By Mark Pattison
BALTIMORE — The U.S. bishops approved English and Spanish versions of “Lay Ministry to the Sick,” a collection of texts taken from other liturgical books.
The vote for the English version was 196-8 with two abstentions. The vote for the Spanish counterpart, “Ministerio Laico a Los Enfermos,” was 196-8 with two abstentions. Both votes took place Nov. 16 during the bishops’ annual fall general meeting in Baltimore.
To advance to the Vatican Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, an affirmative vote was required from two-thirds, or 167, of the Latin-rite bishops.
Another book, “Order of the Anointing of the Sick and of Their Pastoral Care,” “was clearly designed for use by a priest, and occasionally by a deacon, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Connecticut, wrote in a message to his fellow bishops as chairman of their Committee on Divine Worship.
He added that two rites in that book can be used by a layperson if no priest is available.
“Generally speaking, the liturgical books are for use by the clergy. However, there are certain sections of the books that can be delegated to lay ministers,” Archbishop Blair told the bishops Nov. 15 in presenting the proposed texts they would vote on the following day.
“Since lay ministers often assist pastors,” he added, the divine worship committee “proposes collecting all of these rituals in a single volume” so that lay ministers can “have the correct rites at their fingertips.”
“A collection of those rites in a single book would be convenient for laypersons who assist with the ministry to the sick, and save them from the expense of purchasing four books, the bulk of whose contents are intended for clergy,” Archbishop Blair said in his introductory remarks at the assembly.
While the U.S. bishops had approved a similar book in 1993, he added, “the Holy See requires a book of this nature — containing excerpts from liturgical books and intended for ministerial use — to be approved by the vote of the entire (bishops’) conference” and to receive the Vatican dicastery’s “recognitio.”
In the English-language “Lay Ministry to the Sick,” one passage in the opening chapter says, “The sick should be given appropriate assistance to make this sort of prayer properly. Indeed, priests and lay ministers should gladly conduct the same sort of prayer on separate occasions with them.”
The introduction to the second chapter, about the administration of Communion and viaticum to the sick by a layperson, says in part, “The faithful should be encouraged to receive Communion during the eucharistic celebration itself. Priests, however, should not refuse to give holy Communion to the faithful who, for a just cause, seek it, even outside Mass.”