Women lectors and acolytes

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: Why is the pope allowing women to serve as lectors and acolytes? Are women not able to observe, imitate and execute just like their male counterparts have for centuries? Do women somehow need more instruction in the form of a formalized training process and spiritual discernment? Really? It seems patronizing to me. It feels more like ‘instituting’ is a patriarchal bureaucracy created to control these potentially uppity females. It just doesn’t feel right. I  doubt if any of the instituting will be done by women! Women too should have the benefit of learning in an apprenticeship paradigm which creates friendships and strong parish ties. Not all ministries need to be clergy-driven…


A: Ever since 1973 there have been two tiers of ministers: the instituted and the non-instituted. I anticipate that that will continue. The difference now is that women may be among the instituted. 

Many bishops have chosen not to insitute qualified lay men into the ministries of lector and acolyte because they could not do the same for qualified lay women. Consequently, the only ones being instituted were those in preparation for the diaconate or the priesthood. 

This opens a whole new world for how the church thinks about and applies these ministries. It will be interesting to see how they develop.

Additionally, more is expected of instituted ministers. Here are two quotes from Paul VI’s 1973 apostolic letter Ministeria Quædam, which I have updated for gender inclusivity:

“[The lector] is to proclaim the readings from sacred Scripture, except for the gospel in the Mass and other sacred celebrations; he [or she] is to recite the psalm between the readings when there is no psalmist; he [or she] is to present the intentions for the general intercessions in the absence of a deacon or cantor; he [or she] is to direct the singing and the participation by the faithful; he [or she] is to instruct the faithful for the worthy reception of the sacraments. He [or she] may also, insofar as may be necessary, take care of preparing other faithful who are appointed on a temporary basis to read the Scriptures in liturgical celebrations. That he [or she] may more fittingly and perfectly fulfill these functions, he [or she] is to meditate assiduously on sacred Scripture. Aware of the office he [or she] has undertaken, the reader [lector] is to make every effort and employ suitable means to acquire that increasingly warm and living love and knowledge of Scripture that will make him [or her] a more perfect disciple of the Lord.”

“The acolyte is appointed in order to aid the deacon and to minister to the priest. It is his [or her] duty therefore to attend to the service of the altar and to assist the deacon and the priest in liturgical celebrations, especially in the celebration of Mass; he [or she] is also to distribute communion as a special minister when the ministers spoken of in the Codex Iuris Canonici can. 845 are not available or are prevented by ill health, age, or another pastoral ministry from performing this function, or when the number of communicants is so great that the celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged. In the same extraordinary circumstances an acolyte may be entrusted with publicly exposing the blessed sacrament for adoration by the faithful and afterward replacing it, but not with blessing the people. He [or she] may also, to the extent needed, take care of instructing other faithful who on a temporary basis are appointed to assist the priest or deacon in liturgical celebrations by carrying the missal, cross, candles, etc., or by performing other such duties. He [or she] will perform these functions more worthily if he [or she] participates in the holy eucharist with increasingly fervent devotion, receives nourishment from it, and deepens his [or her] knowledge about it. As one set aside in a special way for the service of the altar, the acolyte should learn all matters concerning public divine worship and strive to grasp their inner spiritual meaning: in that way he [or she] will be able each day to offer himself [or herself] entirely to God, be an example to all by his [or her] gravity and reverence in church, and have a sincere love for the Mystical Body of Christ, the people of God, especially for the weak and the sick.”