Years ago there were six priests serving Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Putney and its West River Missions – geographically one of the largest parishes in the Diocese of Burlington. Today, Edmundite Father Fred McLachlan is the sole priest there. "I couldn't do it alone," he said, referring to the lay people involved in parish ministries.
Lay ministry is essential to the Church, especially with the shortage of priests. "Many, many lay people are involved in various ministries, and that enables me to do more of the priestly work. So together, the parish works," Father McLachlan said.
The situation is virtually the same in every Vermont parish: Lay people work in their parish – and beyond by visiting the sick and imprisoned, teaching, ministering to youth and assist with administrative tasks – to allow their priest to focus on his sacramental, liturgical and counseling work.
Their involvement is not solely a response to needs; it is part of their baptismal call.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth."
It also states that for lay people, evangelization "acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world."
Explained Father Timothy Naples, pastor of Most Holy Trinity Parish in Barton, Orleans and Irasburg: "We need more of (lay ministry) because not only are there things that lay people can do which don't require an ordained priest . . . there are may forms of community outreach and parish building that lay people can be more effective in than the priests. They have more freedom and opportunity to build personal relationships . . . and can have more quality time" with people.
The laity, the catechism states, can be called to cooperate with their pastors in the service of the ecclesial community "for the sake of its growth and life." This can be done through different ministries according to the grace and charisms that God has given them.
Daniel Daigler of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Putney is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and brings the Blessed Sacrament to parishioners who are sick, in nursing homes or at home but unable to attend Mass. A former Cursillo lay director, he said it is his responsibility as a Catholic to "assist people in our community and help bring Christ into their lives."
He also is motivated by the fact that extraordinary ministers of holy Communion regularly bring the sacrament to his 88-year-old mother in New York, and his service is a way to show his appreciation to them.
"With the clergy shortage so severe, there is an awfully large load on our priests," he said. "They have to do the administrative part and also administer the sacraments," often – as in the case with his pastor – for the people of more than one church.
Priests' time is needed for sacramental ministry, and in many areas – like the Northeast Kingdom – that ministry is increasing as the geographic area for which the priest is responsible is increasing, thus making it more necessary for lay persons to do more non-sacramental ministry such as visiting the sick and imprisoned, overseeing emergency assistance, running soup kitchens and doing charitable works.
Robert Biegen of St. Peter Church in Vergennes is involved in prison ministry, a leader of a weekly Bible study/prayer group, a member of the Knights of Columbus, an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and involved in pro-life ministry. "We are all part of a royal priesthood, and that includes the lay people," he said. "It's important we have ordained priests, but it's very, very important that the lay people get involved and exercise their faith," he said. "If I don't exercise my faith, is my faith really alive?"
Father Yvon Royer, pastor of St. Peter Church in Vergennes and St. Ambrose Church in Bristol, believes the Holy Spirit is working in the parish, and the lay people multiply it.
"They feel the call as well and take real leadership in the parish" in areas like pro-life ministries, prayer group and Cursillo. "They see their role as putting God's call into action to evangelize and show God's love for life," he said, emphasizing the importance of prayer: "We are called to pray, and they take that call very seriously. It helps them focus and do God's will not their own will."
Father Michael Augustinowitz is pastor of St. Augustine Church in Montpelier and North American Martyrs Church in Marshfield. Without laypersons involved in the various ministries of the parish, "most things wouldn't get done," he said. "For me to do all those things? They would never happen."
The lay people and deacons of the parish allow him to focus on the sacramental ministry and to offer counseling. "I can actually be a priest and concentrate on what I was ordained for: preaching, teaching and celebrating the sacraments."
Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer
EDITOR'S NOTE: Bishop Christopher Coyne will conduct a Holy Year of Mercy Vesper Service on Jan. 17 at St. Joseph Co- Cathedral at 3 p.m., recognizing the essential role of Lay Ministry in every parish throughout the Diocese of Burlington.
Last modified onWednesday, 27 July 2016 16:28