Liverpool commissions lay men and women to lead funerals

**Liverpool commissions lay men and women to lead funerals **
24 August 2012

Lay people will start to conduct funeral services in the Archdiocese of Liverpool, The Tablet can reveal.

Twenty-two Lay Funeral Ministers, men and women, have been commissioned to lead funeral services where there is no Requiem Mass and no priest available.

The move, which comes into effect in the autumn, is due to the declining number of priests and the large number of funerals that take place in parts of the archdiocese.
A leaflet issued by the archdiocese, “Planning a Catholic Funeral”, explains that a lay funeral minister can lead the prayer vigil service before a funeral, a funeral service, and the committal, the prayers at the graveside. Lay ministers will only lead a funeral service if there is no priest available.

A spokesman for the archdiocese said the lay ministers were “specifically trained to lead funeral services with an appropriate liturgy of the word, readings and prayers.”

I understand the need for EMHC but, Lay Funeral Ministers? If there is no priest, surely the deceased and family can wait until one is available. In London, it takes a week or so to bury the dead and not because we lack priests. The delay has more to do with funeral parlours and cemetery arrangements.


Expect more lay participation in church roles as there become less priests available. I’ve heard of ‘Third Order’ Franciscans conducting grave side services when there was not a priest available.

In my parish a few of us have been trained to lead funeral services. So far we’ve only had to do one but we have gone to the hospital to lead the Prayers at Time of Death and to the funeral home to lead the Prayers when the family first gathers in the Presence of the body, the Funeral Vigil and the Prayers before the body is transferred to the church for the funeral.

Currently, each Parish has a priest (a few with Deacons). As some Parishes are under the charge of religious orders, diocesan Parishes often request for supply priests from them. We also have priests from the Ordinariate and there has been an increase in vocations. So, I do not think that we can say that we have any shortage of Priests and Deacons in future for England and Wales.

And, when the body arrives in Church, does your ministry include Funeral and Committal Service, Phemie? It is the case in the AoL as stated in their “Planning a Catholic Funeral” as below:

Yes. As I said, so far we’ve been lucky and only once have we had to do the full thing. When there is no priest in our parish the next closest one is over 300 miles away. A few times, at the family’s insistence, we’ve flown in a priest from that parish, but at over $700 for a flight we can’t really afford to do that – not to mention that now that parish, which had 3 priests, is is down to one since the religious Congregation decided not to renew it’s contract .

How is this NOT a clear violation between the distinctions of the common vs the ministerial priesthood especially in light of what’s been said of Ecclesiae de mysterio? I find it very upsetting and would hope it never comes to this country. Does everything eventually come down to a matter of economics?

No, it’s facing the reality that priests are getting scarce and that the laity sometimes have to do things that don’t require a priest: officiate at weddings, confer Baptism & bury the dead.

Thanks, Phemie. I must admit that I find the pastoral circumstances in your area so extraordinary. I can understand where the laity can bury the dead where there is no priest (much like they did during the war) and a Requiem Mass could be celebrated when one is available as there is no Sacrament being conferred. However, I struggle to understand the need to commission the laity for baptism (excepting in danger of death) and weddings as the diocese could easily arrange a mass celebration for these similar to Missions abroad. If it can be done in Khasi and Garo Hills in Assam, where priests come once in four months, I fail to understand why the same could not be done in Canada.

A query: How did the family react on that sole occasion when informed that an LFM had to “stand in” for the priest?

It didn’t bother them in the least, though I have to admit that they weren’t a family that we saw at church much.

This is so incredibly sad. Where are your deacons? I am comforted by the fact that the Lord will always provide priests to perpetuate His sacrifice such as the recent conversions to Catholicism of married ordained Anglicans and the reality that older, single men who once had careers are receiving Holy Orders. I’ve also read that dioceses’ which place a focus on Eucharistic Adoration are witnessing an increase in vocations.

We have no deacons in our diocese. In fact, in our entire province (an Archdiocese and 2 dioceses) there are just 2 and they are at the Archdiocese.

It *is *sad, Tiggs. More so when there is no pastoral necessity for LFM. I could just about hear Jesus say: “What have you done to priests I have given you?”.

Yes, as I understand it, outside of the United States and perhaps Italy, you are very hard pressed to find permanent deacons…they simply don’t exist (at least are about as common as flying pigs). My Archdiocese (Vancouver, Canada) only recently instituted the permanent diaconate - just last year…it will be a couple more years before the first “class” are ordained. At present the entire archdiocese of nearly 500 000 faithful has permanent deacon. Until now, Western Canadian bishops didn’t see a need for it. In Latin America, the priest shortage is far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far more severe than it is in the United States or Canada, at least in many places, and as far as I know, you’ll be more likely to find a talking dog than a permanent deacon.

A former local Archbishop once declared that he would never ordain permanent deacons while he had laicized priests sitting in his congregation(at the time he had 5, IIRC).

I meant to say that there is, at present, “one” permanent deacon in the archdiocese…but thankfully that will change in a few years. There are a lot of signs of healthy traditional spirituality in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. At several of our parishes, including the cathedral itself, the faithful have the option of receiving Our Lord kneeling at the altar rail. The EF mass is regularly offered at least two or three parishes, one of which is completely dedicated to the EF (7 days a week). The chalice is almost never distributed in our parishes, which cuts down on the need for excessive EMHCs. By mandate of the archbishop, the tabernacle is always prominently in the centre of the sanctuary where it belongs. A couple parishes have simply stunning scholas, including the cathedral, that enhance holy mass with a beautiful variety of traditional Latin polyphonic pieces. While there is a priest “shortage”, I am not aware of a single parish that is forced to share its priest with another - this largely thanks to the various religious congregations who serve the archdiocese… and thankfully, with a class of future deacons currently in formation, there will soon be even more clergy serving the faithful.

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