Churches that close; Non-Catholic cantor?

By Father Kenneth Doyle
Catholic News Service

Q. I am having a hard time understanding why a Catholic church closed by a bishop can no longer be used for Masses, weddings and funerals. For more than 100 years, this particular church — built by my great-great-grandparents — was considered sacred ground. Now my grandson wants to get married in that beautiful little building, and he’s not allowed to. A Mass can be held in a cemetery or even a home. Why not in this church? (Iowa)

A. Without knowing the specifics of the church building in question, I need to speak of possibilities rather than facts. It may be that the building in question has already been sold for a secular use, in which case it automatically would lose its consecration as a sacred space. (See Canon 1212 of the church’s Code of Canon Law. Note, too, that Canon 1222 provides that the new use for which the building is sold may not be “sordid,” i.e., unseemly or unbecoming.)

The church is obligated to be a good steward of the donations it receives, and so a fair number of Catholic parishes have merged in recent years, due to population shifts and the decline in the number of priests available to staff them. When parishes do merge, the goal is always to create a new unified community of Catholic worship and of Christian charity.

So even if the church building you speak of has not yet been sold, your bishop may be exercising his pastoral judgment: He may have concluded that to continue to allow occasional Masses in that building would delay the desired unification.

Q. I have attended a Catholic church with my husband for 15 years. I am not a Catholic, but I am Christian. We have raised our children as Catholic, and we all attend Mass each week. When I go up in the Communion line with my family, I cross my arms and receive a blessing. Now I have been asked to be a cantor at Mass. Am I allowed to? (Indianapolis)

A. I wish that every Catholic were as helpful to the church as you have been. I believe that you can be a cantor, and in our own parish I would welcome you as one.

The technical answer to your question involves the sort of pedantic parsing for which I have little patience. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, known as the GIRM, which is the most authoritative “guidebook” on the liturgy, says in No. 107 that “liturgical functions that are not proper to the priest or deacon” may be entrusted to “suitable laypersons chosen by the pastor.”

So what are “laypersons”? Are they necessarily Catholics or simply any person who is not a member of the ordained clergy? I would opt for the latter.

Some might take the opposite view, based on a document put out in 1993 by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (“Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism”). It says in No. 133 that “the reading of Scripture during a eucharistic celebration in the Catholic Church is to be done by members of that church” or, by way of exception and with the permission of a bishop, by a member of another church.

Since the cantor leads the psalm response, (which is taken from Scripture), they might argue, he or she must be a Catholic. But I would contend that the GIRM, issued in 2011, supersedes that 1993 document and is more authoritative; had the GIRM wanted to limit cantoring to Catholics, it easily could have said so plainly, and it did not.

The role of the cantor, according to the GIRM (No. 104), is “to direct and support the people’s singing.” If you can do that well, in my view you deserve to be a cantor.

      Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St. Albany, N.Y. 12208.

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