CDW, Circular Letter to the Presidents of Conferences of Bishops On the Liturgical Service of the Laity, 15 March 1994.


It is my duty to communicate to the presidents of the episcopal conferences that an authentic interpretation of c. 230, §2 of the Code of Canon Law will soon be published in Acta Apostolicæ Sedis.

As you know, c. 230, §2 lays down that:

“Laici ex temporanea deputatione in actionibus liturgicis munus lectoris implere possunt; item omnes laici muneribus commentatoris, cantoris aliisve ad normam iuris fungi possunt” [Lay persons can fulfill the function of lector during liturgical actions by temporary deputation; likewise all laypersons can fulfill the functions of commentator or cantor or other functions, in accord with the norm of the law.]

The Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts was recently asked if the liturgical functions which, according to the above canon, can be entrusted to the lay faithful, may be carried out equally by men and women, and if serving at the altar may be included among those functions, on a par with the others indicated by the canon.

At its meeting of June 30, 1992, the members of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts examined the following dubium [unresolved question] which had been proposed to them:

“Utrum inter munera liturgica quibus laici, sive viri sive mulieres, iuxta CIC c.230, §2, fungi possunt, adnumerari etiam possit servitium ad altare.”[Can service at the altar also be counted among the liturgical actions that lay people, either men or women, fulfill according to c. 230, §2 of the Code Canon Law?]

The following response was given: “Affirmative et iuxta instructiones a Sede Apostolica dandas” [Yes, in accord with instructions to be given by the Apostolic See.]

Subsequently, at an audience granted on July 11, 1992, to Archbishop Vincenzo Fagiolo, archbishop emeritus of Chieti-Vasto and president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, Pope John Paul II confirmed this decision and ordered its promulgation. This will be done in the near future. In communicating the above information to your episcopal conference, I feel obliged to clarify certain aspects of c. 230, §2 and of its authentic interpretation:

1. Canon 230, §2 has a permissive and not a receptive character: “Laici …possunt” [Lay persons can]. Hence the permission given in this regard by some bishops can in no way be considered as binding on other bishops. In fact, it is the competence of each bishop, in his diocese, after hearing the opinion of the episcopal conference, to make a prudential judgment on what to do, with a view to the ordered development of liturgical life in his own diocese.

2. The Holy See respects the decision adopted by certain bishops for specific local reasons on the basis of the provisions of c. 230, §2. At the same time, however,

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the Holy See wishes to recall that it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar. As is well known, this has also led to a reassuring development of priestly vocations. Thus, the obligation to support such groups of altar boys will always continue.

3. If in some dioceses, on the basis of c. 230, §2, the bishop permits that, for particular reasons, women may also serve at the altar, this decision must be clearly explained to the faithful in the light of the above-mentioned norm. It shall also be made clear that the norm is already being widely applied, by the fact that women frequently serve as lectors in the liturgy and can also be called upon to distribute holy communion as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist and to carry out other functions, according to the provisions of the same c. 230, §3.

4. It must also be clearly understood that the liturgical services mentioned above are carried out by lay people ex temporanea deputatione [by temporary deputation], according to the judgment of the bishop, without lay people, be they men or women, having any right to exercise them.

In communicating the above, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has sought to carry out the mandate received from the Supreme Pontiff to provide directives to illustrate what is laid down in c. 230, §2 of the Code of Canon Law and its authentic interpretation, which will shortly be published.

In this way the bishops will be better able to carry out their mission to be moderators and promoters of liturgical life in their own dioceses, within the framework of the norms in force in the universal Church.

In deep communion with all the members of your episcopal conference, I remain yours sincerely in Christ.




CDW, 15 March 1994, Circular Letter, Notitiæ 30 (1994): 333-335; Origins 23 (April 28, 1994): 777, 779.