Q. 1 What is the purpose of Lay Ministry?
A. 1 There are two answers to this question. In Canada, it is perceived as a new post-Vatican II vision of the Church and as a last-resort response to a serious shortage of priests. [Ref. Catholic New Times; Vol. 25, Number 2; January 28, 2001.]
Q. 2 Is this approved by the Catholic Church?
A. Yes! Upon receiving the approvals of the Holy See and that of the Episcopal Conference, the Catholic Church Canon Laws state that a Diocesan Bishop can delegate lay persons to assist with the Sacraments.
In Canada, the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops (CCCB) has formally given permission for laity to preach to non-ordained. [CCCB Decree # 6/Canon 766]
It has allowed laity to solomnize marriages. [CCCCB Decree # 3/Canon 1112]
Canon 766 The laity may be allowed to preach in a church or oratory if in certain circumstances it is necessary, or in particular cases it would be advantageous, according to the provisions of the Episcopal Conference and without prejudice to canon 767.1.
Canon 767.1 The most important form of preaching is the homily, which is part of the liturgy, and is reserved to a priest or deacon. In the course of the liturgical year, the mysteries of faith and the rules of Christian living are to be expounded in the homily from the sacred text.
Canon 1112.1 Where there are no priests and deacons, the diocesan Bishop can delegate lay persons to assist at marriages, if the Episcopal Conference has given its prior approval and the permission of the Holy See has been obtained.
Canon 1112.2 A suitable lay person is to be selected, capable of giving instruction to those who are getting married, and fitted to conduct the marriage liturgy properly.
Q. 3 Does that mean that the laity can perform all the Sacraments?
A. 3 No! The lay persons who have received the proper authority can only assist with the Sacraments of Baptism, Marriage and funerals.
The Sacrament of Confirmation is reserved for the Bishops who can delegate a priest to perform it.
The celebration of the Holy Mass and the Sacrament of Confession shall always be reserved to the priests. The same applies to the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick because it is considered to involve absolution from sin, this traditionally being referred to as the power appointed to the Sacred Orders.
Q. 4 Your first answer refers to "a serious shortage of priest." Yet, in your second answer, accordance to Canon Law # 1112.1, a reference is made to "where there are no priests and deacons available." What is the difference between "none" available versus "a serious shortage."
A. 4 When the Canon Law states that there are no priests or deacons available, it literally means that. For example, if there are no priests or deacons within 100 miles, literally, they are not available.
"A serious shortage means" that there are priests or deacons available, but not necessary at a specific parish. For example, in a City where there would be 10 Catholic Churches, one Church might be deprived of a priest for one Sunday. As such, although there might be another Catholic Church five minutes away, that particular Church would have a lay service because it is experiencing a serious shortage.