Female roles in church


confused on the matter

several popes had condemned the practice of women serving at the altar as evil. how come it’s not considered evil now?

2 corintians says women shouldn’t speak in church, yet we have female readers. i’ve heard that the interpretation is that paul was condemning women speaking out of turn in the assembly but that has not been the traditional understanding for almost 2000 years

relating to the above question, women are not to teach or have authority over men. which i understand is mainly in the church setting (correct me if i’m wrong). that includes reading the gospel and interpreting scripture. what about bible studies led by women? how comed that doesn’t apply?

any info would be appreciated. thanks


Female altar boys outnumber the males at the diocesan church in my area, from what I can tell. There are also far more female readers as well. I think this is just a sign of the times.


What are the sources for these papal statements?


I think they are talking about women being priests rather than staying silent in the corner.



Our diocesan parish is altar boys only, and I know of 3 more parishes that have switched back to altar boys only within the last few years.


Here in the Philippines females are not permitted to be altar servers or EMHC’s.
Their role here at Mass is as commentators and readers.


“Pope Gelasius in his ninth letter (chap. 26) to the bishops of Lucania condemned the evil practice which had been introduced of women serving the priest at the celebration of Mass. Since this abuse had spread to the Greeks, Innocent IV strictly forbade it in his letter to the bishop of Tusculum: “Women should not dare to serve at the altar; they should be altogether refused this ministry.” We too have forbidden this practice in the same words in Our oft-repeated constitution Etsi Pastoralis, sect. 6, no. 21.”


These are matters of discipline, not infallible dogma. Popes do not have to agree with every other Pope on such matters, and no Pope can make statements that bind another Pope, except of course in infallible statements.

As far as the passage in 2 Corinthians goes, the Church has the right to interpret Scripture as it sees fit, and if the Church states that women may be lectors, lead Bible studies, teach at Catholic universities, who are we to question that? “Traditional” does not mean “forever”. If the Church, after studying the matter, comes to a different conclusion than previously understood, they have the right to change the discipline. This again is not a matter of dogma.

Things may differ in various parts of the world, because the Bishops have the right to make the decision for their Diocese. He’s the Boss. If Rome says women can serve at the altar, that means they can, it does not mean they must, and that decision is up to the Bishop, who may also delegate that decision to the parish Pastor.

But we have to trust that the Church knows what it is doing in it’s disciplinary and teaching matters.


Maybe so, but I believe it’s still in one of the readings for a particular Sunday. I remember hearing it because a friend who came to Mass with me pointed it out once. Shouldn’t it be removed as a reading if it no longer applies or could be misinterpreted as dogma or not part of the Deposit of Faith?


Why? It is part of Sacred Scripture.


Paul was addressing the problem of disorder in the Church. Everyone was speaking at the same time, eating and drinking while others went hungry, etc. It was not about women speaking out of turn but about general disorder when the people assembled.



Maybe but Paul also said something to the effect that women should ask their husbands at home. So together with your explanation, then maybe it’s more that everyone should be quiet in church and talk later? Like the OP, I thought I understood the passage clearly but now, I’m confused too.

In any case I agree with CB Catholic that it is a part of Sacred Scripture, meaning to me that it is a part of the Deposit of our Faith, Tradition, and part of Church’s teachings.


Regarding the red, this is exactly right.

If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silence in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. (1 Corinthians 14:27-29)

Paul addresses seven distinct problems in the Church in Corinth. Disorder during the assembly was one of the problems he addressed. He was basically telling everyone to shut up and listen.

That women were to keep silent in the assembly was cultural. Orthodox Jews still observe this in the synagogue today. Women are not allowed to speak, but that is cultural. Western culture developed a deepening sense of the dignity of women especially in the 13th century.

Not every command in the Bible is literal. Paul is addressing general disorder. The role of women was not what he was speaking about but disorder.


Trent referred to certain practices as “apostolica disciplina.” I think one can make the case anything included in those St. Paul’s letters could easily fall into that category.


Honestly I am glad that women do not preach or lead in the Catholic Church. The CC has so many other roles for women but people don’t quite see their significance!

St. Mary, our Blessed Mother, is probably the most significant and prominent woman model. Her role was the Mother of God. Her presence was known in scripture and she is asked for intercessions by women in all walks of life. We have many saints who are women who have lived interesting lives, struggled, had leadership roles-- but because their leadership roles don’t involve “boss” it somehow means their roles were less important. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

I’m trying to understand why having women preach is so important and why it’s even a question to be asked. The priesthood is one of the last vocations that is reserved for men. In some ways, it represents a last stand against a secular society that’s more interested in a culture of death. When women were told not to speak in the Church, it didn’t mean they had to always shut up all the time. Women can sing, they can be lectors, and they can lead groups. There is a lack of women in teaching and ministry positions where they would be highly valued to other women. I just shake my head about this, sorry if I seem offensive, because here we are asking about why women can’t be priests and whatnot yet there are hardly Titus 2 women (divorce rate, anyone?). Those are the women leaders we need, not female priests/pastors.


Who was discussing women priests? The OP wasn’t.


What other context is there to have an authoritative role in the Church? How else does “serving at the altar” occur?


I believe the OP was talking about female altar servers and readers. There are also female “lead” servers…meaning they are in charge of the altar servers, etc…like a master of ceremonies. I don’t think the reading of the Gospels applies as that is for the priest only as is the homily and priest are only male.


i wasn’t asking about priests/pastors at all


thanks for your answer. it was helpful. tis raises another question though. does that mean the traditional interpretaiton was wrong? and if so, doen’st it mean that matters of faith and morals could be intrepreted wrongly as well?

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