In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Male Subjection and the Case for an All-Male Liturgical Ministry Michael P. Foley To raise the question of returning to an all-male liturgical ministry is to invite tribulation. This became clear to me when I mentioned to friends and colleagues the project I was undertaking and saw their looks of astonishment; it also became clear when I was almost not allowed to speak on the topic at a conference of unimpeachably orthodox Catholic scholars. And yet the reluctance among my associates to have the matter discussed publicly was not one of disagreement but of fear. To my surprise, the men and women to whom I spoke agreed with my thesis but were afraid to have their position known openly. This in itself is significant: regardless of where one stands on the issue, it should give us pause that many Catholics, from the pious in the pews to prelates in the Vatican, stand in fear of being stigmatized as supporters of a 4,200 year-old tradition that was faithfully kept by God’s Chosen People until the Catholic Church changed its practices in the wake of Vatican II.1 Permission for female lectors was first given by the Holy See on September 5, 1970 in Liturgicae instaurationes, the Third Instruction on the Correct Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Paragraph 7 stipulates that women are, among other things, allowed to “proclaim the readings, except the gospel” and “announce the intentions in the general intercessions.”2 Women began to distribute Holy Communion three years later after the promulgation of Immensae Caritatis, which permits bishops to appoint “fit persons,” including laymen and laywomen, to “give 1 I set the terminus a quo with Abraham, although the explicit association of males with religious sacrifice begins much earlier with Cain and Abel. An all-male liturgical ministry was assiduously observed by God’s first Chosen People, the Hebrews, and then by all of the historic and apostolic churches: Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and the Churches of the East. 2 Liturgicae instaurationes, the Third Instruction on the Correct Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 7. Antiphon 15.3 (2011): 262-298 263 Male Subjection and the Case for an All-Male Liturgical Ministry communion to themselves and others of the faithful and to carry it to the sick residing at home.”3 The approval of female altar servers or altar girls followed a different path. The same document that allowed female lectors explicitly forbade women from serving the priest at the altar, even in convents and institutions for women.4 In 1980, the Instruction Inaestimabile Donum of the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship reaffirmed that “it is not permitted to women to fulfil the function of acolyte, that is, of serving at the altar” (18).5 But on March 15, 1994, this law was significantly amended by a Circular Letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.6 In that letter, the Holy See interpreted the statement in Canon 230.2, “lay persons (laici) may carry out the functions of commentator and cantor or other functions in accordance with the norm of law,”7 to include women serving at the altar.8 Yet in the same letter, the Holy See also expressed a strong preference for “the noble tradition of having boys [only] serve at the altar” which, “as is well known… has led to a reassuring development of priestly vocations.”9 Despite the contemporary ubiquity of these innovations (female lectors are now regular features at even papal Masses), both developments have an officially optional, provisional, and exceptional nature. Canon 230 states that while only qualified men “can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte,” lay persons of either sex are allowed to “fulfill the function of lector in liturgical actions by temporary designation” (emphasis mine).10 The strictures surrounding female altar servers are even greater. The general law prohibiting them remains in effect 3 Immensae Caritatis, Instruction on Facilitating Sacramental Eucharistic Communion in Particular Circumstances, 29 January 1973, I-II, IV . 4 Liturgicae Instaurationes, 7...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 262-298
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.