Liturgy, Word, Service and Funerals Close to the Heart

Sr Stancea Vichie MSS, 2 March 2023

In 2016, Sr Stancea Vichie MSS was in Rome with the International Union of Superiors General, in a meeting with Pope Francis. It was there that the question arose: as women already function effectively as deacons, could they not be ordained like those women in the early Church? Since then, Stancea has been doing her own research into the role of a permanent deacon. She has seen that the Church summarises the role in the three elements of liturgy, word and service.1  And, as the Congregational Leader of the Missionary Sisters of Service, she has seen her Sisters in diaconal ministry for years!

The Missionary Sisters of Service were founded in Tasmania, in 1944, by a young country priest, Fr John Wallis. Fr John saw the need for religious education and spiritual/pastoral care in rural and outback areas. So, encouraged by him, six women gave their “yes to a deep call in their hearts to serve those on the margins.”2 They have since set their feet to the ‘highways and byways’ of the world, and in years gone by, often in places infrequently visited by the clergy.

Ministry of Liturgy

Stancea has witnessed many of her Sisters presiding at liturgies, after careful training. They accompanied and listened to their communities, and found out what was meaningful for them. Then, when possible, they trained and assisted local parishioners to lead their own liturgies in the absence of a priest.  

From 1988-1990, Stancea was involved with a pastoral/theological reflection with the Missionary Sisters of Service. She travelled across Australia where MSS sisters were working, and accompanied her Sisters to reflect on the social, economic, cultural and religious contexts of the places in which they worked. It was a “fantastic time” in which she saw the MSS women continuing to perform the ministry of a deacon informally. In some places without a priest, they led liturgies with communion, baptisms, funerals and cared for the sick with what spiritual nourishment they could offer. The people were very ready for the ministry of women and it was greatly appreciated. 

Ministry of the Word

Stancea also reflects on the diaconal ministry of the word that is open to permanent deacons. When asked about reflections at liturgical services, she says that her Sisters have done so for years. When presiding at prayer, including the Liturgy of the Hours, they have read the Gospel and broken open the scriptures many, many times. Rather than being “pious or dogmatic”, Stancea has observed that the Sisters’ preaching has been “very much related to the Gospels and people’s lives and their search for meaning”.  

Not only that, the Sisters have encouraged and formed others to do these ministries too when possible. Stancea says, “It is about the people, not ourselves, it’s been about doing ourselves out of a job.” She sees that all the baptised are on mission in the world. Alongside this, lay people have the ability and capacity to take on liturgical and pastoral leadership roles. Local people, especially in rural and outback areas, are used to having only small gatherings of 5-10 people in their churches, and could obviously become leaders if they have support and supervision, including communities who gather in bigger numbers. Rather, following more disconnection with local churches during COVID, “In a country like Australia it is loud and clear that people are not always returning to participate in Eucharistic worship. We need a wider range of opportunities for people to participate in other prayerful moments”.   

Ministry of Service

Stancea has herself had many years of involvement in pastoral ministry, both formally in parishes until the mid 1980s and informally with people who have sought asylum or been trafficked. She believes that the ministry of deacon must be imbued with a sense of mission.  As she sees it, part of the role of a deacon is to be with people who are often on the edges.  Especially in regard to women, they often have a capacity and a way into people’s lives that could enhance the current religious leadership. 

Stancea believes an important aspect of the permanent diaconate is the exercise of charity, as described in the role of the deacon. However, she says it is more than offering kindness and compassion. It is also about probing the underlying issues of people’s circumstances – it is about justice . Her Sisters have long experience in not just ‘giving food to the hungry’, but asking why they are hungry in the first place. As leaders they have had many opportunities to support people in their cries for justice. So Stancea hopes that we can look to the early Church, the variety of ministries, and the examples of women leaders. 

Funerals Close to the Heart

A few years ago, Stancea had a particularly significant experience of leading in a time of need. She had grown up in Bundaberg, within Queensland’s Rockhampton Diocese. When her mother died there in 2004, the local priest was not going to be in town on the day of the funeral. He rang Stancea and asked her, “Why don’t you do the funeral?”, to which she immediately answered, “Yes”.  If she had not felt able to lead the funeral, the members of the local lay funeral team would have led the ceremony. Family members and local people were thrilled that Stancea took up this opportunity. Then, in 2007 her father died, and again, with no priest in town, Stancea was able to lead her father’s funeral. She was “incredibly privileged” to preside again, in front of many mourners. Her parents’ neighbour of many years, who was not a Catholic, came to her mother’s funeral  and sitting on the steps of the church afterwards, said,  “That’s the best bloody funeral I’ve ever been to!”  

Thank you, Stancea and the Missionary Sisters of Service, for your leadership and for sharing your stories!

1 See Lumen Gentium #29 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1588.


One thought on “Liturgy, Word, Service and Funerals Close to the Heart

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: