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  • Pope Francis, in another step towards greater equality for women in the Roman Catholic Church, on Monday changed its law to allow them to serve as readers at liturgies, altar servers and distributors of communion.

    Pope Francis, in another step towards greater equality for women in the Roman Catholic Church, on Monday changed its law to allow them to serve as readers at liturgies, altar servers and distributors of communion. | Photo: Twitter/@YahooNews

Published 11 January 2021
Opinion

As of this Monday, Pope Francis established the possibility that women may occupy the positions of Lectors or Acolytes, Catholic ministries that until now were reserved for men.

He did so through a Motu Proprio modifying canon 230 of the Code of Canon Law, in force since 1972, which restricted access to "suitable male faithful." He explained that this decision "makes the participation of all in the work of evangelization more effective in the Church."

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The decision, published this Monday in the official commentary of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis - the official bulletin of the Holy See -, is part of a series of modifications that make more and more space available for women in the Vatican.

According to a Vatican News survey, the percentage of women working inside the Vatican this year reached 24 percent of the total number of workers. In contrast, in 2010, only 17 percent of the more than 4,000 employees were women during Benedict XVI's papacy.

In August 2020, the pope appointed six women from different countries and backgrounds to the Holy See's Economic Affairs Council, which has 15 members in total.

"There is a growing sense of urgency today to rediscover the co-responsibility of all the baptized in the Church, and in particular the mission of the laity," the Pontiff said in a letter to Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, organ that has the function of guarding Catholic doctrine in the Church, and explained that "it is the task of the Church's pastors to recognize the gifts of each baptized person, to direct them also to specific ministries, to promote them and to coordinate them so that they contribute to the good of the communities and to the mission entrusted to all the disciples."

The ministries of lectors and acolytes are "instituted," or lay, ministries that the Catholic Church entrusts to persons who have received baptism and confirmation, in which "specific charisms are recognized, after an adequate journey of preparation," distinct from the "ordained" ministries that are proper to members of the People of God - bishops, priests - as they were configured according to the quaedam ministry of 1972, which abolished the "minor orders."

The Lector, linked to the ministry of the Word, is responsible for reading the Word of God in the liturgical assembly - Catholic mass -, instructing the faithful to receive the sacraments. For his part, the acolyte serves as an assistant to the deacon and the priest at the altar and can distribute communion in an extraordinary way.

With the Motu Proprio "Spiritus Comini," which modifies the first paragraph of canon 230 of the Code of Canon Law, Pope Francis decreed that women may accede to these offices, institutionalizing a practice that already occurred in various communities around the world, authorized by the bishops. Now, the female presence at the altar is official and recognized by the Holy See.

"Offering lay people of both sexes the possibility of access to the ministries of Acolyte and Lectorate, by virtue of their participation in the baptismal priesthood, will increase recognition, also through a liturgical act, of the precious contribution that so many laypeople, including women, have long offered to the life and mission of the Church," the Pope wrote.

The appropriate criteria for choosing candidates for the ministries of Lectorate and Acolyte will be left to each Episcopal Conference.

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