Catholic Archbishop Patrick Pinder said yesterday that the Archdiocese of Nassau welcomes the formal change made by Pope Francis, who 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, even while continuing to affirm that they cannot be priests.
According to the Associated Press (AP) report, Francis amended the law to formalize and institutionalize what is common practice in many parts of the world: Women can be installed as lectors, to read Scripture, and serve on the altar as eucharistic ministers. Such roles were previously officially reserved to men, even though exceptions were made.
“[It’s] a practice we have had all along,” Pinder told The Nassau Guardian. “It’s a change we indeed welcome and brings an alignment between the code of canon law and what’s been practiced.”
According to the AP report, Francis made 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.
Patricia Coakley who serves as a eucharistic minister and lector/commentator at St. Joseph Parish was not moved by the amended law as she said it does not give women any additional responsibility.
“In some dioceses or archdioceses around the world, women do not function in that capacity – in the Archdiocese of Nassau, we function as lectors, commentators, eucharistic ministers and altar servers,” she said.
Elma Garraway who has been a reader at the Church of the Resurrection for years said the “formalization” is welcomed news. She said she is just one of many women who have served in the capacity and that for a long time, women in the Archdiocese of Nassau have served as eucharistic ministers distributing the Holy Sacrament and taking the Sacrament to the elderly and shut-in.
The Holy See changed the provision in canon law, which allows women to formally be allowed in ministry to read and serve. While it has been happening, it’s been happening informally. Francis modified the code of canon law to allow all lay persons – lay men and lay women – which brings the code up to step with what is happening.
According to the AP report, Francis 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.
The change is said to come as Francis remains under pressure to allow women to be deacons – ministers who perform many of the same functions as priests, such as presiding at weddings, baptisms and funerals. Currently, the ministry is reserved for men, even though historians say the ministry was performed by women in the early church.
According to the AP, Francis has created a second commission of experts to study whether women could be deacons, after a first one reported on the history of women deacons in the early church.
AP said advocates for expanding the diaconate to include women say doing so would give women greater say in the ministry and governance of the church, while also helping address priest shortages in several parts of the world.
Opponents say allowing it would become a slippery slope toward ordaining women to the priesthood.
Phyllis Zagano, who was a member of the pope’s first study commission, called the changes important given they represent the first time the Vatican has explicitly and through canon law allowed women access to the altar. In the AP reports, she said it was a necessary first step before any official consideration of the diaconate for women.
“This is the first codification of allowing women inside the sanctuary,” Zagaono told the AP. “That’s a very big deal.”
Noting that bishops have long called for such a move, she said it opens the door to further progress. “You can’t be ordained as deacons unless you’re installed as lectors or acolytes,” said Zagano, an adjunct professor of religion at Hofstra University.
According to AP, however, Lucetta Scaraffia, the former editor of the Vatican’s women magazine, called the new changes a “double trap.” She said they merely formalize what is current practice, including at papal Masses, while also making clear that the diaconate is an “ordained” ministry reserved for men.
“This closes the door on the diaconate for women”, calling the change “a step backward” for women, said Scaraffia.