Catholic Church legislation has been changed by Pope Francis so that women can act in liturgical celebrations as readers and altar servers, while reiterating that they can not be priests.
The pontiff says in an unexpected apostolic letter published on Jan. 11 that he is making the change to acknowledge a “doctrinal development” that has taken place in recent years.
That reform, the pope says, “shines a light on how some ministries instituted by the church have as their foundation that common condition of baptism and the royal priesthood received in the Sacrament of Baptism.”
The new letter of Francis, entitled Spiritus Domini and issued ‘motu proprio,’ modifies the Code of Canon Law to expressly allow women to be fitted as lectors and acolytes in the Catholic Church.
Lectors are ministers who proclaim Mass readings and other liturgical celebrations, while ministers who usually assist priests in preparing the altar during the Mass or in administering communion are Acolytes or Altar servers.
Women still serve as readers and altar servers in some Catholic churches until now, the church’s canon law had legally only approved their service on a temporary basis.
The reform of the pope, which replaces “laymen” as the category of those who may officially serve with “laypersons,” in ministries, will seem to compel all global Catholic bishops to recognize women in those positions.
Together with a letter from the pope to Cardinal Luis Ladaria, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the letter of Jan. 11 was issued.
In that text, Francis again cites the prohibition of John Paul II against ordaining women to the priesthood, but adds that “for non-ordained ministries it is possible, and today appears opportune, to go beyond that reservation.”
Francis tells Ladaria that giving the chance to serve as lectors and acolytes to both men and women “will increase the acknowledgment… of the precious contribution that many laypeople, including women, offer to the life and mission of the church.”
“The choice to confer these offices to women … will make more real in the church everyone’s participation in the work of evangelization,” The pope adds.
Francis informs Ladaria that the task of national bishops’ conferences will be to consider potential qualifications for those who may serve as lectors and acolytes in their communities, and says he also guides the worship congregation of the Vatican to update its standards on the two ministries to reflect the change in canon law.