The Vatican announced on Monday, January 11, 2021, that the Holy Father Pope Francis has made a revision to Canon Law that will allow baptized Catholic women and men to be installed in a stable manner in the Church’s official ministries of lector and acolyte.  The key concept here is contained in the words “installed in a stable manner.”  Reflecting that official innovation, this change confirms what has actually been the practice for some time now, namely that qualified, baptized women and men could proclaim the Scripture reading (except the Gospel) at Mass and other liturgical services as well as distribute Holy Communion at Mass or to the sick with the approval of their pastors.  This revision was announced motu proprio (on his own initiative) by Pope Francis in a letter “Spiritus Domini” (the Spirit of the Lord).

Referring to the suggestions he has been receiving from regional Synods of Bishops around the world, the Holy Father wrote,

Accepting these recommendations, a doctrinal development has taken place in recent years which has highlighted how certain ministries instituted by the Church are based on the common condition of being baptized and the regal priesthood received in the Sacrament of Baptism; they are essentially distinct from the ordained ministry received in the Sacrament of Orders. A consolidated practice in the Latin Church has also confirmed, in fact, that these lay ministries, since they are based on the Sacrament of Baptism, may be entrusted to all suitable faithful, whether male or female, in accordance with what is already implicitly provided for by Canon 230 § 2.

The Holy See was clear to point out that this change to Canon Law does not affect or alter current regulations regarding admissibility to ordination to the diaconate or priesthood in the Catholic Church, lest there be any confusion.  While candidates for Holy Orders are still required to receive the ministries of lector and acolyte as part of their formation, these ministries are now available “in a stable manner” to those approved for their reception by the local bishop.

The various episcopal conferences around the world – in our case, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – will determine the time frame and manner of implementation.