Are there times when women can preach?

Are there times when women can preach? July 22, 2019

via Vimeo

This essay by Jean Molesky-Paz was published today — the feast of St. Mary Magdalene — and it offers us an interesting witness to a very different time:

In our parish in Northern California, lay women began to preach the good news during the Sunday liturgy in 1996. The practice emerged from within the faith community. Several women had approached our pastor and spoke of the devastating lack of women’s spiritual wisdom and leadership in the church for 2,000 years. We asked: Couldn’t women, who feel called and are prepared, give a homily—a teaching that expands on the message of the Scripture readings and invites listeners to a change of mind and heart?

“I wondered if anyone would ever ask,” he said.

But that experiment didn’t last long:

…In 2001, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in accordance with No. 766 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, declared that “preaching by the lay faithful may not take place within the Celebration of the Eucharist at the moment reserved for the homily.” Nevertheless, the conference recognized the right of each bishop to permit the practice of lay preaching in his own diocese, though not during the time traditionally set aside for the homily.

Our bishop and our parish priests, years earlier, had recognized the gift of lay preaching. Nobody expected that the clock might be turned back. But in 2009, restrictions began to be put in place. A new bishop in our diocese mandated that the priest celebrant must read the Gospel at Mass and he alone give a short homily. Lay people could then offer a “reflection,” sharing our thoughts. But we could not give a homily.

Read on. 

The 2001 USCCB statement on lay preaching notes [emphasis added]:

If necessity requires it in certain circumstances or it seems useful in particular cases, the diocesan bishop can admit lay faithful to preach, to offer spiritual conferences or give instructions in churches, oratories or other sacred places within his diocese, when he judges it to be to the spiritual advantage of the faithful.

In order to assist the diocesan bishop in making an appropriate pastoral decision (Interdicasterial Instruction, Ecclesiae de Mysterio, Article 2 §3), the following circumstances and cases are illustrative: the absence or shortage of clergy, particular language requirements, or the demonstrated expertise or experience of the lay faithful concerned.  

The lay faithful who are to be admitted to preach in a church or oratory must be orthodox in faith, and well-qualified, both by the witness of their lives as Christians and by a preparation for preaching appropriate to the circumstances.

The diocesan bishop will determine the appropriate situations in accord with canon 772, §1. In providing for preaching by the lay faithful the diocesan bishop may never dispense from the norm which reserves the homily to the sacred ministers (c. 767, §1; cfr. Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law, 26 May 1987, in AAS 79 [1987], 1249). Preaching by the lay faithful may not take place within the Celebration of the Eucharist at the moment reserved for the homily.

In my reading of this, there appears to be a very narrow window that might, under some circumstances, permit a qualified lay woman to preach outside of Mass, with the permission of the bishop.

Which leads me to wonder, what might those circumstances be?

Serious question: Would it be possible — or even desirable — in some situations for a qualified woman to preach at a marriage ceremony or convalidation? What about at a baptism? Could a lay woman, in theory, preach at a wake or funeral without a Mass? At Benediction?


Any thoughts? Has anyone pursued this?

Browse Our Archives