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Pope Francis, today, January 11, 2020, has established with a motu proprio that the ministries of the Lectorate and Acolyte are from now on also open to women, in a stable and institutionalized form with a specific mandate.

Women who read the Word of God during liturgical celebrations or who carry out a service at the altar, as altar servers or as dispensers of the Eucharist, are certainly not new. In many communities around the world they are now a practice authorized by the bishops.

But until now, however, all this took place without a real institutional mandate, in derogation from the provisions of Saint Paul VI, who in 1972, while abolishing the so-called “minor orders”, had decided to keep access to these ministries reserved only male persons because he considered them preparatory to any access to the sacred order.

Now Pope Francis, also in the wake of the discernment that emerged from the latest Synods of Bishops, wanted to formalize and make institutional this female presence on the altar.

With the motu proprio “Spiritus Domini”, which modifies the first paragraph of canon 230 of the Code of Canon Law and is published today, the Pontiff therefore establishes that women can access these ministries and that they are also attributed through a liturgical act that it institutionalizes them.

Pope Francis specified that he wanted to accept the recommendations that emerged from various synodal assemblies, noting that these are lay ministries “essentially distinct from the ordained ministry that is received with the sacrament of order”.

The new formulation of the canon reads: “Lay people who have the age and skills determined by decree by the Bishops’ Conference, can be permanently employed, through the established liturgical rite, for the ministries of readers and acolytes”. The specification of “male” referring to the laity and present in the text of the Code is therefore abolished until today’s amendment.

The motu proprio is accompanied by a letter addressed to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, with which Francis explains the theological reasons for choosing him. The Pope writes that “in the horizon of renewal traced by the Second Vatican Council, there is an increasing urgency today to rediscover the co-responsibility of all the baptized in the Church, and in particular the mission of the laity”. And citing the final document of the Synod for the Amazon, he observes how “for the whole Church, in the variety of situations, it is urgent that ministries be promoted and conferred on men and women … It is the Church of baptized men and women who we must consolidate by promoting ministeriality and, above all, awareness of baptismal dignity ”…