Motherhouse Sacred Heart of Mary
Sister Thérèse-Marie Potelle, RSCM
The role of women in the Church has always been a controversial subject with advances and setbacks. The initiative of Pope Francis with the motu proprio of January 11, 2021, opening up the possibility for women to have a recognized ministry in liturgical celebrations, makes me wonder about the validity of this initiative.
The people of God are made up of women and men with all the richness of their nature and the diversity of their skills. Why should we highlight the commitment of women by formalizing it, making it official and permanent? In 1965 the Vatican Council II had dared to proclaim: “The Church very much desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious and active participation in the liturgical celebrations, which is required by the nature of the liturgy and which is, by virtue of of one’s baptism, a right and a duty for Christian people. This full and active participation of the whole people is what should be aimed at with all our might in the restoration and enhancement of the liturgy ”(The Holy Liturgy n ° 14.) Full and active, such is the participation of all the faithful, male and female, which is called upon for the liturgy. Since 1965 things have moved forward and slowly new practices have been put in place. Taking the ambo to proclaim the Word or give Communion or even celebrate funerals has gradually become a common reality in many parishes. As a woman, I have always been able to take the ambo to proclaim the Word or give Communion in the different parishes I have attended. But I recognize that access to this service has often been facilitated by the fact that I am identified as a nun and that for women, lay women, this is still not automatic. There are still priests around me who are reluctant to call a woman to give Communion, to welcome girls around the altar for the service of the liturgy.
So I feel that this initiative of Pope Francis, officially opening up the possibility for women to play a greater recognized role in the liturgical celebration is, at the same time, a little and a great deal. Agreat deal …. this canonical gesture gives legitimacy to the role of women in the liturgy and I hope it will help to alleviate resistance in addition to the work of the time. It is a sign of hope, like a positive note which confirms the openness of the Church so that women take their place without prejudice with the firm will to serve God and the Christian people. But still too little … this remains an urgent call which commits us to go further. The issue is still, as always, to associate women with thinking differently about the Church. The appointment on February 6, 2021 of Sr. Nathalie Bécquart, a French Xaviere religious, as a member of the Synod of Bishops with the right to vote is a welcome additional step to the process of openness and recognition. It also requires training members of Christian communities to resolve the authority-service equation in the Church. And it is not an easy task !!
Since the beginnings of our Institute, we have been concerned with women “communicating and collaborating with others to assume our prophetic role in the Church” (Const. N° 27). Encouraging the confidence of women to speak in a reciprocal and fruitful dialogue with priests is a challenge we always need to take up.
In the very different context of the Church at the time of Father Gailhac, our Founder, it is good for me to have been able to read in a letter he addressed to a community on July 23, 1884: “Dear children, it is not only men who are to take part in the divine work, women must contribute, and widely.” So let’s take our place in the Church and dare to speak out!