No To Woman As Priest. But At Least Let Her Give the Homily
“L’Osservatore Romano” is calling for this in its women’s supplement. But Francis would have to contradict himself, in addition to the age-old tradition of the Church. Because he as well, two years ago, prohibited women from preaching during the Mass
by Sandro Magister
ROME, March 7, 2016 – Not the Mass. On the sacred ordination of women Francis cut off the discussion right away, shortly after he was elected pope. “The door is closed in definitive form,” he said in his first in-flight press conference.
But a few days ago “Donne Chiesa Mondo,’ the women’s supplement of “L’Osservatore Romano,” dedicated almost its entire March issue precisely to demanding the go-ahead for women to preach the homily at Mass:
“Donne Chiesa Mondo” is edited by Lucetta Scaraffia, a history professor at the University of Rome and a prominent editorialist for the newspaper of the Holy See. And it has an official status equal to that of “L’Osservatore.”
An official status well harnessed by the monk Enzo Bianchi, prior of Bose and an adviser at the pontifical council for Christian unity, who on the last page of the supplement, in drawing together the threads of the proposal, himself establishes the “three conditions” on the basis of which it would have to be implemented:
The first condition – Bianchi writes – is the “mandatum praedicandi” that the bishop would have to confer on the faithful, women and men, whom he judges fit to deliver homilies.
The second is the blessing during Mass, before the homily, that the celebrant priest would have to give to the woman or man to whom the preaching is entrusted, to show that it is part of the same act of worship.
The third condition is that the faithful, woman or man, be aware of the individual charism but also of the need to exercise it with the authorization of a bishop, through an “imposition of the hands that is a blessing, not a sacrament.”
Put this way, the road would seem to be clear. But in reality it is not so at all.
For one thing there is the code of canon law, which prohibits the ordinary faithful, whether man or woman, from giving the homily.
Canon 767 § 1 in fact says: “Among the forms of preaching, the homily, which is part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or deacon, is preeminent.”
Then there is the detailed ban against the ordinary faithful preaching during the Mass formulated jointly in 1997 by eight dicasteries of the Roman curia, with the specific approval of John Paul II:
The instruction says among other things:
“The homily, being an eminent form of preaching, forms part of the liturgy. The homily, therefore, during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, must be reserved to the sacred minister, Priest or Deacon, to the exclusion of the non-ordained faithful, even if these should have responsibilities as ‘pastoral assistants’ or catechists in whatever type of community or group. This exclusion is not based on the preaching ability of sacred ministers nor their theological preparation, but on that function which is reserved to them in virtue of having received the Sacrament of Holy Orders. For the same reason the diocesan Bishop cannot validly dispense from the canonical norm, since this is not merely a disciplinary law but one which touches upon the closely connected functions of teaching and sanctifying.”
“All previous norms which may have admitted the non-ordained faithful to preaching the homily during the Holy Eucharist are to be considered abrogated by canon 767 § 1.”
And then again there there are centuries of Church history in which the preaching of ordinary faithful during the Mass was not permitted.
Of course throughout history there is no lack of eminent cases of women preachers, even in the cathedrals and with the mandate of bishops and popes. “Donne Chiesa Mondo” gives great emphasis to the 61 “homilies” that have come down to us from Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), proclaimed doctor of the Church by Benedict XVI. And Bianchi also cites other cases.
But rather than homilies properly so called, for these great women this was a matter of preaching outside of the Mass, which was not forbidden at their time just as it is not today.
While when it comes to homilies in the proper sense being given by the laity, the only recently permitted cases that Bianchi exhibits are the permission “ad experimentum” for eight years granted by Paul VI in 1973 to the episcopal conference of Germany, and also in 1973, the “Directory for Masses with children.”
In practice, as is well known, the violations of the law are numerous today. Bianchi laments, however, that these take place “in disorderly fashion, or even worse, in a simulated way,” for example by calling such homilies given by men and women “resonances.”
This is the case of the Neocatechumenal Way, whose anomalous liturgical ritual however concerns the whole Mass, which not even Benedict XVI succeeded in bringing back to order and which Francis is letting go with the flow.
In other cases concerning the homily properly so called, the Holy See has intervened sporadically. About fifteen years ago, for example, it prohibited the Community of Sant’Egidio from allowing the laity to preach at its Masses, in primis its founder, Andrea Riccardi.
Few know, however, that even Pope Francis has intervened to reiterate the ban, in line of principle.
Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the “Homiletic Directory” promulgated in 2014 in the form of a decree by the congregation for divine worship, with the approval of the pope, in fact state:
“Given its liturgical nature, the homily also possesses a sacramental significance: Christ is present in the assembly gathered to listen to his word and in the preaching of his minister, through whom the same Lord who spoke long ago in the synagogue at Nazareth now instructs his people. […] It is because the homily is an integral part of the Church’s worship that it is to be delivered only by bishops, priests, or deacons, […] or, in any case, always by one ordained to preside or assist at the altar.”
Curiously, “Donne Chiesa Mondo” completely ignores this “Directory” stamped by Francis, a pope who cares a great deal about homilies, to judge by how he dedicates himself to them every morning at Santa Marta and by how he wrote about them in his signature text “Evangelii Gaudium.”
The women’s supplement of “L’Osservatore Romano” instead gives great prominence to a genial Swedish Dominican sister, Madeleine Fredell, “feminist, explorer of a creative and living theology, politically engaged,” who does not hide the fact that she feels “called also to be a priest,” and that being unable to become one concludes by saying:
“There is just one thing that bothers me, however, and it is not being able to give the homily during the Mass. Preaching is my vocation as a Dominican, and although I could do so almost anywhere, sometimes even in the Lutheran church, I am convinced that listening to the voice of women at the moment of the homily would enrich our Catholic worship.”
The directory promulgated in 2014 with the approval of Pope Francis:
> Homiletic Directory
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.