We generally know the roles of priests, religious sisters and brothers and deacons—but who are these Lay Ecclesial Ministers? And, what do they do? The 2005 statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord” explains the term:
“The term reflects certain key realities. The ministry is lay because it is service done by lay persons. … The ministry is ecclesial because it has a place within the community of the Church, whose communion and mission it serves, and because it is submitted to the discernment, authorization and supervision of the hierarchy. Finally, it is ministry because it is a participation in the threefold ministry of Christ, who is priest, prophet and king.” (p. 11)
In the Archdiocese of Chicago, 126 Lay Ecclesial Ministers serve in parishes as Pastoral Associates or Directors of Religious Education. They have extensive spiritual formation and training in theology (at least a Master’s degree). Their service to God’s people in the Archdiocese is more than a job—it is a vocation. They collaborate with their pastors—and each other—to provide much needed services to the parishioners and community. Much of this work is done “behind the scenes,” making the value of their service difficult to measure. Recently, though, we did witness the impact a Lay Ecclesial Minister has on a parish community. Marco Matonich, Pastoral Associate at Divine Providence in Westchester, died last month. More than 750 people attended his funeral Mass—they came from parishes at which he previously ministered, from his current parish, from the neighboring Lutheran Church—all telling stories of how Marco made a difference in their lives. Marco dedicated his life to the service of God’s people—at his funeral, we witnessed the fruits of his labors.
How does one become a Lay Ecclesial Minister? It is a process of discernment, education, formation, and certification (as Pastoral Associate or Director of Religious Education) which culminates in a Rite of Calling. Through this Rite, Cardinal George ratifies their ministry as a vocation from God and declares their ministry as formally ecclesial. We have celebrated 3 Rites of Calling in the Archdiocese of Chicago—in 2002, 2006 and 2009. The next Rite is scheduled in June 2011.
Each of our Lay Ecclesial Ministers has a unique story about their call to this vocation. I encourage you to ask your parish’s Pastoral Associate or Director of Religious Education about their story. Ask them about their work, whether they have participated in the Rite of Calling and what that meant to them. If they have not yet participated in the Rite, ask them what it will mean to them when they do participate.
Finally, pray for vocations—to the priesthood, religious life and Lay Ecclesial Ministry.