Because of a growing priest shortage in his diocese, Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville Illinois has announced that lay ministers may preside at Sunday liturgical celebrations in certain cases of emergency, where there is no priest.
The ‘celebrations’, which are not Mass, constitute norms established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1994 based on a Vatican document entitled, "Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest."
Bishop Braxton stressed that laity could only perform the celebrations in cases of absolute last resort and only with a written mandate from him.
Special instruction will be offered to those who wish to hold the responsibility, which includes a prayer service and distribution of communion.
In a letter to the diocese, the bishop cited John Paul II who wrote that, “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist”, and so pointed out that the Church “has a special pastoral concern for those who cannot attend Sunday Mass because a priest is not available.”
He wrote that “the Norms that I am promulgating today are intended to do all we can to make it possible for Christ to come sacramentally to the Catholic People of God on Sunday, even if participating in the celebration of the Eucharist is not possible.”
The bishop closed his letter by strongly calling on the faithful to pray for vocations to the priesthood in order to solve the problem.