I help out in pastoral assistant program, lector and Eucharistic minister. We aren't ordained though we do go through some training.
Deacons have to be ordained though it's not the priestly ordination. I think that it's MUCH easier to get the laity of the parish to pitch in as pastoral assistants...it's mostly us old ladies, who run ALL the churches whichever Christian faith :o).
There really is no reason for being dubious; it's SO simple. Pastoral assistants can be sacristans too. They get the altar and such ready for Mass, keeping the candles in readiness, tossing the dead flowers, making sure the vestments are okay for wear, etc.
I recently noticed that the book cover for the gospel readings was VERY tatty, so I voluntarily bought another one for the book. We all pitch in. It's nice to be useful, especially when there ARE so few priests for so many Catholics.
NOTHING sidedoor or leftwing about it at all. I've found a HUGE DEARTH of the leftwingers at Mass. As for pitching in and HELPING, nary a one. They save their leftwingedness for other stuff...stuff they may actually change. They can't stand against the choices of Jesus, that is, to come to earth as a man-Savior, choosing 12 male apostles, followed by male disciples, bishops, popes, etc. Besides, they might actually have to show up at Mass more often, pitch in and help the $chool fund raising, visit the old folks and sick folks...all that really CHRISTIAN stuff. :o)
Where I live, pastoral assistant is a paid professional title, and they have training which includes theology and counselling and administation - I think there is a master’s degree program. Maybe I am thinking of pastoral associate - here is what the diocese of Chicago says.
In the parish I left there were two pastoral assistants, one the liturgical minister (choir director) and the other director of religious education. Both of them pushed feminism, New Age, and disrespect for tradition. The pastor was in perfect harmony with them. I walked out in the middle of an Easter Mass when he was giving a sermon about the symbol of the Resurrection, and the only time we have visited since was for an Ash Wednesday service that left us all recoiling from the God-emptied smugness there. My son used to have obsessive blasphemous thoughts during the Mass, that has not been a problem in any other parish. The first priest in that parish, the one in charge of constructing the church, was revealed to be an abuser of teenage boys; he has been convicted. I truly wonder if there is an evil spirit in that place.
My new parish is much more Godly and conservative but we did have a pastoral assistant who did some adult education programs and counselling. Again, the feminism and New Age pagan syncretism. Now she works for the diocese.
My best friend’s sister is a pastoral assistant - what she wants is women’s ordination and this is as close as she can get. Very bitter about the Church’s roles for women, but she won’t leave the Church.
I think the pastoral assistant program (as we have it here) too often substitutes credentialism and a profession for what ought to be a calling. With the declining number of priests, and a growing number of priestless parishes, the administration of some parishes is going into the hands of the PAs, with priests visiting just for the sacraments. Very, very bad news. There is a lay bureaucracy and academic faction which is very content with this development as it means more power for them.
There will be women who are almost-priests - if Ms. Smith administers the parish, and counsels people (so much like confession) and visits the sick and speaks from the pulpit and hands out the already-consecrated Host when the priest isn’t there - well, why not let her hear confession and consecrate?
Far better to encourage married men to become deacons. Or even to permit married men to become priests. Or how about temporary vows? Fifteen years as a celibate priest? Boy would you have courtship issues as the clock ticked down.