By Sarah Mac Donald - 03 March, 2016
A series of essays on women in the Church published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, have argued that women should be allowed to preach at Mass.
Under existing canon law, only priests and deacons are authorised to preach at Mass.
However, three articles published in the 1 March issue of L’Osservatore Romano in a series titled ‘Women-Church-World’ suggest that the current prohibition on women preaching from the pulpit should be reconsidered.
French Dominican Sr Catherine Aubin, who teaches theology at a pontifical university in Rome, in her article noted that Jesus encouraged women to preach his message of salvation, and she said that throughout church history there have been many extraordinary women evangelists.
She also highlighted that women today also lead retreats and in effect preach in other ways.
“Why can’t women also preach in front of everyone during the celebration of Mass?” she questions.
Another Dominican, Sr Madeleine Fredell of Sweden, in her article wrote that preaching “is my vocation as a Dominican, and although I can do it almost anywhere, sometimes even in the Lutheran church, I believe that listening to the voice of women at the time of the homily would enrich our Catholic worship.”
In his article, Enzo Bianchi, leader of an ecumenical religious community in Italy, wrote that “Certainly for faithful lay people in general, but above all for women, this would constitute a fundamental change in their participation in church life.”
Such a move would be a “decisive path” in response to calls to find ways to give women a greater role in the Church, he said.
The barring of lay people from preaching dates back to the 13th century, a move instigated by Pope Gregory IX.
In more recent times, there have been calls for the ban to be reconsidered and in 1973 the Vatican gave the German bishops permission to allow lay people, most of them women, to preach with special permission for an experimental eight-year period.
But the election of St John Paul II saw a shift back towards a more exclusive role for priests.
Pope John Paul II’s 1983 revised Code of Canon Law stated that the homily “is reserved to a priest or deacon” because it is an integral part of the Mass and must be done by an ordained male acting in the role of Christ.