The Role of Laity in the Ordinariate and the Role of Women

Someone raised the issue of the role of the laity in the Church, especially since the Second Vatican Council.  I, however, have seen the role of the laity sometimes completely skewed.

Case in point: Last year, I attended a Catholic Mass in another province.  There were about 40 priests present.  However, as they processed up from behind the altar to partake of the Precious Blood, an army of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHCs) came forward.  The wine had been brought in glass pitchers and after consecration, the Precious Blood was poured into glass goblets that were given to the EMHCs, mostly women, who then stood next to the person (mostly also EMHCs) who distributed Holy Communion.  I watched aghast as people came forward, took the Precious Body in their fingers and dipped it into Precious Blood, with only a passing concern for possible spills.

The role of the laity in the Church has, in some quarters since Vatican II, stressed the role in ministry within the confines of the Holy Mass, whether it's the lay readers, cantors, liturgists, or EMHCs.

With a shortage of vocations and an uptick of lay theological training, many dioceses have solved their priest shortages by putting lay ministers in charge of a range of diocesan activities, such as youth ministries, catechesis, and so on.  However, could this expansion of non-consecrated ministry in the church be partly responsible for the drying up of vocations?  If I'm a young man and I see that I can serve the Church in ministry, get paid reasonably well and don't have to be a celibate priest, what's the incentive for the latter?

This has also contributed to what some critics have described as the feminization of the Church, despite the all-male priesthood.  Father may be the parish priest, but behind the scenes most of the parish team might be female.

In the Ordinariate, we will need to think of how we encourage vocations to the celibate priesthood, and ensure those vocations come from men who could be good husbands and fathers but give up those goods for the greater good of serving the Church.  We need to find a way to make sure there are more Mercers and Wilkinsons in the pipeline — lifelong celibates who could eventually become full bishops in the Catholic Church.

I have had it said to me there needs to be more openings for women, more obvious routes for women in the Ordinariate, to exercise their spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ.  I confess, I bristle.  I like our all-male altar parties and I think the only way men will be brought back into the Church is if there is a masculine approach to worship.  Otherwise, you might notice a certain phenomenon — when women start running things, the men stay home or find something else to do.  Some of this is a sad abdication of their roles as priests and fathers in the home.  Yes, we women will lead when we have to, but strong women like me can not stand being around men I can push around or who leave me having to run things because they haplessly sit around waiting for someone else to take initiative.  Grrrrrr!

But the other reason I bristle is because I think to myself,  "What am I, chopped liver?"

Is not what I do an exercise of my spiritual gifts as a woman in the Church?  My work puts me directly in contact with cardinals and archbishops and I have never been treated as less than equal because I am a woman.  On that wonderful day I got to meet the Holy Father, the nun who handled press credentials took both my hands in hers, fixed her eyes on me, and told me to never forget the importance of what I do as a journalist.  "It is an apostolate," she said.

I think of others in our small parish who are out in the world but serving God.  My friend Barbara who is a family doctor not only saves lives, literally, but works closely with other doctors concerned about conscience rights, religious freedom and human dignity.

My friend Mary is a high school math teacher, but whose love for her students speaks volumes about the Gospel without a word needing to be spoken.  That's what lay ministry is supposed to look like. None of us is clamoring to be an EMHC. (Though I did joke with our former bishop Carl Reid about asking to be one.)

We have so many others who contribute in various ways, either through through volunteer efforts both with the church and outside or through their work.  The role of the laity, as St. Josemaria Escriva pointed out, is out in the world, making the ordinary work of their lives a holy Work of God, Opus Dei.

The role of the priest is different.  He is the stand-in for Christ and without the priest there would be no Eucharist.  He equips us with the sacraments so we can move into the world, full of all the graces we need.

That said, what are some roles for women in the Ordinariate that may even see them licensed for certain activities such as hospital, or prison or other work?

What can we do to encourage vocations to both the celibate and the married priesthood?  How can we create a critical mass of celibate ordinands who are both normal and masculine so that they have community and support for the counter-cultural sacrifice they are making?

Your thoughts?

Author: Deborah Gyapong

Deborah Gyapong is a member of the Sodality of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary ( in Ottawa, a former parish of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (Traditional Anglican Communion) whose members were received individually and corporately into the Roman Catholic Church on April 15, 2012 by Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast at St. Patrick’s Basilica. Under the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, the community will celebrate an approved Anglican Use liturgy and hopes to soon join with other sodalities across Canada to form the Canadian Deanery of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter under Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, Ordinary. As we wait for our priest(s) to be ordained as Catholic priests, God willing, Archbishop Prendergast will provide priests to celebrate our Sunday Eucharist according to the Anglican Use. Deborah is a journalist who covers religion and politics in Canada’s national capital, writing primarily for Roman Catholic newspapers since 2004. Her novel The Defilers, published in 2006, was not a best seller, alas. She spent 17 years at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in news and current affairs, including 12 years as a television producer.

10 thoughts on “The Role of Laity in the Ordinariate and the Role of Women”

  1. Women can promote men to enter the priesthood by being good mothers and loving wives to their husbands, instructing the boys in the Catholic faith and to be faithful to their calling, whatever that will be. That is the way. The only way. Priests, deacons, religious formators, nuns, teachers, lay chaplains etc while more visible to many people in this effort, actually just play a supporting role

    The Anglican Ordinariates and its vocations is an interesting "experiment" to watch. It is a fact that the Anglican churches always had a married clergy as well as a celibate clergy and we know the gifts they bring to the Anglican churches. Of course the married clergy comprise the majority. What would be interesting to see is whether married men will continue to be called to a priestly vocation in the ordinariates. Of course we expect that more unmarried men will be called to the priesthood. But those of us who are cradle Roman Catholics know right from the start that only celibates are called to the priesthood. Little boys and girls know the sacrifice that this calling entails. Girls of course are told by their mothers that if they have a crush on a boy who wants to be a priest, they should just forget the whole idea! This leads to the "What-a-waste!" joke once they girls become women and the boys become men and priests! I have a handsome cousin who's now an Monsignor who is an example of this. But he stood by his vows.

    In contrast, Anglicans are never told that their priests cannot marry. There is no such thing as a Father "What-a-waste!" in the Anglican tradition!

    But what if in the ordinariate, there is a significant proportion of married men who are called to the priesthood? I guess this will be left to the Ordinary but I don't think the ordinariate can sweep that under the rug. A married priesthood is part of the Anglican patrimony and spirituality. Will Rome give dispensations as what the norms of Anglicanorum coetibus say? The standard interpretation is that the dispensations only apply to convert clergy.

    But God's ways are mysterious. We just have to wait and see.

  2. I hope the married priesthood and the charism of a family at the heart of the parish is preserved in the Ordinariates as it it part of Anglican patrimony and is one of the ways this patrimony is a bridge between East and West.

    But we need to do better on the celibacy side. And we need to ensure we cultivate a supernatural approach to vocations—praying for more of them, praying for God to raise up good, healthy men to serve Him, whether as a family man or a celibate priest.

  3. If the Catholic church, with its long history of a celibate clergy, is having difficulty selling this vocation in the 21st C I think the chances of having it widely accepted or successfully promoted by (former) Anglicans are slim. A married priest extolling celibacy as a better option would be sending a particularly unfortunate message, I would think.

    1. I don't think vocations can be sold. Vocations come from God and we can pray for them, we can encourage others to discern the call.

      A married priest can model fatherhood to a celibate priest and vice versa. I remember a Roman Catholic priest based in Rome telling me that the life of a celibate priest can be an awfully good, interesting life. That seeing a father having to deal with young children when he may prefer to be reading a book or sitting at an outdoor cafe with friends helps him see what kind of unselfishness is called for in the priestly life and makes him more mindful of those who are hard to love in any parish settings he might encounter.

      A celibate priest can model a chaste love for women that sometimes husbands lack if they are resentful about not having their sexual needs met in the right way etc. (Their sex lives might improve if they figure this out, btw.)

      1. This is all very true, but your question was " How can we create a critical mass of celibate ordinands?" I assumed by "we" you meant "we in the Ordinariate. Perhaps my use of the word "sell" was inappropriate; the fact remains that communities with wide experience of the gifts of celibacy have not been able to get the message out. It seems unlikely that Anglicanism has anything to contribute.

  4. You are assuredly not "chopped liver." The folks who say that are the ones who also say that motherhood is not a "real job." Tell that to my wife. It is actually a not-so-subtle form of sexism to insist that femininity is best realized by unfettered access to male vocations.

  5. I think Deborah has highlighted a troubling trend since the Second Vatican Council that was also part of the discussion last week regarding Vincent Uher's post "Giving Up on the Ordinariate?", that is, the tension between ministry and mission. Or as the nun Deborah spoke to in Rome rightly put it, "apostolate".

    Within many Catholic parishes, there are annual "ministry fairs", which aim to recruit people to various ministries and activities in the parish. And there is obviously a need for many of these, such as catechists. But what is often lacking is the sense of the apostolate, and if I read aright the document on the laity from Vatican II, that is the central mission of the laity: to go out into the world and bring the Gospel. But too often we have been diverted from the mission by getting involved in internal church affairs.

    I've certainly been as "guilty" about this as anyone; get involved in one ministry and you're soon recruited for another, and as a singer, I'm necessarily involved in "internal affairs". But I have resisted being diverted entirely into parish-only efforts, because I know (especially here in Massachusetts where 85% of the Catholics rarely come to church, much less those outside the faith) that the world waits outside the sanctuary, and needs the invitation to come in.

    I hope that this aspect of the Christian life, which was so visible in the Anglican missionary societies and in the Anglo-Catholic slum priests will be a vibrant part of the Ordinariates.

  6. Well said. Certain groups interested in repeating the same mistakes in the Church of England could learn well from reading this article.

  7. Hello Deborah,

    "However, could this expansion of non-consecrated ministry in the church be partly responsible for the drying up of vocations?"

    In a word: Yes.

    And some of us believe, following Bishop Eldon Curtiss, that this expansion of lay ministry, along with other measures – i.e., screening out men who did not subscribe to radical theological agendas (particularly women's ordination) – were deliberately aimed at this constriction of vocations. Indeed, I can think of at least one upstate New York diocese where . . . it is hard to look at what is going on and not conclude that this isn't still going on now. If the celibate men dry up . . . it's going to be easier to push for changes in the discipline and doctrine of the priestly office.

    But these days seem to be passing. If the Episcopal Church has now moved into Progressive Never-Never Land past the point of no return, it's become obvious that the Catholic Church is moving back toward tradition.

    And with the infusion of the ordinariates, you'll be able to help us accelerate this restoration of the Church.

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