Sunday, October 26, 2008

An Opening on Women Lectors ~ John Thavis, CNS Blog

This interesting proposal came out of the Synod of Bishops on the Bible that has been meeting at the Vatican during the past couple weeks or so.

We all know that in most parishes in our diocese, women have long been proclaimers of the Word. So what's this about anyway?

Well, it appears the proposal is to formerly recognize and install women and men in the ministry of lector, a position that was originally considered one of the "minor orders" on the way to ordination to the priesthood. Those "minor orders" were abolished after Vatican II and it is now seen that women and men actually have the right to proclaim the Word because of our Baptism.

There will surely be opposition to this proposal in some circles and it is not known if Pope Benedict will approve the proposal or not.

What do you think? Or does it even matter...

An opening on women lectors?
Posted on October 25, 2008 by John Thavis

VATICAN CITY — Probably the most newsy — and somewhat unexpected — item in the final propositions of the Synod of Bishops on the Bible was a proposal to allow women to be officially installed in the ministry of lector.

The issue was raised in Proposition 17 on “The ministry of the word and women,” and on Saturday morning it passed with 191 votes in favor, 45 opposed and three abstentions, according to our sources.

“It is hoped that the ministry of lector be opened also to women, so that their role as proclaimers of the word may be recognized in the Christian community,” the proposition states in its final sentence.

What Pope Benedict XVI will do with that proposal is unclear, according to Vatican people I spoke with shortly after the synod vote.

The issue, of course, is not whether women can act as lectors, or Scripture readers, in Catholic liturgies. They already do so all over the world, including at papal Masses.

The question is whether women can be officially installed in such a ministry. Until now, the Vatican has said no: canon law states that only qualified lay men can be “installed on a stable basis in the ministries of lector and acolyte.” At the same time, canon law does allow for “temporary deputation” as lector to both men and women, which is why women routinely appear as lectors.

The reasoning behind church law’s exclusion of women from these official ministries has long been questioned. For centuries, the office of lector was one of the ”minor orders,” generally reserved to seminarians approaching ordination. While seminarians still are installed formally as “acolyte” and then as “lector” before being ordained deacons, since the 1970s service at the altar and proclaiming the readings at Mass have been seen primarily as ministries stemming from baptism and not specifically as steps toward ordination.

“It’s important to emphasize that any proposition for women lectors would simply arive from their baptism and not from any presumptive opening for orders,” said one Vatican source.

The synod took up the question because some have suggested that in promoting greater scriptural preparation and presentation, the church designate “ministers of the word.” Lectors were seen as natural candidates.

It’s interesting that this proposal, while passing overwhemlingly, drew the greatest number of “no” votes than any of the other 54 propositions, most of which passed with fewer than five opposing votes.


Anonymous said...

A couple observations -

The office of Lector is a permanent installation. This is not the role that so many lay men and women have played during the Sunday liturgy. So much of church 'ministry' today is done 'because I get so much out of it.' Not a bad thing, but it begs the question, "What happens when you stop getting anything out of it?" True ministry - service in the image of Christ - is performed despite the fact one gets anything out of it. I pray that people are not installed as lectors simply because it is the flavor of the month.

For the most part, those who are currently installed to the office of Lector in the Church (almost exclusively those preparing for the priesthood or permanent diaconate) have received (or are in the process of receiving) an advanced degree in theology. They have dedicated their lives to learning and studying the Word of God. It is a lot more than volunteering to read a scripture passage at Mass once a month.

I welcome this proposed change for several reasons:

1) It will provide an framework for properly forming lay people for service during the Liturgy. The office of Lector will not be something that one obtains by signing up at a ministry fair and attending an hour-long workshop once a year. Intensive study of the scripture will be required, and ongoing continuing education would be presumed. The quality of proclamation can only improve as a result.

2.) It will reorient the nature of Church service. A vocation is not something we 'decide to do.' It is a calling. Someone else - God - commands us to do something on His behalf. When we answer "yes" that has serious, and life long, implications.

3.) Lectors are installed by, and are responsible to, the bishop. I think this is an excellent opportunity to catechize more people of the fact that the Local Church is NOT the parish. It is the diocese. The bishop - not the pastor (or the members of a parish) - are responsible for the oversight of the Church.

In short, if approved, this is an opportunity to provide increased catechesis on the nature of Church.

Keep in mind, the Office of Lector is no longer one of the Minor Orders. Those were abolished by Pope Paul VI long ago. This is something different. It would be a sacramental sign of the responsibility each of the faithful has to read the Word, learn about the Word, and proclaim that Word with their lives.

standing maryanna said...

I thank you for your thoughtful comment, anonymous. I would really be doing my readers a disservice if I followed my own guidelines and deleted your post.

At the risk of being called wishy-washy, I will amend those guidelines to acknowledge anonymous comments and articles as long as bloggers do not resort to name-calling and uncharitable comments.

As for your comment:"True ministry - service in the image of Christ - is performed despite the fact one gets anything out of it."

I certainly would welcome this type of service to the church and especially in the context of continuing formation.

However, a formal installation with the same criteria that persons going on to ordination (advanced degrees) would eliminate many of us lay persons, male or female, who serve as readers/lectors now.

Thanks again for your post...

Anselm said...

Mea Culpa!

As soon as I posted, I realized my error, and said a small prayer that you would exercise a bit of flexibility in applying your rules. Many thanks.

I think again it is important to differentiate from what folks are currently doing (a temporary deputation to read at liturgy, granted by the pastor) and an office of the Church, officially installed by the bishop. No one is proposing that the former will disappear. As you point out, for all practical purposes it will not.

However, if a parish is blessed to have an individual answer God's call to serve in the office of Lector, that person would assume a leadership role within the Church he (or, based upon the proposal) possibly she would be in a position to act as a resource to all those who are charged with the proclamation of the Word (readers, catechists, etc.)

Again, there may only be a handful (if that) of installed Lectors in a given parish. They would not replace those who read at mass, but would help to form them and the rest of the parish in the Word!

As with most other things ecclesial, not "either/or" - "both/and"!!!

In Christ

standing maryanna said...

"As with most other things ecclesial, not "either/or" - "both/and"!!!"

Thanks for the further explanation. It would certainly be a sad thing for lectors/readers in my parish, if this was looked upon as an either/or situation. We have many fine and dedicated men and women who proclaim the Word.

Unfortunately, there are a few (as in every parish, I guess) who take their responsibility lightly.

Stu said...

It will provide an framework for properly forming lay people for service during the Liturgy.

True "service" during the Liturgy for the laity has nothing to do with taking part in some task that assists the priest. It about actively praying the Mass with the priest. It's something we all do. Such notions as this continue to blur the line between the different, but complementary roles, that are carried out by priest and those he leads in worships as if we aren't worthy enough simply praying in the pews. We don't need to do his job to serve during Mass and he doesn't need to do ours either.