Three bishops from Switzerland have issued a statement regarding the role of ordained priests in the Catholic Mass. In a letter to those active in pastoral care, Bishops Joseph Bonnemain of Chur, Felix Gmür of Basel, and Markus Büchel of Sankt Gallen stated that only ordained priests are allowed to preside over the Eucharist and sacraments, and that the liturgy should not be used as a platform for personal projects.
The statement came after a video of a laywoman seemingly participating in a Mass with priests caused controversy online. The bishops acknowledged that people may desire to participate in the liturgy, but emphasized that the Catholic liturgy has universal character and that common forms and rules must be followed. They also acknowledged that people may have different ways of participating in the liturgy, however, they said that “we urge you to not make the sign of unity that is the liturgy into a testing ground for personal projects. It is precisely in the worldwide celebration of the same liturgy that we are Catholic and in solidarity with one another.”
The bishops also pointed to canon 907 of the Catholic Church’s canon law, which prohibits Catholic deacons and laypeople from performing actions that are “proper to the celebrating priest.” This is to maintain the integrity of the sacramental celebration of the mass and the specific role that priests have in the Catholic Church in the administration of the sacraments.
The controversy specifically arose after a Mass in August 2022 in the Diocese of Chur, in which Monika Schmid, a longtime de facto parish administrator, appeared to participate in the Eucharist during her retirement. Bishop Bonnemain subsequently opened a preliminary canonical investigation into the incident on the grounds of alleged liturgical abuse.
Schmid denied that her actions were intended to be provocative or that she was attempting to concelebrate Mass, and stated that the video was uploaded to the internet without the knowledge of all the participants. However, the video clip clearly shows her at the altar, surrounded by two priests and pronouncing the text of the consecration of bread and wine and of the eucharistic prayer. She also said, “And some are already seeing red when they see a woman at the altar in a photo,” which indicates that her presence at the altar was an issue for many people.
The bishops also referenced Pope Francis’ apostolic letter Desiderio desideravi, which stresses the importance of high-quality liturgies and adherence to rubrics. The Pope’s letter emphasizes the need for careful attention to every aspect of liturgical celebration and the observance of every rubric. The bishops emphasized that this is to ensure that the liturgical celebrations are carried out in the most dignified and reverent way possible, and that the sacraments are administered in accordance with the teachings of the Church.
In conclusion, the bishops emphasized the need for respect for the rules and forms of the Church in the celebration of the sacraments. They acknowledged the desire of the faithful to participate in the liturgy but emphasized that the Catholic liturgy has a universal character and that this must be respected. They also highlighted the importance of adhering to canon law and the teachings of the Church in the administration of the sacraments and the celebration of the liturgy.