Rorate Caeli

Op-Ed: "Why the Amazon Synod is an attack on Our Lord’s institution of the Apostolic Ministry"

by the Rev Deacon Nick Donnelly

The Synods proposal that women be admitted to the ministries of lector and acolyte at first sight appears unexceptional but in reality it signifies an assault on Our Lords reservation of the apostolic ministry to men. This reservation is set out in Pope St John Paul IIs Ordinatio sacerdotalis which states:

Priestly ordination, which hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his Apostles of teaching, sanctifying and governing the faithful, has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone. This tradition has also been faithfully maintained by the Oriental Churches.(Ordinatio sacerdotalis).

The Amazon synods recommendation is about beginning to formally unravel and discard this sacred Tradition by incremental steps to the long term goal of the ordinationof women. Paragraph 102 of the synod recommends that women are formally instituted into the ministries of lector and acolyte. Paragraph 102 concludes:

"We ask you to review the Motu Proprio of St. Paul VI, Ministeria quaedam, so that also properly trained and prepared women can receive the ministries of the Lectorate and the Acolyte, among others to be developed…”

This is significant because, even though girls and women have acted as readers and altar servers for decades in some countries, this is not formal institution into the ministries of lector and acolyte. This is why the Amazon synod has requested that Francis review the Motu Proprio of St. Paul VI, Ministeria quaedam.

Paul VIs ordered the abolition of Minor Orders in his Motu Proprio, Ministeria quaedam, issued in 1973. He reduced minor orders from four to two, abolishing Porter and Exorcist, and retaining Lector and Acolyte, renaming them ministries.

Paul VI, in theory, ended the connection between Lector and Acolyte with progress towards reception of Holy Orders, reducing them to lay ministries, they are no longer to be considered as reserved to candidates for the sacrament of orders.However, the practice in many countries has been to retain formal institution as lectors and acolytes as stepping stones towards ordination. This may be due to Ministeria quaedam stipulating that candidates for ordination as deacons and priests are to receive the ministries of reader and acolyte and are to exercise them for a suitable time.

Significantly, Paul VI explicitly reserved reception of the ministries of lector and acolyte to men, In accordance with the ancient tradition of the Church, institution to the ministries of reader and acolyte is reserved to men.Canon 230 §1 sets out the norm that only lay men are to be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte. As The Canon Law Society of Great Britain & Ireland observes, This is one of the few canons which makes a distinction between men and women.  (The Canon Law: Letter & Spirit, p. 485.) This canonical distinction between men and women originates in this ancient tradition of the Church.

The earliest reference to the minor order of Lectors is made in the 2nd century by Justin Martyr:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read; as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. (The First Apology, Chapter 67.)

Lectors were set apart for service of the divine liturgy by a rite of prayers and a special blessing. (The Catholic Encyclopaedia.)

The earliest reference to the minor order of Acolytes is contained in a letter from Pope Cornelius to Bishop Fabius written in 251 enumerating the Roman clergy:

“…there can be only one bishop in a Catholic church, in which, as he knew perfectly well, there are forty-six presbyters, seven deacons, seven sub-deacons, forty-two acolytes, fifty-two exorcists, readers and doorkeepers. (Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine. Penguin, p.282.)

Acolytes were set apart for service of the altar through a rite involving the bestowal of sacred liturgical vessels and a blessing. (The Catholic Encyclopaedia.)

From the earliest days of the Church the ministries of Lector and Acolyte have been intimately associated with the service of the divine liturgy and the altar, and service of the sacred ministers of the altar, deacons, priests and bishops. Since the days of the apostles such ministry has been reserved to men, reflecting Christs explicit choice of men as apostles. The close association of lector and acolyte with the diaconate and presbyterate is reflected in the fact that their reception remains a necessary requirement that candidates for Holy Orders receive these ministries.

It is not a coincidence that the Amazon Synods recommendation that women be admitted to the ministries of Lector and Acolyte occurred in the context of their consideration of the faux-ordination of women deacons.  The Synods recommendation that Francis revises Paul VIs Ministeria quaedam is intended to formally abolish this ancient tradition of lector and acolyte being reserved to men as the first step towards abolishing the reservation of Holy Orders to men. Ultimately, it is an heretical attack on Our Lords institution of the apostolic ministry.