14 January 2021
Spiritus Domini

Note from the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life

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With an Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio dated 10 January 2021, the Holy Father has modified canon 230 §1 of the Code of Canon Law, which now allows for the admission of women into the instituted ministries of lector and acolyte.

In canonical norms and in ecclesial practice there was a disparity of treatment among the laity because, until now, only “lay men” could be admitted to these ministries

Looking beyond this disparity, however, the foundation of these instituted ministries —  not necessarily connected to the sacrament of Orders — is in Baptism and Confirmation. As we read in the letter the Holy Father addressed to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in conjunction with the Motu Proprio, the possibility of conferring the ministries of lector and acolyte upon the laity, both men and women, “could help to manifest more clearly the common baptismal dignity of the members of the People of God,” so that “the priesthood proper to each member of the faithful (commune sacerdotium) and the priesthood of the ordained ministers (sacerdotium ministeriale seu hierarchicum) will be shown to be even more clearly ordered to one another, (cf. LG, no. 10) for the edification of the Church and for the witness of the Gospel.”

In practice these lay ministries have not been conferred frequently however, in many ecclesial contexts, the specific functions of lector and acolyte are carried out by lay men and women, without distinction, by temporary designation.

The Holy Father’s letter entrusts Episcopal Conferences with the task of establishing “adequate criteria for the discernment and preparation of candidates for the ministries of the Lectorate or Acolytate, or other ministries which they deem to be instituted, according to what is already disposed in the Motu Proprio Ministeria quaedam, subject to the approval of the Holy See and according to the needs of evangelization in their territory.” This has the potential to create a fertile ground for ecclesial discernment in many territories, for the rediscovery of a locally-rooted ministry, corresponding to the specific needs of a particular portion of the People of God. It also underlines how bishops’ conferences are the recipients of the Holy Father’s renewed trust, so that, where this is suggested by the needs of evangelization, they might identify new forms of instituted lay ministry.

The Motu Proprio desired by Pope Francis, together with the letter that accompanies it, refers to a conscious rediscovery of the meaning of the dignity conferred on every member of the faithful by their baptism; and it draws attention to the need to recognize women in the Church as the bearers of their own specific ecclesial vocation.