But Pope Benedict XVI's Mass in the nation's capital Thursday was also different from a typical service in another way: Lay people were not asked to distribute Communion, which was administered exclusively by 300 priests and deacons.
The whole silly thing goes on rather like that, though there are a few good quotes from people who obviously understand that the clear boundaries between between clergy and lay people aren't being "erected" at all--they've always been there.
Organizers of the Mass at Nationals Park were only following the letter of church law. But to some Roman Catholics, the ceremony was symbolic of what they see as Benedict's desire to erect clear boundaries between clergy and lay people.
"What he wants to do really is to reinforce the old categories and classifications — different roles for different people," said David Gibson, author of books on Benedict and the future of the U.S. church.
"Men and women, priests and lay people. Each one has their role according to their talents, their ordained status in the church."
There has always been a clear boundary between the roles of the clergy and of the laity. Removing those boundaries has never even been open to discussion, nor should it ever be. It is the role of the ordained priest to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to confect the Holy Eucharist, and from that font of sacramental grace to celebrate all the other sacraments of the Church.
A lay person may, in cases of emergency and the absence of a priest, validly baptize. And in the West, lay people are understood to be the ministers of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony for each other, with the priest present as the Church's chief witness to this sacrament. But aside from those two, no lay person may assume the role of the priest in any other sacrament.
He may not hear confessions. He may not confirm, or confer Holy Orders. He may not anoint the sick or the dying.
Most important of all, he may not celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass or confect the Eucharist. In the extremely desperate, or else extremely misguided situation where a lay person actually gives a child his or her First Holy Communion he may only do so if a Host has been validly consecrated at Mass by a validly ordained priest.
This is basic Catholicism--Catholic Church 101, if you will. No Protestant would-be convert earnestly studying the Catechism to discern a call to become Catholic has the slightest misunderstanding about the fact that the priest's role in the Church is unique. No outside observer with even the smallest grasp of Christian history and tradition fails to realize that the ordained clergy serves this unique role in the two Apostolic Churches, the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox, which is completely different from anything seen in any other manifestation of Christianity.
And yet ill-informed and uneducated Catholics make the cringe-worthy statements like those found in the AP article comparing lack of lay ministry to oppression or wanting a more democratic Church, as if such a beastly thing were even remotely possible.
The simple truth is this: the Church doesn't need lay 'ministers' at all. It isn't necessary to have the laity sing at Mass, distribute Communion, bring up the gifts at the Offertory, read any of the readings or petitions, or do anything other than be present and worship--and even that may be done silently.
This doesn't mean that all of these things should necessarily cease; it is certainly possible for the laity to be involved in any of these liturgical areas and to conduct themselves with solemnity, reverence and decorum in carrying out their assigned tasks. But they must not ever make the mistake that they are entitled to do any of these things: it's a privilege, and one that it would be better to do away with altogether than risk the ignorant but sadly widespread notion that we have the "right" to do any of these things.
Should I ever be fortunate enough to be present at a Mass attended by fifteen hundred priests I would hardly be lamenting the "loss" of the "job" of the lay Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. After seeing some small parts of the Papal Mass in D.C., I can only suppose that not one of the fifteen hundred could carry a tune; else it was sheer cruelty to inflict such dreadful "lay" music on such a musically gifted Pope.