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Motu Proprio, Spiritus Domini

Posted by Anne Walker on 14 January 2021

Yesterday, 11 January 2021, Pope Francis released his latest Motu Proprio, Spiritus Domini, which Emma Carolan has now considered.

The key points in Pope Francis's latest Motu Proprio are:

  • Lector and Acolyte roles are open to both lay men and women, on a permanent basis
  • The Motu Proprio marks a formalised and institutionalised recognition of female participation
  • Francis explains that "new paths for ecclesial ministry" need to be considered
  • Lay ministries are grounded in the Sacrament of Baptism

The Motu Propio makes changes to Canon 230, paragraph 1 of the Code of Canon Law, now mandating that the ministries of Lector and Acolyte are open to both men and women, on a permanent basis.

The Canon previously decreed, "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," but now opens these ministries to "lay persons."

In many dioceses globally, the involvement of lay women in these ministries has already been occurring for a number of years with the authorisation of local bishops, based on Canon 230, paragraph 2 which permitted their "temporary designation." The change to the Code of Canon Law now marks a formalised and institutionalised recognition of female participation and Pope Francis states in his explanatory letter to Cardinal Ladaria, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that "dissolving such a reservation could help to better manifest the common baptismal dignity of the members of the People of God."

The Pope goes on to explain that women have previously been excluded from these ministries as   they were considered "minor orders," preparatory for Holy Orders. However, Francis says that in the spirit of renewal sparked by the Second Vatican Council, there is an urgent need "to rediscover the co-responsibility of all the baptised in the Church, and especially the mission of the laity" who should also be engaged in the building up of the Church and its mission to proclaim the Gospel.

Quoting from the final document of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region (2019), Francis explains that "new paths for ecclesial ministry" need to be considered and that "it is urgent that ministries be promoted and conferred on men and women ... It is the Church of baptized men and women that we must consolidate by promoting ministry and, above all, the awareness of baptismal dignity," making clear that lay ministries are grounded in the Sacrament of Baptism, open to all the baptised and confirmed faithful.

Author: Anne Walker
About: National Executive Director - CRA
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