Pope Francis in a new Apostolic letter “Spiritus Domini” published January 11, 2021, issued motu proprio (on his own initiative) changes to the Code of Canon Law to explicitly allow women to be installed in the Catholic Church as lectors and acolytes. If you are like me, you may have thought that this had been done years ago. When I started tagging along with Julie to Mass in our last years of college, there were already women lectors and servers. I never knew a Church that did not have women in these roles. It was not until I was in formation to be a Deacon that I was exposed to the more formal offices of Lector and Acolyte when we were installed to these offices. Canon law until this time has officially reserved these offices for men, and the language of canon law will be changed from “lay men” to “lay persons”.
My initial reaction in hearing about this was a happiness that it had happened, but then thinking what took so long to confirm something the church had been doing for 40+ years. It felt like an important but small step in reversing the sexism that exists in the Catholic Church. Unfortunately I believe this sexism is a big part of why so many younger people, men and women, are not participating in the life of the Church.
As I reflected on this change and why Pope Francis may have done it I came to a deeper appreciation of what this change says in opposition to the return of clericalism. There are Bishops and Priests that will not allow women into these roles by falling back on Canon Law to support their sense of importance and need to defend a male priesthood. They would say we only need male altar servers because that is a training ground for vocations into the priesthood. I would strongly disagree as vocations are a response to the call of the Holy Spirit and seem to not follow any set pattern. I believe Pope Francis is sending a strong message to Bishops and Priests around the world that would exclude at least half of the body of Christ from being part of these important ministries to the people of God. They will not be able to fall back on the Code of Canon Law in support of the sexist behavior of excluding women from using their God-given talents in service of the Church as lectors and acolytes. Let us hope that this change is the start of the many changes needed to chip away the sexism that exists in our Church.
I also believe that this move on Pope Francis’ part is the fruit of the two commissions he formed for the study of the history and theology of Women Deacons. Among the strong evidence that has come out of these commissions is the historical evidence of women having served as lectors and acolytes in the early Church. I will point you to my blog post on this:
I am so happy that we at St Pascal’s have a strong history of very talented women and young women that serve our community in these roles. My many thanks to them for sharing their beautiful gifts in helping us worship, and to the whole community for their support of women as lectors and acolytes.
Peace, Love, and Blessings