Reflecting the Mind of the Vatican since 1850
The Ministry of Women in the Liturgy: ‘Sound Tradition’ and ‘Legitimate Progress’
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On the occasion of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Pope Francis promulgated a document by which he recognized the possibility for women to exercise the instituted ministries of lector and acolyte. It is well known that earlier legislation, established by Paul VI with a similar measure, reserved these ministries to male laity. In order to grasp the importance of these two documents, on which we will dwell later, let us first take a look at the prehistory and evolution of a service that the Church has always provided for the Word of God and the table of the Lord.

Anyone interested in ecclesial ministries can hardly think that they were invented by the apostles to meet the needs of the nascent Church. Regardless of the specific terms by which we designate them today, we must rather recognize that the Church inherited the service to the altar and the service at the ambo, respectively, from the temple and the synagogue.

In spite of the scant knowledge we have of the temple liturgy, it is possible to establish a connection, at least an ideal one, between the figure of the acolyte and the Levitic cult. We know, in fact, that in the temple of Jerusalem, together with the priests, chosen from among the descendants of the Levite Aaron, other Levites worked in subsidiary functions. They were taken from among other members of the tribe of Levi and employed as porters, singers or helpers in the various tasks required by the sacrificial cult.
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