The Laity in the 1983 code
Many of the new insights we have just seen of the role of the laity in the Church feature in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. The pyramid model of the Church was very much in evidence throughout the 1917 Code. The laity was quite definitely at the base of the pyramid: the ones that "paid, prayed, and obeyed"! By contrast, the pyramid is no longer there in the 1983 Code. Pope and peasant, man and woman, are now equal in dignity by virtue of their baptism (canon 208). Together we all work for God and his Church, announcing the Good News at all times and everywhere (canon 211), and making our considered opinions known to our parish priest (canon 212).
Some legal provisions
The laity, both male and female, is now envisaged (sometimes only in exceptional circumstances) as being able to fulfil roles which had previously been strictly reserved to the clergy.
- be a commentator at Mass (canon 230ii);
- preach sermons in church (canon 230iii);
- distribute Holy Communion (canon 230iii)
- lead liturgical prayers (canon 230iii);
- baptise (canon 230iii);
- be a missionary and a catechist (canon 784);
- be in charge of a parish (canon 517ii);
- be participants in the diocesan synod (canon 462v), pastoral council (canon 512), a diocesan finance committee (canon 492), or a parish finance committee (canon 524);
- be consulted in the choice of a Bishop (canon 377iii) or parish priest (canon 524);
- be a Chancellor of a diocese (canon 483);
- be a diocesan judge (canon 1421ii);
- be a lecturer in theology (canon 229); etc. etc.
A particularly significant canon (215) allows the right of free association to all the faithful. Laity is allowed to come together, form groups, and work as a body for the good of the Church. One would hope that such groups would act courteously at all times, and, as good Catholic Christians, keep their clergy informed. In this way the group may well find favour with, and perhaps get support from, the Bishop and/or parish priest. However, the significance of canon 215 is that such favour is not a prerequisite for setting up a group.
There is nothing really surprising in canon 215. As we have already seen, Vatican II rooted ministry once again in baptism. Previously it had been rooted in the sacrament of Order. Consequently, any baptised members of the Church can not only feel to do something positive to forward the interests of the Church, but can actually set about doing it. The only restriction is that that if you include the word "Catholic" into the title of your association, then you are required to obtain the consent of the competent Church authority (canon 216).
It is often heard that "we should like to do all sorts of things in our parish, but Father is not keen / too old / doesn't understand / can't be bothered . . ." Canon 215 takes this excuse away from the laity.
Next: The 1983 Code of Canon Law