Translation of the original article on women preaching

When I posted the article Vatican newspaper essays say women should preach at Mass”, I stated “I may translate it”, referring to the original article from L’Osservatore Romano.  Note the disclaimer regarding the translation  I did my best.  Here it is!….Reyanna

On Preaching by Women in the Liturgy

By Enzo Bianchi

(Note: this translation was done by Reyanna Rice working from the publication of this paper, originally published March 1, 2016  in L’Osservatore Romano, found on the Italian website Hoping for All.  No claims are made for the complete accuracy of the translation.)

In the Church of the post-conciliar time, from when Pope John, with his prophetic discernment spotted among the “signs of the time”, the entry of women into public life, many times we hear voices raised asking for a greater appreciation of woman in the Church, her greater participation in the different institutions that manage and organize it, a recognition of her for all the faculties in which the baptized hold rights.  There is a decisive path for the appreciation of women in the Church, a possibility which more generally concerns the faithful, man and woman, a possibility already experienced and practiced in the history of the Church and in fact present, not withstanding current discipline, in many local Churches: the taking of the floor in the liturgical assembly on the part of the faithful, men or women.  It risks however happening in a haphazard way or, worse still, in a sham way, so that you end up by calling it with other names—like “resonances” or “propositions”—, those that take from the word what should simply be called homilies.  The topic is sensitive, but I deem it urgent to deal with it, albeit briefly, in this venue: certainly for the lay faithful in general, but above all for women, it would constitute in fact a fundamental change in the form of participation in ecclesial life.

First of all is the recognition that in these last decades there is the awareness that all the baptized are consecrated for mission and that the proclamation of the Gospel is a responsibility that invests them all: not by chance lay preachers are very much present and numerous in the missions.  A ministry of the word thus a time reserved only to the clerics, today instead is present in all components of the Church.  “So that they proclaim the Gospel of Christ with joy in the whole world” (Rite of Baptism, Prayer and Invocation on the water) and “they become prophetic, priestly and regal participants in the mission of Christ” (Liturgy of the blessing of the oils, Blessing of the chrism) are current liturgical texts to attest that the baptized are called by God.  This maturation in part happened in the people of God, who today are able to even welcome preaching, as work of the laity.

From history we know that preaching by the laity was also authorized in the liturgical setting and that in the Middle Ages even some women received this authorization from the Pope.  Before the ban on preaching by the laity established by Gregory IX (1228), among the different forms of preaching there was also that which provided a mandatum praedicandi (mandate to preach) granted to the simple faithful.  Above all, in the tenth to the twelfth century, and in particular in the Gregorian reform, the officium praedicandi (the office of preaching) is attested in fruitful exercise above all within those evangelical lay movements that develop at the beginning of the second Christian millennium.

The poor of Lyon, later called Waldensians, Humiliati and other groups asked the Pope in Rome for approval of their way of living and the exercise of preaching, receiving this faculty.  The evangelical life of these preachers gave them great authoritativeness, so that their word appeared performative (i.e. changing reality..rr): one thinks of Roberto d’ Arbrissel  (1045 – 1116), who preached in front of clergy, nobility and the people, upon approval of Urban II; or of Noberto di Xanten (1080 – 1134) who received the officium praedicandi from Gelasio II.  But one recalls that this was possible even for some women, among whom excels Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179), proclaimed by Benedict XVI doctor of the Church, an abbess who preached in different cathedrals called by the bishop and had among her listeners even Pope Eugenio III.

These are a few examples that speak of an age-old experience in the Roman Church, interrupted because of fear of heresy, spread precisely by preachers of the Gospel.   Certainly to be able to perform the ministry of preaching authorization is considered necessary on the part of the Church or the conference of licentia praedicandi (license to preach), because the ignorance of some preachers or the “charismatism” of others often lead to heresy, confusion and not to the edification of the Church.  It is meaningful that Innocent III, for example, accepts the request to preach on the part of Francis of Assisi and his first companions (1210) asking of them the tonsure in return.  In any case, Francis without receiving orders (neither the diaconate nor the priesthood) publicly preached, always with Roman approval, despite the contrariness of some local bishops, and even after the prohibition of Gregory IX,  the possibility of the laity to preach is maintained.  It was recommended that these homilies were of a moral and exhortative character, and not doctrinal or theological, but in fact they were authorized, and woman preachers, from Maria d’Oigines, the Beguine of Liege (1177 – 1213) to Catherine Paluzzi (1573 – 1646), charged with preaching in female monasteries by Cardinal Paolo Sfondati, were never absent.

And today?  In the post-council period, the German Episcopal Conference asked Paul VI in 1973 for the mandatum praedicandi for some committed laity in the pastoral setting (among which not a few women) and the Holy See granted them the permission ad experimentum (for experiment) for eight years.  In the same way, the Directory for Masses for Children (1973) permitted the homily to be handled and prepared by a lay person, even women.  They are openings which should be capitalized on.  It would in any case be important that, without changing anything of traditional doctrine, one gives the possibility to the laity, men and women, to take the floor in the liturgical assembly, with some specific conditions.

First of all is the absolute necessity for a mandatum praedicandi (even temporary) conferred by the bishop to the faithful, man or woman, who is prepared and has the charism for preaching.  In second place, because the Eucharistic liturgy is an act of worship itself and with a single presider, it is for the priest who presides at the Eucharis to ritually entrust those who, having received from the bishop the faculty to preach, go to the ambo, giving them the blessing.

Finally, the faithful called to preach, man or woman, does it by charism and by institution, that is in the awareness of having a gift for the benefit of others and of the need for a mandate that inserts them into the tradition.  Without charism and without chirotesia (a form of the imposition of hands that is a blessing, not a sacrament) the ministry of the word in the liturgy, that always requires this gift of charism and episcopal authorization, would not be suggested.

The granting of the faculty to preach, on these conditions, would allow to the female religious to not always and only hear the homily of the chaplain assigned to them.  And the Christian communities could hear preaching done by women (with different stresses, therefore) and by men, not only the ordained.

We do not forget that Jesus preached in the synagogue of Nazareth and of other cities without being either an ordained priest of rabbi, but he did it through a prophetic charism and because he was appointed by the heads of the different synagogues.  And we do not forget either that, when a bishop wanted to prevent the lay person Origen form preaching, the other bishops responded: “Where there is some capacity to be truly useful to the brothers in preaching he is called by the bishops to preach to the people (Eusebius of Cesarea, Ecclesiastical Histroy VI, 19, 18).

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