Pope Francis has changed Catholic Church law to explicitly permit lay women into ministry as Lectors and Acolytes (readers and altar servers) in liturgical celebrations. This removes the option that bishops previously had to restrict these ministries only to men.
In the pope’s document (currently only available in Italian and Spanish) Pope Francis confirms that the “ministries of Lector and the Acolyte are rooted in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.” Historically these ministries were called “minor orders” and were part of a priestly candidate’s journey to “major orders.” After Vatican II the minor orders became “ministries,” still reserved to men, but women and girls could be permitted (or forbidden) by individual bishops. Today, the pope’s change means that they are true “lay ministries” and open to both men and women, boys and girls, while remaining seperate to “ordained ministries.”
The bishops of a region are to organise what is needed to bring about full preparation and participation for Acolytes and Lectors. People would participate in discernment, training and formal recognition – potentially a fuller and and richer experience than simply becoming a reader or alter server. Furthermore, the bishops of a region may also determine if any other ministries should be developed for the laity:
“It will be the task of the Episcopal Conferences to establish adequate criteria for the discernment and preparation of candidates for the ministries of the Lectorate or Acolyte, or of other ministries that they deem to establish, according to what is already provided in the Motu Proprio Ministeria quaedam, subject to the approval of the Holy See and according to the needs of evangelization in their territory.”