ASK FATHER: According to Paul VI do female readers have to remain outside the sanctuary?

From a reader…


Greeting Father! Corpus Christi Watershed has an interesting post regarding female altar servers:

In this article they mention Pope Paul VI allowing the use of female readers. It shows clearly they are allowed only when a male is not available and they must be outside the sanctuary.

Has this “directive” been changed or modified or amended or does it remain in force as originally written? I have not seen anything on this anywhere else. Thank you!

This matter has been wholly reordered by the 3rd editio typica of the Roman Missal and it’s accompanying General Institution.

Under the provisions of can. 20 in the 1983 CIC, a later law (such as the GIRM and the rubrics in the Missal) abrogates the earlier law.

The 1969 permission of Paul VI regarding women as readers performing their functions outside of the sanctuary is no longer in force.

For good or for ill, the current GIRM 101 states:

In the absence of an instituted lector, other lay people may be deputed to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture, people who are truly suited to carrying out this function and carefully prepared, so that by their hearing the readings from the sacred texts the faithful may conceive in their hearts a sweet and living affection for Sacred Scripture.

Further in GIRM 309:

The dignity of the Word of God requires that in the church there be a suitable place from which it may be proclaimed and toward which the attention of the faithful naturally turns during the Liturgy of the Word. It is appropriate that generally this place be a stationary ambo and not simply a movable lectern. The ambo must be located in keeping with the design of each church in such a way that the ordained ministers and readers may be clearly seen and heard by the faithful. From the ambo only the readings, the Responsorial Psalm, and the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) are to be proclaimed; likewise it may be used for giving the Homily and for announcing the intentions of the Universal Prayer. The dignity of the ambo requires that only a minister of the word should stand at it.

The use of a suitable ambo for the proclamation of Holy Scripture has much more to do with the inherent dignity and sacrality of the Word of God than of the one who proclaims the readings.

These are not issues when the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is used.

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  1. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    I luuuuuvit when experts read the rules correctly and quote them accurately to inquirers.

  2. John Nolan says:

    Is ‘minister of the word’ Novus Ordo-speak for reader? Is a cantor or psalmist a ‘minister of the word’, and if not, where does he stand? Am I the only one to find most of what purports to regulate the Novus Ordo fussy yet imprecise, and couched in pietistic language that leaves one feeling positively queasy?

    Fortunately they are not issues when the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is used.

  3. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    When Dr. Peters is happy, I am happy. But is there a conflict between these two provisions of the GIRM? If a lay person is deputed to read Scripture under GIRM 101, does he then become a “minister of the word”? If not, then the ambo should not be used (GIRM 309). Yet 309 clearly intends that the Word of God should be proclaimed from the ambo. This is a practical problem for me because I am often asked to be a reader at family funerals, twice in the last two months. Should I decline? I am sure other family members who have been kind enough to ask me would not understand.

  4. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    I should add that I have directed that my funeral be an EF Mass, where these issues will not arise and no one will be led to think that I am already in heaven.

  5. Pearl says:

    If you please, what is the definition of “instituted lector”? Thank you.

  6. mburn16 says:

    Out of curiosity, is the Ambo only for scripture and homily? would it be permissible to lead a rosary from one?

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    My understanding is that any lector, instituted or not, is a “minister of the Word.”

    The point of the GIRM is that you shouldn’t have announcements read from the ambo, because it’s reserved for Scripture and the Homily, and the Petitions (the universal prayers).

    Of course, the problem is that most parishes used to have a Gospel lectern and a lectern away from the sanctuary for everything else (which must have been re: Paul VI rules, now that I think of it), but now they mostly only have the ambo for everything. A lot of priests just read the announcements from out in the middle of the sanctuary, away from the ambo, and I guess that’s why.

  8. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Now that I think of it, I guess that means we also shouldn’t greet the people or announce hymns from the ambo. Yeah, I bet there’s a lot of compliance with that one! Although come to think of it, my current parish manages without the ambo for that, so I guess it can be done.

  9. Michael says:

    Grateful to be Catholic wrote: “I should add that I have directed that my funeral be an EF Mass, where these issues will not arise and no one will be led to think that I am already in heaven.”

    The last part is particularly well-said. A week or so ago, an influential priest in my area passed away, one who really helped to steer parishes in the classic “spirit of Vatican II” direction in the 1960s/70s. In the pamphlet/worship aid at a “memorial Mass” for him, there was nothing about commending his soul to the Lord’s mercy. It was just “he was a great man, we will miss him, and let’s all share fond memories of his life.” So do pray and offer Masses for his soul, please. For all his wrong tendencies, he brought my mother into the Catholic Church, and had that not been the case, my family might not be the Catholic family it is today.

  10. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    ” If a lay person is deputed to read Scripture under GIRM 101, does he then become a “minister of the word”?

    Yes, by temporary deputation. c. 230.2.

  11. Volanges says:

    Pearl asked: If you please, what is the definition of “instituted lector”? Thank you.
    Lector and Acolyte used to be a minor orders on the road to the priesthood, both lectors and acolytes were minor clerics. The Lector’s role at Mass was to read the Epistle. Unless your parish had a seminarian home for the holidays you would rarely see that happen.

    When the minor orders were abolished, Lector and Acolyte remained steps to the priesthood but rather than “clerical orders” they were made “instituted ministries.” These instituted ministries were also opened to men who had no intention of becoming priests. Since many, if not most, dioceses only institute men who ARE seeking ordination, most parishes don’t have the services of these instituted ministries. Instead, we have men and women (and boys and girls, in the case of acolytes) who serve in their stead. They are ministers by deputation rather than by institution.

    If there is an instituted lector present he should be the one doing the first and second readings even if there are regular readers scheduled, because the regular reader only functions because of the lack of an instituted lector.

  12. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    “‘If a lay person is deputed to read Scripture under GIRM 101, does he then become a
    minister of the word?’

    Yes, by temporary deputation. c. 230.2.”

    Thank you, Dr. Peters!

  13. Pearl says:


    Thank you so much for your answer. That must be why I have never seen an instituted lector before.

    A couple more questions, if I may.

    “These instituted ministeries were also open to men who had no intention of becoming priests.”

    Does this mean that it is possible for a layman to become an instituted lector? If so, why don’t we have a million of them?

    Is a permanent deacon first an instituted lector (ie, does he go through the various “ministries” (unsure of the proper term) on his way to becoming a deacon)? If so, why is a deacon not the one reading if he is present instead of a lay person?

    I have been to many Chrism Masses where just about every bishop, priest, deacon and seminarian in the diocese is in attendance, and yet there are women lectors every time. Surely there must be one instituted lector in the whole diocese. But, maybe not.

    Thank you for telling me about this ministry. I didn’t know it still existed.

    God bless you!

  14. Volanges says:

    Yes, a permanent Deacon has first been an instituted lector and an instituted acolyte. But the reading the First and Second readings are ministerial functions, that’s why a Deacon doesn’t usually do it. He’s ordained and to him belongs the reading of the Gospel.

    The various Bishops’ Conferences decree what is required for a man to be instituted to either ministries. In Canada, they have to be 21 and “have a serious Christian life and a recognized human maturity; a good reputation which would enable them to assume that responsibility for a community; and must be able to cooperate with others and have acquired the competence necessary to exercise the intended ministry.”

    What competence? Well, Pope Paul VI’s Motu Proprio Ministeria Quaedam which implemented these ministries, said of the Lector:

    The reader is appointed for a function proper to him, that of reading the word of God in the liturgical assembly. Accordingly, he is to proclaim the readings from sacred Scripture, except for the gospel in the Mass and other sacred celebrations; he is to recite the psalm between the readings when there is no psalmist; he is to present the intentions for the general intercessions in the absence of a deacon or cantor; he is to direct the singing and the participation by the faithful; he is to instruct the faithful for the worthy reception of the sacraments. He may also, insofar as may be necessary, take care of preparing other faithful who are appointed on a temporary basis to read the Scriptures in liturgical celebrations. That he may more fittingly and perfectly fulfill these functions, he is to meditate assiduously on sacred Scripture.
    Aware of the office he has undertaken, the reader is to make every effort and employ suitable means to acquire that increasingly warm and living love and knowledge of Scripture that will make him a more perfect disciple of the Lord.

    In practice though, even if a bishop is able to find a few lectors for each parish, as far as I’ve been able to discern, most limit institution to men who are preparing for the permanent or temporary diaconate. Why? It seems to be precisely because these ministries are not open to women, That became evident when at the end of the the 2008 Synod in Rome , they proposed, in Proposition 17, that the ministry of Lector be opened to women:

    “The synod fathers recognize and encourage the service of the laity in the transmission of the faith. Women, in particular, have an indispensable role on this point, above all in the family and in catechesis. In fact, they know how to arouse hearing of the Word and the personal relationship with God, and how to communicate the meaning of forgiveness and evangelical sharing.
    It’s hoped that ministry of lector can be opened also to women, so that their role as announcers of the Word may be recognized in the Christian community.”

  15. Pearl says:


    Thank you so very much for taking the time to clarify this for me. I really do appreciate the effort. I will continue to research these instituted ministries as it is all new to me! It is very interesting.

    I had thought that all the minor orders were just done away with. I am always glad to learn more about the Church.

    God bless!

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