French women are denouncing their exclusion from serving in some places as lay Eucharistic ministers, saying “it calls into question the equal dignity of the baptised”.

Driving the news

“It is painful for Catholic women to note that in some parishes, no liturgical service is entrusted to them during the Sunday Mass”, Anne Soupa, president and co-founder of the Comité de la jupe (“Skirt Committee”) – founded in France in 2009 to “uphold the dignity and recognition of women in the Catholic Church” – told La Croix.

Soupa’s Catholic women’s rights group has come up with a list of best practices for including women in parish life, including access to singing in the choir, reading the Sunday Gospel and helping to distribute Communion.

But the laywoman confided to La Croix that priests’ inaction on including women has contributed to the fact that her “confidence in a possible discussion on these subjects has greatly ebbed”.

Go deeper

Soupa’s disappointment at women being excluded from Sunday Mass was echoed by Sister Christine Danel, a Xavières nun and coordinator of the Ignatian Major Superiors (SMI).

Danel personally witnessed an incident at a Mass one Sunday evening in Montmartre, where the presiding priest called for laypeople volunteers to distribute communion only to spit out when women came forward: “I only want men!”

The nun said, however, that the problem of women’s exclusion goes further than just isolated incidents.

Several superiors noted that in some dioceses where their congregations are active, notably in Paris, Toulon, Vannes and Versailles, women are excluded from the service of communion. This has shocked us all, because it calls into question the equal dignity of the baptised”, Danel denounced.

The nun warned in addition that “”women who are annoyed at being excluded in this way end up leaving the Church”.

Why it matters

The excuses of priests contacted by La Croix on the subject ranged from having ordained men already on hand to distribute the Eucharist to the traditional argument that having laymen hand out the Host underlines the masculinity of Christ, while limiting women to receive echoes the femininity of the Church, Christ’s spouse.

But Olivier de Cagny, professor of liturgy at the École Cathédrale and the Studium Notre-Dame in Paris and head of the Paris diocesan commission for sacramental and liturgical pastoral care, took down this men/women, Christ/Church “resemblance” excuse.

“Nothing in the Church’s texts specifies that extraordinary ministers, in order to distribute communion, must be male”, de Cagny insisted.

For the record

De Cagny’s recourse to Church law explains why, among the sexist examples, some priests in France do follow the rules on including women.

Some do it reluctantly, like Father Emmanuel Schwab, parish priest of Saint-Léon in Paris, who told La Croix that if there were “no men available he would not hesitate to seek the service of a woman”.

Others are more proactive, like Father Pierre Vivarès of the church of Saint-Paul Saint-Louis, also in Paris, who introduced a tradition – untested before in the parish – of women Eucharistic ministers just six months after arriving.

“I heard no reaction. Whenever lay people are called upon, be they men or women, it makes no difference, since it is in their baptism that they can help give the bread of life”, Vivarès explained.

Other priests like Father Richard Escudier, of Saint-Pierre du Gros Caillou, have an exemplary attitude toward including women.

When looking for volunteer Eucharistic ministers upon his arrival at the parish eleven years ago, Escudier didn’t hesitate to ask the sacristan to look for “committed Christians”, both men and women, to take on the role.

“I make sure that there are always women because it is important to see that they have their place in the liturgy”, Escudier explained.

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Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.