In one of my weaker moments, I did something rather foolish, born from curiosity. That is, I read Pope Francis’ new motu proprio: Spiritus Domini. It was not so much what the document promulgated that interested me – that women shall be made official acolytes and lectors of the Church – but rather in how it was accomplished. How exactly does a pope go about codifying an illicit and vexatious practice? Is it as simple as a few magic words, a stroke of the pen, and voila, women can officially act the role of men? It turns out that this is not far from the truth.
As I read, almost immediately I was confused. Spiritus Domini begins by vaguely speaking of charisms. Everyone, we are told, receives charisms in order to build up the Church. Fine. But with no further distinction, these charisms are then “called ministries because they are publicly recognized and instituted by the Church.” Equating all charisms with publicly recognized Church ministries is a devious jump in logic, especially when one considers the context of this motu proprio. The object of the motu proprio is to formally codify the many years of disobedience where certain women have acted as acolytes and lectors (shame on the many pastors for approving this). To equate this disobedience as a charism is a scandalous proposition. What next? Approving sins against the Sixth Commandment because people are doing them anyway? Or cancelling the Sunday Mass obligation because people are not attending anyway? Never mind that last example.
With the idea of charisms and ministry muddled, Francis then attempts to place “lay ministries” in a historical context. He explains, “Following a venerable tradition, the reception of ‘lay ministries’, which Saint Paul VI regulated in the Motu Proprio Ministeria Quaedam (17 August 1972), preceded in a preparatory manner the reception of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, although such ministries were conferred on other suitable male faithful.”