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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Female preachers in Germany will occupy pulpits and preach during Holy Mass on the so-called Feast of St. Junia, in defiance of canon law and a recent Vatican directive forbidding lay preaching at Masses.
The dissident initiative is being led by the Katholische Frauengemeinschaft Deutschlands (Catholic Women's Community in Germany), a feminist movement campaigning for the ordination of female deacons.
"More than 70 women will not be silenced again this year and will use their sermons to promote equal rights for women in the Church," a KFD press statement announced, noting that the women preachers will "interpret the gospel" during "a celebration of the Eucharist."
While this is the fourth year in which the rebel movement is occupying pulpits nationwide, KFD stressed that "the day has a special meaning this year after the Vatican reaffirmed the canonical ban on lay sermons in Eucharistic celebrations on March 30, 2023."
"Previously, [in sessions of] the Synodal Path, it was decided that the bishops would develop regulations for the permission of lay people to preach during Eucharistic celebrations and send the regulations to Rome," the KFD statement said.
German dioceses have defied canon law on laypersons preaching at Holy Mass for over three decades. In 1988, Bp. Georg Moser, of the Rottenburg–Stuttgart diocese, issued regulations on "The Extraordinary Preaching Service of Laity in the Eucharistic celebration."
Ten years later, Cdl. Walter Kasper approved the practice, advising dioceses "to stick to the existing practice of lay preaching in the Eucharistic celebration through full-time services [of lay preachers] commissioned by the bishop."
Noting canon laws that restrict the pulpit to the deacon or priest, the new regulations argued that "there are extraordinary situations in which homiletically qualified laypeople who are commissioned to preach [at non-Eucharistic services] can also be commissioned to preach in the (Sunday) Eucharistic celebration."
Since "the parish priest is the proper shepherd of the parish entrusted to him," he, with input from the parish council, would determine what constitutes an "extraordinary situation," the document explained.
The bishops also recommended a liturgical formula for priests to pronounce over lay preachers before they went to the pulpit:
Immediately before the sermon, the preacher approaches the priest who is standing at the sedilia and asks for the blessing: "I ask for the blessing." Then the priest speaks the words of blessing in a low voice: "The Lord be in your heart and on your lips, so that you proclaim his gospel worthily, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."
The KFD has used the persona of Junia from the New Testament. In the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, her feast is traditionally celebrated on May 17. Despite Junia not being recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church, the KDF uses her day to campaign for women lay preachers.
Paul tells us that Andronicus and his wife, Junia, were both imprisoned for the sake of Jesus: "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was" (Romans 16:7).
However, scholars have debated if Junia was a woman and if she could technically be termed an "apostle."
While most English translations from the 1940s to the early 1970s translate "Iounian" as the masculine name Junias, older translations and more recent revisions render Iounian as the feminine Junia.
Scholars argue that while the masculine name Junias does not occur in any inscription, letterhead, epitaph or literary work of the New Testament period, the feminine Junia occurs widely and frequently.
Some patristic scholars cite St. John Chrysostom, who regarded Junia as a woman and a type of apostle: "To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles — just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! ... Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle."
In March, the German Synodal Way approved the document titled "Proclamation of the Gospel by Lay People in Word and Sacrament," asking bishops to "obtain permission for this from the Holy See" to allow the homily in Eucharistic celebrations" to be preached by theologically and spiritually qualified faithful commissioned by the bishop.
Cardinal Arthur Roche, prefect for the Vatican's Dicastery for Divine Worship, objected to the proposals, warning that "misunderstandings about the figure and identity of the priest" could "arise in the consciousness of the Christian community" if lay people preached at Mass.
"Word and sacrament are inseparable realities, and inasmuch as they are not merely formal expressions of the exercise of sacra potestas [sacred power], they are neither separable nor can they be separable," Roche maintained.
"This is not an exclusion of the laity," the cardinal wrote, "nor is it, of course, a denial of the right and duty of every baptized person, male or female, to proclaim the gospel, but rather a confirmation of the specificity of this form of proclamation, which is the homily."