A week ago, Pope Francis issued a change to canon law formalizing the ability for women and girls to be installed as lectors and acolytes. Although it has long been common practice in Western countries especially in the United States for women to serve as readers and serve at the altar, the formal ministries – once considered “minor orders” for those preparing for the priesthood – have been reserved for men.
Called a motu proprio, meaning a piece of legislation issued on the pope’s own authority, the new law revises canon 230 of canon law, which previously stated that “lay men who possess the age and qualifications established by decree of the conference of bishops can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte.” Now the revised text begins, “lay people who possess the age and qualifications,” making the sole condition for admittance to the ministries one’s baptism, rather than one’s gender.
According to the “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” the acolyte is instituted for service at the altar and to assist the priest and deacon. It is his place principally to prepare the altar and the sacred vessels and, if necessary, to distribute the Eucharist to the faithful as an extraordinary minister. The lector is instituted to proclaim the readings from sacred Scripture, with the exception of the Gospel. He may also announce the intentions for the universal prayer and, in the absence of a psalmist, recite the Psalm between the readings.
Like many others at first, I did not see the importance of Pope Francis’ declaration that women can take part in the formal ministries of acolyte and lector. After all, there have been “altar girls” in many American parishes including CTK and St. Stephen for years. But “many” is not “all.” Some parishes and dioceses allow only boys to assist the priest at the Mass and other ceremonies including some parishes in the Bay Area.
The pope’s decree doesn’t focus on children and adolescents or require that girls be allowed to serve Mass. It says that church law will be changed to say that “lay persons” of either sex may be formally installed in the ministries of acolyte and lector. The church already allows people of either gender who are not acolytes to be altar servers.
The pope’s decree sends a message to Catholic parishes and dioceses that allow only boys to serve Mass. It’s the same message that St. Paul preached to the Galatians: “There is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In 1975 the late Raymond Brown, perhaps the foremost Catholic biblical scholar of his time, advocated that women be given a range of roles at Mass. He mentioned women serving as lectors and distributing Holy Communion and said that “younger girls” could serve at the altar.
I would like to give a shout out to one of our CTK 7th grade students, Addison Rohrer, whom I call a champion for the poor and homeless. After her compassionate effort to bring some comfort to the homeless during the winter season, with the donations you made, she wrote: “Thank you for supporting the WINTER AWEAR drive this season! Together, we raised over $1,500 which was put towards purchasing new winter essentials. In total, we collected and purchased 750 beanies, mittens, and scarves for the residents and communities serviced by Abode Services.” So proud of Addison!
I would also like to invite you to sign up for a Food Drive for the Homeless January 30, 2021 at CTK. Christ the King is partnering with First Christian Church of Concord, Disciples of Christ (a CC County/Interfaith effort) in a food drive for the homeless. Our parish representative, Carolyn Peters is heading this effort for us, and I want to thank her in a special way. There is a sign-up in today's newsletter.
Our parish leadership met with the leadership of St. Vincent de Paul to discuss strategies and policies with regard to rental assistance. As a community we wanted to offer any assistance they needed in this effort. We will be working with reputable organizations in the area such as Hope Solutions to reach out to families struggling to pay rent. We have collected around $40K, and we will keep you informed fully in the days to come. God is good, and I am so happy we can share the blessings he has bestowed on us.