Pope Francis issued a motu proprio Monday changing canon law to allow women to serve as lectors and acolytes.
In the motu proprio “Spiritus Domini,” issued on Jan. 11, the pope changed canon 230 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law to read: “Lay people who have the age and skills determined by decree of the Episcopal Conference, they can be permanently assumed, through the established liturgical rite, to the ministries of lectors and of acolytes; however this contribution does not give them the right to support or to remuneration by the Church.”
Prior to this change, the law formerly 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.”
The roles of lector and acolyte are publicly recognized ministries instituted by the Church. The roles were considered “minor orders” in the tradition of the Church, and have previously only been held by men. 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 hope that opening these law ministries to women might “better manifest the common baptismal dignity of the members of the People of God.”
He said: “The Apostle Paul distinguishes between gifts of grace-charisms (‘charismata) and services (‘diakoniai – ‘ministry [cf. Rom 12, 4ff and 1 Cor 12, 12ff]). According to the tradition of the Church, the various forms that charisms take when they are publicly recognized and are made available to the community and its mission in a stable form are called ministries,” the pope wrote in the letter published Jan. 11.
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