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We are nearing the end of the first term, and one of the usual highlights for the theology students, very differently from the ones in philosophy, was their experience of the rituals of ministries: Lector for first-year theology students; Acolyte for second-year theology students; and Candidacy for holy orders for third-year theology students. These ministries signal to them that their journey through their theology studies is progressing towards their ordinations at the end of their studies, God willing. However, we need to be aware that in the last fifty years the Church’s understanding of these ministries has developed tremendously.

Since 15th August 1972, the Apostolic Letter in the form of a motu proprio of St. Pope Paul VI entitled Ministeria quaedam brought about a major change in the understanding of these rites that prepare candidates for the priesthood. The offices of Lector and Acolyte and sub-diaconate were adapted in such a way that, as the Letter explained, “from this time on there will be two offices: that of Lector and that of Acolyte, which will include the functions of the Sub-diaconate”. It was also required that these be no longer called “orders” but “ministries” which “may be assigned to lay Christians; hence they are no longer to be considered as reserved to candidates for the sacrament of orders… The functions heretofore assigned to the sub-deacon are entrusted to the reader and acolyte; consequently, the major order of sub-diaconate would no longer exist in the Latin Church.” Our students of theology who have been experiencing these ministerial rites need to reflect on what is the significance of the fact that the rites that prepare them for the priesthood are the ones which they share with the lay faithful!

On the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the publication of Ministeria quaedam, Pope Francis, in his 15th August 2022 Message, attempts to help us reflect on this connection between the rites for clerics and the baptismal ministries. He opines that the best way to celebrate this significant anniversary is precisely to continue to deepen our reflection on the ministries that St Pope Paul VI initiated. “Ministeria quaedam, he explains, opened the door to the renewal of the experience of ministeriality of the faithful, reborn by the water of baptism, confirmed by the seal of the Spirit, nourished by the living bread that came down from heaven” (Message, No. 9). That is why, even as the Church was approaching the golden jubilee of the publication of Ministeria quaedam Pope Francis published two Apostolic Letters in the form of motu proprio enhancing baptismal ministries: The first, Spiritus Dominus of 10th January 2021, which modified can. 230 §1 of the Code of Canon Law on the access of female persons to the instituted ministry of the Lectorate and Acolyte. The second, Antiquum ministerium of 10th May 2021, which established the new ministry of Catechist, in addition to Lector and Acolyte.

Pope Francis is thus spearheading a thorough discussion on baptismal ministries, even as we hear that the majority of the summaries of the national synodal journeys are raising the question of the status of the ministries of women religious, and lay persons especially women, vis-à-vis the ordained ministers. In his Jubilee message, the Pope has even formulated a long list of issues that need to be considered in depth: “the terminology used to indicate ministries, their doctrinal foundation, the juridical aspects, the distinctions and relations between individual ministries, their vocational value, the formation paths, the founding event that enables the exercise of ministry, and the liturgical dimension of each ministry.” (Message, No. 8). Let not the universal Church’s synodal journey appear to be only studded with controversies, as some critiques would have it. The Holy Spirit is slowly but surely renewing the Church.

Fr Aniceto Pereira

The above article supersedes the one posted in the Semachar (Newsletter of St. Pius X College) October 2022, Vol. XXII, Issue 1, p.1


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