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Lay 'reflection' raises doctrinal, liturgical questions in Chicago archdiocese

As the Archdiocese of Chicago calls for liturgical orthodoxy in its implementation of Traditiones custodes, at least one parish has permitted lay people to give a homiletic reflection, despite the Church's requirements that a homily be given at Sunday Mass, and that homilies can be preached only by ordained ministers.

The Archdiocese of Chicago declined to comment on liturgical and doctrinal questions concerning a June 19 Mass at Chicago’s Old St. Patrick’s Church.

Old St. Patrick’s Church, Chicago, Il. Credit: Old St. Patrick’s/vimeo.

Instead of a homily after the Gospel, the celebrant invited two men to the ambo to offer a Father’s Day “Gospel reflection,” which the priest said was a custom in the parish.

The two men - identified as Alex Shingleton and Landon Duyka - described as “miracles” their same-sex civil marriage and the adoption of two daughters, comparing those moments to the multiplication of the loaves and fishes in the Gospel reading.

“This week Chicago is celebrating Pride, and today is Father’s Day, and conveniently we tick both of those boxes,” one of the men said, to laughter from the congregation.

“Let’s be honest, there are probably not too many gay dads speaking on Father’s Day at many Catholic Churches on the planet today.”

Canon law stipulates that a homily is “reserved to a priest or deacon” and “must be given at all Masses on Sundays and holy days of obligation which are celebrated with a congregation.”

While the parish did not refer to the men’s reflection as a homily, it came after the Gospel reading -when the homily usually takes place - and immediately ahead of a blessing for fathers, and then the recitation of the Creed.

During their reflection, the men said they had felt unwelcome at other Catholic churches over the years, but were impressed by St. Patrick’s message of “radical inclusivity.”

They recalled attending an LGBT meeting when they first came to the parish, at which they recalled a priest saying that “that while other Catholic churches and their leaders may be tone deaf, Old St. Pat’s has figured it out.”

“Today we had the Gospel where Jesus fed the masses from five loaves and two fishes - clearly a miracle. Something that is unexplainable, unexpected, and truly marvelous, where something that started small became a huge blessing,” Shingleton said.

“Well, our journey to fatherhood has been marked by a series of events that started small, but became huge blessings. And while they may not meet the strict definitions of miracles - meaning no one will be gaining sainthood here today - they are unexplainable, unexpected, and truly marvelous nonetheless.”

The men said that they discussed wanting children on their first date, in 2004.

“The first miracle of our story came in 2007, when gay marriage - which was then called civil union - became legal in the United Kingdom, which is where I’m from,” Shingleton said.

They described their adoption of two baby girls as additional miracles, given that they took place at a time when many states did not allow same-sex couples to adopt.

“The final miracle in our story is here - Old St. Pat’s,” Duyka said.

The pair has lived in many different cities, and experienced many different Catholic parishes, Duyka added. In many of these churches they felt unwelcomed, he continued, citing a homily that described gay marriage as sinful and parishioners who would not shake their hands during the Sign of Peace.

“We wanted to raise our children in the Catholic Church…” he said. “On the other hand, we didn’t want to expose our children to bigotry and have them feel any shame or intolerance about their family.”

The men said they felt affirmed at Old St. Patrick’s, where they have now been members for 10 years.

“On this Father’s Day, during Pride, we pray that if you are ever given the opportunity to stand up for families like ours, that you will do so,” Duyka said. “Because our voices are very strong, but they are not nearly loud enough without yours.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that people who identify as LGBT “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

In 2021, Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich urged Catholics to “redouble our efforts to be creative and resilient in finding ways to welcome and encourage all LGBTQ people in our family of faith.”

In the same year, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith confirmed that “it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage … as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.”

“The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan,” the CDF added, in a text approved by Pope Francis.

Nevertheless, the CDF in 2003 said it would be unjust for civil governments to develop a definition of marriage that includes same-sex relationships.

And in 2006, the U.S. bishops’ conference explained that “the Church does not support the adoption of children by same-sex couples, since homosexual unions are contrary to the divine plan.”

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal explains that “the homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to the deacon, but never to a lay person.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago was among the first U.S. dioceses to announce a comprehensive liturgical policy after the Congregation for Divine Worship issued instructions on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass last December. The instructions accompanied Pope Francis’ apostolic letter Traditionis custodes.

Citing an opportunity for the priests of the archdiocese to promote unity within the Church, Cardinal Blase Cupich banned the celebration of Mass in the ad orientem posture - facing east, away from the congregation - without permission.

Priests who have permission to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass must also celebrate the Novus ordo one Sunday a month, as well as on Christmas, Triduum, and Pentecost under the Chicago policy, and readings must be proclaimed in the vernacular at Latin Masses.

In a January 5 letter announcing new norms, Cupich urged Chicago priests “to faithfully adhere to the liturgical norms, so that as the Body of Christ, our worship of God may always enrich and never diminish the faith of our people.”

Citing Benedict XVI, the cardinal encouraged Masses “being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this missal.”

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