Instituted Ministries Celebrated Today: A First for Women

Today Pope Francis celebrated the institution of lectors and, for the first time, women were among those instituted. Francis also celebrated the institution of catechists, which includes both women and men.

Although women have been permitted to serve as readers since 1970 and as altar servers since 1994, they were barred from being formally instituted in these ministries, due to the decision of Pope Paul VI to reserve institution to males. As a result, only seminarians preparing for the priesthood typically were instituted, despite the fact that Paul VI had defined these roles as lay ministries. Sadly, instead of a full development and renewal of these ancient liturgical roles, the instituted ministries remained a remnant of what previously had been minor orders, and women were excluded.

All that changed, however, in January 2021 when Pope Francis declared in his motu proprio Spiritus Domini that these ministries are based on the Royal Priesthood of Baptism, and therefore will now be open to all qualified baptized persons, including women. Writing in La Civilta Cattolica, Father Cesare Giraudo, SJ, cited this development as an example of what the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy called “sound tradition and legitimate progress.” He also deemed it an event in the life of the Church that must be considered “a milestone and a point of no return.” 

In a separate motu proprio issued in May of 2021, Antiquum ministerium, Francis also established the ministry of catechist as an instituted ministry. This new instituted ministry builds on a very ancient calling in the Church, and is intended both to empower those catechists in mission territories who are the primary local representative of the Church, and to bless and recognize those lay people in any region whose life’s work is the Christian formation of the people of God.

Candidates from countries around the world were present to receive institution in these ministries from the Pope, thus drawing attention to these new developments intended to build up the Church in every land.

The choice of an occasion to celebrate — The Sunday of the Word of God, which Pope Francis established in 2019 — seems both appropriate and significant, as is the fact that the office of evangelization announced the event. By proclaiming the scriptures effectively, as lectors strive to do, and by preparing people to receive and live the Good News fruitfully, as catechists do, these lay ministers — both men and women — are part of the evangelizing mission of the church.

You can see the highlight reel from today’s liturgy by clicking on this link.

To see the presentation of candidates, go to 31:00 in the video of the full liturgy.

9 comments

  1. When studying in Rome I attended an Epiphany consecration of bishops drawn from around the world at St Peter’s by Pope John Paul II: men consecrated in the see of Peter and Paul to go into all the world and, if necessary, like the apostles to suffer and to die. How moving all these years later to see lay people likewise drawn from around the world instituted into ministries by the present Holy Father.

  2. In the video, I noted that after the Gospel (chanted in Italian by a young deacon), the Pope made the Sign of the Cross with the Book of Gospels. I believe that is the custom in the Eastern Churches.

    1. It’s an option for all Bishops to bless with the Book of Gospels. Though I can’t remember when it was extended to them (It’s not in the Ceremonial of Bishops, so after the 1980s at least).

      “When the deacon is assisting the Bishop, he carries the book to him to be kissed, or else kisses it himself, saying quietly, Per evangelica dicta dicta (May the words of the Gospel). In more solemn celebrations, as the occasion suggests, a Bishop may impart a blessing to the people with the Book of the Gospels” GIRM 175.

      That being said, practice seems to vary greatly. I attend the Cathedral in Cincinnati and I can’t recall the Archbishop ever giving a blessing after the Gospel with the Gospel Book (though that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened).

  3. Way to miss the point guys…

    It’s a good thing to see these actions being taken. Gotta love Francis! Working to bring the Church into a greater completeness.

  4. OT, but I’m going to go for it. My thoughts on the institution of women as acolytes. When I lived in Montreal, I worshipped with an Anglo-Catholic congregation. I still don’t agree theologically with the 1661 BCP tradition, but the worship style at this church is very familiar. After returning to the United States I reverted to Catholic traditionalism.

    My late advisor and Anglican priest (may she rest in peace) acted in the role of deacon during Mass. She chanted the Gospel many times. At first, it was very strange to hear a Gospel tone in soprano! Eventually her performance of the Gospel became familiar. I also went to her Low Masses, and this became familiar over time. She was quite a stellar preacher!

    The subdeacon for my local cluster of diocesan traditionalist parishes is an instituted acolyte. Outside of the traditionalist orders (FSSP, ICKSP etc.) there is no provision for the institution of subdeacons. Thus the institution of acolyte is the substitute. Now women can be instituted as acolytes. Thus, technically women could be subdeacons at the vetus ordo. Women could theoretically chant the epistolarium at Solemn Mass.

    Traditionalist brethren, often panic attacks can be solved by counting backwards from ten slowly. Square breathing. I highly doubt that women will become subdeacons for traditionalist parishes anytime soon. Yet we traditionalists must countenance the theoretical possibility.

    Pope Francis’s expansion of the ministries of lector and instituted acolyte to women is overdue for many (most?). Yet a “no-brainer” move will send shockwaves through a small minority in the Church. Most traditionalists will not respect Pope Francis’s decision to institute women acolytes. Still it is possible and necessary to disagree with this decision while respecting women who are instituted as acolytes.

    1. I don’t question the theoretical accuracy of this analysis, but practically it’s a non-starter. While not discounting something being done as a one-off “stunt” clergy who celebrate the EF will not accept the ministry of female instituted Acolytes, and priests who will accept it won’t celebrate the EF.

      1. Terminology has bedeviled us for years in this area, but I think it is important to acknowledge that the terms Ordinary Form and Extraordinary Form no longer have any relevance. There is one expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.

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