Pope Francis installed female catechists and lectors on Sunday for the first time since adapting the laws of the Roman Catholic Church to expand the formal roles of women in the church.
During the papal mass for the Sunday of the Word of God in St. Peter’s Basilica on Jan. 23., the pontiff conferred the ministries of catechist and lector upon both lay men and women — two ministries previously reserved only to men, the National Catholic Register reports.
“Previously, the ministry of Lector … was reserved only to men because it was considered preparatory to receiving Holy Orders,” the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization said in a statement last week.
“A well-established practice in the Church, however, has confirmed that lay ministries, founded on the sacrament of Baptism, can be entrusted to all the faithful who are suitable, whether male or female, according to what is already implicitly indicated by canon 230 of the Code of Canon Law, which the Pope has modified for the occasion.”
The pope installed six women — from South Korea, Pakistan, Ghana and Italy — and two Italian men in the ministry of lector. He told them they were placing themselves “in the service of the faith, which is rooted in the word of God.”
The pope prayed: “You will proclaim that word in the liturgical assembly, instruct children and adults in the faith and prepare them to receive the sacraments worthily. You will bring the message of salvation to those who have not yet received it.”
Lectors read from Scripture during mass, while catechists — a ministry instituted by Francis last year — teach the faith to children and adult converts.
In most countries, women and men were already serving as lectors and catechists in the Catholic Church. However, with the official ordination, more conservative bishops will be unable to prevent women in their dioceses from taking on those roles, CNA notes.
Throughout his papacy, Francis has called for women to have more formal roles in the church, but has remained firm on forbidding women to become deacons or priests. Catholic doctrine prohibits the ordination of women as priests, as those roles are reserved for men.
In April 2020, the pope established a commission to study whether women should be granted the right to become ordained deacons. In this role, women would be permitted to preach and baptize, but not to conduct mass
In January 2021, he changed the laws of the Roman Catholic church to formally allow women to give readings from the Bible during mass, act as altar servers and distribute communion.
Last May, he established the ministry of catechist as an instituted service within the Catholic Church.
In a letter published with the change to the law, Francis stressed that the services of reader and altar server “entail stability, public recognition and a commission from the bishop,” Catholic News Service reported.
These services “allow women to have a real and effective impact on the organization, the most important decisions and the direction of communities, while continuing to do so in a way that reflects their womanhood,” Francis added.
A 2020 survey of 224 young Catholic women in formation and ministry in the U.S. found that 82% of those surveyed felt that women’s ministries were not valued equally to men’s.
Of the 224 young Catholic women who responded, 80% were dissatisfied with the ministry opportunities available to them in the global church, and 73% said the same about local opportunities.