Women in Instituted Ministries: “A Milestone and a Point of No Return”

La Civilta Cattolica has published an important article by Father Cesare Giraudo, SJ, reflecting on Pope Francis’s decision to officially include women in the ministries of instituted acolyte and reader.

The article, “The Ministry of Women in the Liturgy: ‘Sound Tradition’ and ‘Legitimate Progress’,” examines the role of lay people in temple worship and the early church, before moving on to describe the situation in the post-patristic church and the reforms of Paul VI at the time of the Second Vatican Council. This then provides the background for discussion of the present time, in which Pope Francis has reformed these roles, moving them from “restricted ministries” to “open ministries” available to both lay men and women.

Applying categories from the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Father Giraudo argues that “Pope Francis, while respecting ‘sound tradition,’ has nevertheless opened the way to ‘legitimate progress.'”

In a way that perhaps anticipates the coming conference on priesthood to be held in Rome in 2022, he also asserts that the Pope “has legitimized the aspiration of the faithful to see in the baptismal priesthood the fulcrum of a way of being ministerial that is destined to collaborate, in very precise areas, with the way of being ministerial deriving from the ordained priesthood.”

In a more general comment he remarks that “It can also be said that the new measure does justice to the marked religious sensitivity of women and to the ministerial potential they possess.”

The article concludes with a striking evaluation: “The possibility of conferring instituted ministries on the laity, recognized by the motu proprio Spiritus Domini, is a milestone and a point of no return that will not fail to positively mark the life of the Church.”

The author underlines the connection between these ministries and the works of charity: “Along with liturgical services, which are many and should not be minimized, lectors and instituted acolytes will henceforth have an authoritative qualification to engage also in the management of charitable services, which flow from the Word proclaimed at the ambo and from the Bread of Life broken at the altar, to bring relief – as Justin recalls – “to orphans and widows, and to those who are neglected by sickness or other cause, and to those who are in prison, and to those who stay as foreigners: in short, […] to all those who are in need.”

You can read the full text here. 

Giraudo is Professor Emeritus of Liturgy and Theology in the Eastern Institute of Rome and ordinary member of the Pontifical Academy of Theology. La Civilta Cattolica, a venerable journal  of Catholic thought published continuously since 1850, is considered to reflect the mind of the Vatican. Its contents are reviewed by the Secretariat of State before publication.

4 comments

  1. I want to read that full text, but quickly, a thought or two …

    The current system, for good or ill, tends to minimize the notion of a cooperative in a larger mission of the Church. Individual clergy have and do their thing. Lectors and others are recruited or accepted as volunteers by pastors to do “their” thing(s). What we have, in effect, are warm bodies performing service for the faithful or the recipients of charity. It’s all very individualistic, and Americanized. On one level, that is fine: a person devoted to the Scriptures, man, woman, or older youth, brings that love and devotion to the liturgy. Like wise those who have a charism of teaching, or charity, or intercessory prayer, or administration, or what-have-you. They can serve in their silo. Grace happens, certainly. But unity suffers and the power of such witness is blunted.

    Many of my lay friends will tut-tut at this official inclusion. They’ve been doing it already and without the approval of the 1%. Who needs the institution? they might ask. And it’s a good question.

    The answer I would hope to see laid out is that collaboration, across all ministries, adds power and depth to the Church’s efforts in the world. If the various charisms of the baptized are seen as working together and mutually supportive, will that not affirm the witness of Christ who labors through our cooperation with one another? It must be better than Jesus fragmented. Here he is in the Eucharist. Here he is in this needy person or that one. Here he is in the priest. Etc.

    I fear we have wasted a lot of time, and that many fewer people would have dismissed this had it been done in the 1970s.

  2. Excellent article. And excellent comment from Todd, pointing out that all ministry is collaborative.

    I wish Giraudo had given greater emphasis to a point which has generally not been understood. It is this:

    Paul VI’s ground-breaking new insight in Ministeria quaedam was that these ministries are ministries in their own right, not dependent on, or subservient to, a priest. Even after Francis’s opening-up of these ministries to women as well as men, we continue to think of them in terms of “helping Father”. While undoubtedly those ministries do help, they are actually helping the entire community rather than just the priest. They have a right to exist, even if there were no priests at all; and some countries will be very familiar with that kind of scenario.

    As long as we continue the medieval mindset of seeing these ministries as steps on the way to ordination, or in some way lower down the hierarchy of ministries than clerics, we won’t realize their full benefit. It’s not about status but about charism.

    The next stage, as Giraudo points out, is discernment of gifts. Not everyone is suited to a ministry they might wish to perform, whether clerical or lay. A huge amount of (re-)formation is going to be required. Once the pandemic restructions are relaxed, this is the most important task we should be doing.

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