Vatican Cardinal Intervenes against German Church’s Plan for Laity to Give Homily, Baptize

Archbishop Arthur Roche at a Vatican press conference on Feb. 10, 2015. | Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

The Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has intervened against the implementation of resolutions of the German Synodal Way that demand lay people should be able to regularly baptize and preach the homily at Holy Mass in churches across Germany. 

In a letter to the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference President dated March 29, Arthur Cardinal Roche, said neither was possible – despite at least one German diocese already announcing both practices.

The written intervention by the Vatican’s Prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments was addressed to Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, reported CNA Deutsch, which has obtained a copy of the document. 

Apart from covering the question of homilies and baptisms by lay people, the seven-page letter also reminded the German bishops that liturgical translations must be confirmed and approved by the Vatican. 

Catecheses, not homilies


It was not a matter of achieving “better theological preparation or better communication skills on the part of lay people (men or women)” to then allow them to preach, the cardinal said.

“It also is not a matter of creating inequalities among the baptized, but of recognizing that there are distinctions made by the Spirit, who produces different charisms that are distinct and complementary.”

Roche wrote that well-formed lay people should contribute, for instance, as catechists or by conducting conversations about sacred Scripture. 

However, he added that lay people could not give the homily at Mass since only someone ordained “sacramentally represents Christ by virtue of the sacra potestas conferred on him at ordination.” 

Explaining that the issue of preaching at Mass was, in other words, not one of education but the sacrament, Cardinal Roche warned of “misunderstandings” about the figure and identity of the priest, who is the only one who can act ‘in persona Christi capitis’ by virtue of the sacrament.”

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Baptisms by lay people only in emergencies

The cardinal also rejected the introduction of lay people regularly administering baptisms, something already in practice in some German dioceses. He wrote that justifying this with a lack of priests, for example, was not possible under canon law.  

Lay people could only validly perform baptisms in exceptional circumstances, such as in danger of death or “in painful situations of persecution, but also in mission areas and in other cases of special need,” the cardinal explained.

Papal appeal to unity 

Roche reminded the German bishops of Pope Francis’ 2019 letter with a quote that included the following passage:


“The universal Church lives in and from the particular Churches, just as the particular Churches live and flourish in and from the universal Church; if they were separated from the universal Church, they would weaken, decay and die.” 

In a first reaction, a spokesperson of the German Bishops’ Conference on Thursday said the bishops would continue to seek dialogue with Rome on these issues.

Earlier this month, several German bishops announced plans to implement several resolutions passed by the Synodal Way.

Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück — then vice president of the German Bishops’ Conference — said laypeople could baptize babies and “regularly” preach at homilies in his diocese.

About one week later, on March 25, the Holy See announced that Pope Francis had accepted Bode’s request to resign.

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