By Mary Woodward
NEW ORLEANS – On Sunday, Oct. 12, Bishop Joseph Kopacz conferred the ministries of lector and acolyte on 46 young men studying for the priesthood at Notre Dame Seminary. From the Diocese of Jackson, five of our seminarians – Nick Adam, Cesar Sánchez, Mark Shoffner, Adolfo Suarez and Aaron Williams – were installed as lectors.
In “Lumen Gentium,” the dogmatic constitution on the Church from the Second Vatican Council the church fathers write: “For the nurturing and constant growth of the People of God, Christ the Lord instituted in His Church a variety of ministries, which work for the good of the whole body. For those ministers, who are endowed with sacred power, serve their brethren, so that all who are of the People of God, and therefore enjoy a true Christian dignity, working toward a common goal freely and in an orderly way, may arrive at salvation.” (LG#18)
Thus there are several ministries given to those preparing for diaconate and priesthood so that they may be better prepared to carry out their vocation in the church.
The ministry of lector calls men to be servants of the Living Word of God. In proclaiming the readings at liturgy, the reader does more than simply read. Those who exercise the ministry of lector must be truly suited and carefully prepared, so that the faithful may develop a warm and living love for Sacred Scripture from listening to the sacred readings.
Acolytes are appointed to aid the deacon and to minister to the priest. It is his duty to attend to the service of the altar and to assist the deacon and the priest in liturgical celebrations, especially in the celebration of Mass. He may also distribute communion as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion when appropriate.
In parishes throughout the world lay people who serve at the altar and proclaim God’s word are often called lectors and acolytes, but in the technical sense the terms “lector” and “acolyte” are reserved as official ministries for men preparing for the diaconate and priesthood. Though not yet members of the clergy and still considered members of the laity, the church emphasizes the stages of the journey to Holy Orders through these ministries.
During the ceremony on Sunday, Father James Wehner, rector of the seminary, announced each candidate and his diocese. When he reached the five seminarians from our diocese he referred to them as being from the “Great Diocese of Jackson.” Of course this most likely had nothing to do with the fact that the bishop of Jackson was in the room as celebrant.
In his homily, Bishop Kopacz reminisced about his recent trip to Rome for the meeting of newly ordained bishops. He spoke of how at the audience of the more than 130 bishops with the Holy Father, Pope Francis’ face lit up when he saw his new brother bishops from Argentina.
Bishop Kopacz remarked that “seeing the guys from Jackson makes my face light up in the same way because while I am happy for everyone, I am proud to say that these belong to Jackson.” He used this to transition to a discussion of the love a diocese has for its seminarians and how this relationship should teach seminarians to love the church as priests.
During the homily, a short exhortation on the importance of proclaiming God’s word to the faithful is given to the candidates from the Roman Pontifical.
“You will bring the message of salvation to those who have not yet received it. Thus with your help men and women will come to know God our Father and his Son Jesus Christ, whom he sent, and so be able to reach eternal life.” (© ICEL 2010).
After the homily, the bishop then offered a prayer of blessing over the candidates and each one came forward to receive the Bible.
The bishop handed them the Sacred Scriptures saying: “Take this book of holy Scripture and be faithful in handing on the word of God, so that it may grow strong in the hearts of his people.” (© ICEL 2010).
The Jackson diocese currently has seven men studying at Notre Dame. In addition to Adam, Sánchez, Shoffner, Suarez and Williams, Jason Johnston and Joseph Lee are in their final studies and anticipating being ordained transitional deacons in 2015.
Our three other seminarians Andrew Bowden of Pearl St. Jude and Andrew Nguyen and Peter Nguyen both of Vietnam are studying at St. Joseph Seminary in St. Benedict, La. See page 10 for a related story on this seminary.