LÜDENSCHEID, Germany (LifeSiteNews) –– Two laywomen carried the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament while wearing a humeral veil during a public Corpus Christi procession in an apparent violation of canon law and liturgical rubrics.
During the Corpus Christi procession on June 8 at St. Medardus parish in Lüdenscheid, Germany “the Monstrance was temporarily carried by the [lay] pastoral assistants Marita Franzen und Sandra Ostermann,” according to the report on the parish website.
The photos provided by the parish show that the two lay women each carried the golden monstrance containing the Eucharist for a while during the public procession while wearing a humeral veil, a liturgical garment usually only worn by ordained ministers.
The parish report called the fact that two laywomen carried the Blessed Sacrament a “new achievement.”
Two priests, including parish priest Fr. Claus Optenhöfel, who celebrated the Holy Mass that preceded the procession, were also present at the event.
Yet the actions of the laywomen carrying the Blessed Sacrament contradict the 2004 Vatican instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
The instruction states that “[t]here can be no substitute whatsoever for the ministerial Priesthood.” (Redemptionis Sacramentum 146)
Only in a situation where “sacred ministers are lacking, lay members of Christ’s faithful may supply for certain liturgical offices according to the norm of law.” (Redemptionis Sacramentum 147)
Furthermore, Redemptionis Sacramentum cautions that lay “pastoral assistants” shall not “take upon themselves what is proper to the ministry of the sacred ministers,” and therefore “be assimilated too closely to the form of pastoral ministry that belongs to clerics.” (Redemptionis Sacramentum 149)
“It must therefore never be the case that in parishes Priests alternate indiscriminately in shifts of pastoral service with Deacons or laypersons, thus confusing what is specific to each,” Redemptionis Sacramentum (152) reads.
RS also explicitly forbids laypersons to dress like a priest or deacon as “it is never licit for laypersons to assume the role or the vesture of a Priest or a Deacon or other clothing similar to such vesture.” (Redemptionis Sacramentum 153)
The response by the Parish priest
Fr. Optenhöfel, the parish priest of St. Medardus, told LifeSiteNews that bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of the Diocese of Essen had not been informed in advance regarding the plans to let laywomen carry the Blessed Sacrament.
He claimed that the reason for taking turns in carrying the Eucharist “is actually due to the length of the way and the weight of the monstrance.”
Optenhöfel furthermore stated that he does not see “any contradiction between Redemptionis Sacramentum and our Corpus Christi procession,” since “the parishioners involved were not wearing priestly garments and my research regarding the wearing of a humeral veil did not reveal any problem.”
“To my knowledge and understanding, the humeral veil is a sign of special veneration and reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, which is precisely not to be carried in the monstrance like ‘any object’. Therefore, it seems to me that it makes sense to carry the humeral veil in the solemn procession, regardless of who is carrying the monstrance.”
Since two Catholic priests were present during the procession, it appears there was no lack of ordained ministers that would necessitate laywomen to carry the monstrance. Furthermore, humeral veils have traditionally been reserved for clerics and there was no explicit change in the liturgical books that permits laypeople to wear them.
More importantly, the handling of the Eucharist is reserved to ordained ministers, except for extraordinary circumstances. Canon 943 of the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law states that “[t]he minister of exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament and of eucharistic benediction is a priest or deacon; in special circumstances, the minister of exposition and reposition alone without benediction is the acolyte, extraordinary minister of holy communion, or someone else designated by the local ordinary; the prescripts of the diocesan bishop are to be observed.”
Moreover, an instruction from the Sacred Congregation of Divine Worship from 1973 addresses the matter of eucharistic procession. In paragraph number 76, the document states that “[t]he priest who carries the blessed sacrament may wear the vestments used for the celebration of Mass if the procession takes place immediately afterward, or he may vest in a white cope.”
The instruction specifically speaks of a priest (and no one else) who carries the Eucharist, which denotes that only priests are allowed to carry the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament during processions.
Bishop Overbeck’s history of heterodoxy
St. Medardus is under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Essen and Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck.
A spokesperson of Bishop Overbeck confirmed that the bishop of Essen was not informed by the parish about the plan to let laywomen carry the Blessed Sacrament during the Corpus Christi procession and that he is now “in contact with the responsible parish priest.”
Overbeck is known for his heterodoxy and his pro-LGBT and anti-traditional family positions. In an interview in December 2022, Overbeck said that the Church must “widen its understanding of the family,” to include every form “where people live with children.”
The bishop of Essen has also authorized laywomen to administer the sacrament of baptism in his diocese, allegedly due to a “lack of priests.”