Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Opening the Lectorate to Women

I was a little disappointed by the Synod on the Word of God, apart from one or two interventions, especially those of the Holy Father and the Ecumenical Patriarch there was little that excited me.

The one proposition that has hit the blogosphere reads:

"The synod fathers recognize and encourage the service of laypeople in the transmission of the faith. Women, in particular, have in this regard an indispensable role, above all in the family and in catechesis. In fact, women know how to stir up the listening to the Word and the personal relationship with God, and to communicate the meaning of forgiveness and the Gospel capacity to share.
It is suggested that the ministry of lector be opened also to women, so that in the Christian communities, their role as announcers of the Word is recognized."

This proposition passed with 191 votes in favor, 45 opposed and three abstentions–the highest “no” tally by far, at the synod.

Canon 230 of the Code of Canon Law states that only qualified men may be "installed on a stable basis in the ministries of lector and acolyte." The canon adds that "laypersons can fulfill the function of lector during liturgical actions by temporary deputation," which is why women currently read at Masses all over the world.

In practice this has meant that this ministry is given only to seminarians and has been made a substitute for the Minor Orders which were abolished by the personal decision of Paul VI. Though even at Papal liturgies commissioned Lectors seem rarely used, and women fulfill the functions of both Lectors and Deacons. Deacons are supposed to read the Intercessions, though they rarely do.

It will be interesting to see how Pope Benedict will deal with this.

The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults seems to give a vision in which virtually everyone in a local church has a "ministry" in some form, ranging from intercessor to catechist, sponsor or God-parent to evangelists, amongst these ministries would be included those who assist at the Liturgy, including altar servers and choir members, and flower arrangers.

Some bishops have developed their own rites and training schemes for these "ministries". In most parts of the world people fulfill these ministries on an ad hoc basis, simply by being included on a list, sometimes doing a short training course or in the case of Catholic school teachers, by being given the job.

For the most part there is no rite.

I am unashamably against any liturgical innovation, it is always devisive and damages the passing on of Tradition. I cannot help but think there is some Roman mischief or episcopal ignorance behind this proposition, the problem is that it ultimately ends up in opening up the question of female ordination.

It obviously will give bishops the opportunity to ensure that Lectors/Readers are properly trained but the effect of this will be to reduce the numbers of those who actually read in a parishes, and "clericalise" more laypeople. If this ministry is taken out of the seminaries and given to laypeople then we also need to recognise more formally other ministries, especially those which are directly connected to the Gospel, those who visit the sick and imprisoned, or work for the socially deprived, or care for children, not to mention those who scrub the church floor or clean the lavatories.


PeterHWright said...

I wonder if it was not a mistake to abolish the minor orders. They were, in my opinion, milestones (if that is quite the right word) for seminarians as they progressed through their years of study on the road to the priesthood. At a stroke, they were suppressed. This can hardly have been an encouragement (and seminarians need encouragement) to persevere.

As to the recent suggestion for women lectors, it seems to me there is already enough confusion between a layman or laywoman who reads from the lectionary at Mass and an instituted Lector.

Unfortunately, lector and reader mean the same thing ! But there is a matter of pastoral sensitivity here. It might be better, therefore, if readers at Mass refrained from describing themselves as "lectors" when they are in fact not instituted Lectors.

I have recently spoken to various young men and women who perform this function, who were horrified at the idea of being instituted Lectors or "Ministers of the Word"

In this country, at least, the word "Minister", presumably because it is used by so many Protestant clergymen, suggests a man in Holy Orders. It will only cause further confusion if lay people use it too freely.

As to the many other valuable services people perform outside the liturgy, many of them are undoubtedly performing a ministry, e.g. ministerng to the sick, etc. But I doubt many of these good people would want to be "clericalised" with the title "minister".

"Ministers to the sick", "ministers to the poor", etc. Would the Church better perform its mission with such titles ? I doubt it. And, most important of all, how many more souls would be saved by this new proposal ?

David said...

Yes, it does seem that those 'ministries' which are most sought after are those which provide the greatest visibility with the least manual work. In a Catholic church in Canada I found the front row had a sign on it - "Reserved for Ministers of the Word".

I really hope this is not passed by the Holy Father - I really feel that the minor orders should be restored and this can only make any such restoration far less likely. Also far less likely would be the possibility of reunion with the Orthodox churches for whom this will demonstrate how fickle the Catholic Church is with regard to its own venerable traditions.

The woolly "Catholish" of the language in the proposal suggests that it is motivated less by mature reflection than by wishing to grab a few headlines and disprove the idea that the "Catholic Church hates women".

Francis said...

Fr. Ray,

I wish that the Church would stop the creeping clericalization of the laity via the proliferation of lay "ministries." It confuses the boundary between the priesthood and the laity and has sapped the Church of much of its energy. 50 years ago, lay people were much more involved in the day-to-day spreading of the Word. Today, that has shrunk back to a small, inward-looking group of sanctuary-groupies (readers, extraordinary ministers, etc.)

We have forgotten that, as Catholics, we have 2,000 years of tradition and precedent here. We have at our disposal a vast treasure, not only of terminology but also of structures and defined roles, to embody and express the legitimate activities of laypeople in the Church.

The term "lay ministry" should be retired. The proper concept that needs to be resurfaced and revived is that of apostolate. This is the authentically Catholic mode of expressing the function of laypeople in the Church. It's well worth reading Pope Paul's decree on the apostolate of the laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem which explains this concept and its relevance to the modern age.

And while we're about it, we should be reviving sodalities, confraternities, archconfraternities and other traditional Catholic structures for facilitating lay participation in the life of the Church.

Tribunus said...

Dear all,

Well said, Fr Ray (and others).

One point, however. Minor Orders were not strictly abolished.

In Ministeria Quaedam Pope Paul VI enacted and promulgated, inter alia, the following:

"1. First tonsure is no longer conferred; entrance into the clerical state is joined to the diaconate.

2. What up to now were called minor orders are henceforth to be called ministries.

3. Ministries may be assigned to lay Christians; hence they are no longer to be considered as reserved to candidates for the sacrament of orders."

Legally, these are not words of abolition or suppression. Minor Orders are now to be "called" ministries. They are not, however, suppressed.

Moreover, entrance into the clerical state being "joined to the diaconate" is not effective, in law, to abolish the minor orders of clergy, either.

In effect, the conferring of minor orders was simply suspended and replaced by the lay ministries.

If this were not so then there would have had to be rather more legislation than Ecclesia Dei Adflicta or Summorum Pontificum (and related changes) in order to permit the restoration of the minor orders, but FSSP and ICRSS have been conferring minor orders, cum permissu, without such legislation.

It is yet another example of post-Vatican II supposed "legislation" by mere rumour or word of mouth, rather than by any actual law.

I suspect that part of the motivation for the lay ministries was, as Paul VI stated:

"The conferring of ministries does not bring with it the right to support or remuneration from the Church".

Moreover, it has been very useful to brutal Seminary rectors and bishops to be able to deny the rights of the clerical state to seminarians right up until diaconate ordination.

They can, for instance, sack non-clergy for much flimsier reasons and many a suffering seminarian has been led on for 4 or even 5 years, without ordination, only to find himself summarily sacked without any real redress.

The appalling hypocrisy of this form of gross injustice perpetrated by bishops and rectors is not often fully appreciated by the unsuspecting laity. Yet it happens all too frequently. These same bishops and rectors then hypocritically lecture lay employers for not treating their employees fairly and justly.

Even so, Ministeria Quaedam is quite clear on one point:

"In accordance with the ancient tradition of the Church, institution to the ministries of reader and acolyte is reserved to men".

Once lay ministries were introduced, there was always the possibility that women might exercise them.

That could not happen when they conferred clerical status since the clerical status is a paternal - and not maternal - status.

This highly important theme gets lost once minor orders are not conferred.

The sexual imagery of Orders and of the Church is theologically essential.

Just as Christian motherhood is a maternal role and can only be fulfilled by a baptised female, so the clerical role is a paternal one and can, like fatherhood, only be exercised by a baptised male.

Failure to understand this, and any subsequent admixture of the roles, fuels, and is fuelled by, a confused understanding of sexuality in Christian theology and a complete misunderstanding of what the late Pope John Paul II called "the theology of the body".


Ttony said...

Dear Father

Tribunus, as usual, sorts out what actually happened from what the believers in the "spirit of V2" think happened.

I wonder if something that 'On The Side Of The Angels' recently posted on the Holy Smoke blog might be happening: that the Pope is encouraging this sort of ill-informed proposition to surface in this semi-official form just so that he can nail it in a form that will leave it nailed for ever.

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