I was stunned when I read the story on Religion News Service website March 2 entitled, Vatican newspaper essays say women should preach at Mass. And yes, the publication in which this appeared was L'Osservatore Romano, the "semi-official" Vatican newspaper.
I had several reactions simultaneously as I read this:
Well, well, the Vatican is finally catching up with (part of) the 21st century!
- Women already preach in a lot of places (usually unofficially, but they do) … maybe now they'll get official recognition and regular preaching opportunities on Sundays.
- Women are top notch theologians, authors, speakers and pastoral care workers: there is no reason they should be barred from preaching.
- I wonder what the conservatives in the Vatican think about this idea … in an official newspaper, no less! (The article described the situation inside the Vatican as "delicate.")
- I wonder if Pope Francis had anything to do with this … if not an open suggestion, at least the "aura" he has created.
- I wonder when the Vatican will recognize "dialogue homilies" in which anyone present at a Eucharist can share her/his reflections.
Two of the essays in the Vatican paper were written by nuns: French Dominican Sr. Catherine Aubin who teaches theology at a pontifical university in Rome and Swedish Dominican Sr. Madeleine Fredell who said she sometimes preaches now. Since the "OP" that follows Dominican names means "Order of Preachers," this is highly appropriate.
I don't usually expect any sort of progress when it comes to the rights and equality of women in the Catholic church, even in the age of Francis. He has already indicated that he does not favor women's ordination. So I was truly surprised to see this story.
Then, I had to laugh. As always at the Vatican, the argument for change was not a need to update the church or recognize the equality of women with men, but as some of the essayists note, a need to return to "tradition!" Women preached regularly in the first 1,000 years of Christianity, and often did so in front of priests, bishops and even the pope. Why not resurrect that practice?
And of course, Mary Magdalene was known as the "apostle to the apostles" because the she was the first to "preach" the news of his Resurrection -- the foundational Christian belief -- to the male followers of Jesus.
Now, the ball is in Francis' court. And a lot of people are wondering if this was a "practice shot" at the "basket." (I'm sure the conservatives in Rome are fuming at this suggestion! Francis might be testing the "temperature" before proceeding.) Is this the signal of a change Francis is about to make? If so, go for it, Francis! It is a step in the direction of the gospel.