Notable Bishop Interventions about Lay Leadership in the Ministry of the Word
The Second Vatican Council invited us to promote the celebrations of the Word of God on Sundays and feast days “They are particularly to be commended in places where no priest is available; when this is so, a deacon or some other person authorized by the bishop should preside over the celebration” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 35/4). In March 1966, few months after the proclamation of the Constitution on Liturgy , Mons. Marcelo Gérin, Bishop of Choluteca, Honduras, prepared and sent 17 peasants to celebrate Holy Week in isolated communities without a priest. The inhabitants enthusiasm was so great that they requested celebrations each Sunday. This gave rise to the Delegates of the Word of God.
Today, we have more than 10.000 Delegates in Honduras and in nearby countries. These Delegates are more than a mere Sunday celebrants and they are more than mere readers: they are real promoters of Christian communities. In addition, they work for free. The word of God has shown itself to be, from the beginning, as an embryo of authentic ecclesial community.
A communion and participating Church was strengthened which permitted the flowering of many pastoral initiatives: youth groups, catechists, housewives’ clubs, etc. The Word of God was considered as the best yeast for a social Christian development and for an integral liberation. The community members while deepening the Word feel encouraged to promote human rights and to help the victims of poverty, corruption and violence.
I think that the affirmations of No. 30 of the working document on “the Word of God in charity service” could be more incisive.
In addition, in Honduras, the Sunday celebrations of the Word did not draw away the faithful from Eucharist, they rather guided them to live it better. With time, the Word of God engendered hunger for the Eucharistic bread.
In some rural communities where the Word is celebrated, the parish priest authorized the Eucharistic Reserve in the local hermitage and the Bishop designated an extraordinary communion minister. A new zeal was noted. Maybe, in other regions, the celebration of the Word without a priest may weaken the endeavors of pastoral vocational work in favor of ministerial priesthood. On the contrary, in Honduras, it was a source of priestly vocations. In my diocese of Choluteca, for example, all young priests were Delegates of the Word.
[00155-02.02] [IN131] [Original text: Spanish] - H.E. Most. Rev. Guido PLANTE, P.M.E., Bishop of Choluteca (HONDURAS)
* But the Word of God in Asia is calling to the Father in the Holy Spirit thousands of small communities of the poor. And the poor in turn are heeding God's Word. In so doing they are building a “new way of being Church” - really an old way - the way of the early Jerusalem community (see Acts 2:43-46 and 4:32-35). Guided by their ordained pastors and trained lay leaders and collaborators, grassroots people gather every week in chapels and households to celebrate a Service of the Word. They listen to the Word of God, reflect on the Word, pray over the Word, and discern together how to apply the Word to their daily lives. They receive Jesus in the Eucharist from trained lay extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. For them
the Word of God is faith-empowering, urging them to participate actively within the Church and in social transformation.
They are Basic Ecclesial Communities, renewing families, parishes and dioceses into vibrant communities, witnessing to the Word of God, quite often in a hostile multi-religious environment. They are communities of solidarity and fellowship at the grassroots, effectively challenging in their own little way the modern culture of secularism and materialism. H.E. Most. Rev. Orlando B. QUEVEDO, O.M.I., Archbishop of Cotabato, General Secretariat of "Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences" (F.A.B.C.) (PHILIPPINES)
* …Today there is an ever-growing number of educational institutes especially for lay students and ordained persons, but at the same time religious ignorance seems to be on the increase. …In this perspective, it would be necessary to promote and spread appropriate courses in the
Holy sciences without them leading to academic qualifications so that they would be more easily accessible to a wider public- H. Em. Card. Zenon GROCHOLEWSKI, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education (VATICAN CITY)
* The Seven Steps Sharing is not another Bible-study method but a continuation of the Liturgy of the Word at the Eucharist…. In Bible study groups we usually “talk about Jesus” whereas in Seven Step Gospel Sharing we try to get “in touch” with the Lord. Small Christian communities and neighbourhood groups use the Seven steps as their spiritual basis, connecting life with the Word of God. The secret of the Seven Steps lies in the fact that the Word of the Bible is not taken as a mere information ABOUT Jesus but as a sacramental sign of Christ’s presence among us. In short:
In the First Step we invite the Lord as the two disciples did on the road to Emmaus.
Step Two and Three help the faithful to “sit down” with Jesus and remain with him as Mary of Bethany did.
In the silence in Step Four, the faithful allow Jesus to touch them with a word which has become important for them.
The silence is followed by [Step Five] personal sharing, without preaching down on others or starting a discussion on an issue which would destroy the prayerful atmosphere. St. Paul is our example for personal sharing. “What is life? To me it is Christ”, he shares for example with thePhilippians (Phil 1:21).
In step Six a group asks the question: “What does the Lord want us to do?”
Step Seven gives a chance to everyone to pray spontaneously.
The Seven Step Gospel sharing, if well celebrated, can renew the faith in a parish and revitalize grass-root communities from within. It can become a school for deep listening to the Word of God; a school for articulating the faith and strengthening one another in the faith; a school how to learn the art of silence and experience the mystery of Christ’s presence among us. The Seven Step Gospel Sharing will as well help the faithful to pray better privately and to experience the Eucharist in a deeper and more meaningful way. [Original text: English] - H.E. Most. Rev. Oswald Georg HIRMER, Bishop of Umtata (SOUTH AFRICA)
* The Sacrosanctum Concilium says: “Bible services should be encouraged, especially on the vigils of the more solemn feasts, on some weekdays in Advent and Lent, and on Sundays and feast days. They are particularly to be commended in places where no priest is available”.
In many Latin American nations, the lack of ordained ministers, the fragmentation of nuclei of population and the geographic situation of the continent have increased the awareness of the importance of the Celebrations of the Word of God. In Brazil, approximately 70% of ecclesial communities is deprived of the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist.
It would be ideal if all the ecclesial communities, even the smallest, could celebrate the Sunday Eucharist. With extraordinary wisdom, Benedict XVI faces this question in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis: “Wherever great distances make it practically impossible to take part in the Sunday Eucharist, it is still important for Christian communities to gather together to praise the Lord and to commemorate the Day set apart for him”.
The celebration of the Word of God becomes a privileged place for the encounter with Jesus Christ, the center and the fullness of all Scripture and every liturgical celebration. In proclaiming the word, Christ continued to speak to His people.
The proclaimed and celebrated Word of God can only bear fruit in the hearts and lives of those receiving it through the Holy Spirit. Welcoming the Word, prayers of praise, thanks and pleas are manifestations of the Spirit in the heart of the faithful and in the Christian Assembly united around the Word of God. - H.E. Most. Rev. Geraldo LYRIO ROCHA, Archbishop of Mariana, President of the Episcopal Conference (BRAZIL)
* I speak on behalf of the Episcopal Conference of Chad. This country, in the center of Africa, has only been evangelized for a few years. Our Church, Family of God in Chad, opted, as per the wish of the Synod for Africa, for ecclesial base communities. These communities are
nourished by the Word of God and the Eucharist. During the weekly meetings, one reads the Word, pray and look for what Christians must do to change all the things in their lives that do not conform to the Gospel.
The Christians meet on Sundays, but many of them only for the celebration of the Word, because we do not have enough priests. In our country, we live very conflictual social and political situations, above all due to an unending war, lasting over forty years. We are convinced that the Word of God is a word of Peace, a word that announces Peace and calls for Peace, calls for forgiveness, reconciliation and justice. Listening and the prayer of the Word of God are essential to the life and the mission of our Church. This is a challenge for us all!
The Word of God enlightens us and encourages us to commit ourselves for the promotion of men and women in Chad. Our country is an impoverished country, despite our natural riches, because of this we commit to integral human development. We take on this task with our Protestant brothers as well. We have another challenge to face, spreading the Word of God, because of the high rate of illiteracy, the lack of Bibles translated in the local languages and the cost of Bibles. We commit ourselves to the Biblical Apostolate. [ [Original text: French]10/10 H.E. Most. Rev. Miguel Angel SEBASTIÁN MARTÍNEZ, M.C.C.I., Bishop of Lai (CHAD)
* On behalf of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), I would like to say that most of our small Christian Communities (SCC) depend and live on the Word of God since they have the Eucharist once a month and some may have the Eucharist once in three months or more. They live on the Word of God.
It is therefore important for us to form the different agents of evangelization as well as our Christians in Lectio Divina and sharing the Word. We do appreciate the example of Mary, Our Mother in listening, pondering and living the Word of God (Luke 2, 19). [Original text: English] 10/10 H.E. Most. Rev. Joseph Mukasa ZUZA, Bishop of Mzuzu (MALAWI)
* I believe our Laity who are our greatest treasure is the hope of the Church in the globalised world not only in their specific role for the renewal of the temporal order (AG 2) but also in our efforts to understand and interpret the Word of God relevantly. Anointed by the Holy Spirit the Whole Church receives His assistance not only to be preserved from error in matters concerning faith and morals (LG 2) but also, I am confident, in the process of our common understanding and interpreting the Word of God, more or less similar to "sensus fidei".
God not only speaks in the Bible he also listens. He listens and responds as manifested in Old Testament, specially in the Psalms. If so, why can not we, the leaders of the Church listen to the laity, specially the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized.
To benefit from the quality involvement of the Laity, the Church Leadership should consider as its top urgent priority to enlighten and empower the Laity through well planned Pastoral Biblical Catechesis especially through Small Christian Communities and in other movements and associations where they will be inserted into a "Bible Culture". Funds should be allocated, as much as they are earmarked for the formation of the seminarians.
"Bible Culture" means that the day-to-day life of the people be exposed and captured by the explosive, dynamic and creative power of God (Is 6:8; Jer 20:7; Ez 3:3). That challenges and confronts the individuals and communities to cut (Acts 2: 37) their hearts with two edged sword (Hb 4:12). In India this means, individuals and communities are to be converted from all forms of divisions, of caste, language and rites, as well as every form of superiority in their relationship with other religions and traditions.
Thus will emerge a common witness of the Church in its mission to be a sign and instrument of God's Kingdom of justice, peace and love. India needs more witnesses than teachers, and if it respects teachers it is because they are witnesses (pope Paul VI). [Original text: English] - H.E. Most. Rev. Antony DEVOTTA, Bishop of Tiruchirapalli (INDIA)