On the eve of the Amazon Synod, a major meeting of bishops in the Vatican that will discuss the possible ordination of women and married men, the Pope has inched open the door to a greater visibility of women in the Church.
Driving the news
Francis published this Monday Aperuit illis, an Apostolic Letter in the form of a motu proprio instituting a new liturgical celebration, the “Sunday of the Word of God”.
In his letter, the Pope declared “that the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God”.
“This Sunday of the Word of God will thus be a fitting part of that time of the year when we are encouraged to strengthen our bonds with the Jewish people and to pray for Christian unity”, Francis wrote.
As one of the ways to mark the new celebration, the Pope suggested that on the new Sunday of the Word of God “bishops could celebrate the Rite of Installation of Lectors or a similar commissioning of readers, in order to bring out the importance of the proclamation of God’s word in the liturgy”.
“In this regard, renewed efforts should be made to provide members of the faithful with the training needed to be genuine proclaimers of the word, as is already the practice in the case of acolytes or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion”, Francis wrote.
The Pope’s suggestion is important because the informal ministry of lector or reader is one of the few open to women in the Church.
As such, celebrating that ministry on a special Sunday would be a celebration of women’s contributions to their parishes.
And indeed, Rino Fisichella, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation in the Vatican, highlighted precisely this contribution of laypeople, men and women, in an interview with Vatican News explaining the Pope’s new motu proprio.
“The Word of God deserves women and men able to proclaim it authentically and who in announcing it are also able to understand the sacred text”, Fisichella said.
Why it matters
The office of lector was one of the minor orders suppressed by Pope Paul VI in 1972.
But the ministry, now known as that of reader, continued to be practised by laypeople, without it being considered the special prerogative of men preparing for the priesthood.
Recovering the ordained office of lector for both men and women is something that could come up in the Synod for the Amazon, that will take place from October 6-27 in Rome.
The participants in the Synod have been charged both with studying “the possibility of priestly ordination” for married men in order to ensure in the Amazon “the availability of the Sacraments”, and also with identifying “the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role they play today in the Church in the Amazon”.
For the record
In his motu proprio, the Pope also gave priests important advice on their sermons.
“A commentary on the sacred readings cannot be improvised”, Francis explained.
“Those of us who are preachers should not give long, pedantic homilies or wander off into unrelated topics.
“When we take time to pray and meditate on the sacred text, we can speak from the heart and thus reach the hearts of those who hear us, conveying what is essential and capable of bearing fruit”, the Pope stressed.
“God’s word has the power to open our eyes and to enable us to renounce a stifling and barren individualism and instead to embark on a new path of sharing and solidarity”, Francis also explained.