The presence of women in the liturgy is a contentious issue. The topic has been on the table in recent decades, and gained particular intensity since the Amazon synod and Germany’s synodal way, to name just two recent examples. Pope Francis has lifted some difficult-to-comprehend roadblocks by recognizing that women can be considered for both the ministries of acolyte and reader. However, Pope Francis’ apostolic letter Spiritus Domini, on the conferring of both to women as well, did not change much in practice –after all, women have been reading and serving Mass for a long time- but it is a significant step because it recognized that the existent hurdles had been cultural, not theological.
The question that arises therefore is: does cultural conditioning remain in the Catholic liturgy as far as women’s participation is concerned? Here, a clarification is necessary. Certainly, one cannot think of the inclusion of women only in cultural terms. In this case, it is not a question of quotas, nor of increasing the presence of women as if it were an end in itself. Instead, it is a matter of seeking that the celebration in the Church better represents and expresses its invisible reality. In other words, that it manifests what it is.
Mary could perhaps be more visible in the liturgy. I am not referring to the songs, prayers or liturgical feasts dedicated to Her. The question is whether the “Marian principle” is sufficiently expressed and manifested in the liturgy. By Marian principle, I mean the reference to Mary as the model of the holiness of the Church, to whom all the baptized are called in their royal priesthood. Certainly, Mary is an icon of the Church in her entirety, who is made up of both women and men. Thus, the whole assembly as Church is Mary. Nevertheless, at the same time, women manifest her image most immediately. To create the conditions for them to be more involved at certain moments could be a way of making the Marian principle complementary to the apostolic-presbyteral principle, and visible and concrete in the liturgy
A short while ago, I went to a priestly ordination ceremony. At certain moments, I felt the lack of greater participation of women, both as a sign of Mary and the Church. Certainly, the bishop and priests do the laying on of hands, because it is a sign of the transmission of the gift of priesthood. However, nothing prevents the laity from also praying for the newly ordained priests, as the first communities did with Paul and Bernabé. It is not a matter of clericalizing the laity or confusing the ministries, but of making the baptismal priesthood more visible in the liturgy. Another gesture here to consider is the dressing of the priestly garments. This moment takes place after the ordination prayer and the laying on of hands. The superiors of the new presbyters dress them with the chasuble. If this gesture were conducted by women (their mothers, sisters or those involved in formation), it might remind them that the Body of Christ was woven in Mary’s womb, and from her He receives his flesh. Another moment is when the newly ordained priests present their anointed hands to be washed. If this was to be done by a woman, this gesture might remind us how it was women who anointed Jesus’ body. In addition, the embrace of peace, if done by a group of lay people (men and women), together with the priests, it may better signify the fact that the whole assembly is the Body of Christ.
If the liturgy is the prayer of the whole Church, perhaps once again the complementarity of the Marian and apostolic principle, of ministries, and of men and women, within this one Church can be made more visible.
by MARTA RODRIGUEZ