I haven’t heard of any movement in the United States toward implementing Pope Francis’s reform of opening the instituted ministries to include women. I know these things take time, and some preparations may be underway but not well-publicized. Still, I wonder: Is anything happening?
The bishop’s role in the instituted ministries is essential. It cannot be done simply at the parish level. Yet without active interest from pastors and parishes, Pope Francis’s initiative will probably languish here and perhaps never be implemented. So actually, given the way things operate, a grassroots engagement with this frontier of ministry development might truly make a difference between doing this — or not.
Some people question the necessity of having instituted ministries. Why bother to institute these ministries, if volunteers are doing the work already? We have become accustomed to seeing the ministries of lector, acolyte, and catechist as limited to their practical function, forgetting that there is a symbolic dimension to ministry too, one that should be acknowledged and lifted up by the church through a formal ritual.
Liturgists as well as pastors may or may not be conscious of this symbolic dimension. It is easy to take for granted the many years that women have worked to provide service in these roles. They brought their love and dignity to the ministries in which they serve — without any notice or recognition that what they give has value. But this begs the question. Don’t women deserve the recognition of institution and prayers of blessing and empowerment that go along with it, just as men do? Now it is available to them. What are we waiting for?
Inertia on this front will miss a significant moment. This is an opportunity for healthy growth and development in our ministerial practice and discernment.
One factor causing inertia is simply that a lot of people still have not heard of the instituted ministries, and don’t understand what they are about. Therefore, here are a few suggestions might help to move this topic forward.
- Form study groups in dioceses and parishes. Find out what the issues are. Dream about future possibilities with others. Discuss how your diocese or parish could benefit from bringing the instituted ministries to light in a fuller way. Here are a couple of articles you can read to help you understand the background and context: My article in Commonweal, “A Wonderful Complexity”; and Father Cesare Giraudo SJ’s article from La Civilta Cattolica, available here in English: “The Ministry of Women in the Liturgy: ‘Sound Tradition’ and ‘Legitimate Progress.'”
- Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Empower your bishop by bringing this issue to the priests’ council or to the diocesan pastoral council as a positive step that you would be happy to support. If parish folk all wait for the pastor to initiate, and the pastors all wait for the bishop, and the bishops waits for the conference… it will never happen.
- Get it on the calendar. Planning ahead is essential. Pope Francis has done these institution ceremonies on the Sunday of the Word of God. Find out what your cathedral is planning for that Sunday and raise the possibility of including a rite of institution on that day. There may be a separate day suitable for each ministry — such determinations can be made locally.
If any of our readers have news of dioceses in which the instituted ministries of lector and acolyte are currently being implemented to include women, and where the instituted ministry of catechist has been implemented, kindly share this in the comment box so that our information can be updated.
It is on the agenda of our Archdiocesan liturgical commission to discuss in the coming year.
The people in the pews have little or no interest in whether acolytes, readers, and catechists have been instituted. All three are functioning forms of service and that’s about all that people care about. The same thing goes for priests and bishops. The principle of inertia prevails.
I agree with Fr Jack: very little interest outside of professional circles. It’s the kind of thing that might have had more meaning about fifty years ago. Today people see bishops as even less of people who matter. Lay people serve in liturgy. The parish pastor is the guardian of those gates.
I can see that in some societies having women in official instituted roles in the church might be disturbing. That might be part of the rationale.
I know of a number of bishops who are keen to implement the expanded instituted ministries. However, they don’t want to do it indiscriminately, rubber-stamping what is already in place. Instituting a lector who can’t in fact read well merely legitimizes bad practice and is much harder to undo further down the road.
This means that they aren’t moving forward until formation is in place. No institution without prior formation seems an eminently sensible way of proceeding, but of course delays in setting up formation, with limited resources and parishes still emerging from the pandemic, don’t help.
Rather than setting up study groups to make people aware of instituted ministries, it might be wiser to put time and effort into providing diocesan formation courses for prospective ministers, as well as making it clear that this needs to be linked to a discernment of gifts.
” . . . parishes still emerging from the pandemic”
Something that seems utterly ignored in a lot of discussions, but seems pervasively relevant to what does and does not get focus.
My parish does not have a grade school so for over fifty years we have had adult acolytes. That means that the clergy are not the only ones in the sanctuary capable of contributing to the worship of the community by performing ritual actions with comprehension and grace. Some clergy find this threatening; others relax because not everything is on their shoulders. It’s a paradigm shift for a lot of people, but those of us who lived through Vatican II are used to those. I would just like a little official recognition before I die that my ministry is precisely that, a ministry.
Unrelated: the 2025 Jubilee website is up and open today:
Also unrelated but with a question: I am curious when the last time the Roman Martyrology was updated to include martyrs of eastern/oriental Christian churches not in full communion with Rome:
An instituted lector is described as someone who:
A. reads, ahead of lay people who have not been instituted (Roman Missal “101. In the absence of an instituted lector, other lay people may be deputed to proclaim the readings”. )
B. is in the entrance procession and then takes their place in the sanctuary (Roman Missal, n. 195).
C. From the Introduction to the Lectionary: “54. During the celebration of Mass with a congregation … an instituted reader must wear the distinctive vestment of their office when they go to the lectern to read the word of God.”
At the parish level these could be implemented without institution. Select one reader to read every Sunday, rather than having a roster. Have them in the sanctuary for the whole of Mass. Have them wear vestments. Similar to a deacon. A considerable challenge and change for a lot of parishes.
The message of Pope Francis of 15 August 2022 highlights the complexity and the need to share experiences. Parts 8 and 10, at https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/pont-messages/2022/documents/20220815-messaggio-ministeria-quaedam.html .
GIRM 195 does not refer to instituted lectors but to readers in general. It is an example of the creeping clericalism of those responsible for the current revision of GIRM.
As far as wearing vestments is concerned, GILM 54 also says; “Those who carry out the ministry of reader just for the occasion or even regularly but without institution may go to the lectern in ordinary attire that is in keeping with local custom.” In other words, they are not vested.
The basic rule of thumb for liturgical ministries is that there is a distinction between those whose natural “habitat” is the sanctuary and who by tradition are vested — bishop, priest, deacon, servers — and those who come forth from the people to minister to the people — readers, cantors, commissioned ministers of Holy Communion — who do not need to be vested. Indeed, it is better that they not be vested, as this risks giving an undesirable them-and-us impression.
Another rule of thumb says that liturgical ministers are recognized by what they do rather than by what they wear.
So Paul, your understanding is that the instruction of GIRM 195 applies to all readers: “Then the reader takes his own place in the sanctuary with the other ministers.”
But no readers should obey this instruction of the Roman Missal, because of the “creeping clericalism of those responsible for the current revision of GIRM”.
Rather than following the approved liturgical books, people should decide the “natural habitat” for readers. Which is not where to Roman Missal says it is.
Here’s Rita Ferrone’s first sentence from her post:
“I haven’t heard of any movement in the United States toward implementing Pope Francis’s reform of opening the instituted ministries to include women.”
I haven’t read this issue addressed directly here except for “I can see that in some societies having women in official instituted roles in the church might be disturbing.” Well, perhaps, but what about in the U.S.? Where, frankly, NOT having women in instituted roles and more is disturbing to the vast majority of reasonable people.. Why are folks leaving the Catholic church in droves? Out of protest, in many cases. Society has moved on and left the Church to its medieval murk on this issue. Arguing the legal minutiae is just another way of avoiding the elephant in the room.
“Where, frankly, NOT having women in instituted roles and more is disturbing to the vast majority of reasonable people.”
When it comes specifically to instituted roles, the topic here, the vast majority of people in the U.S., reasonable and unreasonable, have probably never knowingly encountered any of any sex or gender in the field, as it were. That’s relevant to why inertia may be the most powerful force here. And liturgy-saturated folks may be aware that many progressive bishops and pastors were never particularly interested in instituting stable (as opposed to transitional seminarian) instituted ministers precisely because they were long restricted to one sex. Toggling that switch means overcoming decades of inertia and possibly without much topical purchase among the people left in the pews.
Karl, I have to disagree. The topic here as brought up by Rita isn’t instituted roles in general. The topic as introduced is, opening instituted ministries to include women. To me, the fact that this topic shifted away from the real question of involving women in the Church to a discussion of the relevance of instituted ministries in general is symptomatic of the problem. Pope Francis moved to open instituted ministries to women. “Nobody cares about instituted ministries, they’re irrelevant” is the response. So: there must be a follow on, if one thinks this. I prefer to think Francis is tip toeing his way into including women in the hierarchy, and that’s a good thing. Reading between the lines, I assume others here feel this is merely a meaningless sop thrown out to appease excluded women and will have no effect, so why bother? If so, that should generate a bit more accounting for here, it seems to me.
Maybe “toggling that switch” will not have “much topical purchase among the people left in the pews.” Well, then what’s left to lose? The point is to attract new members. Ain’t gonna happen as is. Women are doctors and lawyers and own businesses. Society overcame the “inertia” of discrimination and is better for it. The Church would be better too if it followed suit.
This is going to seem a crazy comment, and I don’t really support having women priests. But I honestly believe if people want to gain more acceptance for women as acolytes, lectors
deacons, or priests etc., serious thought needs to be put into making a women’s version of the alb and vestments that is designed to tap into the spiritual authority of women. You could even call them priestesses (I’m not actually kidding). I know other denominations with female clergy use pretty much the same vestments, but I don’t think it works. It saps respect for women in any role to shoehorn them into clothes that evolved designed around men. Some of that is unfamiliarity with women in these roles, but quite a bit of it is the awkwardness of seeing women in spiritual clothing that isn’t adapted to them. Think of the authority nuns have in their habits compared to women clergy. It would take a very talented, inspired designer to adapt vestments and other items of dress appropriately using historic reference points, but I think it would make a big difference.
In Australia, the Archdiocese of Brisbane, has posted a video on YouTube, with the title: “Is God calling you to be a Lector, Acolyte or Catechist?” It was posted nine months ago (about August 2022) and has been viewed 195 times. It is 5 minutes, 24 seconds. It includes Archbishop Mark Coleridge saying:
“So the offer is made now: the call has come to all the baptised, and we want to move on this in the Archdiocese of Brisbane. So my question to you is, are you perhaps called to serve the Church and the world in the ministry of lector (the word of God), acolyte (the great mystery of the Eucharist), or perhaps as a catechist (to be a leader and a gatherer of people in our communities of faith)? I entrust that question to you and your discernment.”
The description of the video includes: “In 2021 Pope Francis opened the door to all Catholics to engage in the instituted ministries of Lector, Acolyte and Catechist. Are you called to one or more of these ministries?”
There is an email address for those who “feel called to one or more of these ministries”.
The video is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBQbcMpfY0I .
What is unclear to me is what is the difference between a man or a woman formally installed into the ministries of lector, acolyte and catechist compared to all the men and women we already have, and I would say in the USA more women than men, who are serving as lectors, Communion Ministers/adult servers and catechists? Is the formal installation to replace those who are not formally installed? As someone has mentioned most laity and clergy don’t want a small cadre of “clericalized” laity lording it over the poor souls who do the same thing but without being installed by a bishop in the particular ministry. If however, there is going to be a screening process, diocesan training/formation for all three to replace the volunteer system often with nominal screening, preparation/formation, let’s go for it. My diocese and the diocese in which I live and have faculties have done nothing to promote the formal ministries since it is already in place informally. Why should they????
Well, good point Allan. (Picture me dismounting from my high horse.) Is it worth another layer of clerical bureaucracy to implement Francis’ call?
Maybe. Formally instituting women in these ministries would carry the weight of recognition from the Church that may be missing from the more ad hoc volunteer system. It would add a sense of rightness and legitimacy in accepting women into ministerial roles. Tip toeing along, as I said earlier. So yes, worth it. The Church needs to get moving.
Yeah, it might make things more complicated than needs be from a practical stand point. Ah well, we muddle along.
Responding to “What is unclear to me is what is the difference between a man or a woman formally installed into the ministries of lector, acolyte and catechist compared to all the men and women we already have “.
An instituted acolyte is the only lay person permitted to do the purifications in Mass.
There are age restrictions for someone to be instituted as a lector or acolyte. In the USA it is to be of a minimum age of 21.
Leading Ceremonies: … Here is how it is expressed in the General Introduction of the Book of Blessings n. 18. First it describes the role of Bishops, then Priests, next Deacons … Then in paragraph d: “An acolyte or a reader who by formal institution has this special office in the Church is rightly preferred over another layperson as the minister designated at the discretion of the local Ordinary to impart certain blessings.”
Then it discusses other laymen and laywomen, ending the section with “But whenever a priest or a deacon is present, the office of presiding should be left to him.”
Similarly the 1988 Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest, n. 30, says that, after Deacons, instituted lectors and acolytes are to be chosen first, with the care of these celebrations. Other laypersons may be appointed if these instituted ministers are not available.
Ceremonial of Bishops has in n. 28: “But in celebrations presided over by the bishop it is fitting that all such ministerial functions be carried out by formally instituted acolytes”. And in n. 31 “Whenever necessary, the reader should see to the preparation of any members of the faithful who may be appointed to proclaim the readings … But in celebrations presided over by the bishop it is fitting that readers formally instituted proclaim the readings”.
I made a video “How instituted lectors are different to other lay readers” which is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZoL-wLHHfQ&t=39s It is about 12 minutes and has more information, including about vestments and being in the sanctuary.
It would seem to me that institution as lector, acolyte, and catechist should be tied to a ministerial function that actually moves beyond what is at first glance attached to the ritual itself. For example:
*An instituted lector might be someone, female or male, responsible for training and forming lectors in a diocese of parish. A Master Lector: someone versed in scripture, liturgics, elocution, and dramatic reading. They should have proven talent and skill, far above the average lector in most parishes.
*An instituted acolyte, female or male, might be chief (lay) liturgists in a diocese and parish. Or at least someone qualified to function as a Master of Ceremonies at any given major liturgy of the Church. Training and directing others in their functions. Educating others. This would included directors of liturgy or pastoral associates for liturgy.
*An instituted catechist would be a Master Catechist. Female or male. This would be anyone qualified to function as the director of religious education. Master Catechists are experts at the art and skill of communicating the faith in effective ways to the majority of Christians.
*I would then add the “instituted” Master Cantor. Female or male, a vocalist especially trained at leading liturgical music. Deeply versed in the psalter, the longstanding chants and songs of the Church… and the complex, often misunderstood art and skill of getting an assembly to sing well. I have seen this done at expert level seldom. But WOW, when it is done well, the difference is palpable.
I am a former Jesuit scholastic and I was “instituted” lector and acolyte. I currently work as a lay rector of a residence hall at the University of Notre Dame. I hold primary responsibility for liturgy and collaborate with our priest-in-residence and other priests who visit to preside at the Eucharist. It’s kind of an ideal space for an “instituted acolyte” in the vain I have described. My female rector colleagues are doing exactly the same work.