VATICAN CITY (CNA) — Pope Francis issued a motu proprio on January 11 changing canon law to allow women to serve as lectors and acolytes.
In the motu proprio Spiritus Domini, the pope changed canon 230 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law to read: “Lay persons of suitable age and with the gifts determined by decree of the Episcopal Conference may be permanently assigned, by means of the established liturgical rite, to the ministries of lectors and acolytes; however, the conferment of such a role does not entitle them to support or remuneration from the Church.”
Before this change, the law said that “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.”
Lector and acolyte are publicly recognized ministries instituted by the Church. The roles were once considered “minor orders” in the tradition of the Church and were changed to ministries by Pope Paul VI. According to Church law, “before anyone is promoted to the permanent or transitional diaconate, he is required to have received the ministries of lector and acolyte.”
Pope Francis wrote a letter to Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explaining his decision to admit women to the ministries of lector and acolyte.
In this letter, 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 Paul VI abolished the minor orders (and the subdiaconate) and established the ministries of lector and acolyte in the motu proprio Ministeria quaedam, issued in 1972.
“The acolyte is established to help the deacon and to minister to the priest. It is therefore his duty to take care of the service of the altar, to help the deacon and the priest in liturgical actions, especially in the celebration of the Holy Mass,” Paul VI wrote.
Potential responsibilities for an acolyte include distributing Holy Communion as an extraordinary minister if such ministers are not present, publicly exposing the Sacrament of the Eucharist for adoration by the faithful in extraordinary circumstances, and “the instruction of the other faithful, who, on a temporary basis, help the deacon and the priest in liturgical services by carrying the missal, cross, candles, etc.”
In his decree, Paul VI wrote that the lector was “instituted for the office, proper to him, of reading the word of God in the liturgical assembly.”
“The reader, feeling the responsibility of the office received, should do all he can and make use of the appropriate means to acquire every day more fully the sweet and lively love and the knowledge of Sacred Scripture, in order to become a more perfect disciple of the Lord,” the decree said.
Pope Francis said in his letter that it would be up to local bishops’ conferences to establish appropriate criteria for the discernment and preparation of candidates for the ministries of lector and acolyte in their territories.
Source: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
By Courtney Mares