Today, Pope Francis altered church law to explicitly permit women to participate more during Mass.
Women have now been granted access to the most sacred place on the altar, while continuing to affirm that they cannot be priests.
Francis amended the law to formalize and institutionalize what is common practice in many parts of the world: that women can be installed as lectors, to read the Gospel, and serve on the altar as eucharistic ministers. Previously, such roles were officially reserved to men even though exceptions were made.
The Pope said his decision was based on “recognizing the precious contribution women make in the church, while emphasizing that all baptized Catholics have a role to play in the church’s mission.”
Pope Francis is 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.
Presently, the ministry is reserved for men even though historians say the ministry was performed by women in the early church.
Francis has created a second commission of experts to study whether women could be deacons, after a first one failed to reach a consensus.
Advocates for expanding the diaconate to include women would address priest shortages in several parts of the world. However, opposers say approving this would become a slippery slope toward ordaining women to the priesthood.
Lucetta Scaraffia, the former editor of the Vatican’s women magazine said “This closes the door on the diaconate for women,” referring to this announcement as “a step backward” for women.
Scaraffia pointed out that the Pope merely formalized what is in current practice, including at papal Masses, while also making clear that the diaconate is an “ordained” ministry reserved for men.