Non-Catholic cantor; confession and dementia

| Father Kenneth Doyle | October 22, 2015 | 1 Comment

Q. I have attended a Catholic church with my husband for 15 years. I am not a Catholic, but I am Christian. We have raised our children as Catholic, and we all attend Mass each week. When I go up in the Communion line with my family, I cross my arms and receive a blessing. Now I have been asked to be a cantor at Mass. Am I allowed to?

A. I wish that every Catholic were as helpful to the Church as you have been. I believe that you can be a cantor, and in our own parish I would welcome you as one.

The technical answer to your question involves the sort of pedantic parsing for which I have little patience. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, known as the GIRM, which is the most authoritative “guidebook” on the liturgy, says in No. 107 that “liturgical functions that are not proper to the priest or deacon” may be entrusted to “suitable laypersons chosen by the pastor.”

So what are “laypersons”? Are they necessarily Catholics or simply any person who is not a member of the ordained clergy? I would opt for the latter.

Some might take the opposite view, based on a document put out in 1993 by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (“Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism”). It says in No. 133 that “the reading of Scripture during a eucharistic celebration in the Catholic Church is to be done by members of that church” or, by way of exception and with the permission of a bishop, by a member of another church.

Since the cantor leads the psalm response, (which is taken from Scripture), they might argue, he or she must be a Catholic. But I would contend that the GIRM, issued in 2011, supersedes that 1993 document and is more authoritative; had the GIRM wanted to limit cantoring to Catholics, it easily could have said so plainly, and it did not.

The role of the cantor, according to the GIRM (No. 104), is “to direct and support the people’s singing.” If you can do that well, in my view you deserve to be a cantor.

Q. I am 87 years old, a Catholic all my life, and I have been diagnosed with dementia. My memory is terrible; my wife has to identify even relatives for me by name. How should I handle this problem in confession with a priest? Should I tell him my problem first? I have always used the commandments of God and the Church in examining my conscience, but now I wonder if I should be wasting a priest’s time by going to confession if I can’t even remember my sins. I’m looking forward to a response which will let me continue to be a good Catholic.

A. You certainly are a “good Catholic,” and your devotion to the sacraments is commendable. I would encourage you to continue to go to confession even though you can’t remember specific sins.

Tell the priest that you are 87 years old, have been diagnosed with dementia, that you can’t remember any specific sins but that, if there’s anything you have done to offend the Lord, you are sorry.

You surely have the sincere contrition that is required for the sacrament, and the priest will give you absolution for any and all sins. (And if you can’t remember what penance the priest has given you, don’t worry: just say an Our Father and a Hail Mary.)

The sacrament will bring you grace and blessings; each sacrament is an act of worship, because you are thanking God for his goodness. (Pope Francis has said that he goes to confession every couple of weeks and that it helps him to think about the great mercy of the Lord.)

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, New York, he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.

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Category: Seeking Answers

  • LowlyAssociatePastor

    Fr. Doyle,
    Thank you for your reply concerning a non-Catholic Christian serving as a cantor. I would concur that the 2011 GIRM supersedes the 1993 Directory you cite, but don’t find an argument from silence in the GIRM compelling as an indication that the directive for only Christians fully incorporated into the Catholic Church reading Scripture in a liturgical celebration has been abrogated. It could as easily be argued that those who compliled the GIRM assumed that laity were Catholics and so didn’t see a need to rearticulate that understanding in the document. In Canon Law we read, Can. 225 §1
    “Since, like all the Christian faithful, lay persons are designated by God for
    the apostolate through baptism and confirmation…” To be confirmed as to be fully incorporated into the Catholic Church, therefore Catholic. I think it clear from Canon Law, therefore, as well as common understanding indicated elsewhere, e.g., New Advent’s Catholic Encyclopedia, that laypersons are necessarily Catholics. I don’t think serving in a liturgical role is about worthiness, as you say, “deserving.” It’s more about integrity. A non-Catholic serving in a liturgical capacity only serves to promote confusion and albeit unintentionally send a message of religious relativism.