The obvious problems with the recent opening of the ministries of lector and acolyte to women by Pope Francis has already been the subject of a number of articles, including one that I wrote earlier this week. As I reflect further on the motu proprio Spiritus Domini, I see more and more disturbing implications of this modification to canon law. Those who think “it’s not a big deal, it just formalizes what we’ve already been doing for decades!” greatly underestimate the difference between custom (which can include bad custom) and legal formalization, and more to the point, between substitution (women filling in for certain functions) and institution (women being installed in ministry by episcopal action).
As I noted in a recent article, Pope Francis’s documents seem to bear clever titles that indicate that the document is about to parody tradition. In the case at hand, the phrase Spiritus Domini (“The Spirit of the Lord”) immediately calls to mind the great centuries-old Introit of Pentecost (and of any Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit). The motu proprio’s first two words brings us squarely to the mystery of Pentecost.
Now, what happened on the original day of Pentecost? The apostles were gathered around the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was indescribably holier than they, but after the descent of the Spirit, did she go out and preach the Gospel? No. It was the male apostles who did that, in imitation of, by the power of, and in the person of Christ. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the highest-ranking human person in the Church and the most powerful, but she was not and is not intermingled with the earthly ecclesiastical hierarchy. This is not how her Son set things up.