On January 11, 2021, His Holiness, Pope Francis modified Canon 230 §1 of the Code of Canon Law, to regularize women’s existing roles as lectors and acolytes. These roles had been previously reserved to men. The Supreme Pontiff in his motu proprio, ‘Spiritus Domini’ changed the phrase “lay men” to “lay persons”. The Canon Law now reads: ‘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.” Acolytes assist the clergy during liturgical ceremonies, particularly mass, while lectors read the Word of God. The two lay ministries were instituted by St. Pope Paul VI in 1972, replacing minor orders through the motu proprio Ministeria quaedam. What has really changed? What is motu proprio? What necessitated ‘Spiritus Domini’? The Acting Editor, NETA NWOSU speaks with the Chairman, Lagos Archdiocesan Liturgy Committee, Rev. Fr. Anthony Aderibigbe. Excerpts.
On January 11, 2021, Pope Francis issued a Motu Proprio entitled ‘Spiritus Domini’ which amended the Canon Law to allow women to be formally instituted into the ministries of Lector and Acolyte. Pope Francis modified the Canon Law which previously limited the ministries to lay men. How come women have been performing these roles at Mass unofficially contrary to the Canon Law? Who informally incorporated women into these ministries?
Women were not out rightly excluded from exercising the office of lectors and acolytes. Women were only excluded from being permanently assigned by means of the established liturgical rite, to the instituted ministries of lectors and acolytes by canon 230 paragraph 1. However, Canon 230 paragraph 2 & 3 of the Code of Canon Law and the General instruction of the Roman missal (G.I.R.M no 100,101) permit the priest to assign to laypersons, which implicitly include women, the functions of instituted acolytes and lectors, in the absence of instituted acolyte and lector.
Why did the Pope use the words “Spiritus Domini”? Please throw more light on the document “Spiritus Domini”. What has changed in the lay ministries of Lectors and Acolytes? Aside officially admitting women into these ministries, do the enlarged Lectors and Acolytes now have more roles? What reasons did Pope Francis give for these changes?
‘Spiritus Domini’ is the title of the apostolic letter of Pope Francis issued in the form of a “motu proprio” on 11th January, 2021. The Latin phrase ‘Spiritus Dominus’ which means “the Spirit of the Lord” is the first two words in the opening paragraph of the Latin edition of this Apostolic letter. It is the traditional way of naming official documents of the Church. The first two words of the opening paragraph of the Latin edition of the document become the short title of that document. The apostolic letter ‘Spiritus Domini’ of Pope Francis issued as a motu proprio to amend canon 230 paragraph 1, allows female persons to be instituted in the ministries of lectors and acolytes which hitherto were reserved to laymen. Following this amendment, Pope Francis decreed that canon 230 paragraph 1 of the Code of Canon Law shall in future have the following wording: “Laypersons 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 role does not entitle them to support or remuneration from the Church”.
The word ‘layperson’ includes both male and female person. Pope Francis did not change the traditional roles of instituted Lectors and Acolytes. The only change introduced is allowing catholic female faithful to be instituted as lectors and acolytes. The reason given for this change by Pope Francis is primarily based on the theology of the common priesthood which the faithful, both male and female receive in the sacrament of baptism. Baptized Catholics have a right and duty to active participation in the liturgy. Since the Lay ministries such as the ministries of instituted lectors and acolytes are based on the common condition of being baptized and the royal priesthood received in the Sacrament of Baptism, which are essentially different from the ordained ministry received in the Sacrament of Orders.
The Pope teaches that there is no theological basis for excluding baptized laywomen from the lay ministries such as the liturgical ministries of Lectors and Acolytes which are assigned based on the condition of being baptized. The lay ministries are clearly distinct from the ordained ministry received in the sacrament of Orders. The lay ministries offers the lay faithful, both men and women to exercise their charism received at baptism, so that they too could contribute to the building up of the Church and to the proclamation of the Gospel.
What is a Motu Proprio?
The Latin phrase ‘Motu Proprio’ means ‘of one’s own accord’. The term Motu Proprio applies to papal instruments/decrees issued on the initiative or will of the Roman Pontiff himself – and not prompted by any formal petition to enact administrative decisions, or alter Church law (but not doctrine).
The ministries of Lector and Acolyte were reformed by a previous Motu Proprio entitled ‘Ministerial Quaedam’ issued by Pope Paul VI in 1972. What do you think necessitated the decree, ‘Ministeria Quaedam’ that replaced the four minor orders? How did the Church fare with this decree until yesterday, when it was amended by Pope Francis? Please illustrate the functioning of these ministries before yesterday? What were the roles previously assigned to the men?
In 1972 Pope Paul VI reformed the ministries within the Church and opened them to laypeople. The reform is as follows:
• Ancient practice of tonsure was dropped with the directive that henceforth entrance into the clerical state was joined with the diaconate, not the tonsure.
• The 4 minor orders namely porter, reader, exorcist, and acolyte were no longer to be called ‘order’ but ‘ministries’ which may be assigned to lay faithful. Hence, they are no longer to be considered as reserved to candidates for the sacrament of orders and they are no more to be conferred by ordination but by liturgical rite of installation.
• Two of these ministries, lectors and acolytes are to be preserved in the whole Latin Church.
• The ministerial role of the subdeacon, prior to Vatican II a major order leading toward the diaconate and presbyterate, was suppressed. However, the service of that major order was to be entrusted to the ministries of reader and acolyte.
• In accordance with the ancient tradition of the Church, institution to the ministries of reader and acolyte is reserved to men. What necessitated the reform?
• The replacement of the 4 minor orders with ministries was in line with the ancient tradition of the Church. The offices of porter, reader, exorcist, and acolyte were some of those offices entrusted to the lay faithful by the Church in the most ancient times.
• The reform seeks to show clearly the uniqueness and the complementarity of the common priesthood of the lay faithful and the ministerial priesthood of clergy, each of which in its own special way is a sharing in the one priesthood of Christ.
• The reform seeks to delineate between what is proper and reserved to the clergy and what can be entrusted to the laity. Prior to this reform, there was confusion about who does what in the liturgical assembly as many functions connected with the minor orders were exercised by the laity as well.
• The reform seeks to promote the active participation of the laity in the liturgy, which is their right and duty as baptized Christians. In this regard, within the community of the baptized, individual members are called to participate in the liturgy by undertaking liturgical roles.
How has the Church fared so far with the “Motu Prorio” (Ministeria Quaedam) of Pope Paul VI?
The Church has responded quite well in general to the reform of the ministries within the Church by Pope Paul VI. However, many local churches did not show great interest to formally institute men as readers and acolytes for the reason that these instituted ministries were limited to men, which appears to be too discriminatory. In the case of the ministry of Lector, what the practice has been in many places, is that both laymen and laywomen are deputed or commissioned by the priest, albeit in a temporary manner, to proclaim the word of God at Mass and other liturgical services. They are commissioned or deputed by the priest through an approved liturgical rite of blessing which is different from the liturgical rite of institution of lectors by the bishop. This practice is supported by the provisions of the General instructions of the Roman missal (no. 100, 101) and Canon 230 paragraph 2. In the case of the ministry of instituted acolytes, most local churches do not have instituted acolytes. This is because most of the functions of the instituted acolyte are allowed to be carried out by other recognized (liturgical) ministries like Sacristan, Altar server, Catechist and Commissioned Extraordinary minster of Holy Communion.
Please illustrate the functions of these ministries before the recent change by Pope Francis.
Functions of an Instituted Lector
Functions in General The reader is appointed for a function proper to him, that of reading the word of God in the liturgical assembly. He is to instruct the faithful for the worthy reception of the sacraments. He may also, insofar as may be necessary, take care of preparing other faithful who are appointed on a temporary basis to read the Scriptures in liturgical celebrations. That he may more fittingly and perfectly fulfill these functions, he is to meditate assiduously on sacred Scripture.
Specific Functions within the Mass (G.I.R.M):
194. In coming to the altar, when no deacon is present, the lector, wearing approved attire, may carry the Book of the Gospels, which is to be slightly elevated. In that case, the lector walks in front of the priest but otherwise along with the other ministers. 195. Upon reaching the altar, the lector makes a profound bow with the others. If he is carrying the Book of the Gospels, he approaches the altar and places the Book of the Gospels upon it. Then the lector takes his own place in the sanctuary with the other ministers.
The Liturgy of the Word
196. The lector reads from the ambo the readings that precede the Gospel. If there is no psalmist, the lector may also proclaim the responsorial Psalm after the first reading. 197. When no deacon is present, the lector, after the introduction by the priest, may announce from the ambo the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. 198. If there is no singing at the Entrance or at Communion and the antiphons in the Missal are not recited by the faithful, the lector may read them at the appropriate time.
Functions of an Instituted Acolyte
I. The acolyte is instituted to serve at the altar and to assist the priest and deacon.
II. It is the duty of the acolyte to prepare the altar and the sacred vessels.
III. He may also distribute communion to the faithful as an extraordinary minister when the bishop, priests and the deacons who are the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are not available or are prevented by ill health, age, or another pastoral ministry from performing this function, or when the number of communicants is so great that the celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged.
IV. In the same extraordinary circumstances an acolyte may be entrusted with publicly exposing the Blessed Sacrament for adoration by the faithful and afterward replacing it, but not with blessing the people.
V. He may also, to the extent needed, take care of instructing other faithful who on a temporary basis are appointed to assist the priest or deacon in liturgical celebrations by carrying the missal, cross, candles, etc., or by performing other such duties.
Specific functions within the Mass (G.I.R.M)
187. The duties that the acolyte may carry out are of various kinds and several may coincide. Hence, it is desirable that these duties be suitably distributed among several acolytes. If, however, only one acolyte is present, he should perform the more important duties while the rest are to be distributed among several ministers.
The Introductory Rites
188. In the procession to the altar, the acolyte may carry the cross, walking between two ministers with lighted candles. Upon reaching the altar, the acolyte places the cross upright near the altar so that it may serve as the altar cross; otherwise, he puts it in a worthy place. Then he takes his place in the sanctuary. 189. Through the entire celebration, the acolyte is to approach the priest or the deacon, whenever necessary, in order to present the book to them and to assist them in any other way required. Thus it is appropriate, insofar as possible, that the acolyte occupy a place from which he can conveniently carry out his ministry either at the chair or at the altar.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist
190. If no deacon is present, after the Prayer of the Faithful is concluded and while the priest remains at the chair, the acolyte places the corporal, the purificator, the chalice, the pall, and the Missal on the altar. Then, if necessary, the acolyte assists the priest in receiving the gifts of the people and, if appropriate, brings the bread and wine to the altar and hands them to the priest. If incense is used, the acolyte presents the thurible to the priest and assists him while he incenses the gifts, the cross, and the altar. Then the acolyte incenses the priest and the people.
191. A duly instituted acolyte, as an extraordinary minister, may, if necessary, assist the priest in giving Communion to the people. If Communion is given under both kinds, when no deacon is present, the acolyte administers the chalice to the communicants or holds the chalice if Communion is given by intinction.
192. Likewise, when the distribution of Communion is completed, a duly instituted acolyte helps the priest or deacon to purify and arrange the sacred vessels. When no deacon is present, a duly instituted acolyte carries the sacred vessels to the credence table and there purifies, wipes, and arranges them in the usual way.
193. After the celebration of Mass, the acolyte and other ministers return in procession to the sacristy, together with the deacon and the priest in the same way and order in which they entered.
With this new decree, ‘Spiritus Domini’ please define a ‘Lector’ and an ‘Acolyte’ in the present perspective.
a) A Lector is a fully initiated, practicing catholic layperson instituted by the Ordinary (bishop and, in clerical institutes, the major superior) through the approved liturgical rites, to proclaim the Sacred Scripture with the exception of the Gospel at Mass and other liturgical services within the liturgical assembly.
b) An Acolyte is a fully initiated, practicing catholic layperson instituted by the Ordinary (bishop and, in clerical institutes, the major superior) through the approved liturgical rites, to serve at the altar and to assist the deacon and to minister to the priest.
Who will oversee these changes? Are all Arch/Diocese obliged to execute this decree – ‘Spiritus Domini’?
The local ordinaries with the assistance of the diocesan Liturgy Commission are to see to the implementation of the decree. However, each episcopal conference, in our case, Catholic Bishops conference of Nigeria (CBCN) is expected to determine by a decree the age and gifts/charism of who can be considered suitable among the laity to be permanently assigned to the ministries of lectors and acolytes. All local churches are obliged to implement the decree to the extent that women are not to be prevented from being instituted by the Bishop in the ministries of lector and acolyte. The candidate for the instituted ministry of lector and acolyte have to fulfill the following requirements:
I. The presentation of a petition that has been freely made out and signed by the aspirant to the Ordinary (the bishop and, in clerical institutes, the major superior) who has the right to accept the petition;
II. The candidates must have attain a suitable age and special qualities to be determined by the conference of bishops;
III. The candidate must possess a firm will to give faithful service to God and the Christian people.
IV. The Candidates must be properly trained for the ministries