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.