Diocesan News

Ask the Register: why can't women be acolytes?

Q. Why can’t women be acolytes and installed lectors in the Diocese of Lincoln?

A. The lay ministries (they are no longer called minor orders) of lector and acolyte were established by Pope Paul VI in 1973 with the apostolic letter “Ministeria Quaedam.”

Prior to this, there were four minor orders and three major orders that ordinarily were part of the process leading up to the ordination of a man as a priest.

The first was: Tonsure.  It was not an order, but a preparation for orders. Then the four non-sacred or minor orders were: Porter, Lector, Exorcist and Acolyte.  After these came the three major orders: Subdeacon, Deacon and Priesthood.

These minor orders were abrogated after Vatican II and replaced with two ministries of lector and acolyte.

These are to be given to all candidates for holy orders. These ministries are also open to male laity not aspiring to sacred orders. It was left to the discretion of the local bishop as to how he wished to pursue these ministries. Code of Canon Law states: Lay men who possess the age and qualifications established by decree of the conference of bishops can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte (CCC 230 §1).

Bishop Glennon Flavin, head of the Diocese of Lincoln from 1967-1992 decided to retain the all-male component of these ministries. His argument was that he wished for the husband and father of families to step up and take a leadership role in the practice of his faith.

Bishop Flavin argued that men might have the tendency to simply remain in the pew if allowed. Rather, he wished husbands and wives to take an equal role in the practice of their faith and as witnesses to their children in terms of what it means to be Catholic fathers and mothers.

Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz and Bishop James Conley have retained this practice to encourage men to take a leadership role in a desire to foster strong Catholic families and their participation in the very life of the Church. Certain modifications have been made in the Diocese of Lincoln to allow women to be admitted to the role of reader in the liturgy.  The liturgical policies of the Diocese of Lincoln “Steward of the Mysteries” reads: “Non-instituted readers may be used on an occasional basis, at weekday Masses, at special pastoral occasions, and at Sunday obligation Masses, but not to the exclusion of instituted lectors. An instituted lector must read for at least one of the Sunday Masses, unless the parish has no lectors, in which case the priest is to do all the readings at all the Masses. In parishes where the pastor allows non-instituted readers, another priest in the parish who offers a weekday Mass, can decide whether or not he will use a non-instituted reader, or do the readings himself. An instituted lector should read at Masses where the Bishop is present, and on greater and more solemn occasions.”

Other dioceses do allow women, in a temporary deputation, to distribute the Eucharist. This is the prerogative of each individual bishop, who has the care for his people at heart.

This question was answered by a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln. Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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