To my knowledge, this is the first bishop who has announced plans to move forward with the modifications to canon law — allowing both men and women as acolytes and lectors — and the first to speak about establishing a diocesan formation program.
Women will soon officially act as lectors and acolytes during Roman Catholic Masses, after Pope Francis on Monday changed the church’s law regarding the procedures, according to a statement issued by the Rev. W. Shawn McKnight, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City.
McKnight said the local diocese will implement the changes as soon as possible. However, it will likely have to wait until after the annual gathering of bishops in November, after bishops have had a chance to set up regulations.
…”I will begin talking to my people about what this means,” McKnight said. “We will look at what kinds of people (to consider for training). I would have the expectation that someone instituted as a lector would have some proven ministry in catechesis (religious formation).”
For example, they might begin by looking at people who have taught in Parish Schools of Religion, led Gospel study or shared Catholic principles.
The diocese posted a full statement on its website Monday:
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight will be implementing a modification of canon law, announced by Pope Francis today, as soon as possible. The new law allows a formal role for women during Mass, as lectors and acolytes (servers).
“I am thrilled and grateful for this action by the Holy Father,” Bishop McKnight said. “Women, by virtue of their baptism, just like lay men, have a right and a responsibility to those ministries which the Church has instituted ‘based on the common condition of being baptized and the regal priesthood received in the sacrament of baptism,’” he explained, quoting from the pope’s document, “Spiritus Domini.”
The modification of Canon 230 §1 does not change the fact that the church reserves the sacrament of holy orders to men. Instead, it recognizes that, since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has made “a clearer distinction between the attributes of what today are called ‘nonordained (or lay) ministries’ and ‘ordained ministries,’” such as deacon, priest and bishop, the pope said.
Lay women have served as lectors and acolytes at Masses over the years under another canon, which allows them to do so “by temporary designation.” In many dioceses, including Jefferson City, lay men also served as lectors and acolytes “by temporary designation,” as Church teaching developed.
Canon 230 §1 previously stated, “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.”
The updated canon states that “Laity 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.”
“This update ensures that all laity – women and men — are able to use the gifts God has given to them for the good of the Church, exercising appropriate co-responsibility in building up the Church,” Bishop McKnight explained. “We will be able to provide catechesis, training and formation for lay women and men who are called to these ministries, so they can be good stewards of God’s gifts.”
A diocesan formation program will be established after the US Conference of Catholic Bishops issues its formal decree, as stated in the canon.
The Diocese of Jefferson City includes 38 counties in central and northeastern Missouri. Approximately 82,000 Catholics live in the diocese, worshipping and serving in 95 parishes.