Welcoming the witness: A change in Canon Law and new opportunities for lay ministry

An important change to Canon Law was made by Pope Francis at the beginning of this year. This change is examined by Ashley Beck, Dean of Studies of the Permanent Diaconate formation programme for seven dioceses in southern England and Wales and Assistant Priest of the parish of Beckenham in south London.

In January 2021, Pope Francis, in a motu proprio,1 changed Canon 230 of the Code of Canon Law. This canon had laid down that ‘lay men whose age and talents meet the requirements prescribed by decree of the Bishops’ Conference, can be given the stable ministry of lector and acolyte, through the prescribed liturgical rite’.2 The Pope simply added ‘and women’ after ‘lay men’. How far is this change significant? Elsewhere in this issue Professor Phyllis Zagano looks at the change in relation to the question of the ordination of women to the diaconate, so I will confine myself to other ways in which this initiative is important. This change relates directly to another motu proprio, issued by Pope St Paul VI in 1972, Ministeria quaedam,3 which at a stroke of the pen abolished all the ‘minor orders’ and the subdiaconate, through which seminarians had passed for centuries, replacing them with these ministries.

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