I did not realize until this morning that it wasn’t official. American Catholics have long had women as lectors and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, participating in the celebration of the Mass. In fact, I can’t remember a time when women weren’t engaging in those roles.
As of today, the Vatican has now given that official sanction. The Associated Press reports this with a predictable headline that notes they “still can’t be priests,” but neither can married men, either:
Pope Francis changed church law Monday to explicitly allow women to do more things during Mass, granting them access to the most sacred place on the altar, while continuing to affirm that they cannot be priests.
Francis amended the law to formalize and institutionalize what is common practice in many parts of the world: that women can be installed as lectors, to read the Gospel, and serve on the altar as eucharistic ministers. Previously, such roles were officially reserved to men even though exceptions were made.
Francis said he was making the change to increase recognition of the “precious contribution” women make in the church, while emphasizing that all baptized Catholics have a role to play in the church’s mission.
But he also noted that doing so further makes a distinction between “ordained” ministries such as the priesthood and diaconate, and ministries open to qualified laity. The Vatican reserves the priesthood for men.