From Rorate Cæli
By the Rev. Deacon Nick Donnelly
The Synod’s 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 Lord’s reservation of the apostolic ministry to men. This reservation is set out in Pope St John Paul II’s 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.” ().
The Amazon synod’s recommendation is about beginning to formally unravel and discard this sacred Tradition by incremental steps to the long term goal of the ‘ordination’ of 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 VI’s ordered the abolition of Minor Orders in his Motu Proprio, , 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.” (.)
Lectors were set apart for service of the divine liturgy by a rite of prayers and a special blessing. ()
It is not a coincidence that the Amazon Synod’s 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 Synod’s recommendation that Francis revises Paul VI’s 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 Lord’s institution of the apostolic ministry.