May a seminarians preach and read the Gospel at Mass?

There is a seminarian visiting our parish. He will later become a deacon and then ordained a priest in our diocese. When he comes to Mass, he comes in with the priest and he is dressed in a white alb. For some reason, he does not asist the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion but has been allowed to read the gospel and give the homily. During the consecration, he stands near the priest who is celebrating Holy Mass and when the priest is about to receive communion, he gives the seminarian 1/2 of the consecrated host and they take communion together. It is my understanding, and I am quite sure I have read, that this is not according to Church teaching… only a priest or deacon can read the gospel and give the homily and only concelebrating priests take the host together. Where can I find the information to substaniate my belief or am I wrong?

Dear Yvonne,

The “Code of Canon Law” is clear that only priests (including bishops) or deacons may give homilies: “Among the forms of preaching, the homily is preeminent, it is a part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or to a deacon…” (Canon 767 paragraph 1)

The “Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest” issued by the Congregation for the Clergy et al, has this to say on the matter: “The homily, therefore, during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, must be reserved to the sacred minister-priest or deacon—to the exclusion of the non-ordained faithful, even if these should have responsibilities as “pastoral assistants” or catechists in whatever type of community or group. This exclusion is not based on the preaching ability of sacred ministers nor their theological preparation, but on that function which is reserved to them in virtue of having received the Sacrament of Holy Orders. For the same reason, the diocesan bishop cannot validly dispense from the canonical norm…. For the same reason, the practice, on some occasions, of entrusting the preaching of the homily to seminarians or theology students who are not clerics is not permitted. Indeed, the homily should not be regarded as training for some future ministry…”

This is the more serious transgression. However, the matter of giving the Host to the seminarian as if he were a concelebrant is in appropriate. It is clear from a variety of sources that the priest is to receive Communion prior to the faithful (e.g. GIRM, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal: 116-117). It is also clear that the deacon is to receive Communion after the priest and before the people (GIRM 137).

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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