Rorate Caeli

Earthquake: Francis decrees women can occupy the former Minor Orders of Lector and Acolyte | Update: Full Text of Motu Proprio

Swedish Lutheran female "bishops"

[UPDATE: Full English text of the motu proprio at the end of the post.] 

Of course, for us Traditional Catholics, the Minor Orders never ceased to exist. And for good reason: the  last major dogmatic Council, Trent, mentions all seven orders explicitly in the Canons and decrees related to Session XXIII 

But after Vatican II, the new elites severed the minor orders (Acolyte, Exorcist, Lector, and Porter) and one of the Major Orders (the Subdiaconate) from the Diaconate and Presbyterate. They became mere functions that could be performed by laymen, though demanded (the functions of Acolyte and Lector) from those who aspired to the Diaconate.

The limitation of these venerable positions, that have always been held by men since Apostolic times (since they are intimately joined to the cursus honorum of the Priesthood), to men was broken today by a motu proprio of Francis opening them to "lay people"-- that is, including women.

The Motu Proprio is available here (in Italian and Spanish); Francis' letter explaining it is available here (in Italian). A summary of the motu proprio and the letter sent by Francis to the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith provided by Vatican News:

With a Motu proprio released on Monday, Pope Francis established that from now on the ministries of Lector and Acolyte are to be open to women, in a stable and institutionalized form through a specific mandate.

There is nothing new about women proclaiming the Word of God during liturgical celebrations or carrying out a service at the altar as altar servers or as Eucharistic ministers. In many communities throughout the world these practices are already authorized by local bishops.

However, up to this point, this has occurred without a true and proper institutional mandate, as an exception to what Pope St Paul VI had established when, in 1972, even while abolishing the so-called “minor orders”, he decided to maintain that access to these ministries be granted only to men because they were considered to be preparatory to the eventual admission to holy orders.

Now, in the wake of the discernment which has emerged from the last Synods of Bishops, Pope Francis wanted to formalize and institutionalize the presence of women at the altar.

Shared baptism

With the Motu proprio Spiritus Domini, which modifies the first paragraph of Canon 230 of the Code of Canon Law, Pope Francis, therefore, establishes that women can have access to these ministries and that they be recognized through a liturgical act formally instituting them as such.

Pope Francis specifies that he wanted to welcome recommendations which have emerged from various synodal assemblies, writing that “a doctrinal development has been arrived at in these last years that has brought to light how certain ministries instituted by the Church have as their basis the common condition of being baptized and the royal priesthood received in the Sacrament of Baptism.”

The Pope, therefore, invites us to recognize that what is under discussion are lay ministries “fundamentally distinct from the ordained ministry that is received through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.”

The new formulation of the canon reads: “Lay persons 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.” The specification “lay men” qualifying the laity and present in the Code until today’s modification, is, therefore, abolished.

Part of Vatican II renewal

The Motu proprio is accompanied by a letter addressed to the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, in which Pope Francis explains the theological motivations behind his decision.

The Pope writes that “within the spectrum of renewal traced out by the Second Vatican Council, the urgency is being ever more felt today to rediscover the co-responsibility of all of the baptized in the Church, and the mission of the laity in a particular way.”

And, citing the Final Document of the Synod for the Pan-Amazon Region, the Pope observes that “regarding the entire Church, in the variety of situations, it is urgent that ministries for men and women be promoted and conferred… It is the Church made up of baptized men and women that we must consolidate, promoting forms of ministry and, above all, an awareness of baptismal dignity.”

Lay people and evangelization

In his letter to the Cardinal, after recalling the words of Saint John Paul II that “regarding ordained ministries, the Church does not have the faculty in any way to confer priestly ordination on women,” Pope Francis adds that “regarding non-ordained ministries, it is possible, and today it seems appropriate, to surmount this reservation.”

The Pope explains that “to offer to lay persons of both sexes the possibility of accessing the ministries of Acolyte and Lector, in virtue of their participation in the priesthood of the baptized, the awareness will grow, through a liturgical act (of institution) as well, of the precious contribution that many lay persons, including women, have been offering for some time to the life and mission of the Church.” He concludes that “the decision to confer these offices even on women, which entails stability, public recognition and a mandate on the part of the bishop, will make more effective everyone’s participation in the work of evangelization.”

Mutual collaboration

This provision comes after extensive theological reflection on these ministries.

Post-conciliar theology has, in fact, recovered the relevance of the ministries of Lector and Acolyte, not only in relation to the ordained priesthood, but also, and above all, in relation to the priesthood of the baptized.

These ministries are situated within the dynamic of the mutual collaboration that exists between these two priesthoods, and their specifically “lay” nature has become ever more pronounced, in connection with the priesthood exercised by all the baptized in virtue of their baptism.

So, what does it all mean? First, it is obvious this a political, not a theological, decision: a political decision based on the denial of the Major Orders of Deacon and Priest to women. Since Francis (and his... acolytes) have decided more than once that the Diaconate will not be opened to women, they gave away this sudden change of Canon Law and Apostolic customs as a kind of token. 

On the other hand, we know from the history of the Protestants that this is just a first step whose gravity cannot be minimized. The movement that led to Francis' election wanted a pope who provided "irreversible" decisions, and this is one of them, seeding utmost confusion at the very heart of Apostolic Tradition and the hierarchical life of the Church.


[UPDATE: Full English text of the Motu Proprio]







The Spirit of the Lord Jesus, the perennial source of the Church's life and mission, distributes to the members of the People of God the gifts that enable each one, in a different way, to contribute to the building up of the Church and to the proclamation of the Gospel. These charisms, called ministries because they are publicly recognised and instituted by the Church, are made available to the community and its mission in a stable form.

In some cases this ministerial contribution has its origin in a specific sacrament, Holy Orders. Other tasks, throughout history, have been instituted in the Church and entrusted through a non-sacramental liturgical rite to individual members of the faithful, by virtue of a particular form of exercise of the baptismal priesthood, and in aid of the specific ministry of bishops, priests and deacons.

Following a venerable tradition, the reception of “lay ministries”, which Saint Paul VI regulated in the Motu Proprio Ministeria quaedam (17 August 1972), preceded in a preparatory manner the reception of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, although such ministries were conferred on other suitable male faithful.

A number of Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops have highlighted the need to deepen the subject doctrinally, so that it may respond to the nature of the aforementioned charisms and the needs of the times, offering appropriate support to the role of evangelisation that is incumbent upon the ecclesial community.

Accepting these recommendations, a doctrinal development has taken place in recent years which has highlighted how certain ministries instituted by the Church are based on the common condition of being baptised and the regal priesthood received in the Sacrament of Baptism; they are essentially distinct from the ordained ministry received in the Sacrament of Orders. A consolidated practice in the Latin Church has also confirmed, in fact, that these lay ministries, since they are based on the Sacrament of Baptism, may be entrusted to all suitable faithful, whether male or female, in accordance with what is already implicitly provided for by Canon 230 § 2.

Consequently, after having heard the opinion of the competent Dicasteries, I have decided to modify canon 230 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law. I therefore decree that canon 230 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law shall in future have the following wording:

Lay persons of suitable age and with the gifts determined by decree of the Episcopal Conference may be permanently assigned, by means of the established liturgical rite, to the ministries of lectors and acolytes; however, the conferment of such a role does not entitle them to support or remuneration from the Church”.

I also order the amendment of the other provisions having the force of law which refer to this canon.

I order that the provisions of this Apostolic Letter in the form of a Motu Proprio have firm and stable effect, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, even if worthy of special mention, and to be promulgated by publication in L'Osservatore Romano, coming into force on the same day, and then published in the official commentary of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on the tenth day of January in the year 2021, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the ninth of my Pontificate.



Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office