OSNABRÜCK, Germany (ChurchMilitant.com) - Officials in the diocese of Osnabrück are encouraging women to participate in Masses by submitting Gospel reflections, some of which will be selected for publication.
As part of the global Year of the Word of God, the women's pastoral care office of the German Bishops' Conference (DBK) has invited women to preach and interpret the word of God in groups and communities throughout Germany. St. Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th-century Benedictine abbess and Doctor of the Church, is the declared patroness of the project.
In May, the Catholic Women's Community of Germany held the first nationwide female preachers' day to commemorate Junia, dubbed an apostle by St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans 16:7. There has long been controversy over whether Junia or Junias was a man or woman, while numerous scholars have concluded in recent years that errors in translation disguised Junia's identity as a woman. In Germany, 12 women gave sermons in 12 locations, mostly during Liturgy of the Word services or on the internet, due to Wuhan virus restrictions.
According to canon 766: "Laypersons can be permitted to preach in a church or oratory if necessity requires it in certain circumstances or it seems advantageous in particular cases, according to the prescripts of the conference of bishops and without prejudice to canon 767."
Canon 767 states: "the homily, which is part of the Liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or deacon, is pre-eminent; in the homily, the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian life are to be explained from the sacred text during the course of the liturgical year."
Bishop Franz-Josef Bode has given his blessing to women's preaching. Bode was one of several German bishops who criticized a 22-page document, titled "The pastoral conversion of the parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the church," released by the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy in July. The document issued instructions on parish reform while proposing how parishes facing priest shortages and financial difficulties can be moved from "self-preservation" to evangelization.
The document also said that bishops "may entrust the pastoral care of a parish to a deacon, to a consecrated religious or layperson, or even to a group of persons." These functions include the Liturgy of the Word on Sundays and holy days (in lieu of a Mass), baptisms, funeral rites, preaching outside of Masses and assisting at marriages under exceptional circumstances so long as they operate "under the direction and responsibility of the parish priest."
As chairman on the German bishops' forum on the role of women in the Church, as part of its Synodal Way "reform," Bode said that the Vatican document served as "a strong brake on the motivation and the appreciation of the services of laypeople." He claimed that it took his colleagues by surprise and should have shown greater respect for the concept of synodality.
Bode also happens to be one of several German bishops who favors the granting of "blessing" to homosexual partnerships. In January, Bode said, "Even though 'marriage for all' clearly differs from the Church's understanding of marriage, it is now a political reality."
He went on to say, "We have to ask ourselves how we should deal with people who tie this knot. Some of them are active in the Church. So how are we going to accompany them with pastoral care and in the liturgy?" and added, "We could think about giving them a blessing."
In a statement, Inga Schmitt, who consults the Osnabrück diocese on communications, said, "We think that we now have to widen the framework a little so that women in particular with their charisms can be seen and heard more strongly than before in the Liturgy and preaching."
The aim of the campaign, said Schmitt, is to make women more visible in liturgies but is also taken "on behalf of all other non-consecrated people. It is not enough just to give testimony in a family context or at work."
Ulrike Göken-Huismann, who serves as a spiritual director and board member of the Catholic Women's Community of Germany, has asserted that limiting homilies to ordained clergy discriminates against women.
According to the German Catholic bishops' official news site, she believes that liturgies featuring female preachers would be a "small but important step with regard to the necessary renewal of the Church."
Speaking for the women"s group, Renate Flath said that limiting homilies to ordained men shuts out "women's view of our faith and the gospel." She told the website that she favors "finally abolishing the ban on preaching for non-consecrated people in Holy Mass. It actually excludes women, so something is missing in the very central task of preaching."
Citing priest shortages, some bishops have moved to put women in charge of parishes. For example, in 2019, Christine Hölscher took over two parishes in the Osnabrück diocese, wielding total financial control, presiding over parish council meetings and supervising employees such as the non-resident "priest moderator," who will be limited to celebrating the sacraments. Identified by the German bishops' website as a "pastor," she said, "We're still a long way from having equal access to power for women."
There are at least seven parishes run by women in the diocese.
In 2013, the Catholic bishops issued a norm that allowed non-ordained persons, male and female, to preach during Mass, but not during the time allotted for the homily, at the discretion of the local bishop.
Jean Molesky-Poz wrote an article in 2019 for America magazine titled, "I'm a Catholic woman who was allowed to preach at Mass — until it was banned." She wrote that several women in her Northern California parish approached their pastor in 2009 to describe "the devastating lack of women's spiritual wisdom and leadership in the church for 2,000 years." When they asked whether women "who feel called and are prepared [can] give a homily," she quoted the priest as saying, "I wondered if anyone would ever ask."
It is stupefying to me that women cannot preach at Mass. The faithful during Mass, as well as the presiders, are missing out on the wisdom, experience and inspired reflections of half of its members. St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us. https://t.co/USedUvBxS1— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) July 22, 2019
A frequent critic of Church Tradition, America Magazine editor-at-large Rev. James Martin, S.J., responded on Twitter, "It is stupefying to me that women cannot preach at Mass. The faithful during Mass, as well as the presiders, are missing out on the wisdom, experience and inspired reflections of half of its members. St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us."
He went on: "Just think. Women with PhDs in theology. Catholic sisters with decades of experience. Women spiritual directors. Authors. Mothers. Physicians. Attorneys. Teachers. Grandmothers. Women who work with the poor and marginalized. And on and on. The church needs their voices at Mass."