Calls for the admission of women to ordained offices in the Catholic Church are becoming louder than ever, and all arguments are on the table. At the same time, demands and protests usually are addressed to the wrong people, since neither parish priests nor bishops nor even bishops’ conferences have the authority to change the rules concerning ordained offices. The pope seems to be not (yet?) willing to accede to such requests, and all the arguments for the male-only ordained office are also on the table.
In this context I would like to make a proposal. It clearly falls short of the requests mentioned above, but it is designed to make use of the holistic power of liturgical symbolism to break through the current impasse. (I have dealt with more canonical matters some months ago; this proposal here only deals with liturgy.)
The proposal should be viable
- without risking a schism based on different opinions on Catholic theological anthropology;
- without any need to change the teaching on ordained offices of the Second Vatican Council; and
- without causing difficulties in ecumenical dialogues, which are important to the Catholic Church, with churches that are founded primarily in patristic sources and leave less room for contemporary philosophical worldviews.
I propose that the Roman Catholic Church create an office of “Evangelist” strictly reserved to women, grounded in the biblical role of Mary Magdalene on Easter morning according to Matthew 28:1–8, Mark 16:9–10, and John 20:1–18.
- The proclaiming of the Gospel in the Eucharist should be assigned to the evangelist: this is the key place where the Church actuates its paschal message as the foundation of Christianity.
- No Eucharist should be celebrated without an evangelist.
- Evangelists trained in homiletics – at least with the same formation as permanent deacons – should be permitted to preach the homily in the Eucharist.
If this suggestions were adopted, it would follow that
- bishops and (parish) priests would then have the task of building up a group of evangelists and jointly developing a culture for the treatment of the Bible and the Word of God in the liturgy;
- bishops and priests would no longer have the opportunity to celebrate their “personal” Mass without having concord with an evangelist (somewhat similar to Isidore of Seville’s statement that no priest can celebrate Mass without a deacon);
- deacons would hand over their most prominent vocal role to the evangelist. (The idea of the evangelist would lapse if the Catholic Church [re-]introduced the female diaconate; in that case the offices of deacon and evangelist would merge into that reordered diaconate.)
All men – ordained and non-ordained – would have to accept that there is a specific liturgical role to which they may not be assigned, even when they are best-skilled, best-trained, and best-intentioned.
Such a pattern could have effects, hopefully salutary, on the way men and women, ordained and non-ordained, treat each other. It would admittedly rely upon a model of well-defined sexes, but after all, any attempt to draw inspiration for women from the biblical Mary Magdalene presupposes a male-female binary. It would imply a reciprocal relation of men and women to each other within the liturgy – a relation that is currently only one-way.
Pope Francis elevated the memorial of Mary Magdalene to the rank of feast in 2016. I would further suggest elevating this feast of the apostola apostolorum to the rank of solemnity. Thus it would be equal to Peter and Paul – until now, the only solemnity of apostles in the Roman Catholic calendar.