A while ago, I was reading the Papal encyclical, Allatae Sunt, by Pope Benedict 14th in 1755. The encyclical has much to say regarding Rome’s relations to the East and so it is a worthwhile read, though I don’t think it is always accurate. That is just to say that I am not Catholic. But then I ran across a series of statements that I desired to get clear on regarding women servers at the altar.
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.
Now I am not clear on a few points and so I wish to invite informed Catholics to help get clear on them. What is the standing of this statement? Is it revisable or has it been revised? Is this a moral issue or a prudential one? And if the latter, how are we to understand the Pope’s terms of “evil practice?” How does this statement relate to the current practice in the Catholic Church of permitting female altar servers and lay eucharistic ministers? What does Vatican II have to say on the matter or is there some other sourece in the code of canon law that explains the history and reasoning behind the apparent moral revision here?
To be clear, I do not wish to make a claim or argument regarding current practice. I only wish to get clear on what exactly is going on here in relation to contemporary Catholic practice.