholic charities, peace and justice networks, soup kitchens, and shelters. They work in Catholic health care and social service institutions.
Often these laypeople are responding to a vocation of their own. They feel the call to serve Christ and the Church and to live the Christian message. The Church sometimes pays poorly for jobs that require years of training, and many people are serving in volunteer positions. In those areas where laypeople serve on parish councils that attempt to make decisions for all, the work is often a difficult meeting of minds as traditional and reformist laypeople learn to work together.Lay Involvement Is Limited
Although some have objected to receiving the Eucharist from a layperson or getting a pastoral visit from someone other than the priest, most Catholics accept these practices and realize that the clergy cannot accommodate all of the parishioners. Acceptance is more widespread when a pastor has clearly communicated that he is delegating his responsibilities.
Catholic laypeople frequently complain that they are not heard at upper levels of the Church. They regard the structure of other Christian congregations, such as the Methodists or Episcopalians, as potential models for a more democratic Church.
The area that is understandably off limits for laypeople is consecration of the host and administering of sacraments. Another area that may or may not be controlled by laypeople is the decision-making necessary to run parishes, churches, and other Catholic institutions. In some cases, the scope for decision-making is restricted by the parish priest, local bishop, or even the Church officials at the national level.