Pope amends law, allows female lectors and acolytes

WelCom February 2021 In a ruling on 11 January 2021, Pope Francis amended Canon Law so that women can become lectors and acolytes, which are both public ministries.  The role…

WelCom February 2021

A reading during Mass at a church in Ronkonkoma, New York.
Photo: Gregory A. Shemitz/CNS

In a ruling on 11 January 2021, Pope Francis amended Canon Law so that women can become lectors and acolytes, which are both public ministries. 

The role of lector reads the scriptures during Mass while an acolyte assists a priest as an altar server.

By issuing the Spiritus Domini motu proprio, Pope Francis has formalised what is already allowed in practice in dioceses around the world – women proclaiming the Word of God during liturgical celebrations or carrying out a service at the altar as altar servers or as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.

However, until now, this has occurred without a true and proper institutional mandate.

The new document changes the wording of Canon 230, paragraph 1. The canon used to say, ‘Lay men who possess the age and qualifications established by decree of the conference of bishops can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte’.

The updated paragraph changes ‘lay men’ to ‘lay persons’, specifying that women perform ‘the ministries of lector and acolyte’ in Catholic services.

A lector can recite prayers and sacred texts such as psalms during Mass and other services, but the Gospel is read by a priest or deacon.

An acolyte assists the priest or deacon at the altar and can be an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion during Mass.

In a letter to Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Francis said that admitting women as lectors and acolytes will ‘entail a stability, a public recognition and a mandate from the bishop’ which would entail a ‘more effective participation of everyone in the Church participation in the work of evangelisation.’

In the past, the roles of lector and acolyte were considered two of the ‘minor orders’, the stepping stones to the priesthood. In 1972, however, Pope Paul VI replaced the minor orders with ‘ministries’, of which lector and acolyte are the only two.

Explaining the changes, the Pope said he was following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council which saw ‘an urgent need’ to ‘rediscover the co-responsibility of all the baptised in the Church.’ The change, he added, has also been recommended by some synod of bishops gatherings, including the 2019 meeting on the Amazon region where women are already heavily involved in leading church communities.

The Pope highlighted the distinction between ‘established’ (or lay) ministries and ‘ordained’ ministries’, and expressed the hope that opening these lay ministries to women might ‘better manifest the common baptismal dignity of the members of the People of God’.

Pope Francis said in his letter that it would be up to local bishops’ conferences to set appropriate criteria for the discernment and preparation of candidates for the ministries of lector and acolyte in their territories.

Sources: The Catholic Leader; The UK Tablet