Press Conference of Pope Francis on Return Flight From Rio de Janeiro World Youth Days 2013



Papal Flight
Sunday, 28 July 2013

Sidebar Notation from Women's Ordination Worldwide (WOW):

In this now famous press conference given by Pope Francis on board his return flight from World Youth Days in Rio De Janeiro World Youth Days, he made mention of his thoughts about women in the Church.  For the sake of ease of reference, we cite the two significant paragraphs here at the outset. These are then followed by the complete text of the press conference.

First, Pope Francis said:

A Church without women is like the college of the Apostles without Mary.  The role of women in the Church is not simply that of maternity, being mothers, but much greater: it is precisely to be the icon of the Virgin, of Our Lady; what helps make the Church grow!  But think about it, Our Lady is more important than the Apostles!  She is more important!  The Church is feminine.  She is Church, she is bride, she is mother.  But women, in the Church, must not only… I don’t know how to say this in Italian… the role of women in the Church must not be limited to being mothers, workers, a limited role…  No!  It is something else!  But the Popes..  Paul VI wrote beautifully of women, but I believe that we have much more to do in making explicit this role and charism of women.  We can’t imagine a Church without women, but women active in the Church, with the distinctive role that they play.  I think of an example which has nothing to do with the Church, but is an historical example: in Latin America, Paraguay.  For me, the women of Paraguay are the most glorious women in Latin America.  Are you paraguayo?  After the war, there were eight women for every man, and these women made a rather difficult decision: the decision to bear children in order to save their country, their culture, their faith, and their language.  In the Church, this is how we should think of women: taking risky decisions, yet as women.  This needs to be better explained.  I believe that we have not yet come up with a profound theology of womanhood, in the Church.  All we say is: they can do this, they can do that, now they are altar servers, now they do the readings, they are in charge of Caritas (Catholic charities).  But there is more!  We need to develop a profound theology of womanhood.  That is what I think.

... and then later Pope Francis said...

I would like to explain a bit more what I said about women’s participation in the Church.  It can’t just be about their acting as altar servers, heads of Caritas, catechists… No!  They have to be more, profoundly more, even mystically more, along with everything I said about the theology of womanhood.  And, as far as women’s ordination is concerned, the Church has spoken and said: “No”.  John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation.  That door is closed, but on this issue I want to tell you something.  I have said it, but I repeat it.  Our Lady, Mary, was more important than the Apostles, than bishops and deacons and priests.  Women, in the Church, are more important than bishops and priests; how, this is something we have to try to explain better, because I believe that we lack a theological explanation of this.  Thank you.

Now, the entire text of the press conference:

Father Lombardi:

Now, my friends, we are delighted to have the Holy Father, Pope Francis, with us on this return flight.  He has been good enough to allow plenty of time to review the visit with us and to respond in complete freedom to your questions.  I shall ask him to give us a brief introduction and then we will begin with the list of those who have asked to speak, and we will take them from different national groups and language groups.  So, over to you, Your Holiness, for your words of introduction.

Pope Francis:

Good evening, and thank you very much.  I am pleased.  It has been a good journey, spiritually it has done me good.  I am quite tired, but my heart is joyful, and I am well, really well:  this has done me good spiritually.  Meeting people does me good, because the Lord works in each one of us, he works in our hearts, and the Lord’s riches are so great that we can always receive many wonderful things from others.  And this does me good.  So that is my first reflection.  Then, I would say that the goodness, the hearts of the Brazilian people, are big, really big.  They are a very lovable people, a people who like to celebrate, who even amid suffering always find a path to seek out the good somewhere.  And this is good: they are lively people, and they have suffered greatly!  The liveliness of the Brazilians is contagious, it really is!  And these people have big hearts.  Then, I would say of the organizers, both at our end and those at the Brazilian end, well! I felt as if I was sitting in front of a computer, an incarnate computer ... no, really!  Everything was timed so well, wasn’t it?  It was wonderful.  Then, we had problems with the plans for security: security here, security there; there wasn’t a single accident in the whole of Rio de Janeiro during these days, and everything was spontaneous.  With less security, I could have been with the people, I could have embraced them, greeted them, without armoured cars ... there is security in trusting a people.  It is true that there is always the danger of some mad person .. the danger that some mad person will do something, but then there is the Lord!  But to make an armed space between the bishop and the people is madness, and I prefer the other madness:  away with it! And run the risk of the other madness!  I prefer this madness: away with it!  Closeness is good for us all.

Then, the organization of WYD, not any particular aspect, but overall: the artistic element, the religious element, the catechetical element, the liturgical element .. it was all wonderful!  They have the capacity to express themselves in art.  Yesterday, for example, they did really lovely things, really lovely!  Then, Aparecida:  Aparecida for me was a powerful religious experience.  I remember the Fifth Conference, I went there to pray, to pray.  I wanted to go alone, somewhat hidden, but there was an impressive crowd!  But it is not possible, as I knew before I arrived.  And we prayed.  I don’t know ... one thing ... but on your part as well, your work, they tell me – I didn’t read the newspapers during these days, I didn’t have time, I didn’t see the television, nothing – but they tell me that good work was done, really good work.  Thank you, thank you for your collaboration, thank you for doing all this.  Then the number, the number of young people.  Today – I can hardly believe it – but today, the Governor spoke of three million.  I cannot believe it.  But from the altar – it’s true!  I don’t know whether you, or some of you, were at the altar.  From the altar, at the end of Mass, the whole beach was full, as far as the curve; more than four kilometres.  There were so many young people.  And they say, Archbishop Tempesta said, they came from 178 countries: 178!  The Vice-President gave me the same figure, so it’s certain.  It is important!  Amazing!

Father Lombardi:

Thank you.  Now we invite Juan de Lara to speak first, from Efe, he is Spanish, and it is the last journey he will make with us.  So we are pleased to give him this opportunity.

Juan de Lara:

Your Holiness, good evening.  On behalf of all our colleagues, we want to thank you for these days that you have given us in Rio de Janeiro, for the work that you have done and the effort you have made.  And also, on behalf of all the Spanish journalists, we want to thank you for your prayers for the victims of the train accident in Santiago de Compostela.  Thank you very much indeed.  The first question does not have much to do with the journey, but we take the opportunity that this occasion gives us, and I would like to ask you: Your Holiness, in these four months of pontificate, we see that you have created various commissions to reform the Curia.  I want to ask you: what kind of reform do you have in mind, do you foresee the possibility of suppressing the IOR, the so-called Vatican Bank?  Thank you.

Pope Francis:

The steps I have taken during these four and a half months come from two sources: the content of what had to be done, all of it, comes from the General Congregations of the Cardinals.  There were certain things that we Cardinals asked of the one who was to be the new Pope.  I remember that I asked for many things, thinking that it would be someone else...  We asked, for example, for the Commission of eight Cardinals, we know that it is important to have an outside body of consultors, not the consultation bodies that already exist, but one on the outside.  This is entirely in keeping – here I am making a mental abstraction, but it’s the way I try to explain it – in keeping with the maturing of the relationship between synodality and primacy.  In other words, having these eight Cardinals will favour synodality, they will help the various episcopates of the world to express themselves in the very government of the Church.  There were many proposals made that have yet to be implemented, such as the reform of the Secretariat of the Synod and its methodology; the Post-Synodal commission, which would have a permanent consultative character; the consistories of Cardinals with less formal agendas, canonization, for example, but also other items, etc.  So the source of the content is to be found there!  The second source has to do with present circumstances.  I admit that it was no great effort for me, during the first month of the pontificate, to organize the Commission of the eight Cardinals, which is an initial step.  The financial part I was planning to address next year, because it is not the most important thing that needed to be done.  But the agenda changed on account of circumstances that you know about, that are in the public domain.  Problems arose that had to be dealt with.  The first is the problem of the IOR, that is to say, how to manage it, how to conceptualize it, how to reformulate it, how to put right what needs to be put right, hence the first Commission of Reference, as it is called.  You are familiar with the chirograph, what the aims are, who the members are, etc.  Then we had the meeting of the Commission of 15 Cardinals who follow the economic affairs of the Holy See.  They come from all over the world.  And then, while we were preparing for this meeting, we saw the need to make a single Commission of Reference for the whole economy of the Holy See.  That is to say, the economic problem was not on the agenda when it had to be addressed, but these things happen when you’re in governance: you try to go in one direction, but then someone throws you a ball from another direction, and you have to bat it back.  Isn’t that the way it is?  So, life is like that, but this too is part of the wonder of life.  I repeat the question that you asked me about the IOR, excuse me, I’m speaking Spanish.  Excuse me, the answer came to me in Spanish.

Returning to the question you asked about the IOR, I don’t know how the IOR will end up.  Some say perhaps it would be better as a bank, others say it should be an aid fund, others say it should be shut down.  Well!  That’s what people are saying.  I don’t know.  I trust the work done by the IOR personnel, who are working on this, and the Commission personnel too.  The President of the IOR is staying, the same one as before, whereas the Director and Vice-Director have resigned.  But I don’t know how all this is going to end up, and that’s fine, because we keep looking and we will come up with something.  We are human in all this.  We must find the best solution, no doubt about that.  But the hallmarks of the IOR – whether it be a bank, an aid fund, or whatever else – have to be transparency and honesty, they have to be.  Thank you.

Father Lombardi:

Many thanks, Your Holiness.  So, now we move on to a person from the representatives of the Italian group, and we have someone you know well:  Andrea Tornielli, who is going to ask you a question on behalf of the Italian group.

Andrea Tornielli:

Holy Father, I want to ask something perhaps a little indiscreet: there was a photograph that went all over the world when we set off, of you climbing the steps of the aeroplane carrying a black brief-case, and there have been articles all over the world commenting on this new departure.  Yes, about the Pope climbing the steps – let’s say it had never happened before that the Pope should climb on board with his own hand-luggage.  So, there have been various suggestions about what the black bag contained.  So my questions are these:  firstly, why was it you carrying the black bag, and not one of your entourage, and secondly, could you tell us what was in it?  Thank you.

Pope Francis:

It wasn’t the key for the atom bomb!  Well!  I was carrying it because that’s what I’ve always done.  When I travel, I carry it.  And inside, what was there?  There was a razor, a breviary, an appointment book, a book to read, I brought one about Saint Thérèse, to whom I have a devotion.  I have always taken a bag with me when travelling – it’s normal.  But we must be normal ... I don’t know ... what you say is a bit strange for me, that the photograph went all over the world.  But we must get used to being normal.  The normality of life.  I don’t know, Andrea, whether I have answered your question.

Father Lombardi:

Now we will invite a representative of the Portuguese language to speak, Aura Miguel, who is from Radio Renascença:

Aura Miguel:

Your Holiness, I want to ask why you ask so insistently that people pray for you?  It isn’t normal, we’re not used to hearing a Pope ask so often that people pray for him...

Pope Francis:

I have always asked this.  When I was a priest, I asked it, but less frequently.  I began to ask with greater frequency while I was working as a bishop, because I sense that if the Lord does not help in this work of assisting the People of God to go forward, it can’t be done.  I am truly conscious of my many limitations, with so many problems, and I a sinner – as you know! – and I have to ask for this.  But it comes from within!  I ask Our Lady too to pray to the Lord for me.  It is a habit, but a habit that comes from my heart and also a real need in terms of my work.  I feel I have to ask ... I don’t know, that’s the way it is ...

Father Lombardi:

Now we pass to the English language group, and we invite our colleague Mr Pullella from Reuters, here in front, to speak.

Philip Pullella:

Your Holiness, thank you, on behalf of the English group, for making yourself available.  Our colleague de Lara has already put the question that we wanted to ask, so I will continue just a little further along the same lines:  When you were seeking to make these changes, I remember you said to the group from Latin America that there are many saints working in the Vatican, but also people who are rather less saintly, didn’t you?  Have you encountered resistance to your wish to change things in the Vatican?  Have you met with resistance?  The second question is this: you live in a very austere manner, you have remained at Santa Marta, and so on... Would you like your collaborators, including the Cardinals, to follow this example, and perhaps to live in community, or is this something for you alone?

Pope Francis:

The changes ... the changes also come from two sources:  what we Cardinals asked for, and what has to do with my own personality.  You mentioned the fact that I remained at Santa Marta.  But I could not live alone in the Palace, and it is not luxurious.  The Papal apartment is not particularly luxurious!  It is a fair size, but it is not luxurious.  But I cannot live alone or with just a few people!  I need people, I need to meet people, to talk to people.  And that’s why when the children from the Jesuit schools asked me: “Why did you do that?  For austerity, for poverty?”  No, it was for psychological reasons, simply, because psychologically I can’t do otherwise.  Everyone has to lead his own life, everyone has his own way of living and being.  The Cardinals who work in the Curia do not live wealthy, opulent lives: they live in small apartments, they are austere, they really are, austere.  The ones I know, the apartments that APSA provides for the Cardinals.  Then it seems to me that there is something else I wanted to say.  Everyone has to live as the Lord asks him to live.  But austerity – general austerity – I think it is necessary for all of us who work in the service of the Church.  There are many shades of austerity .. everyone must seek his own path.  With regard to the saints, it’s true, there are saints:  cardinals, priests, bishops, sisters, laypersons; people who pray, people who work hard, and who also help the poor, in hidden ways.  I know of some who take trouble to give food to the poor, and then, in their free time, go to minister in this or that church.  They are priests.  There are saints in the Curia.  And there are some who are not so saintly, and these are the ones you tend to hear about.  You know that one tree falling makes more noise than a whole forest growing.  And it pains me when these things happen.  But there are some who create scandal, some.  We have this Monsignor in prison, I think he is still in prison.  He didn’t exactly go to prison because he was like Blessed Imelda, he was no saint.  These are scandals, and they do harm.  One thing – I’ve never said this before, but I have come to realize it – I think that the Curia has fallen somewhat from the level it once had, in the days of the old curialists ... the profile of the old curialist, faithful, doing his work.  We need these people.  I think ... there are some, but not as many as there once were.  The profile of the old curialist: I would say that.  We need more of them.  Do I encounter resistance!  Well!  If there is resistance, I haven’t seen it yet.  It’s true that I haven’t done much, but I would say that I have found help, and I have found loyal people.  For example, I like it when people say to me: “I don’t agree”, and I have found this.  “But I don’t see that, I disagree:  that’s what I think, you do as you wish.”  This is a real collaborator.  And I have found people like this in the Curia.  And this is good.  But when there are those who say: “Oh, how wonderful, how wonderful, how wonderful”, and then they say the opposite somewhere else... I have yet to come across this.  Maybe it happens, maybe there are some like this, but I’m not aware of them..  Resistance: in four months, you won’t find that much.

Father Lombardi:

Well, now we pass to a Brazilian lady, as seems only right.  So here is Patricia Zorzan, and perhaps Mr Izoard could come forward, so that we can have a French speaker next.

Patricia Zorzan:

Speaking on behalf of the Brazilians: society has changed, young people have changed, and in Brazil we have seen a great many young people.  You did not speak about abortion, about same-sex marriage.  In Brazil a law has been approved which widens the right to abortion and permits marriage between people of the same sex.  Why did you not speak about this?

Pope Francis:

The Church has already spoken quite clearly on this.  It was unnecessary to return to it, just as I didn’t speak about cheating, lying, or other matters on which the Church has a clear teaching!

Patricia Zorzan:

But the young are interested in this ...

Pope Francis:

Yes, though it wasn’t necessary to speak of it, but rather of the positive things that open up the path to young people.  Isn’t that right!  Besides, young people know perfectly well what the Church’s position is.

Patricia Zorzan:

What is Your Holiness’ position, if we may ask?

Pope Francis:

The position of the Church.  I am a son of the Church.

Father Lombardi:

Well, now let’s return to the Spanish group, Dario Menor Torres ..., oh, excuse me, Mr Izoard, whom we have already called forward, so that we have someone from the French group – and then Dario Menor.

Antonie-Marie Izoard:

Greetings, Your Holiness, on behalf of my francophone colleagues on board – there are nine of us on this flight – for a Pope who does not want to give interviews, we are truly grateful to you.  Ever since 13 March, you have presented yourself as the Bishop of Rome, with great, very great insistence.  So, we would like to understand the deep significance of this insistence, whether perhaps, rather than collegiality, we are perhaps speaking about ecumenism, perhaps of your being the primus inter pares of the Church?  Thank you.

Pope Francis:

Yes, in this, we must not go beyond what is said.  The Pope is a bishop, the Bishop of Rome, and because he is the Bishop of Rome he is the Successor of Peter, Vicar of Christ.  There are other titles, but the first title is “Bishop of Rome” and everything follows from that.  To say, to think that this means being primus inter pares, no, that does not follow.  It is simply the Pope’s first title: Bishop of Rome.  But there are others too ... I think you said something about ecumenism.  I think this actually helps ecumenism.  But only this ...

Father Lombardi:

Now Dario Menor from La Razón, from Spain:

Dario Menor Torres:

A question about how you feel.  A week ago you mentioned that a child had asked you how it felt, whether someone could imagine being Pope and whether anyone would want to be Pope.  You said that people would have to be mad to want that.  After your first experience among a great multitude of people, such as you found during these days in Rio, can you tell us how it feels to be Pope, whether it is very hard, whether you are happy to be Pope, whether in some way your faith has grown, or whether, on the contrary, you have had some doubts.  Thank you.

Pope Francis:

To do the work of a bishop is a wonderful thing, it is wonderful.  The problem arises when someone seeks that work: this is not so good, this is not from the Lord.  But when the Lord calls a priest to become a bishop, this is good.  There is always the danger of thinking oneself a little superior to others, not like others, something of a prince.  There are dangers and sins.  But the work of a bishop is wonderful: it is to help one’s brothers and sisters to move forward.  The bishop ahead of the faithful, to mark out the path; the bishop in the midst of the faithful, to foster communion; and the bishop behind the faithful, because the faithful can often sniff out the path.  The bishop must be like that.  You asked me whether I like it.  Yes, I like being a bishop, I like it.  In Buenos Aires I was very happy, very happy!  I was happy, it’s true.  The Lord helped me in that.  But as a priest I was happy, and as a bishop I was happy.  In this sense I say: I like it!

Question from the floor:

And as Pope?

Pope Francis:

Likewise, likewise!  When the Lord puts you there, if you do what the Lord wants, you are happy.  This is my feeling, this is how I feel.

Father Lombardi:

Now another from the Italian group:  Salvatore Mazza from “Avvenire”.

Salvatore Mazza:

I cannot even stand up.  Excuse me, I cannot even stand up, for all the wires I have under my feet.  We have seen during these days, we have seen you full of energy, even late in the evening.  We are watching you now on board the aircraft which is tilting from side to side, and you are calmly standing there, without a moment’s hesitation.  We would like to ask you: there is talk of future journeys.  There is much talk of Asia, Jerusalem, Argentina.  Do you already have a more or less definite schedule for next year, or is everything still to be decided?

Pope Francis:

Definite, nothing is definite.  But I can say something of what is being planned.  One thing that is definite – excuse me – is 22 September in Cagliari.  Then, 4 October in Assisi.  I have it in mind, within Italy, to go and visit my relatives for a day: to fly there one morning and to return the next morning, because, bless them, they call me and we have a good relationship.  But only for one day.  Outside Italy:  Patriarch Bartholomaios I wants to have a meeting to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Athenagoras and Paul VI in Jerusalem.  The Israeli Government has also issued a special invitation to go to Jerusalem.  I think the Government of the Palestinian Authority has done the same.  This is what is in the pipeline: it is not quite clear whether I’m going or not going ... Then, in Latin America, I don’t think there is a possibility of returning, because the Latin American Pope, his first journey is to Latin America!  Enough!  We must wait a little now!  I think I could go to Asia, but this is all up in the air.  I have been invited to go to Sri Lanka and also to the Philippines.  But I must go to Asia.  Because Pope Benedict did not have time to go to Asia, and it is important.  He went to Australia and then to Europe and America, but Asia...  Going to Argentina: at the moment I think this can wait a little, because all these journeys have a certain priority.  I wanted to go to Istanbul on 30 September, to visit Bartholomaios I, but it is not possible, it is not possible because of my schedule.  If we meet, it will be in Jerusalem.

Question from the floor:


Pope Francis:

Fatima, there is also an invitation to Fatima, it’s true, it’s true.  There is an invitation to go to Fatima.

Question from the floor:

30 September or 30 November?

Pope Francis:

November, November: Saint Andrew.

Father Lombardi:

Good.  Well, now we move to the United States, and we invite Ada Messia from CNN to ask you a question:

Ada Messia:

Greetings.  You are coping better than I ... No, no, no, it’s all right, it’s all right.  My question is this:  when you met the young people from Argentina, maybe with tongue in cheek, maybe seriously, you told them that you too, at times, feel penned in.  We would like to know what exactly you were referring to ...

Pope Francis:

You know how often I’ve wanted to go walking through the streets of Rome, because, in Buenos Aires, I liked to go for a walk in the city, I really liked to do that!  In this sense, I feel a little penned in.  But I have to say one thing and that is that these fellows from the Vatican Gendarmerie are so good, they are really, really good, and I am grateful to them.  Now they’re letting me do a few more things!  I think… their job is to maintain security.  So, penned in in that sense. I’d like to go out walking but I understand that it isn’t possible: I understand.  That was what I meant.  Because I used to be – as we say in Buenos Aires – a callejero, a street priest…

Father Lombardi:

And now we call on another Brazilian: it is Marcio Campos, and I also ask Mr Guénois to come up for the next question, for the French.

Pope Francis:

I was asking what time it is, because they have to serve supper, but are you all hungry?


No, no…

Marcio Campos:

Holy Father, I want to say that whenever you miss Brazil, the joyful Brazilian people, hold onto the flag that I gave you.  I would also like to thank my colleagues at the daily newspapers Folha de São PauloEstadoGlobo and Veja for being able to represent them in this question.  Holy Father, it is difficult to accompany a Pope, very difficult.  We are all tired, you are going strong and we are exhausted…  In Brazil, the Catholic Church has lost a number of the faithful in these recent years.  Is the Charismatic Renewal movement one possible way for ensuring that the faithful do not go to the Pentecostal Church or other pentecostal churches?  Many thanks for your presence and many thanks for being with us.

Pope Francis:

It is very true what you are saying about the fall in numbers of the faithful: it is true, it is true.  The statistics are there.  We spoke with the Brazilian bishops about the problem at a meeting held yesterday.  You asked about the Charismatic Renewal movement.  I’ll tell you one thing.  Back at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, I had no time for them.  Once, speaking about them, I said: “These people confuse a liturgical celebration with samba lessons!”  I actually said that.  Now I regret it.  I learned.  It is also true that the movement, with good leaders, has made great progress.  Now I think that this movement does much good for the Church, overall.  In Buenos Aires, I met frequently with them and once a year I celebrated a Mass with all of them in the Cathedral.  I have always supported them, after I was converted, after I saw the good they were doing.  Because at this time in the Church – and here I’ll make my answer a little more general – I believe that the movements are necessary.  The movements are a grace of the Spirit.  “But how can you control a movement which is so free?”   The Church is free, too!  The Holy Spirit does what he wants.  He is the one who creates harmony, but I do believe that the movements are a grace, those movements which have the spirit of the Church.  Consequently I don’t think that the Charismatic Renewal movement merely prevents some people from passing over to pentecostal denominations.  No!  It is also a service to the Church herself!  It renews us.  Everyone seeks his own movement, according to his own charism, where the Holy Spirit draws him or her.

Question in the background:

Pope Francis:

Yo estoy cansado.  I am tired.

Father Lombardi:

So, Mr Guénois from Le Figaro, for the French group.

Jean-Marie Guénois:

Holy Father, one question, with my colleague from La Croix: You have said that without women, the Church grows barren.  What concrete measures will you take?  For example, the diaconate for women or a woman as a head of dicastery?  Also, a little technical question: you said you were tired.  Have special arrangements been made for the return flight?  Thank you, Your Holiness.

Pope Francis:

Let’s begin with the last question.  This plane doesn’t have any special arrangements.  I am up front, I have a nice seat, a normal one, the same as everyone else has.  I had them write a letter and make a phone call to say that I did not want special arrangements on the plane: is that clear?  Second, about women.  A Church without women is like the college of the Apostles without Mary.  The role of women in the Church is not simply that of maternity, being mothers, but much greater: it is precisely to be the icon of the Virgin, of Our Lady; what helps make the Church grow!  But think about it, Our Lady is more important than the Apostles!  She is more important!  The Church is feminine.  She is Church, she is bride, she is mother.  But women, in the Church, must not only… I don’t know how to say this in Italian… the role of women in the Church must not be limited to being mothers, workers, a limited role…  No!  It is something else!  But the Popes..  Paul VI wrote beautifully of women, but I believe that we have much more to do in making explicit this role and charism of women.  We can’t imagine a Church without women, but women active in the Church, with the distinctive role that they play.  I think of an example which has nothing to do with the Church, but is an historical example: in Latin America, Paraguay.  For me, the women of Paraguay are the most glorious women in Latin America.  Are you paraguayo?  After the war, there were eight women for every man, and these women made a rather difficult decision: the decision to bear children in order to save their country, their culture, their faith, and their language.  In the Church, this is how we should think of women: taking risky decisions, yet as women.  This needs to be better explained.  I believe that we have not yet come up with a profound theology of womanhood, in the Church.  All we say is: they can do this, they can do that, now they are altar servers, now they do the readings, they are in charge of Caritas (Catholic charities).  But there is more!  We need to develop a profound theology of womanhood.  That is what I think.

Father Lombardi:

For the Spanish group, now, we have Pablo Ordas, from El País:

Pablo Ordas:

We would like to know about your working relationship, not just your relationship of friendship but that of collaboration, with Benedict XVI.  There has never been a situation like this before, and whether you are frequently in contact and if he is helping you in this work.  Many thanks.

Pope Francis:

I think that the last time that there were two Popes, or three Popes, they weren’t speaking to one another; they were fighting to see which was the true Pope.  We ended up with three Popes during the Western Schism.

There is one thing that describes my relationship with Benedict: I have such great affection for him.  I have always loved him.  For me he is a man of God, a humble man, a man of prayer.  I was so happy when he was elected Pope.  Also, when he resigned, for me it was an example of greatness.  A great man.  Only a great man does this!  A man of God and a man of prayer.  Now he is living in the Vatican, and there are those who tell me:  “How can this be?  Two Popes in the Vatican!  Doesn’t he get in your way?  Isn’t he plotting against you?”  All these sorts of things, no?  I have found a good answer for this: “It’s like having your grandfather in the house”, a wise grandfather.  When families have a grandfather at home, he is venerated, he is loved, he is listened to.  Pope Benedict is a man of great prudence.  He doesn’t interfere!  I have often told him so: “Holiness, receive guests, lead your own life, come along with us”.  He did come for the unveiling and blessing of the statue of Saint Michael.  So, that phrase says it all.  For me it’s like having a grandfather at home: my own father.  If I have a difficulty, or something I don’t understand, I can call him on the phone: “Tell me, can I do this?”  When I went to talk with him about that big problem, Vatileaks, he told me everything with great simplicity … to be helpful.  There is something I don’t know whether you are aware of – I believe you are, but I’m not certain – when he spoke to us in his farewell address, on 28 February, he said: “In your midst is the next Pope: I promise him obedience”.   He is a great man; this is a great man!

Father Lombardi:

Now it is the turn of a Brazilian once again; Ana Fereira; and then Gianguido Vecchi for the Italians.

Ana Fereira:

Good evening, Holy Father.  Thanks.  I would like to say any number of “thanks”.  Thanks for having brought so much joy to Brazil, and thanks also for responding to our questions. We journalists really like to ask questions. I would like to know, since yesterday you spoke to the Brazilian bishops about the participation of women in our Church...  I would like to understand better, what this participation of us women in the Church would be like.  Also, what do you think of women’s ordination?  What should our position in the Church be like?

Pope Francis:

I would like to explain a bit more what I said about women’s participation in the Church.  It can’t just be about their acting as altar servers, heads of Caritas, catechists… No!  They have to be more, profoundly more, even mystically more, along with everything I said about the theology of womanhood.  And, as far as women’s ordination is concerned, the Church has spoken and said: “No”.  John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation.  That door is closed, but on this issue I want to tell you something.  I have said it, but I repeat it.  Our Lady, Mary, was more important than the Apostles, than bishops and deacons and priests.  Women, in the Church, are more important than bishops and priests; how, this is something we have to try to explain better, because I believe that we lack a theological explanation of this.  Thank you.

Father Lombardi:

Gianguido Vecchi, from Corriere della Sera: then I would ask Mrs Pigozzi and Nicole to come forward.

Gianguido Vecchi:

Holy Father, during this visit too, you have frequently spoken of mercy.  With regard to the reception of the sacraments by the divorced and remarried, is there the possibility of a change in the Church’s discipline?  That these sacraments might be an opportunity to bring these people closer, rather than a barrier dividing them from the other faithful?

Pope Francis:

This is an issue which frequently comes up.  Mercy is something much larger than the one case you raised.  I believe that this is the season of mercy.  This new era we have entered, and the many problems in the Church – like the poor witness given by some priests, problems of corruption in the Church, the problem of clericalism for example – have left so many people hurt, left so much hurt.  The Church is a mother: she has to go out to heal those who are hurting, with mercy.  If the Lord never tires of forgiving, we have no other choice than this: first of all, to care for those who are hurting.  The Church is a mother, and she must travel this path of mercy.  And find a form of mercy for all.  When the prodigal son returned home, I don’t think his father told him: “You, sit down and listen: what did you do with the money?”  No!  He celebrated!  Then, perhaps, when the son was ready to speak, he spoke.  The Church has to do this, when there is someone… not only wait for them, but go out and find them!  That is what mercy is.  And I believe that this is a kairos: this time is a kairos of mercy.  But John Paul II had the first intuition of this, when he began with Faustina Kowalska, the Divine Mercy…  He had something, he had intuited that this was a need in our time.  With reference to the issue of giving communion to persons in a second union (because those who are divorced can receive communion, there is no problem, but when they are in a second union, they can’t…), I believe that we need to look at this within the larger context of the entire pastoral care of marriage.  And so it is a problem.  But also – a parenthesis – the Orthodox have a different practice.  They follow the theology of what they call oikonomia, and they give a second chance, they allow it.  But I believe that this problem – and here I close the parenthesis – must be studied within the context of the pastoral care of marriage.  And so, two things: first, one of the themes to be examined with the eight members of the Council of Cardinals with whom I will meet on 1-3 October is how to move forward in the pastoral care of marriage, and this problem will come up there.  And a second thing: two weeks ago the Secretary of the Synod of Bishops met with me about the theme of the next Synod.  It was an anthropological theme, but talking it over, going back and forth, we saw this anthropological theme: how does the faith help with one’s personal life-project, but in the family, and so pointing towards the pastoral care of marriage.  We are moving towards a somewhat deeper pastoral care of marriage.  And this is a problem for everyone, because there are so many of them, no?  For example, I will only mention one: Cardinal Quarracino, my predecessor, used to say that as far as he was concerned, half of all marriages are null.  But why did he say this?  Because people get married lacking maturity, they get married without realizing that it is a life-long commitment, they get married because society tells them they have to get married.  And this is where the pastoral care of marriage also comes in.  And then there is the legal problem of matrimonial nullity, this has to be reviewed, because ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient for this.  It is complex, the problem of the pastoral care of marriage.  Thank you.

Father Lombardi:

Thank you.  And now we have Mrs Pigozzi, from Paris Match, also from the French group…

Carolina Pigozzi:

Good evening, Holy Father.  I would like to know if, now that you are the Pope, you still feel that you are a Jesuit…

Pope Francis:

That is a theological question, because Jesuits make a vow of obedience to the Pope.  But if the Pope is a Jesuit, perhaps he has to make a vow of obedience to the General of the Jesuits!  I don’t know how to resolve this … I feel a Jesuit in my spirituality; in the spirituality of the Exercises, the spirituality deep in my heart.  I feel this so deeply that in three days I will go to celebrate with the Jesuits the feast of Saint Ignatius: I will say the morning Mass.  I have not changed my spirituality, no.   Francis, Franciscan, no.  I feel a Jesuit and I think as a Jesuit.  I don’t mean that hypocritically, but I think as a Jesuit.  Thank you.

Father Lombardi:

If you can hold out, there are still some questions.  Now, Nicole Winfield, from the Associated Press, and there are … I had a list and actually I thought you had things planned among yourselves… Anyway, Elisabetta, get in line too, sorry.

Nicole Winfield:

Your Holiness, thank you once again for coming “among the lions”.  Your Holiness, in the fourth month of your pontificate, I wanted to ask you to make a little tally.  Can you tell us what is the best thing about being Pope, an anecdote, and what is the worst, and what is the thing that has most surprised you in this period?

Pope Francis:

I don’t know how to answer that, really.  Big things, major things, there just haven’t been any.  Beautiful things, yes; for example, my meeting with the Italian bishops was very good, very good.  As Bishop of the capital of Italy, I felt at home with them.  And that was good, but I don’t know if it was the best.  Also a painful thing, one which really touched my heart, the visit to Lampedusa.  It was enough to make you weep, it did me good.  When these boats arrive, they leave them several miles out from the coastline and they must come ashore alone, on a boat.  And this pains me because I think that these people are victims of a world-wide socio-economic system.  But the worst thing that happened – excuse me – was an attack of sciatica – really! – that I had the first month, because I was sitting in an armchair to do interviews and it hurt.  Sciatica is very painful, very painful!  I don't wish it on anyone!  But these things: talking with people; the meeting with seminarians and religious was quite beautiful, it was really beautiful.  Also, the meeting with the students of Jesuit schools was very beautiful…  good things.


What surprised you most?

Pope Francis:

People, people, the good people I found.  I found many good people in the Vatican.  I was wondering what I could say, but that is true.  I am being fair in saying this: so many good people.  So many good people, so many good people, but good, good, good!

Father Lombardi:

Elisabetta, someone that you know, and also Sergio Rubini, come forward, and so now we have the Argentinians.

Elisabetta Piqué

Pope Francis, first of all, on behalf of the fifty thousand Argentinians whom I met  and who told me, “You will be travelling with the Pope, so please tell him that he was fantastic, stupendous; ask him when he will come”.  But you already said you wouldn’t be going .... therefore, I would like to ask you a more difficult question.  Were you afraid when you saw the Vatileaks report?

Pope Francis

No!  I will tell you a story about the Vatileaks report.  When I met with Pope Benedict, after we had prayed in the Chapel, we were in his study and I saw a large box and envelope.  Excuse me . . . Benedict said to me; “In this big box are all the statements, all that the witnesses said, everything is there.  But the summary and the final judgment are in this envelope.  And it says here . . .”  He had it all in his head! What intelligence!  Everything memorized, everything!  But no, it didn’t frighten me, no.  No, no.  Though it is a big problem.  But it didn’t frighten me.

Sergio Rubín

Your Holiness, two things.  The first is this:  you insisted a great deal on stemming the loss of the faithful.  In Brazil, you were very strong.  Do you hope that this trip will contribute to people returning to the Church, to them feeling closer to the Church?  And second, more informally:  you loved Argentina and held Buenos Aires in your heart.  The Argentinians are asking if you miss Buenos Aires a lot, riding on the bus, walking through the streets?  Many thanks.

Pope Francis

I believe that a Papal trip always helps.  I believe it will do Brazil good, not just because the Pope was present, but because of what happened during WYD, how the youth mobilized themselves and these young people will do great good, and maybe they will be able to help the Church a great deal.  But these faithful who have left the Church, many are not happy because they know they belong to the Church.  I think that this will be very positive, not only for the trip, but above all for the event.  WYD was a marvellous event.  And yes, at times I do miss Buenos Aires and I feel it.  But I am serene about it.  But I believe that you, Sergio, know me better than all the others and you are able to answer this question, with the book that you wrote!

Padre Lombardi

Now we have the Russian reporter and then there is Valentina, our senior reporter, who would like to be last.

Alexey Bukalov

Good evening, Holy Father.  Holy Father, returning to ecumenism: today, the Orthodox are celebrating one thousand and twenty-five years of Christianity, and there are great festivities in many capital cities.  If you would comment on this, I would be grateful.  Thank you.

Pope Francis

In the Orthodox Churches, they have retained that pristine liturgy, which is so beautiful.  We have lost some of the sense of adoration.  The Orthodox preserved it; they praise God, they adore God, they sing, time does not matter.  God is at the centre, and I would like to say, as you ask me this question, that this is a richness.  Once, speaking of the Western Church, of Western Europe, especially the older Church, they said this phrase to me: Lux ex oriente, ex occidente luxus.  Consumerism, comfort, they have done such harm.  Instead, you retain this beauty of God in the centre, the reference point.  When reading  Dostoevsky – I believe that for all of us he is an author that we must read and reread due to his wisdom – one senses what the Russian soul is, what the eastern soul is. It is something that does us much good.  We need this renewal, this fresh air from the East, this light from the East.  John Paul II wrote about this in his Letter.  But many times the luxus of the West makes us lose this horizon.  I don’t know, but these are the thoughts that come to me.  Thank you.

Father Lombardi

And now we close with Valentina who, having been first during the trip to Rio de Janiero, will be the last for the return trip to Rome.

Valentina Alazraki

Your Holiness, thank you for keeping your promise to respond to our questions on this return trip ...

Pope Francis

I have made you late for dinner ...

Valentina Alazraki

It doesn’t matter ... The question for all Mexicans is: when are you going to visit Guadalupe? ... But this is the question of the Mexicans ... Mine would be: you will canonize the two great Popes, John XXIII and John Paul II.  I would like to know what is – according to you – the model of holiness that emerges from them both and what is the impact that these Popes have had on the Church and on you?

Pope Francis

John XXIII is a bit like the figure of the country priest, the priest who loves all the faithful, who knows how to care for the faithful and this he did as a Bishop, and as a Nuncio.  How many baptismal certificates did he forge in Turkey to help the Jews!  He was courageous, a good country priest, with a great sense of humour, and great holiness.  When he was Nuncio, some did not support him in the Vatican, and when he would arrive in Rome to deliver something or to ask a question, certain offices would make him wait.  But he never complained:  he would pray the Rosary, say the breviary.  He was meek and humble, and he always concerned himself with the poor.  When Cardinal Casaroli returned from a mission – I believe it was from Hungary or from what was then Czechoslovakia, I don’t remember which, though – the Cardinal went to Pope John to tell him how the mission went, in that epoch of the diplomacy of “small steps”.  And the Pope and Cardinal Casaroli met – twenty days later Pope John XXIII would be dead – and as the Cardinal was leaving, the Pope stopped him: “Your Eminence – no, he wasn’t yet a Cardinal – Your Excellency, a question: are you still going to see those young people?”  He asked because Cardinal Casaroli had been going to the juvenile prison in Casal del Marmo and visiting with the young people.  And Cardinal Casaroli said: “Yes, yes!”  “Never abandon them.”  This to a diplomat, who was returning from a diplomatic mission, a very important trip, that John XXIII said: “Never abandon the young”.  How great he was, how great!  Then, he was also a man of the Council: he was a man docile to the voice of God, which came to him through the Holy Spirit, and he was docile to the Spirit.  Pius XII was thinking of calling the Council, but the circumstances weren’t right.  I believe that John XXIII didn’t think about the circumstances: he felt and acted.  He was a man who let the Lord guide him.  Regarding John Paul II, I would say he was “the great missionary of the Church”: he was a missionary, a man who carried the Gospel everywhere, as you know better than I.  How many trips did he make?  But he went!  He felt this fire of carrying forth the Word of the Lord.  He was like Paul, like Saint Paul, he was such a man; for me this is something great.  And to canonize them both together will be, I believe, a message for the Church: these two were wonderful, both of them.  Paul VI’s cause is also under way, as is the cause of John Paul I.  Both are under way.  One more thing that I believe I said already, but I don’t know if I said it here or elsewhere – the canonization date.  One date under consideration was 8 December this year, but there is a significant problem; those who will come from Poland, some can afford to come by air, but the poor will come by bus and the roads are already icy in December, so I think the date needs to be rethought.  I spoke with Cardinal Dziwisz and he suggested to me two possibilities: Christ the King Sunday this year or Divine Mercy Sunday next year.  I think there is too little time for Christ the King this year, since the Consistory will be on 30 September and the end of October will be too soon.  But I don’t know.  I must speak with Cardinal Amato about this.  But I don’t think it will be 8 December.

Question from the floor

But they will be canonized together?

Pope Francis

Both together, yes.

Father Lombardi

Thank you, Your Holiness.  Who is still to come?  Ilze? Then everyone will have had a turn, even more than had signed up before ...

Ilze Scamparini

I would like permission to ask a delicate question: another image that has been going around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his private life.  I would like to know, Your Holiness, what you intend to do about this?  How are you confronting this issue and how does Your Holiness intend to confront the whole question of the gay lobby?

Pope Francis

About Monsignor Ricca:  I did what canon law calls for, that is a preliminary investigation.  And from this investigation, there was nothing of what had been alleged.  We did not find anything of that.  This is the response.  But I wish to add something else: I see that many times in the Church, over and above this case, but including this case, people search for “sins from youth”, for example, and then publish them.  They are not crimes, right?  Crimes are something different: the abuse of minors is a crime.  No, sins.  But if a person, whether it be a lay person, a priest or a religious sister, commits a sin and then converts, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives.  When we confess our sins and we truly say, “I have sinned in this”, the Lord forgets, and so we have no right not to forget, because otherwise we would run the risk of the Lord not forgetting our sins.  That is a danger.  This is important: a theology of sin.  Many times I think of Saint Peter.  He committed one of the worst sins, that is he denied Christ, and even with this sin they made him Pope.  We have to think a great deal about that.  But, returning to your question more concretely.  In this case, I conducted the preliminary investigation and we didn’t find anything.  This is the first question.  Then, you spoke about the gay lobby.  So much is written about the gay lobby.  I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it.  They say there are some there.  I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good.  This one is not good.  If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying ... wait a moment, how does it say it ... it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society”.  The problem is not having this tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and there is this one and there is that one.  The problem is in making a lobby of this tendency: a lobby of misers, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of masons, so many lobbies.  For me, this is the greater problem.  Thank you so much for asking this question.  Many thanks.

Father Lombardi

Thank you.  It seems to me that we cannot do more than we have done.  We have kept the Pope too long, after he already said he was a little tired.  We wish him now some time of rest.

Pope Francis

Thank you.  Goodnight, have a good trip and rest well.

Original text obtained from:

Benedict XVI: Light of the World, The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times: A Conversation with Peter Seewald, 2010

'Benedict XVI Light of the World:
The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times' 
A Conversation with Peter Seewald

-excerpt translated by Michael J. Miller and Adrian J. Walker (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 2010) [accessed in online edition]

[Journalist Peter Seewald:] Celibacy, women’s ordination, homosexuality -- for decades now, this unchanging canon of issues has dominated discussion in the media. Only a positive resolution of these questions, so the thinking goes, will allow the Church to regain her attractiveness. It is striking that the Lutheran Church in Germany -- without celibacy and women’s ordination -- is losing more members than the Catholic Church. On the other hand, it is also true that these positions make the proclamation of the faith harder. Can we briefly go through a few points one by one?

[Pope Benedict:]The impossibility of women’s ordination in the Catholic Church has been clearly decided by a ‘non possumus’ of the supreme Magisterium. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith laid this down under Paul VI in the 1976 documentInter insigniores, and John Paul II reinforced it in his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis. In this document, speaking in virtue of his office about the ‘divine constitution of the Church,’ he writes -- and these are his exact words -- ‘that the Church has no authority whatsoever to convey priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.’

[Journalist Peter Seewald:] Critics see this as a form of discrimination. The only reason Jesus did not call women to be priestesses, it is said, is that this would have been unthinkable two thousand years ago.

[Pope Benedict:] That is nonsense, since the world was full of priestesses at the time. All religions had their priestesses, and the astonishing thing was actually that they were absent from the community of Christ, a fact that in turn is a point of continuity with the faith of Israel.

John Paul II’s formulation is very important: The Church has ‘no authority’ to ordain women. The point is not that we are saying that we don’t want to, but that we can’t. The Lord gave the Church a form with the Twelve and, as their successors, with the bishops and the presbyters, the priests. This form of the Church is not something we ourselves have produced. It is how he constituted the Church. Following this is an act of obedience. This obedience may be arduous in today’s situation. But it is important precisely for the Church to show that we are not a regime based on arbitrary rule. We cannot do what we want. Rather, the Lord has a will for us, a will to which we adhere, even though doing so is arduous and difficult in this culture and civilization.

Incidentally, women have so many great and meaningful functions in the Church that there can be no question of discrimination. That would be the case if the priesthood were a sort of dominion, whereas it is actually intended to be pure service. If you look at the history of the Church, women -- from Mary to Monica and all the way down to Mother Teresa -- have so eminent a significance that in many respects they shape the image of the Church more than men do. Just think of major Catholic feast days such as Corpus Christi or Mercy Sunday, which originated with women. In Rome, for example, there is even a Church where not a single man can be seen in any of the altar pieces.

CDF Decree Regarding the Crime of Attempting Sacred Ordination of A Woman, May 30, 2008

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
General Decree Regarding the crime of attempting sacred ordination of a woman

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to protect the nature and validity of the sacrament of holy orders, in virtue of the special faculty conferred to it by the supreme authority of the Church (see canon 30, Canon Law), in the Ordinary Session of December 19, 2007, has decreed:

Remaining firm on what has been established by canon 1378 of the Canon Law, both he who has attempted to confer holy orders on a woman, and the woman who has attempted to receive the said sacrament, incurs in latae sententiae excommunication, reserved to the Apostolic See.

If he who has attempted to confer holy orders on a woman or if the woman who has attempted to receive holy orders, is a member of the faithful subject to the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches, remaining firm on what has been established by canon 1443 of the same Code, they will be punished with major excommunication, whose remission remains reserved to the Apostolic See (see canon 1423, Canon Law of the Eastern Churches).

The current decree will come into immediate force from the moment of publication in the 'Osservatore Romano' and is absolute and universal.

William Cardinal Levada 

Angelo Amato, S.D.B. 
Titular Archbishop of Sila 

On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World, May 31, 2004



1. The Church, expert in humanity, has a perennial interest in whatever concerns men and women. In recent times, much reflection has been given to the question of the dignity of women and to women's rights and duties in the different areas of civil society and the Church. Having contributed to a deeper understanding of this fundamental question, in particular through the teaching of John Paul II,1 the Church is called today to address certain currents of thought which are often at variance with the authentic advancement of women.

After a brief presentation and critical evaluation of some current conceptions of human nature, this document will offer reflections – inspired by the doctrinal elements of the biblical vision of the human person that are indispensable for safeguarding his or her identity – on some of the essentials of a correct understanding of active collaboration, in recognition of the difference between men and women in the Church and in the world. These reflections are meant as a starting point for further examination in the Church, as well as an impetus for dialogue with all men and women of good will, in a sincere search for the truth and in a common commitment to the development of ever more authentic relationships.


2. Recent years have seen new approaches to women's issues. A first tendency is to emphasize strongly conditions of subordination in order to give rise to antagonism: women, in order to be themselves, must make themselves the adversaries of men. Faced with the abuse of power, the answer for women is to seek power. This process leads to opposition between men and women, in which the identity and role of one are emphasized to the disadvantage of the other, leading to harmful confusion regarding the human person, which has its most immediate and lethal effects in the structure of the family.

A second tendency emerges in the wake of the first. In order to avoid the domination of one sex or the other, their differences tend to be denied, viewed as mere effects of historical and cultural conditioning. In this perspective, physical difference, termed sex, is minimized, while the purely cultural element, termed gender, is emphasized to the maximum and held to be primary. The obscuring of the difference or duality of the sexes has enormous consequences on a variety of levels. This theory of the human person, intended to promote prospects for equality of women through liberation from biological determinism, has in reality inspired ideologies which, for example, call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality.

3. While the immediate roots of this second tendency are found in the context of reflection on women's roles, its deeper motivation must be sought in the human attempt to be freed from one's biological conditioning.2 According to this perspective, human nature in itself does not possess characteristics in an absolute manner: all persons can and ought to constitute themselves as they like, since they are free from every predetermination linked to their essential constitution.

This perspective has many consequences. Above all it strengthens the idea that the liberation of women entails criticism of Sacred Scripture, which would be seen as handing on a patriarchal conception of God nourished by an essentially male-dominated culture. Second, this tendency would consider as lacking in importance and relevance the fact that the Son of God assumed human nature in its male form.

4. In the face of these currents of thought, the Church, enlightened by faith in Jesus Christ, speaks instead of active collaboration between the sexes precisely in the recognition of the difference between man and woman.

To understand better the basis, meaning and consequences of this response it is helpful to turn briefly to the Sacred Scriptures, rich also in human wisdom, in which this response is progressively manifested thanks to God's intervention on behalf of humanity.3


5. The first biblical texts to examine are the first three chapters of Genesis. Here we “enter into the setting of the biblical ‘beginning'. In it the revealed truth concerning the human person as ‘the image and likeness' of God constitutes the immutable basis of all Christian anthropology”.4

The first text (Gn 1:1-2:4) describes the creative power of the Word of God, which makes distinctions in the original chaos. Light and darkness appear, sea and dry land, day and night, grass and trees, fish and birds, “each according to its kind”. An ordered world is born out of differences, carrying with them also the promise of relationships. Here we see a sketch of the framework in which the creation of the human race takes place: “God said ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness'” (Gn 1:26). And then: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gn1:27). From the very beginning therefore, humanity is described as articulated in the male-female relationship. This is the humanity, sexually differentiated, which is explicitly declared “the image of God”.

6. The second creation account (Gn 2:4-25) confirms in a definitive way the importance of sexual difference. Formed by God and placed in the garden which he was to cultivate, the man, who is still referred to with the generic expression Adam, experienced a loneliness which the presence of the animals is not able to overcome. He needs a helpmate who will be his partner. The term here does not refer to an inferior, but to a vital helper.5 This is so that Adam's life does not sink into a sterile and, in the end, baneful encounter with himself. It is necessary that he enter into relationship with another being on his own level. Only the woman, created from the same “flesh” and cloaked in the same mystery, can give a future to the life of the man. It is therefore above all on the ontological level that this takes place, in the sense that God's creation of woman characterizes humanity as a relational reality. In this encounter, the man speaks words for the first time, expressive of his wonderment: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gn 2:23).

As the Holy Father has written with regard to this text from Genesis, “...woman is another ‘I' in a common humanity. From the very beginning they appear as a ‘unity of the two', and this signifies that the original solitude is overcome, the solitude in which man does not find ‘a helper fit for him' (Gn 2:20). Is it only a question here of a ‘helper' in activity, in ‘subduing the earth' (cf. Gn 1:28)? Certainly it is a matter of a life's companion with whom, as a wife, the man can unite himself, becoming with her ‘one flesh' and for this reason leaving ‘his father and his mother'(cf. Gn 2:24)”.6

This vital difference is oriented toward communion and was lived in peace, expressed by their nakedness: “And the man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame” (Gn 2:25). In this way, the human body, marked with the sign of masculinity or femininity, “includes right from the beginning the nuptial attribute, that is, the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift and – by means of this gift – fulfils the meaning of his being and his existence”.7 Continuing his commentary on these verses of Genesis, the Holy Father writes: “In this peculiarity, the body is the expression of the spirit and is called, in the mystery of creation, to exist in the communion of persons in the image of God”.8

Through this same spousal perspective, the ancient Genesis narrative allows us to understand how woman, in her deepest and original being, exists “for the other” (cf. 1 Cor 11:9): this is a statement which, far from any sense of alienation, expresses a fundamental aspect of the similarity with the Triune God, whose Persons, with the coming of Christ, are revealed as being in a communion of love, each for the others. “In the ‘unity of the two', man and woman are called from the beginning not only to exist ‘side by side' or ‘together', but they are also called to exist mutually ‘one for the other'... The text of Genesis 2:18-25 shows that marriage is the first and, in a sense, the fundamental dimension of this call. But it is not the only one. The whole of human history unfolds within the context of this call. In this history, on the basis of the principle of mutually being ‘for' the other in interpersonal ‘communion', there develops in humanity itself, in accordance with God's will, the integration of what is ‘masculine' and what is ‘feminine'”.9

The peaceful vision which concludes the second creation account recalls the “indeed it was very good” (Gn 1:31) at the end of the first account. Here we find the heart of God's original plan and the deepest truth about man and woman, as willed and created by him. Although God's original plan for man and woman will later be upset and darkened by sin, it can never be abrogated.

7. Original sin changes the way in which the man and the woman receive and live the Word of God as well as their relationship with the Creator. Immediately after having given them the gift of the garden, God gives them a positive command (cf. Gn 2:16), followed by a negative one (cf. Gn2:17), in which the essential difference between God and humanity is implicitly expressed. Following enticement by the serpent, the man and the woman deny this difference. As a consequence, the way in which they live their sexual difference is also upset. In this way, the Genesis account establishes a relationship of cause and effect between the two differences: when humanity considers God its enemy, the relationship between man and woman becomes distorted. When this relationship is damaged, their access to the face of God risks being compromised in turn.

God's decisive words to the woman after the first sin express the kind of relationship which has now been introduced between man and woman: “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gn 3:16). It will be a relationship in which love will frequently be debased into pure self-seeking, in a relationship which ignores and kills love and replaces it with the yoke of domination of one sex over the other. Indeed the story of humanity is continuously marked by this situation, which recalls the three-fold concupiscence mentioned by Saint John: the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes and the pride of life (cf. 1 Jn 2:16). In this tragic situation, the equality, respect and love that are required in the relationship of man and woman according to God's original plan, are lost.

8. Reviewing these fundamental texts allows us to formulate some of the principal elements of the biblical vision of the human person.

Above all, the fact that human beings are persons needs to be underscored: “Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God”.10Their equal dignity as persons is realized as physical, psychological and ontological complementarity, giving rise to a harmonious relationship of “uni-duality”, which only sin and “the structures of sin” inscribed in culture render potentially conflictual. The biblical vision of the human person suggests that problems related to sexual difference, whether on the public or private level, should be addressed by a relational approach and not by competition or retaliation.

Furthermore, the importance and the meaning of sexual difference, as a reality deeply inscribed in man and woman, needs to be noted. “Sexuality characterizes man and woman not only on the physical level, but also on the psychological and spiritual, making its mark on each of their expressions”.11 It cannot be reduced to a pure and insignificant biological fact, but rather “is a fundamental component of personality, one of its modes of being, of manifestation, of communicating with others, of feeling, of expressing and of living human love”.12 This capacity to love – reflection and image of God who is Love – is disclosed in the spousal character of the body, in which the masculinity or femininity of the person is expressed.

The human dimension of sexuality is inseparable from the theological dimension. The human creature, in its unity of soul and body, is characterized therefore, from the very beginning, by the relationship with the other-beyond-the-self. This relationship is presented as still good and yet, at the same time, changed. It is good from its original goodness, declared by God from the first moment of creation. It has been changed however by the disharmony between God and humanity introduced by sin. This alteration does not correspond to the initial plan of God for man and woman, nor to the truth of the relationship between the sexes. It follows then that the relationship is good, but wounded and in need of healing.

What might be the ways of this healing? Considering and analyzing the problems in the relationship between the sexes solely from the standpoint of the situation marked by sin would lead to a return to the errors mentioned above. The logic of sin needs to be broken and a way forward needs to be found that is capable of banishing it from the hearts of sinful humanity. A clear orientation in this sense is provided in the third chapter of Genesis by God's promise of a Saviour, involving the “woman” and her “offspring” (cf. Gn 3:15). It is a promise which will be preceded by a long preparation in history before it is realized.

9. An early victory over evil is seen in the story of Noah, the just man, who guided by God, avoids the flood with his family and the various species of animals (cf. Gn 6-9). But it is above all in God's choice of Abraham and his descendants (cf. Gn 12:1ff) that the hope of salvation is confirmed. God begins in this way to unveil his countenance so that, through the chosen people, humanity will learn the path of divine likeness, that is, the way of holiness, and thus of transformation of heart. Among the many ways in which God reveals himself to his people (cf. Heb 1:1), in keeping with a long and patient pedagogy, there is the recurring theme of the covenant between man and woman. This is paradoxical if we consider the drama recounted in Genesis and its concrete repetition in the time of the prophets, as well as the mixing of the sacred and the sexual found in the religions which surrounded Israel. And yet this symbolism is indispensable for understanding the way in which God  loves his people: God makes himself known as the Bridegroom who loves Israel his Bride.

If, in this relationship, God can be described as a “jealous God” (cf. Ex 20:5; Nah 1:2) and Israel denounced as an “adulterous” bride or “prostitute” (cf. Hos 2:4-15; Ez 16:15-34), it is because of the hope, reinforced by the prophets, of seeing Jerusalem become the perfect bride: “For as a young man marries a virgin so shall your creator marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Is 62:5). Recreated “in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy” (Hos 2:21), she who had wandered far away to search for life and happiness in false gods will return, and “shall respond as in the days of her youth” (Hos 2:17) to him who will speak to her heart; she will hear it said: “Your bridegroom is your Creator” (Is54:5). It is substantially the same reality which is expressed when, parallel to the mystery of God's action through the male figure of the suffering Servant, the Book of the prophet Isaiah evokes the feminine figure of Zion, adorned with a transcendence and a sanctity which prefigure the gift of salvation destined for Israel.

The Song of Songs is an important moment in the use of this form of revelation. In the words of a most human love, which celebrate the beauty of the human body and the joy of mutual seeking, God's love for his people is also expressed. The Church's recognition of her relationship to Christ in this audacious conjunction of language about what is most human with language about what is most divine, cannot be said to be mistaken.

In the course of the Old Testament, a story of salvation takes shape which involves the simultaneous participation of male and female. While having an evident metaphorical dimension, the terms bridegroom and bride – and covenant as well – which characterize the dynamic of salvation, are much more than simple metaphors. This spousal language touches on the very nature of the relationship which God establishes with his people, even though that relationship is more expansive than human spousal experience. Likewise, the same concrete conditions of redemption are at play in the way in which prophetic statements, such as those of Isaiah, associate masculine and feminine roles in proclaiming and prefiguring the work of salvation which God is about to undertake. This salvation orients the reader both toward the male figure of the suffering Servant as well as to the female figure of Zion. The prophetic utterances of Isaiah in fact alternate between this figure and the Servant of God, before culminating at the end of the book with the mystical vision of Jerusalem, which gives birth to a people in a single day (cf. Is 66: 7-14), a prophecy of the great new things which God is about to do (cf. Is 48: 6-8).

10. All these prefigurations find their fulfillment in the New Testament. On the one hand, Mary, the chosen daughter of Zion, in her femininity, sums up and transfigures the condition of Israel/Bride waiting for the day of her salvation. On the other hand, the masculinity of the Son shows how Jesus assumes in his person all that the Old Testament symbolism had applied to the love of God for his people, described as the love of a bridegroom for his bride. The figures of Jesus and Mary his mother not only assure the continuity of the New Testament with the Old, but go beyond it, since – as Saint Irenaeus wrote – with Jesus Christ “all newness” appears.13

This aspect is particularly evident in the Gospel of John. In the scene of the wedding feast at Cana, for example, Jesus is asked by his mother, who is called “woman”, to offer, as a sign, the new wine of the future wedding with humanity (cf. Jn 2:1-12). This messianic wedding is accomplished on the Cross when, again in the presence of his mother, once again called “woman”, the blood/wine of the New Covenant pours forth from the open heart of the crucified Christ (cf. Jn 19:25-27, 34).14 It is therefore not at all surprising that John the Baptist, when asked who he is, describes himself as “the friend of the bridegroom”, who rejoices to hear the bridegroom's voice and must be eclipsed by his coming: “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn3:29-30).15

In his apostolic activity, Paul develops the whole nuptial significance of the redemption by seeing Christian life as a nuptial mystery. He writes to the Church in Corinth, which he had founded: “I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a chaste virgin to her one husband” (2 Cor 11:2).

In the Letter to the Ephesians, the spousal relationship between Christ and the Church is taken up again and deepened in its implications. In the New Covenant, the beloved bride is the Church, and as the Holy Father teaches in his Letter to Families: “This bride, of whom the Letter to the Ephesians speaks, is present in each of the baptized and is like one who presents herself before her Bridegroom: ‘Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her..., that he might present the Church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish' (Eph 5:25-27)”. 16

Reflecting on the unity of man and woman as described at the moment of the world's creation (cf.Gn 2:24), the Apostle exclaims: “this mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:32). The love of a man and a woman, lived out in the power of baptismal life, now becomes the sacrament of the love between Christ and his Church, and a witness to the mystery of fidelity and unity from which the “New Eve” is born and by which she lives in her earthly pilgrimage toward the fullness of the eternal wedding.

11. Drawn into the Paschal mystery and made living signs of the love of Christ and his Church, the hearts of Christian spouses are renewed and they are able to avoid elements of concupiscence in their relationship, as well as the subjugation introduced into the life of the first married couple by the break with God caused by sin. For Christian spouses, the goodness of love, for which the wounded human heart has continued to long, is revealed with new accents and possibilities. It is in this light that Jesus, faced with the question about divorce (cf. Mt 19:3-9), recalls the demands of the covenant between man and woman as willed by God at the beginning, that is, before the eruption of sin which had justified the later accommodations found in the Mosaic Law. Far from being the imposition of a hard and inflexible order, these words of Jesus are actually the proclamation of the “good news” of that faithfulness which is stronger than sin. The power of the resurrection makes possible the victory of faithfulness over weakness, over injuries and over the couple's sins. In the grace of Christ which renews their hearts, man and woman become capable of being freed from sin and of knowing the joy of mutual giving.

12. “For all of you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ... there is neither male nor female”, writes Saint Paul to the Galatians (3:27-28). The Apostle Paul does not say that the distinction between man and woman, which in other places is referred to the plan of God, has been erased. He means rather that in Christ the rivalry, enmity and violence which disfigured the relationship between men and women can be overcome and have been overcome. In this sense, the distinction between man and woman is reaffirmed more than ever; indeed, it is present in biblical revelation up to the very end. In the final hour of present history, the Book of Revelation of Saint John, speaking of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1), presents the vision of a feminine Jerusalem “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2). Revelation concludes with the words of the Bride and the Spirit who beseech the coming of the Bridegroom, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev22:20).

Male and female are thus revealed as belonging ontologically to creation and destined thereforeto outlast the present time, evidently in a transfigured form. In this way, they characterize the “love that never ends” (1Cor 13:8), although the temporal and earthly expression of sexuality is transient and ordered to a phase of life marked by procreation and death. Celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom seeks to be the prophecy of this form of future existence of male and female. For those who live it, it is an anticipation of the reality of a life which, while remaining that of a man and a woman, will no longer be subject to the present limitations of the marriage relationship (cf.Mt22:30). For those in married life, celibacy becomes the reminder and prophecy of the completion which their own relationship will find in the face-to-face encounter with God.

From the first moment of their creation, man and woman are distinct, and will remain so for all eternity. Placed within Christ's Paschal mystery, they no longer see their difference as a source of discord to be overcome by denial or eradication, but rather as the possibility for collaboration, to be cultivated with mutual respect for their difference. From here, new perspectives open up for a deeper understanding of the dignity of women and their role in human society and in the Church.


13. Among the fundamental values linked to women's actual lives is what has been called a “capacity for the other”. Although a certain type of feminist rhetoric makes demands “for ourselves”, women preserve the deep intuition of the goodness in their lives of those actions which elicit life, and contribute to the growth and protection of the other.

This intuition is linked to women's physical capacity to give life. Whether lived out or remaining potential, this capacity is a reality that structures the female personality in a profound way. It allows her to acquire maturity very quickly, and gives a sense of the seriousness of life and of its responsibilities. A sense and a respect for what is concrete develop in her, opposed to abstractions which are so often fatal for the existence of individuals and society. It is women, in the end, who even in very desperate situations, as attested by history past and present, possess a singular capacity to persevere in adversity, to keep life going even in extreme situations, to hold tenaciously to the future, and finally to remember with tears the value of every human life.

Although motherhood is a key element of women's identity, this does not mean that women should be considered from the sole perspective of physical procreation. In this area, there can be serious distortions, which extol biological fecundity in purely quantitative terms and are often accompanied by dangerous disrespect for women. The existence of the Christian vocation of virginity, radical with regard to both the Old Testament tradition and the demands made by many societies, is of the greatest importance in this regard.17 Virginity refutes any attempt to enclose women in mere biological destiny. Just as virginity receives from physical motherhood the insight that there is no Christian vocation except in the concrete gift of oneself to the other, so physical motherhood receives from virginity an insight into its fundamentally spiritual dimension: it is in not being content only to give physical life that the other truly comes into existence. This means that motherhood can find forms of full realization also where there is no physical procreation.18

In this perspective, one understands the irreplaceable role of women in all aspects of family and social life involving human relationships and caring for others. Here what John Paul II has termedthe genius of women becomes very clear.19 It implies first of all that women be significantly and actively present in the family, “the primordial and, in a certain sense sovereign society”,20 since it is here above all that the features of a people take shape; it is here that its members acquire basic teachings. They learn to love inasmuch as they are unconditionally loved, they learn respect for others inasmuch as they are respected, they learn to know the face of God inasmuch as they receive a first revelation of it from a father and a mother full of attention in their regard. Whenever these fundamental experiences are lacking, society as a whole suffers violence and becomes in turn the progenitor of more violence. It means also that women should be present in the world of work and in the organization of society, and that women should have access to positions of responsibility which allow them to inspire the policies of nations and to promote innovative solutions to economic and social problems.

In this regard, it cannot be forgotten that the interrelationship between these two activities – family and work – has, for women, characteristics different from those in the case of men. The harmonization of the organization of work and laws governing work with the demands stemming from the mission of women within the family is a challenge. The question is not only legal, economic and organizational; it is above all a question of mentality, culture, and respect. Indeed, a just valuing of the work of women within the family is required. In this way, women who freely desire will be able to devote the totality of their time to the work of the household without being stigmatized by society or penalized financially, while those who wish also to engage in other work may be able to do so with an appropriate work-schedule, and not have to choose between relinquishing their family life or enduring continual stress, with negative consequences for one's own equilibrium and the harmony of the family. As John Paul II has written, “it will redound to the credit of society to make it possible for a mother – without inhibiting her freedom, without psychological or practical discrimination and without penalizing her as compared with other women – to devote herself to taking care of her children and educating them in accordance with their needs, which vary with age”.21

14. It is appropriate however to recall that the feminine values mentioned here are above all human values: the human condition of man and woman created in the image of God is one and indivisible. It is only because women are more immediately attuned to these values that they are the reminder and the privileged sign of such values. But, in the final analysis, every human being, man or woman, is destined to be “for the other”. In this perspective, that which is called “femininity” is more than simply an attribute of the female sex. The word designates indeed the fundamental human capacity to live for the other and because of the other.

Therefore, the promotion of women within society must be understood and desired as a humanization accomplished through those values, rediscovered thanks to women. Every outlook which presents itself as a conflict between the sexes is only an illusion and a danger: it would end in segregation and competition between men and women, and would promote a solipsism nourished by a false conception of freedom.

Without prejudice to the advancement of women's rights in society and the family, these observations seek to correct the perspective which views men as enemies to be overcome. The proper condition of the male-female relationship cannot be a kind of mistrustful and defensive opposition. Their relationship needs to be lived in peace and in the happiness of shared love.

On a more concrete level, if social policies – in the areas of education, work, family, access to services and civic participation – must combat all unjust sexual discrimination, they must also listen to the aspirations and identify the needs of all. The defence and promotion of equal dignity and common personal values must be harmonized with attentive recognition of the difference and reciprocity between the sexes where this is relevant to the realization of one's humanity, whether male or female.


15. In the Church, woman as “sign” is more than ever central and fruitful, following as it does from the very identity of the Church, as received from God and accepted in faith. It is this “mystical” identity, profound and essential, which needs to be kept in mind when reflecting on the respective roles of men and women in the Church.

From the beginning of Christianity, the Church has understood herself to be a community, brought into existence by Christ and joined to him by a relationship of love, of which the nuptial experience is the privileged expression. From this it follows that the Church's first task is to remain in the presence of this mystery of God's love, manifested in Jesus Christ, to contemplate and to celebrate it. In this regard, the figure of Mary constitutes the fundamental reference in the Church. One could say metaphorically that Mary is a mirror placed before the Church, in which the Church is invited to recognize her own identity as well as the dispositions of the heart, the attitudes and the actions which God expects from her.

The existence of Mary is an invitation to the Church to root her very being in listening and receiving the Word of God, because faith is not so much the search for God on the part of human beings, as the recognition by men and women that God comes to us; he visits us and speaks to us. This faith, which believes that “nothing is impossible for God” (cf. Gn18:14; Lk 1:37), lives and becomes deeper through the humble and loving obedience by which the Church can say to the Father: “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Faith continually makes reference to Jesus: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5) and accompanies Jesus on his way, even to the foot of the Cross. Mary, in the hour of darkness, perseveres courageously in faithfulness, with the sole certainty of trust in the Word of God.

It is from Mary that the Church always learns the intimacy of Christ. Mary, who carried the small child of Bethlehem in her arms, teaches us to recognize the infinite humility of God. She who received the broken body of Jesus from the Cross shows the Church how to receive all those in this world whose lives have been wounded by violence and sin. From Mary, the Church learns the meaning of the power of love, as revealed by God in the life of his beloved Son: “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their heart... he has lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:51-52). From Mary, the disciples of Christ continually receive the sense and the delight of praise for the work of God's hands: “The Almighty has done great things for me” (Lk1:49). They learn that they are in the world to preserve the memory of those “great things”, and to keep vigil in expectation of the day of the Lord.

16. To look at Mary and imitate her does not mean, however, that the Church should adopt a passivity inspired by an outdated conception of femininity. Nor does it condemn the Church to a dangerous vulnerability in a world where what count above all are domination and power. In reality, the way of Christ is neither one of domination (cf. Phil 2:6) nor of power as understood by the world (cf. Jn18:36). From the Son of God one learns that this “passivity” is in reality the way of love; it is a royal power which vanquishes all violence; it is “passion” which saves the world from sin and death and recreates humanity. In entrusting his mother to the Apostle John, Jesus on the Cross invites his Church to learn from Mary the secret of the love that is victorious.

Far from giving the Church an identity based on an historically conditioned model of femininity, the reference to Mary, with her dispositions of listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting, places the Church in continuity with the spiritual history of Israel. In Jesus and through him, these attributes become the vocation of every baptized Christian. Regardless of conditions, states of life, different vocations with or without public responsibilities, they are an essential aspect of Christian life. While these traits should be characteristic of every baptized person, women in fact live them with particular intensity and naturalness. In this way, women play a role of maximum importance in the Church's life by recalling these dispositions to all the baptized and contributing in a unique way to showing the true face of the Church, spouse of Christ and mother of believers.

In this perspective one understands how the reservation of priestly ordination solely to men22 does not hamper in any way women's access to the heart of Christian life. Women are called to be unique examples and witnesses for all Christians of how the Bride is to respond in love to the love of the Bridegroom.


17. In Jesus Christ all things have been made new (cf. Rev 21:5). Renewal in grace, however, cannot take place without conversion of heart. Gazing at Jesus and confessing him as Lord means recognizing the path of love, triumphant over sin, which he sets out for his disciples.

In this way, man's relationship with woman is transformed, and the three-fold concupiscence described in the First Letter of John (1 Jn 2:16) ceases to have the upper hand. The witness of women's lives must be received with respect and appreciation, as revealing those values without which humanity would be closed in self-sufficiency, dreams of power and the drama of violence. Women too, for their part, need to follow the path of conversion and recognize the unique values and great capacity for loving others which their femininity bears. In both cases, it is a question of humanity's conversion to God, so that both men and women may come to know God as their “helper”, as the Creator full of tenderness, as the Redeemer who “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (Jn 3:16).

Such a conversion cannot take place without humble prayer to God for that penetrating gaze which is able to recognize one's own sin and also the grace which heals it. In a particular way, we need to ask this of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the woman in accord with the heart of God, she who is “blessed among women” (cf. Lk 1:42), chosen to reveal to men and women the way of love. Only in this way, can the “image of God”, the sacred likeness inscribed in every man and woman, emerge according to the specific grace received by each (cf. Gn 1:27). Only thus can the path of peace and wonderment be recovered, witnessed in the verses of the Song of Songs, where bodies and hearts celebrate the same jubilee.

The Church certainly knows the power of sin at work in individuals and in societies, which at times almost leads one to despair of the goodness of married couples. But through her faith in Jesus crucified and risen, the Church knows even more the power of forgiveness and self-giving in spite of any injury or injustice. The peace and wonderment which she trustfully proposes to men and women today are the peace and wonderment of the garden of the resurrection, which have enlightened our world and its history with the revelation that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16).

The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, in the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved the present Letter, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation, and ordered its publication.

Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, May 31, 2004, the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

+ Joseph Card. Ratzinger

+ Angelo Amato, SDB
Titular Archbishop of Sila

1Cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio (November 22, 1981): AAS 74 (1982), 81-191; Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem (August 15, 1988): AAS 80 (1988), 1653-1729; Letter to Families (February 2, 1994): AAS 86 (1994), 868-925; Letter to Women (June 29, 1995): AAS 87 (1995), 803-812; Catechesi sull'amore umano (1979-1984):Insegnamenti II (1979) – VII (1984): English translation in The Theology of the Body, (Boston: Pauline Books Media, 1997); Congregation for Catholic Education, Educational Guidance in Human Love (November 1, 1983); Pontifical Council for the Family, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality: Guidelines for Education within the Family (December 8, 1995).

2On the complex question of gender, see also The Pontifical Council for the Family, Family, Marriage and “De facto unions” (July 26, 2000), 8.

3Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio (September 14, 1998)21: AAS 91 (1999), 22: “This opening to the mystery, which came to him [biblical man] through Revelation, was for him, in the end, the source of true knowledge. It was this which allowed his reason to enter the realm of the infinite where an understanding for which until then he had not dared to hope became a possibility”.

4John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem (August 15, 1988), 6: AAS 80 (1988), 1662; cf. St. Ireneus, Adversus haereses, 5,6,1; 5, 16, 2-3: SC 153, 72-81; 216-221; St. Gregory of Nyssa, De hominis opificio, 16: PG 44, 180; In Canticum homilia, 2: PG 44, 805-808; St.Augustine, Enarratio in Psalmum, 4, 8: CCL 38, 17.

5The Hebrew word ezer which is translated as “helpmate” indicates the assistance which only a person can render to another. It carries no implication of inferiority or exploitation if we remember that God too is at times called ezer with regard to human beings (cf. Ex 18:4; Ps10:14).

6John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem (August 15, 1988), 6: AAS 80 (1988), 1664.

7John Paul II, General Audience of January 16, 1980, reprinted in The Theology of the Body, (Boston: Pauline Books Media, 1997), 63.

8John Paul II, General Audience of July 23, 1980, reprinted in The Theology of the Body, (Boston: Pauline Books Media, 1997), 125.

9John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem (August 15, 1988), 7: AAS 80 (1988), 1666.

10Ibid., 6, l. c., 1663.

11Congregation for Catholic Education, Educational Guidance in Human Love (November 1, 1983), 4.


13Adversus haereses, 4, 34, 1: SC 100, 846: “Omnem novitatem attulit semetipsum afferens”.

14The ancient exegetical tradition sees in Mary at Cana the “figura Synagogae” and the“inchoatio Ecclesiae”.

15Here the Fourth Gospel presents in a deeper way an element found also in the Synoptic Gospels (cf. Mt 9:15 and parallel texts). On the theme of Christ the Bridegroom, see John Paul II, Letter to Families (February 2, 1994), 18: AAS 86 (1994), 906-910.

16John Paul II, Letter to Families (February 2, 1994), 19: AAS 86 (1994), 911; cf. Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem (August 15, 1988), 23- 25: AAS 80 (1988), 1708-1715.

17Cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio (November 22, 1981), 16: AAS 74 (1982), 98-99.

18Ibid., 41, l.c., 132-133; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum vitae(February 22, 1987), II, 8: AAS 80 (1988), 96-97.

19Cf. John Paul II, Letter to Women (June 29, 1995), 9-10: AAS 87 (1995), 809-810.

20John Paul II, Letter to Families (February 2, 1994), 17: AAS 86 (1994), 906.

21Encyclical Letter Laborem exercens (September 14, 1981), 19: AAS 73 (1981), 627.

22Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis (May 22, 1994): AAS 86 (1994), 545-548; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Responsum ad dubium regarding the doctrine of the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis (October 28, 1995): AAS 87 (1995), 1114.          

Decree on the Attempted Priestly Ordination of Some Catholic Women, December 21, 2002

Decree of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith On the Attempted Priestly Ordination of Some Catholic Women
December 21, 2002

On June 29, 2002, Romulo Antonio Braschi, founder of a schismatic community, attempted to ordain the following Catholic women to the priesthood: Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger, Adelinde Roitinger, Gisela Forster, Iris Müller, Ida Raming, Pia Brunner and Dagmar Braun Celeste, who on that occasion identified herself as Angela White.

Citing the previous interventions of the Bishop of Linz and of the Austrian Episcopal Conference, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a statement on July 10, 2002, warning the above-mentioned persons that they would be punished with excommunication if by July 22, 2002, they had not acknowledged the nullity of their "ordination" and asked forgiveness for the scandal caused to the faithful.

As they gave no indication of amendment, this Congregation punished the aforementioned persons with excommunication, reserved to the Apostolic See, in the Decree dated August 5, 2002, expressing the hope that they might be moved to conversion. The Decree also confirmed that the "ordaining" bishop was already excommunicated insofar as he is a schismatic.

They subsequently published letters and granted interviews, in which they expressed their conviction regarding the validity of the "ordination" they received, calling for a change of the definitive doctrine according to which ordination to the priesthood is reserved to males, and reaffirming that they celebrate "Mass" and other "sacraments" for small groups.

In a letter dated August 14, 2002, they asked that the Decree of Excommunication be revoked, and then, on September 27, 2002, with reference to canons 1732-1739 CIC, they made recourse against the Decree. On October 21, 2002, they were informed that their request would be submitted to the competent authority.

The request for revocation and the recourse were examined by the Sessione Ordinaria of the Congregation on the 4th and 18th of December 2002. The Members of the Congregation who participated -- those resident in Rome -- were Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger, Alfonso López Trujillo, Ignace Moussa I. Daoud, Giovanni Battista Re, Francis Arinze, Jozef Tomko, Achille Silvestrini, Jorge Medina Estévez, James Francis Stafford, Zenon Grocholewski, Walter Kasper, Crescenzio Sepe, Mario Francesco Pompedda, and Bishops Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., and Rino Fisichella.

In the course of these meetings the Members arrived at the collegial decision to confirm the Decree of Excommunication. In the case under consideration, in fact, hierarchical recourse is not possible, as it concerns a Decree of Excommunication issued by a Dicastery of the Holy See acting in the name of the Supreme Pontiff (cf. can. 360 CIC).

So as to remove any doubt in the matter, the Members thought it necessary to underline certain fundamental points.

  1. It is necessary above all to state precisely that the case under consideration does not involve a latae sententiaepenalty, which is incurred ipso facto when a delict expressly established by the law is committed. It concerns instead a ferendae sententiae penalty, imposed after the guilty party has been duly warned (cf. cann. 1314; 1347 §1 CIC). As provided by can. 1319 §1 CIC, this Congregation has the power to threaten determinate penalties by precept.
  2. The particular gravity of the offenses committed is evident, which can be seen from various aspects. a) There is first of all the issue of schism: the above-mentioned women were "ordained" by a schismatic bishop and -- even though not formally adhering to his schism -- thereby made themselves accomplices in schism. b) In addition there is the doctrinal aspect, namely, that they formally and obstinately reject a doctrine which the Church has always taught and lived, and which was definitively proposed by Pope John Paul II, namely, "that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women" (Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, n. 4). The denial of this doctrine is rightly considered the denial of a truth that pertains to the Catholic faith and therefore deserves a just penalty (cf. cann. 750 §2; 1372, n. 1 CIC; John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Motu ProprioAd tuendam fidem, n. 4A). Moreover, by denying this doctrine, the persons in question maintain that the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff would be binding only if it were based on a decision of the College of Bishops, supported by the sensus fidelium and received by the major theologians. In such a way they are at odds with the doctrine on the Magisterium of the Successor of Peter, put forward by both the First and Second Vatican Councils, and they thereby fail to recognize that the teachings of the Supreme Pontiff on doctrines to be held definitively by all the faithful are irreformable.
  3. The refusal to comply with the penal precept established by this Congregation is further aggravated by the fact that some of the above-mentioned women have been gathering round them members of the faithful, in open and divisive disobedience to the Roman Pontiff and diocesan bishops. In view of the gravity of this contumacy (cf. can. 1347 CIC), the penalty imposed is not only just, but also necessary, in order to protect true doctrine, to safeguard the communion and unity of the Church and to guide the consciences of the faithful.
  4. 4. The above-mentioned Members of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith therefore confirm the Decree of Excommunication issued on August 5, 2002, specifying once again that the attempted priestly ordination of the aforementioned women is null and invalid (cf. can. 1024 CIC) and therefore all those actions proper to the Order of Priesthood performed by them are also null and invalid (cf. cann. 124; 841 CIC). In consequence of the excommunication, they are forbidden to celebrate sacraments or sacramentals, to receive the sacraments and to exercise any function in an ecclesiastical office, ministry or assignment (cf. can. 1331 §1 CIC).
  5. At the same time, it is hoped that, sustained by the grace of the Holy Spirit, they might discover the path to conversion and so return to the unity of faith and to communion with the Church, a communion broken by their action.

The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect on December 20, 2002, approved this Decree, adopted in the Sessione Ordinaria of this Congregation, approving at the same time in forma specifica n. 4, and ordered its publication.

Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, December 21, 2002.

+ Joseph Card. Ratzinger Prefect 

+ Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B. Archbishop-elect of Genoa

The Secret Examination of Candidates for New Catholic Bishops, 2002

The secret examination of new Bishops

The papal Nuncio, in a document headed «sub secreto pontificio», sets out about one hundred questions to be asked about a candidate for the prelature. CRÓNICA has gained access to this document.


CRONICA, El Mundo, Sunday 3 November 2002 – Number 368

The form bears the coat of arms of the Spanish Nunciature, a six-digit serial number (N. 2099/09) and a heading including the words «Sub secreto pontificio». The document concerned, to which CRÓNICA has obtained access is the highly confidential examination used to assess applicants for ordination as bishop. «Reverend... has been proposed to the Holy See for the post of Bishop», reads the introduction. « We would be grateful if you would answer the following questions, as comprehensively as possible, on this man. This document will remain subject to pontifical secrecy, binding you to maintain the greatest confidentiality on the matter, on pain of mortal sin. In order to preserve secrecy, please return this questionnaire with your response, and do not keep a copy». Signed Mons. Manuel Monteiro de Castro, Apostolic Nuncio

It presents a list of questions, divided into 13 sections, on such intimate matters as the “physical disability and symptoms of hereditary illnesses” of candidates for the mitre. It asks about the «faith (sic), hope and love», the three theological virtues, the «obedience, humility and piety» and also the candidate’s position on «women’s ordination, sexual ethics and priestly celibacy».

Only a few organisations, such as the Church, could ask these questions, without being accused of an assault on the right to privacy or to honour. «As long as the questionnaire is not used for any other purpose, and is not divulged, there is no illicit invasion of privacy. The procedure is covered by article 6.1 of the Religious Freedom Act, exempting religious confession », explains the professor of Ecclesiastical Law at Complutense University (Madrid) and former director general of Religious Affairs, Dionisio Llamazares. The Spanish Nunciature sends the questionnaire to half a dozen people in the diocese that requires appointment of a bishop, who know the candidate very well. Normally these are priests or religious brothers or sisters, although a very committed lay person may be included. If the reports are entirely favourable, the applicant will be included on a shortlist of three that the Nuncio sends to Rome, where they are then subject to the placet of Cardinal Rouco Varela. Otherwise the shortlists are passed to the Vatican Congregation of Bishops, chaired by his friend, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re. 

In theory, any priest may become a bishop, but only some will achieve the position. All those who do will be very competent, older men (over 50), members of diocesan curias, or canons, orthodox and with friends in the Spanish episcopal elite and in the Roman Curia. Some cardinals and archbishops in post will have the authority to select or appoint their auxiliary bishops. The present bishop of Palencia, Monsignor Palmero, was given the mitre by the emeritus Cardinal of Toledo, González Martín, for whom he acted as secretary for 20 years. 

Sometimes a lobby system applies. This was the case in Valencia, where 19 of its members were catapulted into the episcopacy: Carles, Ureña, Cañizares, Vilaplana, Reig, Gea, etc. In the majority of cases, Cardinal Rouco picks the shortlist from his own particular friends and preferences. Sometimes the Nuncio, Monteiro de Castro, uses his powers, especially to fill vacancies in small dioceses. 

In such cases, the papal ambassador writes to his contacts: «Beloved in the Lord: For the purposes of appointment to the diocese of..., I would be very grateful to you if on the reverse of this page you would write the names of possible candidates from which a short list may be drawn up to fill the position of episcopal minister in this diocese, giving the reasons for your choice».Signed: Mons. Manuel Monteiro de Castro. Apostolic Nuncio.

If the responses from those questioned are favourable, the applicant will be included in a shortlist of three that the Nuncio then sends to Rome./ IÑIGO IBÁNEZ

If the responses from those questioned are favourable, the applicant will be included in a shortlist of three that the Nuncio then sends to Rome./ IÑIGO IBÁNEZ


These are some of the questions sent to half a dozen of those close to the applicants for the position of bishop, asking them about the candidate’s qualities. 

1. INFORMATION ON THE INDIVIDUAL. Behaviour, capacity for work, family relationships, physical disabilities and any symptoms of hereditary illnesses.

2. HUMAN QUALITIES. Intellectual, reflective and practical abilities. Temperament and character. Internal balance. Judgement. Sense of responsibility. 

3 . HUMAN, CHRISTIAN AND PRIESTLY FORMATION. Does he demonstrate the following human, Christian and priestly virtues: intelligence, sense of justice, integrity, probity, objectivity, faith, hope, love, obedience, humility, piety? Does he celebrate the Eucharist, read the Bible and practice Marian piety on a daily basis? 

4. BEHAVIOUR. Does he have ethical attitudes? Can he form friendships? Does he maintain respectful relationships with State authorities? 

5. INTELLECTUAL FORMATION AND CAPACITY. Continuing formation in ecclesiastical subjects. Knowledge and awareness of current problems. Knowledge of other languages. Published articles or books. 

6. ORTHODOXY. Sincere communion with the teaching authority of the Church (the Magisterium). What does he think about women’s ordination, sexual ethics, and in particular the teachings of Humanae Vitae? To what extent is he loyal to the traditions of the Church? Is he committed to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and the papal teachings that arose from it?

7. DISCIPLINE. Loyalty and obedience to the Holy Father, the Apostolic See and the hierarchy. Respectful acceptance of celibacy for priests. Respectful observance of all the general and particular norms relating to worship and Eucharistic celebration. Does he wear long vestments or similar? 

8. PASTORAL QUALITIES AND EXPERIENCE. What abilities and experience does he have in pastoral ministry? Is he trained and able to speak in public? Does he hear confessions? Does he encourage religious vocations? Is he committed to the missions, ecumenism and formation of the laity? 

9. QUALITIES OF COMMAND. Attitudes of service and of a father. Initiative. Capacity to lead. Capable of motivating and integrating collaborators. Able to analyse and plan. Is he capable of dialogue? Is he interested in the problems of the Church, at a universal and at a local level?

10. ADMINISTRATIVE SKILLS. Respect and husbanding of Church resources. Ability and keeness for administration. Ready to consult experts when necessary to resolve specific problems. 

11. PUBLIC APPRECIATION. Is he valued by his colleagues, his people and by the authorities?

12. GENERAL APPRECIATION. In your opinion, does he have the qualities to be an incumbent or auxiliary bishop? What type of diocese would suit him best: urban, industrial, rural, large, medium or small?

13. OTHER INFORMATION. Give the names, addresses and positions of other people (priests, religious brothers or sisters, or lay people) who may have the judgement, impartiality and discretion to respond to this questionnaire.

Translated by Joanna Waller


Are bishops, parish priests, theologians, etc. still bound by the ‘oath of fidelity’ if they come to realise that the arguments against ordaining women are invalid?

No, they are not. In that case, the oath ceases ‘ab intrinseco’ [from within] at least with regard to the ordination of women.

Catholics who are not academically trained may fear that bishops who have promised not to promote the ordination of women as a condition of their admission to the episcopacy, will not be able to change their position once they realise that the ban against women priests is based on faulty evidence.

Bishops, priests and theologians, however, know from their study of moral theology that a promise, even if made under oath, ceases to be valid if substantial error affected their knowledge regarding the object of the promise, or if an error affected the purpose of the promise (e.g. what is good for the Church), or if the promise was made under fear, or if the object of the promise has become impossible or harmful.

The promise ceases ab intrinseco, as Thomas Aquinas taught:

'Whatever would have been an impediment to the making of a promise if it had been present, also lifts the obligation from a promise that has been made.'

Scriptum super IV libros Sententiarum dist. 38, q.1, sol. 1 ad 1; D. M. Prümmer, Manuale Theologiae Moralis, Freiburg 1936, vol. II, 'De Voto', pp. 326-348.

- John Wijngaards

Formal Canonical Warning Regarding the 'Attempted' Priestly Ordination of Some Catholic Women, July 10, 2002

Commentary from Women's Ordination Worldwide:  On July 10, 2002, the Vatican issued a formal canonical warning against what it calls 'the attempted priestly ordination of women' in response to the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement ordination of women on the Danube on June 29, 2002.

The speed with which the Vatican issued this warning is remarkable... 12 days after the first River Ordinations.  Compare this to the speed (or lack thereof) with which the Vatican has responded to paedophile priest abuse cases in the Church.

MONITUM [ie, Formal Canonical Warning]
Regarding the Attempted Priestly Ordination of Some Catholic Women
by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Prefect, Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
July 10, 2002

On June 29, 2002, Romulo Antonio Braschi, the founder of a schismatic community, attempted to confer priestly ordination on the following Catholic women: Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger, Adelinde Theresia Roitinger, Gisela Forster, Iris Müller, Ida Raming, Pia Brunner and Angela White.

In order to give direction to the consciences of the Catholic faithful and dispel any doubts which may have arisen, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wishes to recall the teaching of the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis of Pope John Paul II, which states that "the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful" (n. 4). For this reason, the above-mentioned "priestly ordination" constitutes the simulation of a sacrament and is thus invalid and null, as well as constituting a grave offense to the divine constitution of the Church. Furthermore, because the "ordaining" Bishop belongs to a schismatic community, it is also a serious attack on the unity of the Church. Such an action is an affront to the dignity of women, whose specific role in the Church and society is distinctive and irreplaceable.

The present Declaration, recalling the preceding statements of the Bishop of Linz and the Episcopal Conference of Austria and in accordance with canon 1347 § 1 of the CIC, gives formal warning to the above-mentioned women that they will incur excommunication reserved to the Holy See if, by July 22, 2002, they do not (1) acknowledge the nullity of the "orders" they have received from a schismatic Bishop in contradiction to the definitive doctrine of the Church and (2) state their repentance and ask forgiveness for the scandal caused to the faithful.

Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 10 July 2002.

Joseph Card. RATZINGER, Prefect
Tarcisio BERTONE, S.D.B.
Archbishop Emeritus of Vercelli, Secretary

Regarding Female Altar Servers, July 27, 2001

Regarding Female Altar Servers

Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, July 27, 2001

A bishop recently asked the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments whether a Diocesan Bishop would be able to put an obligation on his priests to admit women and girls to serve at the altar. This Dicastry has considered it opportune to send this letter to the Bishop in question, and given its particular importance to publish it here [in Notitiae 37(2001)].

Numbering of paragraphs and bold print in the text by John Wijngaards.

Your Excellency:

Further to recent correspondence, this Congregation resolved to undertake a renewed study of the questions concerning the possible admission of girls, adult women and women religious to serve alongside boys as servers in the liturgy.

As part of this examination, this Dicastry consulted the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts which replied with a letter of July 23, 2001. The reply of the Pontifical Council was helpful in reaffirming that the questions raised by this Congregation, including the question of whether particular legislation could oblige individual priests in their celebration of the Holy Mass to make use of women to serve at the altar, do not concern the interpretation of the law, but rather are questions of the correct application of the law. The reply of the aforementioned Pontifical Council, therefore, confirms the understanding of this Dicastry that the matter falls within the competence of this Congregation as delineated by the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, n. 62. Bearing in mind this authoritative response, this Dicastry, having resolved outstanding questions, was able to conclude its own study. At the present time, therefore, the Congregation would wish to make the following observations.

[1] As is clear from the Responsio ad propositum dubium concerning canon 230 §2 of the Codex Iuris Canonici of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts and the directives of this Congregation, which the Holy Father had mandated in order to provide for the orderly implementation of what is set out in canon 230 §2, and its authentic interpretation (cf. Circular Letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences, Prot. n. 2482/93, March 15, 1994, see Notitiae 30 [1994] 333-335),the Diocesan Bishop, in his role as moderator of the liturgical life in the diocese entrusted to his care, has the authority, within the boundaries of the territory entrusted to his care, to permit women to serve at the altar.

[2] Moreover his fundamental freedom here cannot be conditioned by claims in favor of a uniformity between his diocese and other dioceses which would logically lead to the removal of the necessary freedom of action from the individual Diocesan Bishop. Rather, after having heard the opinion of the Episcopal Conference, he is to base his prudential judgment upon what he considers to agree more closely with the local pastoral need for an ordered development of the liturgical life in the diocese entrusted to his care, bearing in mind, among other things, the sensibilities of the faithful, the reasons which would motivate such a permission, and the different liturgical settings and congregations which gather for the Holy Mass (cf. Circular Letter to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences, March 15, 1994, no. 1).

[3] In accord with the above cited instructions of the Holy See such an authorization may not, in any way, exclude men or, in particular, boys from service at the altar,

[4] nor require that priests of the diocese must make use of female altar servers, since "it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar" (Circular Letter to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences, March 15, 1994, no. 2). Indeed, the obligation to support groups of altar boys will always remain, not least of all due to the well known assistance that such programs have provided since time immemorial in encouraging future priestly vocations (cf. ibid.).

[5] With respect to whether the practice of women serving at the altar would truly be of pastoral advantage in the local pastoral situation, it is perhaps helpful to recall that the non-ordained faithful do not have a right to serve at the altar, rather they are capable of being admitted to such service by the Sacred Pastors (cf. Circular Letter to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences, March 15, 1994, no. 4, cf. also can. 228, s.1, Interdicasterial Instruction Ecclesiae de mysterio, August 15, 1997, no. 4, see Notitiae 34 [1998] 9-42).

[6] Therefore, in the event that Your Excellency found it opportune to authorize women to serve at the altar, it would remain important to explain clearly to the faithful the nature of this innovation, lest confusion might be introduced, thereby hampering the development of priestly vocations.

Having thus confirmed and further clarified the contents of its previous response to Your Excellency, this Dicastry wishes to assure you of its gratitude for the opportunity to elaborate further upon this question and that it considers the present letter to be normative.

With every good wish and kind regard, I am, 
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Jorge A. Card. Medina Estevez,
Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments
July 27, 2001

John Paul II: Letter to Priests, March 23, 2000

Letter to priests

from Briefing 30 ( 2000) no 4, 12 April, pp 27 - 31

On 30 March 2000, the Holy See published the annual Holy Thursday letter of Pope John Paul II to priests. His reflections on the Eucharist events of the Last Supper are inspired by his visit to the Holy Land; the letter was addressed from the Upper Room in Jerusalem.


My dear brother priests!

1. Jesus, ‘having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end’ (Jn 13 :1). Here in Jerusalem, in the place where according to tradition Jesus and the twelve were present for the Passover meal and the institution of the Eucharist, I am deeply moved as I read once again the words with which the Evangelist John introduces the account of the Last Supper.

I give praise to the Lord for enabling me, in this Jubilee year of the incarnation of his Son, to trace the earthly footsteps of Christ, following the paths which he took from his birth in Bethlehem to his death on Golgotha. Yesterday I spent time in Bethlehem, in the cave of the Nativity. In the days to come I will visit various places associated with the life and ministry of the Saviour, from the house of the Annunciation to the Mount of the Beatitudes and the Garden of Olives. Finally on Sunday I will be at Golgotha and the Holy Sepulchre.

Today, this visit to the Upper Room gives me an opportunity to survey the entire mystery of the redemption. It was here that Christ gave us the immense gift of the Eucharist. Here too our priesthood was born.

A letter from the Upper Room

2. From this Upper Room I would like to address this letter to you, as I have done for more than twenty years, on Holy Thursday, the day of the Eucharist and ‘our’ day par excellence.

I am indeed writing to you from the Upper Room, thinking back to all that took place within these walls on that evening charged with mystery. Spiritually, I see Jesus and the Apostles seated at table with him. I think of Peter especially: it is as if I can see him, with the other disciples, watching in amazement the Lord’s actions, listening with deep emotion to his words and, for all the burden of his frailty, opening himself to the mystery proclaimed here and soon to be accomplished. These are the hours of the great battle between the love which gives itself without reserve and the mysterium iniquitatis which is imprisoned in hostility. The betrayal of Judas appears emblematic of humanity’s sin. ‘It was night’, observes the Evangelist John (13:30): the hour of darkness, an hour of separation and of infinite sadness. Yet in the emotion-filled words of Christ the light of dawn already shines forth: ‘I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you’ (Jn 16:22).

3. We must never cease meditating anew on the mystery of that night. We should often return in spirit to this Upper Room, where we priests especially can feel in a sense ‘at home’. With regard to the Upper Room, it could be said of us what the Psalmist says of the peoples with regard to Jerusalem: ‘In the register of peoples, the Lord will write: These were born here’ (Ps 86:6).

In this holy room I naturally find myself imagining you in all the various parts of the world, with your myriad faces, some younger, some more advanced in years, in all the different emotional states which you are experiencing: for many, thank God, joy and enthusiasm, for others perhaps suffering or weariness or discouragement. In all of you I honour the image of Christ which you received at your consecration, the ‘character’ which marks each of you indelibly. It is a sign of the special love which every priest has come to know and upon which he can always rely, either to move ahead joyfully or to make a fresh start with renewed enthusiasm, in the hope of ever greater fidelity.

Born of love

4. ‘Having loved his own who were in the world, Jesus loved them to the end’. In contrast to the synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John does not relate the institution of the Eucharist, of which Jesus had already spoken at length in Capernaum (cf. Jn 6:26-65); instead it dwells upon the washing of the feet. Even more than an example of humility offered for our imitation. this action of Jesus, so disconcerting to Peter, is a revelation of the radicalness of God’s condescension towards us. In Christ, God has ‘stripped himself’, and has taken on ‘the form of a slave’ even to the utter abasement of the cross (cf. Phil 2:7), so that humanity might have access to the depths of God’s very life. The great speeches which in John’s Gospel follow the washing of the feet and are in some way commentaries upon it, serve as an introduction to the mystery of trinitarian communion to which we are called by the Father who makes us sharers in Christ by the gift of the Spirit.

This communion must be lived in compliance with the new commandment: ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn 13:34). It is not by chance that the priestly prayer is the culmination of this ‘mystagogy’, since it shows us Christ in his oneness with the Father, ready to return to him through the sacrifice of himself, and wanting only that the disciples come to share his unity with the Father: ‘As you, Father, are in me and I in you, may they too be one in us’ (Jn 17:21).

5. From the small group of disciples who heard these words the whole Church was formed, growing through time and space as ‘a people gathered together by the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ (Saint Cyprian, De Orat. Dom., 23). The profound unity of this new people does not mean that there are not different and complementary tasks in its life. Those whose task it is to renew in persona Christi what Jesus did at the Last Supper when he instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice, ‘the source and summit of the entire Christian life’ (Lumen Gentium, 11 ), are thus linked in a special way to those first Apostles. The sacramental character which distinguishes them by virtue of their reception of Holy Orders ensures that their presence and ministry are unique, indispensable and irreplaceable.

Almost two thousand years have passed since that moment. How many priests have repeated what Jesus did! Often they were exemplary disciples, saints, martyrs. How can we forget, in this Jubilee year, the many priests who have witnessed to Christ by their lives, even to the shedding of blood? Such martyrdom has accompanied the entire history of the Church; it has also marked the century just passed, a century characterised by different dictatorial regimes hostile to the Church. From the Upper Room, I wish to thank the Lord for the courage of these priests. Let us look to them and learn to follow them in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd who ‘lays down his life for his sheep’(Jn 10:11).

A treasure in earthen vessels

6. It is true that in the history of the priesthood, no less than in the history of the whole People of God, the dark presence of sin is also found. Many times, the human frailty of priests has made it hard to see in them the face of Christ. Here in the Upper Room why should this amaze us? Not only did the betrayal of Judas reach its climax here, but Peter himself had to reckon with his weakness as he heard the bitter prediction of his denial. In choosing men like the twelve, Christ was certainly under no illusions: it was upon this human weakness that he set the sacramental seal of his presence. And Paul shows us why: ‘We bear this treasure in earthen vessels, so that it might be clear that this extraordinary power comes from God and not from us’ (2 Cor 4:7).

For all the frailties of their priests, then, the People of God have not ceased to put their faith in the power of Christ at work through their ministry. How can we fail in this regard to recall the splendid witness of Saint Francis of Assisi? Humility led him not to seek the priesthood, but in his testament he expressed his faith in the mvsterv of Christ present in priests, declaring that he would turn to them even if they had persecuted him, taking no account of their sin. ‘And I do this’, he explained, ‘because the only thing I see of the flesh of the most high Son of God in this world is his most holy body and blood which they alone consecrate and they alone administer to others’ (Font) Francescane, n. 1 13).

7. From this place where Christ spoke the words instituting the Eucharist, I invite you, dear priests, to rediscover the ‘gift’ and the ‘mystery’ which we have received. To go to the heart of it, we must reflect upon the priesthood of Christ. Certainly, the entire People of God participates in this priesthood by baptism. But the Second Vatican Council reminds us that, in addition to the participation proper to all the baptised, there exists another specific, ministerial participation which, although intimately linked to the first, nonetheless differs from it in essence (cf. Lumen Gentium, 10).

In the context of the Jubilee of the incarnation, we can approach the priesthood of Christ from a particular perspective. The Jubilee invites us to contemplate the intimate link between Christ’s priesthood and the mystery of his person. The priesthood of Christ is not ‘incidental’, a task which he might or might not have assumed: rather, it is integral to his identity as the Son incarnate, as God-made-man. From now on, the relationship between mankind and God passes wholly through Christ: ‘No one comes to the Father, except through me’ (Jn 14:ó). This is why Christ is a priest endowed with an eternal and universal priesthood, of which the priesthood of the first covenant was a prefigurement and a preparation (cf. Heb 9:9). He has exercised it fully from the moment he took his seat as high priest ‘at the right hand of the throne of the majesty in heaven’ (Heb 8:1). From that time forth, the very nature of human priesthood changed: now there is but one priesthood, that of Christ, which can be shared and exercised in different ways.

Sacerdos et hostia

8. At the same time, the meaning of sacrifice, the priestly act par excellence, was brought to perfection. On Golgotha, Christ made his own life an offering of eternal value, a ‘redemptive’ offering which has reopened for ever the path of communion with God which had been blocked by sin.

The letter to the Hebrews casts light upon this mystery by placing on,the lips of Christ the words of Psalm 40: ‘You desired neither sacrifice nor offering, but instead you prepared a body for me.... Here I am, ... I come to do your will, O God’ (Heb 10:5-7; cf. Ps 40:7-9). According to the author of the letter, these prophetic words were spoken by Christ when he first came into the world. They express his mystery and his mission. They begin to be accomplished from the very moment of the Incarnation and reach their completion in the sacrifice of Golgotha. From that time forward, every priestly offering is but a re-presenting to the Father of the one offering of Christ, made once for all.

Sacerdos et hostia! Priest and victim! This sacrificial aspect is a profound mark of the Eucharist; it is also an essential dimension of the priesthood of Christ and, therefore, of our own priesthood. In the light of this, let us read once again the words we speak every day, words which echoed for the first time here in the Upper Room: ‘Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.... Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant which will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven’.

These are the words we find in the Evangelists and in Paul, with largely converging redactional forms. They were spoken in this room in the late evening of Holy Thursday. By giving the Apostles his body to eat and his blood to drink, Jesus declared the deepest truth about what he would do shortly thereafter on Golgotha. For in the bread of the Eucharist is present the very body born of Mary and offered on the cross:

‘Ave verum Corpus natum de Maria Virgine,
Vere passum, immolatum in cruce pro homine.

9. How can we not return ever anew to this mystery, which contains the entire life of the Church? For two thousand years, this sacrament has given nourishment to countless believers. It has been the source of great river of grace. How many saints have found in it not only the pledge, but as it were the foretaste of heaven!

Let us allow ourselves to be carried along by the contemplative impulse, rich in poetry and theology, which inspired Saint Thomas Aquinas to sing of the mystery in the words of the hymn Pange Lingua. Today, in this Upper Room, these words come to me as an echo of the voice of so many Christian communities throughout the world, of so many priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful, who each day pause in adoration of the Eucharistic mystery:

‘Verbum caro, panem verum verbo carnem efficit,
fitque sanguis Christi merum, et, si sensus deficit,
adfirmandum cor sincerum sofa fides sufficit.’

Do this in memory of me

10. The mystery of the Eucharist, which proclaims and celebrates the death and resurrection of Christ until he comes again, is the heart of the Church’s life. For us it also has a very special meaning, for it stands at the centre of our ministry. Our ministry is not of course limited to celebrating the Eucharist: it is a service which includes the proclamation of the Word, the sanctification of the faithful through the sacraments, and the leadership of God’s people in communion and service. But the Eucharist is the point from which everything else comes forth and to which it all returns. Our priesthood was born in the Upper Room together with the Eucharist.

‘Do this in memory of me’ (Lk 22:19): although addressed to the whole Church, the words of Christ are entrusted as a particular task to those who carry on the ministry of the first Apostles. It is to them that Jesus hands on the action which he has just performed changing bread into his body and wine into his blood - the action in which he appears as priest and victim. It is the will of Christ that henceforth his action should also become sacramentally the action of the Church through the hands of priests. In saying ‘Do this’, he refers not only to the action, but also to the one who is called to act; in other words, he institutes the ministerial priesthood, which thus becomes one of the essential elements of the Church.

11 . This action is to be done ‘in his memory’: these words are important. The Eucharistic action celebrated by priests will make present in every Christian generation, in every corner of the earth, the work accomplished by Christ. Wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, the bloody sacrifice of Calvary will be made present in an unbloody manner; there Christ himself, the redeemer of the world, will be present.

‘Do this in memory of me’. Hearing these words once again within the walls of the Upper Room, it is natural to try to imagine what Christ felt. These were the dramatic hours which preceded the Passion. The Evangelist John evokes the intensity of the Master’s words as he prepares the Apostles for his departure. What sadness was in their eyes: ‘Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts’ (Jn 16:ó). But Jesus reassures them: ‘I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you’ (Jn 14:18). Although the paschal mystery will take him from their sight, he will be more present than ever in their life, ‘always, to the close of the age’ (Mt 28:20).

A memorial which makes present

12. Christ’s presence will be expressed in many ways. But of these his Eucharistic presence will certainly be supreme: no mere remembrance, but a ‘memorial’ which makes present what it commemorates; not a symbolic evocation of the past, but the living presence of the Lord in the midst of his own. The enduring guarantee of this will be the Holy Spirit, constantly poured out in the Eucharistic celebration so that the bread and wine may become the body and blood of Christ. He is the same Spirit who on the evening of Easter, in this Upper Room, was ‘breathed’ upon the Apostles (cf. Jn 20:22), and who found them here still, gathered with Mary, on the day of Pentecost. It was then that he came upon them as a strong wind and fire (cf. Acts 2:1-4), and impelled them to go to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Word and gather together the People of God in the ‘breaking of the bread’ (cf. Acts 2:42).

13. Two thousand years after the birth of Christ, in this Jubilee year, we especially need to remember and ponder the truth of what we might call his ‘Eucharistic birth’. The Upper Room is the place of this ‘birth’. Here began a new presence of Christ for the world, a presence which constantly occurs wherever the Eucharist is celebrated and a priest lends his voice to Christ, repeating the sacred words of institution.

This Eucharistic presence has accompanied the two thousand years of the Church’s history, and it will do so until the end of time. For us it is both a joy and a source of responsibility to be so closely linked to this mystery. Today we want to become more deeply aware of this presence, our hearts filled with wonder and gratitude, and in this spirit to enter the Easter triduum of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.

What the Upper Room hands on to us

14. My dear brother priests, who on Holy Thursday gather in the cathedrals around your pastors, just as the presbyters of the Church in Rome gather around the successor of Peter, please accept these reflections, my meditation in the evocative setting of the Upper Room! It would be hard to find a place better able to stir thoughts of both the Eucharistic mystery and the mystery of our priesthood.

Let us remain faithful to what the Upper Room ‘hands on’ to us, to the great gift of Holy Thursday. May we always celebrate the Holy Eucharist with fervour. May we dwell long and often in adoration before Christ in the Eucharist. May we sit at the ‘school’ of the Eucharist. Through the centuries, countless priests have found in the Eucharist the consolation promised by Jesus on the evening of the Last Supper, the secret to overcoming their solitude, the strength to bear their sufferings, the nourishment to make a new beginning after every discouragement, and the inner energy to bolster their decision to remain faithful. The witness which we give to the People of God in celebrating the Eucharist depends in large part upon our own personal relationship with the Eucharist.

15. Let us rediscover our priesthood in the light of the Eucharist! Let us help our communities to rediscover this treasure in the daily celebration of Holy Mass, and especially in the more solemn Sunday assembly. Through your apostolic labours, may love for Christ present in the Eucharist grow stronger. This is a particularly important goal in this Jubilee year. I think of the International Eucharistic Congress to be held in Rome from 18 to 25 June, which has as its theme ‘Jesus Christ, the one Saviour of the World, Bread for our Life’. It will be a highlight of the Great Jubilee, which is meant to be ‘an intensely Eucharistic year’ (Tertio Millennio Adveniente,55). The Congress will emphasise the profound link between the mystery of the incarnation of the Word and the Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ’s real presence.

From the Upper Room, I embrace you in the Eucharist. May the image of Christ surrounded by his own at the Last Supper fill each of us with a vibrant sense of brotherhood and communion. Great painters have employed their finest gifts in depicting the face of Christ among his Apostles in the scene of the Last Supper: how can we forget Leonardo’s masterpiece? But only the saints, by the intensity of their love, can enter the depths of this mystery, leaning their head, as it were, like John, on the Lord’s breast (cf. Jn 13:25). Here in fact we come to the height of love: ‘having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end’.

16. I would like to conclude these thoughts, which I affectionately entrust to your meditation, with the words of an ancient prayer:

‘We thank you, our Father, 
for the life and the knowledge 
which you have revealed to us
through Jesus, your servant. 
Glory to you through the ages! 
As the bread we have broken
was scattered far and wide upon the hills, 
but when harvested becomes one, 
so may the Church be gathered
into your kingdom 
from the farthest reaches of the earth....

‘Lord almighty, you created the universe
for the glory of your name; 
you gave men food and drink 
to strengthen them, 
that they might give you thanks; 
but to us you have given 
spiritual food and drink, 
and eternal life through your Son.... 
Glory to you through the ages! ’

(Didache 9:3-4; 10:3-4).

From the Upper Room, dear brother priests, I embrace all of you in spirit and I cordially impart my blessing.

From Jerusalem, 23 March 2000.

Christifideles Laici, December 30, 1988

December 30, 1988 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II.  In §. 49 and 51, he says women cannot be ordained as priests. 


To Bishops 
To Priests and Deacons 
To Women and Men Religious 
and to All the Lay Faithful


1. THE LAY MEMBERS of Christ's Faithful People (Christifideles Laici), whose "Vocation and Mission in the Church and in the World Twenty Years after the Second Vatican Council" was the topic of the 1987 Synod of Bishops, are those who form that part of the People of God which might be likened to the labourers in the vineyard mentioned in Matthew's Gospel: "For the Kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard" (Mt 20:1-2).

The gospel parable sets before our eyes the Lord's vast vineyard and the multitude of persons, both women and men, who are called and sent forth by him to labour in it. The vineyard is the whole world (cf. Mt 13:38), which is to be transformed according to the plan of God in view of the final coming of the Kingdom of God.

You Go Into My Vineyard Too

2. "And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too'" (Mt 20:3-4).

From that distant day the call of the Lord Jesus "You go into my vineyard too" never fails to resound in the course of history: it is addressed to every person who comes into this world.

In our times, the Church after Vatican II in a renewed outpouring of the Spirit of Pentecost has come to a more lively awareness of her missionary nature and has listened again to the voice of her Lord who sends her forth into the world as "the universal sacrament of salvation"(1).

You go too. The call is a concern not only of Pastors, clergy, and men and women religious. The call is addressed to everyone: lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world. In preaching to the people Saint Gregory the Great recalls this fact and comments on the parable of the labourers in the vineyard: "Keep watch over your manner of life, dear people, and make sure that you are indeed the Lord's labourers. Each person should take into account what he does and consider if he is labouring in the vineyard of the Lord"(2).

The Council, in particular, with its rich doctrinal, spiritual and pastoral patrimony, has written as never before on the nature, dignity, spirituality, mission and responsibility of the lay faithful. And the Council Fathers, re-echoing the call of Christ, have summoned all the lay faithful, both women and men, to labour in the vineyard: "The Council, then, makes an earnest plea in the Lord's name that all lay people give a glad, generous, and prompt response to the impulse of the Holy Spirit and to the voice of Christ, who is giving them an especially urgent invitation at this moment. Young people should feel that this call is directed to them in particular, and they should respond to it eagerly and magnanimously. The Lord himself renews his invitation to all the lay faithful to come closer to him every day, and with the recognition that what is his is also their own (Phil 2:5) they ought to associate themselves with him in his saving mission. Once again he sends them into every town and place where he himself is to come (cf. Lk 10:1)"(3).

You go into my vineyard too. During the Synod of Bishops, held in Rome, 1-30 October 1987, these words were re-echoed in spirit once again. Following the path marked out by the Council and remaining open to the light of the experience of persons and communities from the whole Church, the Fathers, enriched by preceding Synods, treated in a specific and extensive manner the topic of the vocation and mission of the lay faithful in the Church and in the world.

In this assembly of bishops there was not lacking a qualified representation of the lay faithful, both women and men, which rendered a valuable contribution to the Synod proceedings. This was publicly acknowledged in the concluding homily: "We give thanks that during the course of the Synod we have not only rejoiced in the participation of the lay faithful (both men and women auditors), but even more so in that the progress of the Synodal discussions has enabled us to listen to those whom we invited, representatives of the lay faithful from all parts of the world, from different countries, and to profit from their experience, their advice and the suggestions they have offered out of love for the common cause"(4).

In looking over the years following the Council the Synod Fathers have been able to verify how the Holy Spirit continues to renew the youth of the Church and how he has inspired new aspirations towards holiness and the participation of so many lay faithful. This is witnessed, among other ways, in the new manner of active collaboration among priests, religious and the lay faithful; the active participation in the Liturgy, in the proclamation of the Word of God and catechesis; the multiplicity of services and tasks entrusted to the lay faithful and fulfilled by them; the flourishing of groups, associations and spiritual movements as well as a lay commitment in the life of the Church; and in the fuller and meaningful participation of women in the development of society.

At the same time, the Synod has pointed out that the post-conciliar path of the lay faithful has not been without its difficulties and dangers. In particular, two temptations can be cited which they have not always known how to avoid: the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world; and the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, that is, a separation of the Gospel's acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world.

In the course of its work, the Synod made constant reference to the Second Vatican Council, whose teaching on the lay faithful, after twenty years, has taken on a surprisingly contemporary character and at times has carried prophetic significance: such teaching has the capacity of enlightening and guiding the responses that today must be given to new situations. In reality, the challenge embraced by the Synod Fathers has been that of indicating the concrete ways through which this rich "theory" on the lay state expressed by the Council can be translated into authentic Church "practice". Some situations have made themselves felt because of a certain "novelty" that they have, and in this sense they can be called post-conciliar, at least chronologically: to these the Synod Fathers have rightly given a particular attention in the course of their discussion and reflection. Among those situations to be recalled are those regarding the ministries and Church services entrusted at present and in the future to the lay faithful, the growth and spread of new "movements" alongside other group forms of lay involvement, and the place and role of women both in the Church and in society.

At the conclusion of their work, which proceeded with great commitment, competence and generosity, the Synod Fathers made known to me their desires and requested that at an opportune time, a conclusive papal document on the topic of the lay faithful be offered to the Universal Church(5).

This Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation intends to take into account all the richness of the Synod work, from the Lineamenta to the Instrumentum Laboris, from the introductory report, the presentations of individual bishops and lay persons to the summary reports after discussion in the Synod hall, from the discussions and reports of the "small groups" to the final "Propositions" and the concluding "Message". For this reason the present document is not something in contradistinction to the Synod, but is meant to be a faithful and coherent expression of it, a fruit of collegiality. As such, the Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and the Secretariat itself have contributed to its final form.

This Exhortation intends to stir and promote a deeper awareness among all the faithful of the gift and responsibility they share, both as a group and as individuals, in the communion and mission of the Church.

The Pressing Needs of the World Today: "Why do you stand here idle all day?"

3. The basic meaning of this Synod and the most precious fruit desired as a result of it, is the lay faithful's hearkening to the call of Christ the Lord to work in his vineyard, to take an active, conscientious and responsible part in the mission of the Church in this great moment in history,made especially dramatic by occurring on the threshold of the Third Millennium.

A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle.

We continue in our reading of the gospel parable: "And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?'. They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us'. He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too'"( Mt 20:6-7).

Since the work that awaits everyone in the vineyard of the Lord is so great there is no place for idleness. With even greater urgency the "householder" repeats his invitation: "You go into my vineyard too".

The voice of the Lord clearly resounds in the depths of each of Christ's followers, who through faith and the sacraments of Christian initiation is made like to Jesus Christ, is incorporated as a living member in the Church and has an active part in her mission of salvation. The voice of the Lord also comes to be heard through the historic events of the Church and humanity, as the Council reminds us: "The People of God believes that it is led by the Spirit of the Lord, who fills the whole world. Moved by this faith it tries to discern authentic signs of God's presence and purpose in the events, the needs, and the longings which it shares with other people of our time. For faith throws a new light on all things and makes known the full ideal to which God has called each individual, and thus guides the mind towards solutions which are fully human"(6).

It is necessary, then, to keep a watchful eye on this our world, with its problems and values, its unrest and hopes, its defeats and triumphs: a world whose economic, social, political and cultural affairs pose problems and grave difficulties in light of the description provided by the Council in the Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes.(7)This, then, is the vineyard; this is the field in which the faithful are called to fulfill their mission. Jesus wants them, as he wants all his disciples, to be the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" (cf. Mt 5:13-14). But what is the actual state of affairs of the "earth" and the "world", for which Christians ought to be "salt" and "light"?

The variety of situations and problems that exist in our world is indeed great and rapidly changing. For this reason it is all the more necessary to guard against generalizations and unwarranted simplifications. It is possible, however, to highlight some trends that are emerging in present-day society. The gospel records that the weeds and the good grain grew together in the farmer's field. The same is true in history, where in everyday life there often exist contradictions in the exercise of human freedom, where there is found, side by side and at times closely intertwined, evil and good, injustice and justice, anguish and hope.

Secularism and the Need for Religion

4. How can one not notice the ever-growing existence of religious indifference and atheism in its more varied forms, particularly in its perhaps most widespread form of secularism? Adversely affected by the impressive triumphs of continuing scientific and technological development and above all, fascinated by a very old and yet new temptation, namely, that of wishing to become like God (cf.Gen 3:5) through the use of a liberty without bounds, individuals cut the religious roots that are in their hearts; they forget God, or simply retain him without meaning in their lives, or outrightly reject him, and begin to adore various "idols" of the contemporary world.

The present-day phenomenon of secularism is truly serious, not simply as regards the individual, but in some ways, as regards whole communities, as the Council has already indicated: "Growing numbers of people are abandoning religion in practice"(8). At other times I myself have recalled the phenomenon of de-Christianization that strikes long-standing Christian people and which continually calls for a re-evangelization.

Human longing and the need tor religion, however, are not able to be totally extinguished. When persons in conscience have the courage to face the more serious questions of human existence-particularly questions related to the purpose of life, to suffering and to dying-they are unable to avoid making their own the words of truth uttered by Saint Augustine: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you"(9).In the same manner the present-day world bears witness to this as well, in ever-increasing and impressive ways, through an openness to a spiritual and transcendent outlook towards life, the renewed interest in religious research, the return to a sense of the sacred and to prayer, and the demand for freedom to call upon the name of the Lord.

The Human Person: A Dignity Violated and Exalted

5. We furthermore call to mind the violations to which the human person is subjected. When the individual is not recognized and loved in the person's dignity as the living image of God (cf. Gen1:26), the human being is exposed to more humiliating and degrading forms of "manipulation", that most assuredly reduce the individual to a slavery to those who are stronger. "Those who are stronger" can take a variety of names: an ideology; economic power, political and inhumane systems, scientific technocracy or the intrusiveness of the mass-media. Once again we find ourselves before many persons, our sisters and brothers, whose fundamental rights are being violated, owing to their exceedingly great capacity for endurance and to the clear injustice of certain civil laws: the right to life and to integrity, the right to a house and to work, the right to a family and responsible parenthood, the right to participation in public and political life, the right to freedom of conscience and the practice of religion.

Who is able to count the number of babies unborn because they have been killed in their mothers' wombs, children abandoned and abused by their own parents, children who grow without affection and education? In some countries entire populations are deprived of housing and work, lacking the means absolutely essential for leading a life worthy of a human being, and are deprived even of those things necessary for their sustenance. There are great areas of poverty and of misery, both physical and moral, existing at this moment on the periphery of great cities. Entire groups of human beings have been seriously afflicted.

But the sacredness of the human person cannot be obliterated, no matter how often it is devalued and violated because it has its unshakable foundation in God as Creator and Father. The sacredness of the person always keeps returning, again and again.

The sense of the dignity of the human person must be pondered and reaffirmed in stronger. terms. A beneficial trend is advancing and permeating all peoples of the earth, making them ever more aware of the dignity of the individual: the person is not at all a "thing" or an "object" to be used, but primarily a responsible "subject", one endowed with conscience and freedom, called to live responsibly in society and history, and oriented towards spiritual and religious values.

It has been said that ours is the time of "humanism": paradoxically, some of its atheistic and secularistic forms arrive at a point where the human person is diminished and annihilated; other forms of humanism, instead, exalt the individual in such a manner that these forms become a veritable and real idolatry. There are still other forms, however, in line with the truth, which rightly acknowledge the greatness and misery of individuals and manifest, sustain and foster the total dignity of the human person.

The sign and fruit of this trend towards humanism is the growing need for participation, which is undoubtedly one of the distinctive features of present-day humanity, a true "sign of the times" that is developing in various fields and in different ways: above all the growing need for participation regarding women and young people, not only in areas of family and academic life, but also in cultural, economic, social and political areas. To be leading characters in this development, in some ways to be creators of a new, more humane culture, is a requirement both for the individual and for peoples as a whole(10).

Conflict and Peace

6. Finally, we are unable to overlook another phenomenon that is quite evident in present-day humanity: perhaps as never before in history, humanity is daily buffeted by conflict. This is a phenomenon which has many forms, displayed in a legitimate plurality of mentalities and initiatives, but manifested in the fatal opposition of persons, groups, categories, nations and blocks of nations. This opposition takes the form of violence, of terrorism, and of war. Once again, but with proportions enormously widespread, diverse sectors of humanity today, wishing to show their "omnipotence", renew the futile experience of constructing the "Tower of Babel" (cf. Gen 11:1-9), which spreads confusion, struggle, disintegration and oppression. The human family is thus in itself dramatically convulsed and wounded.

On the other hand, totally unsupressible is that human longing experienced by individuals and whole peoples for the inestimable good of peace in justice. The gospel beatitude: "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Mt 5:9) finds in the people of our time a new and significant resonance: entire populations today live, suffer and labour to bring about peace and justice. The participation by so many persons and groups in the life of society is increasingly pursued today as the way to make a desired peace become a reality.

On this road we meet many lay faithful generously committed to the social and political field, working in a variety of institutional forms and those of a voluntary nature in service to the least.

Jesus Christ, the Hope of Humanity

7. This, then, is the vast field of labour that stands before the labourers sent forth by the "householder" to work in his vineyard.

In this field the Church is present and working, every one of us, Pastors, priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful. The adverse situations here mentioned deeply affect the Church: they in part condition the Church, but they do not crush her, nor even less overcome her, because the Holy Spirit, who gives her life, sustains her in her mission.

Despite every difficulty, delay and contradiction caused by the limits of human nature, by sin and by the Evil One, the Church knows that all the forces that humanity employs for communion and participation find a full response in the intervention of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of man and of the world.

The Church knows that she is sent forth by him as "sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of all the human race"(11).

Despite all this, then, humanity is able to hope. Indeed it must hope: the living and personal Gospel,Jesus Christ himself, is the "good news" and the bearer of joy that the Church announces each day, and to whom the Church bears testimony before all people.

The lay faithful have an essential and irreplaceable role in this announcement and in this testimony: through them the Church of Christ is made present in the various sectors of the world, as a sign and source of hope and of love.


The Dignity of the Lay Faithful in the Church as Mystery

The Mystery of the Vine

8. The Sacred Scriptures use the image of the vine in various ways. In a particular case, the vine serves to express the Mystery of the People of God. From this perspective which emphasizes the Church's internal nature, the lay faithful are seen not simply as labourers who work in the vineyard, but as themselves being a part of the vineyard. Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches" (Jn15:5).

The prophets in the Old Testament used the image of the vine to describe the chosen people. Israel is God's vine, the Lord's own work, the joy of his heart: "I have planted you a choice vine" (Jer 2:21); "Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard transplanted by the water, fruitful and full of branches by reason of abundant water" (Ez 19:10); "My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones and planted it with choice vines ..."((Is 5:1-2).

Jesus himself once again takes up the symbol of the vine and uses it to illustrate various aspects of the Kingdom of God: "A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for the winepress, and built a tower and let it out to tenants and went into another country" (Mk 12:1; cf. Mt21:28 ff.).

John the Evangelist invites us to go further and leads us to discover the mystery of the vine: it is the figure and symbol not only of the People of God, but of Jesus himself. He is the vine and we, his disciples, are the branches. He is the "true vine", to which the branches are engrafted to have life (cf.Jn 15:1 ff.).

The Second Vatican Council, making reference to the various biblical images that help to reveal the mystery of the Church, proposes again the image of the vine and the branches: "Christ is the true vine who gives life and fruitfulness to the branches, that is, to us. Through the Church we abide in Christ, without whom we can do nothing (Jn 15:1-5)"(12). The Church herself, then, is the vine in the gospel. She is mystery because the very life and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the gift gratuitously offered to all those who are born of water and the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 3:5), and called to relive the very communion of God and to manifest it and communicate it in history (mission): "In that day", Jesus says, "you will know tkat I am in my Father and you in me, and I in you" (Jn 14:20).

Only from inside the Church's mystery of communion is the "identity" of the lay faithful made known, and their fundamental dignity revealed. Only within the context of this dignity can their vocation and mission in the Church and in the world be defined.

Who are the Lay Faithful

9. The Synod Fathers have rightly pointed to the need for a definition of the lay faithful's vocation and mission in positive terms, through an in-depth study of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council in light of both recent documentation from the Magisterium and the lived experience of the Church, guided as she is by the Holy Spirit(13).

In giving a response to the question "Who are the lay faithful", the Council went beyond previous interpretations which were predominantly negative. Instead it opened itself to a decidedly positive vision and displayed a basic intention of asserting the full belonging of the lay faithful to the Church and to its mystery.

At the same time it insisted on the unique character of their vocation, which is in a special way to "seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God"(14). "The term 'lay faithful'" -we read in the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium-" is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in Holy Orders and those who belong to a religious state sanctioned by the Church. Through Baptism the lay faithful are made one body with Christ and are established among the People of God. They are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ. They carry out their own part in the mission of the whole Christian people with respect to the Church and the world"(15).

Pius XII once stated: "The Faithful, more precisely the lay faithful, find themselves on the front lines of the Church's life; for them the Church is the animating principle for human society. Therefore, they in particular, ought to have an ever-clearer consciousness not only of belonging to the Church, but ofbeing the Church, that is to say, the community of the faithful on earth under the leadership of the Pope, the head of all, and of the Bishops in communion with him. These are the Church ..."(16).

According to the Biblical image of the vineyard, the lay faithful, together with all the other members of the Church, are branches engrafted to Christ the true vine, and from him derive their life and fruitfulness.

Incorporation into Christ through faith and Baptism is the source of being a Christian in the mystery of the Church. This mystery constitutes the Christian's most basic "features" and serves as the basis for all the vocations and dynamism of the Christian life of the lay faithful (cf. Jn 3:5). In Christ who died and rose from the dead, the baptized become a "new creation" (Gal 6:15; 2 Cor 5:17), washed clean from sin and brought to life through grace.

Therefore, only through accepting the richness in mystery that God gives to the Christian in Baptism is it possible to come to a basic description of the lay faithful.

Baptism and the "Newness" of Christian Life

10. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire existence of the lay faithful has as its purpose to lead a person to a knowledge of the radical newness of the Christian life that comes from Baptism, the sacrament of faith, so that this knowledge can help that person live the responsibilities which arise from that vocation received from God. In arriving at a basic description of the lay faithful we now more explicitly and directly consider among others the following three fundamental aspects: Baptism regenerates us in the life ot the Son of God; unites us to Christ and to his Body, the Church; and anoints us in the Holy Spirit, making us spiritual temples.

Children in the Son

11. We here recall Jesus' words to Nicodemus: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God"(Jn 3:5). Baptism, then, is a rebirth, a regeneration.

In considering this aspect of the gift which comes from Baptism, the apostle Peter breaks out into song: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading"( 1 Pt 1:3-4). And he calls Christians those who have been "born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God" (Pt 1:23).

With Baptism we become children of God in his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Rising from the waters of the Baptismal font, every Christian hears again the voice that was once heard on the banks of the Jordan River: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Lk 3:22). From this comes the understanding that one has been brought into association with the beloved Son, becoming a child of adoption (cf. Gal 4:4-7) and a brother or sister of Christ. In this way the eternal plan of the Father for each person is realized in history: "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren"(Rom 8:29).

It is the Holy Spirit who constitutes the baptized as Children of God and members of Christ's Body. St. Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth of this fact: "For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body" (1 Cor 12:13), so that the apostle can say to the lay faithful: "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Cor 12:27); "And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts" (Gal 4:6; cf. Rom 8:15-16).

We Are One Body in Christ

12 . Regenerated as "Children in the Son", the baptized are inseparably joined together as "members of Christ and members of the body of the Church", as the Council of Florence teaches(17).

Baptism symbolizes and brings about a mystical but real incorporation into the crucified and glorious body of Christ. Through the sacrament Jesus unites the baptized to his death so as to unite the recipient to his resurrection (cf. Rom 6:3-5). The "old man" is stripped away for a reclothing with "the new man", that is, with Jesus himself: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal 3:27; cf. Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:9-10). The result is that "we, though many, are one body in Christ" (Rom 12:5).

In the words of Saint Paul we find again the faithful echo of the teaching of Jesus himself, which reveals the mystical unity of Christ with his disciples and the disciples with each other,presenting it as an image and extension of that mystical communion that binds the Father to the Son and the Son to the Father in the bond of love, the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 17:21). Jesus refers to this same unity in the image of the vine and the branches: "I am the vine, you the branches" (Jn 15:5), an image that sheds light not only on the deep intimacy of the disciples with Jesus but on the necessity of a vital communion of the disciples with each other: all are branches of a single vine.

Holy and Living Temples of the Spirit

13. In another comparison, using the image of a building, the apostle Peter defines the baptized as "living stones" founded on Christ, the "corner stone", and destined to "be raised up into a spiritual building" (1 Pt 2:5 ff.). The image introduces us to another aspect of the newness of Christian life coming from Baptism and described by the Second Vatican Council: "By regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the baptized are consecrated into a spiritual house"(18).

The Holy Spirit "anoints" the baptized, sealing each with an indelible character (cf. 2 Cor 1:21-22), and constituting each as a spiritual temple, that is, he fills this temple with the holy presence of God as a result of each person's being united and likened to Jesus Christ.

With this spiritual "unction", Christians can repeat in an individual way the words of Jesus: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Lk 4:18-19; cf. Is 61:1-2). Thus with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation, the baptized share in the same mission of Jesus as the Christ, the Saviour-Messiah.

Sharers in the Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly Mission of Jesus Christ

14. Referring to the baptized as "new born babes", the apostle Peter writes: "Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ ... you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pt 2:4-5, 9).

A new aspect to the grace and dignity coming from Baptism is here introduced: the lay faithful participate, for their part, in the threefold mission of Christ as Priest, Prophet and King. This aspect has never been forgotten in the living tradition of the Church, as exemplified in the explanation which St. Augustine offers for Psalm 26:"David was anointed king. In those days only a king and a priest were anointed. These two persons prefigured the one and only priest and king who was to come, Christ (the name "Christ" means "anointed"). Not only has our head been anointed but we, his body, have also been anointed ... therefore anointing comes to all Christians, even though in Old Testament times it belonged only to two persons. Clearly we are the Body of Christ because we are all "anointed" and in him are "christs", that is, "anointed ones", as well as Christ himself, "The Anointed One". In a certain way, then, it thus happens that with head and body the whole Christ is formed"(19).

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council(20), at the beginning of my pastoral ministry, my aim was to emphasize forcefully the priestly, prophetic and kingly dignity of the entire People of God in the following words: "He who was born of the Virgin Mary, the carpenter's Son -as he was thought to be-Son of the living God (confessed by Peter), has come to make us 'a kingdom of priests' The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that the mission of Christ -Priest, Prophet-Teacher, King-continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission"(21).

With this Exhortation the lay faithful are invited to take up again and reread, meditate on and assimilate with renewed understanding and love, the rich and fruitful teaching of the Council which speaks of their participation in the threefold mission of Christ(22). Here in summary form are the essential elements of this teaching.

The lay faithful are sharers in the priestly mission, for which Jesus offered himself on the cross and continues to be offered in the celebration of the Eucharist for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity. Incorporated in Jesus Christ, the baptized are united to him and to his sacrifice in the offering they make of themselves and their daily activities (cf. Rom 12:1, 2). Speaking of the lay faithful the Council says: "For their work, prayers and apostolic endeavours, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labour, their mental and physical relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life if patiently borne-all of these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pt 2:5). During the celebration of the Eucharist these sacrifices are most lovingly offered to the Father along with the Lord's body. Thus as worshipers whose every deed is holy, the lay faithful consecrate the world itself to God"(23).

Through their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, "who proclaimed the kingdom of his Father by the testimony of his life and by the power of his world"(24), the lay faithful are given the ability and responsibility to accept the gospel in faith and to proclaim it in word and deed, without hesitating to courageously identify and denounce evil. United to Christ, the "great prophet" (Lk 7:16), and in the Spirit made "witnesses" of the Risen Christ, the lay faithful are made sharers in the appreciation of the Church's supernatural faith, that "cannot err in matters of belief"(25) and sharers as well in the grace of the word (cf. Acts 2:17-18; Rev 19:10). They are also called to allow the newness and the power of the gospel to shine out everyday in their family and social life, as well as to express patiently and courageously in the contradictions of the present age their hope of future glory even "through the framework of their secular life"(26).

Because the lay faithful belong to Christ, Lord and King of the Universe, they share in his kingly mission and are called by him to spread that Kingdom in history. They exercise their kingship as Christians, above all in the spiritual combat in which they seek to overcome in themselves the kingdom of sin (cf. Rom 6:12), and then to make a gift of themselves so as to serve, in justice and in charity, Jesus who is himself present in all his brothers and sisters, above all in the very least (cf. Mt25:40).

But in particular the lay faithful are called to restore to creation all its original value. In ordering creation to the authentic well-being of humanity in an activity governed by the life of grace, they share in the exercise of the power with which the Risen Christ draws all things to himself and subjects them along with himself to the Father, so that God might be everything to everyone (cf. 1 Cor 15:28; Jn12:32).

The participation of the lay faithful in the threefold mission of Christ as Priest, Prophet and King finds its source in the anointing of Baptism, its further development in Confirmation and its realization and dynamic sustenance in the Holy Eucharist. It is a participation given to each member of the lay faithfulindividually, in as much as each is one of the many who form the one Body of the Lord: in fact, Jesus showers his gifts upon the Church which is his Body and his Spouse. In such a way individuals are sharers in the threefold mission of Christ in virtue of their being members of the Church, as St. Peter clearly teaches, when he defines the baptized as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people" (1 Pt 2:9). Precisely because it derives from Church communion, the sharing of the lay faithful in the threefold mission of Christ requires that it be lived and realized in communion and for the increase of communion itself. Saint Augustine writes: "As we call everyone 'Christians' in virtue of a mystical anointing, so we call everyone 'priests' because all are members of only one priesthood"(27).

The Lay Faithful and Their Secular Character

15. The newness of the Christian life is the foundation and title for equality among all the baptized in Christ, for all the members of the People of God: "As members, they share a common dignity from their rebirth in Christ, they have the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection. They possess in common one salvation, one hope and one undivided charity"(28). Because of the one dignity flowing from Baptism, each member of the lay faithful, together with ordained ministers and men and women religious, shares a responsibility for the Church's mission.

But among the lay faithful this one baptismal dignity takes on a manner of life which sets a person apart, without, however, bringing about a separation from the ministerial priesthood or from men and women religious. The Second Vatican Council has described this manner of life as the "secular character": "The secular character is properly and particularly that of the lay faithful"(29).

To understand properly the lay faithful's position in the Church in a complete, adequate and specific manner it is necesary to come to a deeper theological understanding of their secular character in light of God's plan of salvation and in the context of the mystery of the Church.

Pope Paul VI said the Church "has an authentic secular dimension, inherent to her inner nature and mission, which is deeply rooted in the mystery of the Word Incarnate, and which is realized in different forms through her members"(30).

The Church, in fact, lives in the world, even if she is not of the world (cf. Jn 17:16). She is sent to continue the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, which "by its very nature concerns the salvation of humanity, and also involves the renewal of the whole temporal order"(31).

Certainly all the members of the Church are sharers in this secular dimension but in different ways.In particular the sharing of the lay faithful has its own manner of realization and function, which, according to the Council, is "properly and particularly" theirs. Such a manner is designated with the expression "secular character"(32).

In fact the Council, in describing the lay faithful's situation in the secular world, points to it above all, as the place in which they receive their call from God: "There they are called by God"(33). This "place" is treated and presented in dynamic terms: the lay faithful "live in the world, that is, in every one of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very fabric of their existence is woven"(34). They are persons who live an ordinary life in the world: they study, they work, they form relationships as friends, professionals, members of society, cultures, etc. However, the Council considers their condition not simply an external and environmental framework, but as a reality destined to find in Jesus Christ the fullness of its meaning(35). Indeed it leads to the affirmation that "the Word made flesh willed to share in human fellowship ... He sanctified those human ties, especially family ones, from which social relationships arise, willingly submitting himself to the laws of his country. He chose to lead the life of an ordinary craftsman of his own time and place"(36).

The "world" thus becomes the place and the means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation, because the world itself is destined to glorify God the Father in Christ. The Council is able then to indicate the proper and special sense of the divine vocation which is directed to the lay faithful. They are not called to abandon the position that they have in the world. Baptism does not take them from the world at all, as the apostle Paul points out: "So, brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God" (1 Cor 7:24). On the contrary, he entrusts a vocation to them that properly concerns their situation in the world. The lay faithful, in fact, "are called by God so that they, led by the spirit of the Gospel, might contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. Thus, especially in this way of life, resplendent in faith, hope and charity they manifest Christ to others"(37).Thus for the lay faithful, to be present and active in the world is not only an anthropological and sociological reality, but in a specific way, a theological and ecclesiological reality as well. In fact, in their situation in the world God manifests his plan and communicates to them their particular vocation of "seeking the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God"(38).

Precisely with this in mind the Synod Fathers said: "The secular character of the lay faithful is not therefore to be defined only in a sociological sense, but most especially in a theological sense. The term secular must be understood in light of the act of God the creator and redeemer, who has handed over the world to women and men, so that they may participate in the work of creation, free creation from the influence of sin and sanctify themselves in marriage or the celibate life, in a family, in a profession and in the various activities of society"(39).

The lay faithful's position in the Church, then, comes to be fundamentally defined by their newness in Christian life and distinguished by their secular character(40).

The images taken from the gospel of salt, light and leaven, although indiscriminately applicable to all Jesus' disciples, are specifically applied to the lay faithful. They are particularly meaningful images because they speak not only of the deep involvement and the full participation of the lay faithful in the affairs of the earth, the world and the human community, but also and above all, they tell of the radical newness and unique character of an involvement and participation which has as its purpose the spreading of the Gospel that brings salvation.

Called to Holiness

16. We come to a full sense of the dignity of the lay faithful if we consider the prime and fundamental vocation that the Father assigns to each of them in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit: the vocation to holiness, that is, the perfection of charity. Holiness is the greatest testimony of the dignity conferred on a disciple of Christ.

The Second Vatican Council has significantly spoken on the universal call to holiness. It is possible to say that this call to holiness is precisely the basic charge entrusted to all the sons and daughters of the Church by a Council which intended to bring a renewal of Christian life based on the gospel(41). This charge is not a simple moral exhortation, but an undeniable requirement arising from the mystery of the Church: she is the choice vine, whose branches live and grow with the same holy and life-giving energies that come from Christ; she is the Mystical Body, whose members share in the same life of holiness of the Head who is Christ; she is the Beloved Spouse of the Lord Jesus, who delivered himself up for her sanctification (cf. Eph 5:25 ff.). The Spirit that sanctified the human nature of Jesus in Mary's virginal womb (cf. Lk 1:35) is the same Spirit that is abiding and working in the Church to communicate to her the holiness of the Son of God made man.

It is ever more urgent that today all Christians take up again the way of gospel renewal, welcoming in a spirit of generosity the invitation expressed by the apostle Peter "to be holy in all conduct" (1 Pt1:15). The 1985 Extraordinary Synod, twenty years after the Council, opportunely insisted on this urgency: "Since the Church in Christ is a mystery, she ought to be considered the sign and instrument of holiness... Men and women saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult circumstances in the Church's history. Today we have the greatest need of saints whom we must assiduously beg God to raise up"(42).

Everyone in the Church, precisely because they are members, receive and thereby share in the common vocation to holiness. In the fullness of this title and on equal par with all other members of the Church, the lay faithful are called to holiness: "All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity"(43). "All of Christ's followers are invited and bound to pursue holiness and the perfect fulfillment of their own state of life"(44).

The call to holiness is rooted in Baptism and proposed anew in the other Sacraments, principally in the Eucharist. Since Christians are reclothed in Christ Jesus and refreshed by his Spirit, they are "holy". They therefore have the ability to manifest this holiness and the responsibility to bear witness to it in all that they do. The apostle Paul never tires of admonishing all Christians to live "as is fitting among saints" (Eph 5:3).

Life according to the Spirit, whose fruit is holiness (cf. Rom 6:22;Gal 5:22), stirs up every baptized person and requires each to follow and imitate Jesus Christ, in embracing the Beatitudes, in listening and meditating on the Word of God, in conscious and active participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, in personal prayer, in family or in community, in the hunger and thirst for justice, in the practice of the commandment of love in all circumstances of life and service to the brethren, especially the least, the poor and the suffering.

The Life of Holiness in the World

17. The vocation of the lay faithful to holiness implies that life according to the Spirit expresses itself in a particular way in their involvement in temporal affairs and in their participation in earthly activities. Once again the apostle admonishes us: "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col 3:17). Applying the apostle's words to the lay faithful, the Council categorically affirms: "Neither family concerns nor other secular affairs should be excluded from their religious programme of life"(45). Likewise the Synod Fathers have said: "The unity of life of the lay faithful is of the greatest importance: indeed they must be sanctified in everyday professional and social life. Therefore, to respond to their vocation, the lay faithful must see their daily activities as an occasion to join themselves to God, fulfill his will, serve other people and lead them to communion with God in Christ"(46).

The vocation to holiness must be recognized and lived by the lay faithful, first of all as an undeniable and demanding obligation and as a shining example of the infinite love of the Father that has regenerated them in his own life of holiness. Such a vocation, then, ought to be called an essential and inseparable element of the new life of Baptism, and therefore an element which determines their dignity. At the same time the vocation to holiness is intimately connected to mission and to the responsibility entrusted to the lay faithful in the Church and in the world. In fact, that same holiness which is derived simply from their participation in the Church's holiness, represents their first and fundamental contribution to the building of the Church herself, who is the "Communion of Saints". The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both women and men, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world's great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring labourers who work in the Lord's vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God's grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history.

Holiness, then, must be called a fundamental presupposition and an irreplaceable condition for everyone in fulfilling the mission of salvation within the Church. The Church's holiness is the hidden source and the infallible measure of the works of the apostolate and of the missionary effort. Only in the measure that the Church, Christ's Spouse, is loved by him and she, in turn, loves him, does she become a mother fruitful in the Spirit.

Again we take up the image from the gospel: the fruitfulness and the growth of the branches depends on their remaining united to the vine. "As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:4-5).

It is appropriate to recall here the solemn proclamation of beatification and canonization of lay men and women which took place during the month of the Synod. The entire People of God, and the lay faithful in particular, can find at this moment new models of holiness and new witnesses of heroic virtue lived in the ordinary everyday circumstances of human existence. The Synod Fathers have said: "Particular Churches especially should be attentive to recognizing among their members the younger men and women of those Churches who have given witness to holiness in such conditions (everyday secular conditions and the conjugal state) and who can be an example for others, so that, if the case calls for it, they (the Churches) might propose them to be beatified and canonized"(47).

At the end of these reflections intended to define the lay faithful's position in the Church, the celebrated admonition of Saint Leo the Great comes to mind: "Acknowledge, O Christian, your dignity!"(48). Saint Maximus, Bishop of Turin, in addressing those who had received the holy anointing of Baptism, repeats the same sentiments: "Ponder the honor that has made you sharers in this mystery!"(49). All the baptized are invited to hear once again the words of Saint Augustine: "Let us rejoice and give thanks: we have not only become Christians, but Christ himself... Stand in awe and rejoice: We have become Christ"(50).

The dignity as a Christian, the source of equality for all members of the Church, guarantees and fosters the spirit of communion and fellowship, and, at the same time, becomes the hidden dynamic force in the lay faithful's apostolate and mission. It is a dignity, however, which brings demands, the dignity of labourers called by the Lord to work in his vineyard: "Upon all the lay faithful, then, rests the exalted duty of working to assure that each day the divine plan of salvation is further extended to every person, of every era, in every part of the earth"(51).


The Participation of the Lay Faithtul in the Life of Church as Communion

The Mystery of Church Communion

18. Again we turn to the words of Jesus: "I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser... Abide in me and I in you" (Jn 15: 1, 4).

These simple words reveal the mystery of communion that serves as the unifying bond between the Lord and his disciples, between Christ and the baptized: a living and life-giving communion through which Christians no longer belong to themselves but are the Lord's very own, as the branches are one with the vine.

The communion of Christians with Jesus has the communion of God as Trinity, namely, the unity of the Son to the Father in the gift of the Holy Spirit, as its model and source, and is itself the means to achieve this communion: united to the Son in the Spirit's bond of love, Christians are united to the Father.

Jesus continues: "I am the vine, you are the branches" (Jn 15: 5). From the communion that Christians experience in Christ there immediately flows the communion which they experience with one another: all are branches of a single vine, namely, Christ. In this communion is the wonderful reflection and participation in the mystery of the intimate life of love in God as Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as revealed by the Lord Jesus. For this communion Jesus prays: "that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17: 21).

Such communion is the very mystery of the Church, as the Second Vatican Council recalls in the celebrated words of Saint Cyprian: "The Church shines forth as 'a people made one with the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit'"(52). We are accustomed to recall this mystery of Churchcommunion at the beginning of the celebration of the Eucharist, when the priest welcomes all with the greeting of the Apostle Paul: "The grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Cor 13:13).

After having described the distinguishing features of the lay faithful on which their dignity rests, we must at this moment reflect on their mission and responsibility in the Church and in the world. A proper understanding of these aspects, however, can be found only in the living context of the Church as communion.

Vatican II and the Ecclesiology of Communion

19. At the Second Vatican Council the Church again proposed this central idea about herself, as the 1985 Extraordinary Synod recalls: "The ecclesiology of communion is a central and fundamental concept in the conciliar documents. Koinonia-communion, finding its source in Sacred Scripture, was a concept held in great honour in the early Church and in the Oriental Churches, and this teaching endures to the present day. Much was done by the Second Vatican Council to bring about a clearer understanding of the Church as communion and its concrete application to life. What, then, does this complex word 'communion' mean? Its fundamental meaning speaks of the union with God brought about by Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. The opportunity for such communion is present in the Word of God and in the Sacraments. Baptism is the door and the foundation of communion in the Church. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the whole Christian life (cf. Lumen Gentium, 11). The Body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist sacramentalizes this communion, that is, it is a sign and actually brings about the intimate bonds of communion among all the faithful in the Body of Christ which is the Church (1 Cor 10:16)"(53).

On the day after the conclusion of the Council Pope Paul VI addressed the faithful in the following words: "The Church is a communion. In this context what does communion mean? We refer you to the paragraph in the Catechism that speaks of the sanctorum communionem, 'the Communion of Saints'. The meaning of the Church is a communion of saints. 'Communion' speaks of a double, lifegiving participation: the incorporation of Christians into the life of Christ, and the communication of that life of charity to the entire body of the Faithful, in this world and in the next, union with Christ and in Christ, and union among Christians, in the Church"(54).

Vatican Council II has invited us to contemplate the mystery of the Church through biblical images which bring to light the reality of the Church as a communion with its inseparable dimensions: the communion of each Christian with Christ and the communion of all Christians with one another. There is the sheepfold, the flock, the vine, the spiritual building, the Holy City(55). Above all, there is the image of the Body as set forth by the Apostle Paul. Its doctrine finds a pleasing expression once again in various passages of the Council's documents(56). In its turn, the Council has looked again at the entire history of salvation and has reproposed the image of the Church as the People of God: "It has pleased God to make people holy and to save them, not merely as individuals without any mutual bonds, but by making them into a single people, a people which acknowledges him in truth and serves him in holiness(57)." From its opening lines, the Constitution Lumen Gentium summarizes this doctrine in a wonderful way: "The Church in Christ is a kind of sacrament, that is, a sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of all the human race"(58).

The reality of the Church as Communion is, then, the integrating aspect, indeed the central content of the "mystery", or rather, the divine plan for the salvation of humanity. For this purpose ecclesial communion cannot be interpreted in a sufficient way if it is understood as simply a sociological or a psychological reality. The Church as Communion is the "new" People, the "messianic" People, the People that "has, for its head, Christ... as its heritage, the dignity and freedom of God's Children... for its law, the new commandment to love as Christ loved us... for its goal, the kingdom of God... established by Christ as a communion of life, love and truth"(59). The bonds that unite the members of the New People among themselves -and first of all with Christ-are not those of "flesh and blood", but those of the spirit, more precisely those of the Holy Spirit, whom all the baptized have received (cf. Joel 3:1).

In fact, that Spirit is the One who from eternity unites the one and undivided Trinity, that Spirit who "in the fullness of time" (Gal 4:4) forever unites human nature to the Son of God, that same identical Spirit who in the course of Christian generations is the constant and never-ending source of communion in the Church.

An Organic Communion: Diversity and Complementarity

20. Ecclesial communion is more precisely likened to an "organic" communion, analogous to that of a living and functioning body. In fact, at one and the same time it is characterized by a diversity and acomplementarity of vocations and states in life, of ministries, of charisms and responsibilities. Because of this diversity and complementarity every member of the lay faithful is seen in relation to the whole body and offers a totally unique contribution on behalf of the whole body.

Saint Paul insists in a particular way on the organic communion of the Mystical Body of Christ. We can hear his rich teaching echoed in the following synthesis from the Council: "Jesus Christ"-we read in the Constitution Lumen Gentium-"by communicating his Spirit to his brothers and sisters, called together from all peoples, made them mystically into his own body. In that body, the life of Christ is communicated to those who believe... As all the members of the human body, though they are many, form one body, so also are the Faithful in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:12). Also, in the building up of Christ's body there is a diversity of members and functions. There is only one Spirit who, according to his own richness and the necessities of service, distributes his different gifts for the welfare of the Church (cf. 1 Cor 12:1-11). Among these gifts comes in the first place the grace given to the apostles to whose authority the Spirit himself subjects even those who are endowed with charisms (cf. 1 Cor14). Furthermore it is this same Spirit, who through his power and through the intimate bond between the members, produces and urges love among the faithful. Consequently, if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer it too, and if one member is honoured, all members together rejoice (cf. 1 Cor 12:26)"(60).

One and the same Spirit is always the dynamic principle of diversity and unity in the Church. Once again we read in the Constitution Lumen Gentium, "In order that we might be unceasingly renewed in him (cf. Eph 4:23), he has shared with us his Spirit who, existing as one and the same being in the head and in the members, gives life to, unifies and moves the whole body. This he does in such a way that his work could be compared by the Fathers to the function which the soul as the principle of life fulfills in the human body"(60). And in another particularly significant text which is helpful in understanding not only the organic nature proper to ecclesial communion but also its aspect of growth toward perfect communion, the Council writes: "The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the Faithful, as in a temple (cf. 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19). In them he prays and bears witness that they are adopted sons (cf. Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15-16, 26). Guiding the Church in the way of all truth (cf.Jn 16:13) and unifying her in communion and in the works of service, he bestows upon her varied hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorns her with the fruits of his grace (cf. Eph 4:11-12; 1 Cor12:4; Gal 5:22). By the power of the Gospel he makes the Church grow, perpetually renews her, and leads her to perfect union with her Spouse. The Spirit and the Bride both say to the Lord Jesus, 'Come!' (cf. Rev 22:17)"(62).

Church communion then is a gift, a great gift of the Holy Spirit, to be gratefully accepted by the lay faithful, and at the same time to be lived with a deep sense of responsibility. This is concretely realized through their participation in the life and mission of the Church, to whose service the lay faithful put their varied and complementary ministries and charisms.

A member of the lay faithful "can never remain in isolation from the community, but must live in a continual interaction with others, with a lively sense of fellowship, rejoicing in an equal dignity and common commitment to bring to fruition the immense treasure that each has inherited. The Spirit of the Lord gives a vast variety of charisms, inviting people to assume different ministries and forms of service and reminding them, as he reminds all people in their relationship in the Church, that what distinguishes persons is not an increase in dignity, but a special and complementary capacity for service... Thus, the charisms, the ministries, the different forms of service exercised by the lay faithful exist in communion and on behalf of communion. They are treasures that complement one another for the good of all and are under the wise guidance of their Pastors"(63).

Ministries and Charisms, the Spirit's Gifts to the Church

21. The Second Vatican Council speaks of the ministries and charisms as the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are given for the building up of the Body of Christ and for its mission of salvation in the world(64). Indeed, the Church is directed and guided by the Holy Spirit, who lavishes diverse hierarchical and charismatic gifts on all the baptized, calling them to be, each in an individual way, active and coresponsible.

We now turn our thoughts to ministries and charisms as they directly relate to the lay faithful and to their participation in the life of Church-Communion.

Ministries, Offices and Roles

The ministries which exist and are at work at this time in the Church are all, even in their variety of forms, a participation in Jesus Christ's own ministry as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (cf. Jn 10:11), the humble servant who gives himself without reserve for the salvation of all (cf. Mk 10:45). The Apostle Paul is quite clear in speaking about the ministerial constitution of the Church in apostolic times. In his First Letter to the Corinthians he writes: "And God has appointed in the Church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers..." (1 Cor 12:28). In his Letter to the Ephesians we read: "But the grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift... And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:7, 11-13; cf. Rom 12:4-8). These and other New Testament texts indicate the diversity of ministries as well as of gifts and ecclesial tasks.


The Ministries Derived from Holy Orders

22. In a primary position in the Church are the ordained ministries, that is, the ministries that come from the Sacrament of Orders. In fact, with the mandate to make disciples of all nations (cf. Mt28:19), the Lord Jesus chose and constituted the apostles-seed of the People of the New Covenant and origin of the Hierarchy (65)-to form and to rule the priestly people. The mission of the Apostles, which the Lord Jesus continues to entrust to the Pastors of his people, is a true service, significantly referred to in Sacred Scripture as "diakonia", namely, service or ministry. The ministries receive the charism of the Holy Spirit from the Risen Christ, in uninterrupted succession from the apostles, through the Sacrament of Orders: from him they receive the authority and sacred power to serve the Church, acting in persona Christi Capitis (in the person of Christ, the Head)(66) and to gather her in the Holy Spirit through the Gospel and the Sacraments.

The ordained ministries, apart from the persons who receive them, are a grace for the entire Church. These ministries express and realize a participation in the priesthood of Jesus Christ that is different, not simply in degree but in essence, from the participation given to all the lay faithful through Baptism and Confirmation. On the other hand, the ministerial priesthood, as the Second Vatican Council recalls, essentially has the royal priesthood of all the faithful as its aim and is ordered to it(67).

For this reason, so as to assure and to increase communion in the Church, particularly in those places where there is a diversity and complementarity of ministries, Pastors must always acknowledge that their ministry is fundamentally ordered to the service of the entire People of God (cf. Heb 5:1). The lay faithful, in turn, must acknowledge that the ministerial priesthood is totally necessary for their participation in the mission in the Church(68).


The Ministries, Offices and Roles of the Lay Faithful

23. The Church's mission of salvation in the world is realized not only by the ministers in virtue of the Sacrament of Orders but also by all the lay faithful; indeed, because of their Baptismal state and their specific vocation, in the measure proper to each person, the lay faithful participate in the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Christ.

The Pastors, therefore, ought to acknowledge and foster the ministries, the offices and roles of the lay faithful that find their foundation in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, indeed, for a good many of them, in the Sacrament of Matrimony.

When necessity and expediency in the Church require it, the Pastors, according to established norms from universal law, can entrust to the lay faithful certain offices and roles that are connected to their pastoral ministry but do not require the character of Orders. The Code of Canon Law states: " When the necessity of the Church warrants it and when ministers are lacking, lay persons, even if they are not lectors or acolytes, can also supply for certain of their offices, namely, to exercise the ministry of the word, to preside over liturgical prayers, to confer Baptism, and to distribute Holy Communion in accord with the prescriptions of the law"(69). However, the exercise of such tasks does not make Pastors of the lay faithful: in fact, a person is not a minister simply in performing a task, but through sacramental ordination. Only the Sacrament of Orders gives the ordained minister a particular participation in the office of Christ, the Shepherd and Head, and in his Eternal Priesthood(70). The task exercised in virtue of supply takes its legitimacy formally and immediately from the official deputation given by the Pastors, as well as from its concrete exercise under the guidance of ecclesiastical authority(71).

The recent Synodal Assembly has provided an extensive and meaningful overview of the situation in the Church on the ministries, offices and roles of the baptized. The Fathers have manifested a deep appreciation for the contribution of the lay faithful, both women and men, in the work of the apostolate, in evangelization, sanctification and the Christian animation of temporal affairs, as well as their generous willingness to supply in situations of emergency and chronic necessity(72).

Following the liturgical renewal promoted by the Council, the lay faithful themselves have acquired a more lively awareness of the tasks that they fulfill in the liturgical assembly and its preparation, and have become more widely disposed to fulfill them: the liturgical celebration, in fact, is a sacred action not simply of the clergy, but of the entire assembly. It is, therefore, natural that the tasks not proper to the ordained ministers be fulfilled by the lay faithful(73). In this way there is a natural transition from an effective involvement of the lay faithful in the liturgical action to that of announcing the word of God and pastoral care(74).

In the same Synod Assembly, however, a critical judgment was voiced along with these positive elements, about a too-indiscriminate use of the word "ministry", the confusion and the equating of the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood, the lack of observance of ecclesiastical laws and norms, the arbitrary interpretation of the concept of "supply", the tendency towards a "clericalization" of the lay faithful and the risk of creating, in reality, an ecclesial structure of parallel service to that founded on the Sacrament of Orders.

Precisely to overcome these dangers the Synod Fathers have insisted on the necessity to express with greater clarity, and with a more precise terminology(75), both the unity of the Church's mission in which all the baptized participate, and the substantial diversity of the ministry of Pastors which is rooted in the Sacrament of Orders, all the while respecting the other ministries, offices and roles in the Church, which are rooted in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.

In the first place, then, it is necessary that in acknowledging and in conferring various ministries, offices and roles on the lay faithful, the Pastors exercise the maximum care to institute them on the basis of Baptism in which these tasks are rooted. It is also necessary that Pastors guard against a facile yet abusive recourse to a presumed "situation of emergency" or to "supply by necessity", where objectively this does not exist or where alternative possibilities could exist through better pastoral planning.

The various ministries, offices and roles that the lay faithful can legitimately fulfill in the liturgy, in the transmission of the faith, and in the pastoral structure of the Church, ought to be exercised in conformity to their specific lay vocation, which is different from that of the sacred ministry. In this regard the Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, that had such a great part in stimulating the varied collaboration of the lay faithful in the Church's life and mission of spreading the gospel, recalls that "their own field of evangelizing activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, as well as the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media. It also includes other realities which are open to evangelization, such as human love, the family, the education of children and adolescents, professional work, and suffering. The more Gospel-inspired lay people there are engaged in these realities, clearly involved in them, competent to promote them and conscious that they must exercise to the full their Christian powers which are often repressed and buried, the more these realities will be at the service of the Kingdom of God and therefore at the service of salvation in Jesus Christ, without in any way losing or sacrificing their human content but rather pointing to a transcendent dimension which is often disregarded"(76).

In the course of Synod work the Fathers devoted much attention to the Lectorate and the Acolytate.While in the past these ministries existed in the Latin Church only as spiritual steps on route to the ordained ministry, with the motu proprio of Paul VI, Ministeria Quaedam (15 August 1972), they assumed an autonomy and stability, as well as a possibility of their being given to the lay faithful, albeit, only to men. This same fact is expressed in the new Code of Canon Law(77). At this time the Synod Fathers expressed the desire that "the motu proprio Ministeria Quaedam be reconsidered, bearing in mind the present practice of local churches and above all indicating criteria which ought to be used in choosing those destined for each ministry"(78).

In this regard a Commission was established to respond to this desire voiced by the Synod Fathers, specifically to provide an in-depth study of the various theological, liturgical, juridical and pastoral consideration which are associated with the great increase today of the ministries entrusted to the lay faithful.

While the conclusions of the Commission's study are awaited, a more ordered and fruitful ecclesial practice of the ministries entrusted to the lay faithful can be achieved if all the particular Churches faithfully respect the above mentioned theological principles, especially the essential difference between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood, and the difference between the ministries derived from the Sacrament of Orders and those derived from the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.


24. The Holy Spirit, while bestowing diverse ministries in Church communion, enriches it still further with particular gifts or promptings of grace, called charisms. These can take a great variety of forms, both as a manifestation of the absolute freedom of the Spirit who abundantly supplies them, and as a response to the varied needs of the Church in history. The description and the classification given to these gifts in the New Testament are an indication of their rich variety. "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues" (1 Cor 12:7-10; cf. 1 Cor 12:4-6, 28-31; Rom12:6-8; 1 Pt 4:10-11).

Whether they be exceptional and great or simple and ordinary, the charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit that have, directly or indirectly, a usefulness for the ecclesial community, ordered as they are to the building up of the Church, to the well-being of humanity and to the needs of the world.

Even in our own times there is no lack of a fruitful manifestation of various charisms among the faithful, women and men. These charisms are given to individual persons, and can even be shared by others in such ways as to continue in time a precious and effective heritage, serving as a source of a particular spiritual affinity among persons. In referring to the apostolate of the lay faithful the Second Vatican Council writes: "For the exercise of the apostolate the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the People of God through the ministry and the sacraments gives the faithful special gifts as well (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), 'allotting them to each one as he wills' (cf. 1 Cor 12:11), so that each might place 'at the service of others the grace received' and become 'good stewards of God's varied grace' (1 Pt 4:10), and build up thereby the whole body in charity (cf. Eph 4:16)"(79).

By a logic which looks to the divine source of this giving, as the Council recalls(80), the gifts of the Spirit demand that those who have received them exercise them for the growth of the whole Church.

The charisms are received in gratitude both on the part of the one who receives them, and also on the part of the entire Church. They are in fact a singularly rich source of grace for the vitality of the apostolate and for the holiness of the whole Body of Christ, provided that they be gifts that come truly from the Spirit and are exercised in full conformity with the authentic promptings of the Spirit. In this sense the discernment of charisms is always necessary. Indeed, the Synod Fathers have stated: "The action of the Holy Spirit, who breathes where he will, is not always easily recognized and received. We know that God acts in all Christians, and we are aware of the benefits which flow from charisms both for individuals and for the whole Christian community. Nevertheless, at the same time we are also aware of the power of sin and how it can disturb and confuse the life of the faithful and of the community"(81).

For this reason no charism dispenses a person from reference and submission to the Pastors of the Church. The Council clearly states: "Judgment as to their (charisms) genuineness and proper use belongs to those who preside over the Church, and to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good (cf. 1 Thess 5:12 and 19-21)"(82), so that all the charisms might work together, in their diversity and complementarity, for the common good(83).

The Lay Faithful's Participation in the Life of the Church

25. The lay faithful participate in the life of the Church not only in exercising their tasks and charisms, but also in many other ways.

Such participation finds its first and necessary expression in the life and mission of the particular Church, in the diocese in which "the Church of Christ, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, is truly present and at work"(84).

The Particular Churches and the Universal Church

For an adequate participation in ecclesial life the lay faithful absolutely need to have a clear and precise vision of the particular Church with its primordial bond to the universal Church. The particular Church does not come about from a kind of fragmentation of the universal Church, nor does the universal Church come about by a simple amalgamation of particular Churches. But there is a real, essential and constant bond uniting each of them and this is why the universal Church exists and is manifested in the particular Churches. For this reason the Council says that the particular Churches "are constituted after the model of the universal Church; it is in and from these particular Churches that there come into being the one and unique Catholic Church"(85).

The same Council strongly encourages the lay faithful actively to live out their belonging to the particular Church, while at the same time assuming an ever-increasing "catholic" spirit: "Let the lay faithful constantly foster"-we read in the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People- "a feeling for their own diocese, of which the parish is a kind of cell, and be always ready at their bishops' invitation to participate in diocesan projects. Indeed, if the needs of cities and rural areas are to be met, lay people should not limit their cooperation to the parochial or diocesan boundaries but strive to extend it to interparochial, interdiocesan, national and international fields, the more so because the daily increase in population mobility, the growth of mutual bonds, and the ease of communication no longer allow any sector of society to remain closed in upon itself. Thus they should be concerned about the needs of the People of God scattered throughout the world"(86).

In this sense, the recent Synod has favored the creation of Diocesan Pastoral Councils, as a recourse at opportune times. In fact, on a diocesan level this structure could be the principle form of collaboration, dialogue, and discernment as well. The participation of the lay faithful in these Councils can broaden resources in consultation and the principle of collaboration-and in certain instances also in decision-making - if applied in a broad and determined manner(87).

The participation of the lay faithful in Diocesan Synods and in local Councils, whether provincial or plenary, is envisioned by the Code of Canon Law(88). These structures could contribute to Church communion and the mission of the particular Church, both in its own surroundings and in relation to the other particular Churches of the ecclesiastical province or Episcopal Conference.

Episcopal Conferences are called to evaluate the most oportune way of developing the consultation and the collaboration of the lay faithful, women and men, at a national or regional level, so that they may consider well the problems they share and manifest better the communion of the whole Church(89).

The Parish

26. The ecclesial community, while always having a universal dimension, finds its most immediate and visible expression in the parish. It is there that the Church is seen locally. In a certain sense it is theChurch living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters(90).

It is necessary that in light of the faith all rediscover the true meaning of the parish, that is, the place where the very "mystery" of the Church is present and at work, even if at times it is lacking persons and means, even if at other times it might be scattered over vast territories or almost not to be found in crowded and chaotic modern sections of cities. The parish is not principally a structure, a territory, or a building, but rather, "the family of God, a fellowship afire with a unifying spirit"(91), "a familial and welcoming home"(92), the "community of the faithful"(93). Plainly and simply, the parish is founded on a theological reality, because it is a Eucharistic community(94). This means that the parish is a community properly suited for celebrating the Eucharist, the living source for its upbuilding and the sacramental bond of its being in full communion with the whole Church. Such suitableness is rooted in the fact that the parish is a community of faith and an organic community, that is, constituted by the ordained ministers and other Christians, in which the pastor-who represents the diocesan bishop(95)-is the hierarchical bond with the entire particular Church.

Since the Church's task in our day is so great its accomplishment cannot be left to the parish alone. For this reason the Code of Canon Law provides for forms of collaboration among parishes in a given territory(96) and recommends to the bishop's care the various groups of the Christian Faithful, even the unbaptized who are not under his ordinary pastoral care(97). There are many other places and forms of association through which the Church can be present and at work. All are necessary to carry out the word and grace of the Gospel and to correspond to the various circumstances of life in which people find themselves today. In a similar way there exist in the areas of culture, society, education, professions, etc. many other ways for spreading the faith and other settings for the apostolate which cannot have the parish as their center and origin. Nevertheless, in our day the parish still enjoys a new and promising season. At the beginning of his pontificate, Paul VI addressed the Roman clergy in these words: "We believe simply that this old and venerable structure of the parish has an indispensable mission of great contemporary importance: to create the basic community of the Christian people; to initiate and gather the people in the accustomed expression of liturgical life; to conserve and renew the faith in the people of today; to serve as the school for teaching the salvific message of Christ; to put solidarity in practice and work the humble charity of good and brotherly works"(98).

The Synod Fathers for their part have given much attention to the present state of many parishes and have called for a greater effort in their renewal: "Many parishes, whether established in regions affécted by urban progress or in missionary territory, cannot do their work effectively because they lack material resources or ordained men or are too big geographically or because of the particular circumstances of some Christians (e.g. exiles and migrants). So that all parishes of this kind may be truly communities of Christians, local ecclesial authorities ought to foster the following: a) adaptation of parish structures according to the full flexibility granted by canon law, especially in promoting participation by the lay faithfulinpastoral responsibilities; b) small, basic or so-called "living" communities, where the faithful can communicate the Word of God and express it in service and love to one another; these communities are true expressions of ecclesial communion and centers of evangelization, in communion with their pastors"(99). For the renewal of parishes and for a better assurance of their effectiveness in work, various forms of cooperation even on the institutional level ought to be fostered among diverse parishes in the same area.

The Apostolic Commitment in the Parish

27. It is now necessary to look more closely at the communion and participation of the lay faithful in parish life. In this regard all lay men and women are called to give greater attention to a particularly meaningful, stirring and incisive passage from the Council: "Their activity within Church communities is so necessary that without it the apostolate of the Pastors is generally unable to achieve its full effectiveness"(100).

This is indeed a particularly important affirmation, which evidently must be interpreted in light of the "ecclesiology of communion". Ministries and charisms, being diverse and complementary, are all necessary for the Church to grow, each in its own way.

The lay faithful ought to be ever more convinced of the special meaning that their commitment to the apostolate takes on in their parish. Once again the Council authoritatively places it in relief: "The parish offers an outstanding example of the apostolate on the community level, inasmuch as it brings together the many human differences found within its boundaries and draws them into the universality of the Church. The lay faithful should accustom themselves to working in the parish in close union with their priests, bringing to the Church community their own and the world's problems as well as questions concerning human salvation, all of which need to be examined together and solved through general discussion. As far as possible the lay faithful ought to collaborate in every apostolic and missionary undertaking sponsored by their own ecclesial family"(101).

The Council's mention of examining and solving pastoral problems "by general discussion" ought to find its adequate and structured development through a more convinced, extensive and decided appreciation for "Parish Pastoral Councils", on which the Synod Fathers have rightly insisted(102).

In the present circumstances the lay faithful have the ability to do very much and, therefore, ought to do very much towards the growth of an authentic ecclesial communion in their parishes in order to reawaken missionary zeal towards nonbelievers and believers themselves who have abandoned the faith or grown lax in the Christian life.

If indeed, the parish is the Church placed in the neighborhoods of humanity, it lives and is at work through being deeply inserted in human society and intimately bound up with its aspirations and its dramatic events. Oftentimes the social context, especially in certain countries and environments, is violently shaken by elements of disintegration and de-humanization. The individual is lost and disoriented, but there always remains in the human heart the desire to experience and cultivate caring and personal relationships. The response to such a desire can come from the parish, when, with the lay faithful's participation, it adheres to its fundamental vocation and mission, that is, to be a "place" in the world for the community of believers to gather together as a "sign" and "instrument" of the vocation of all to communion, in a word, to be a house of welcome to all and a place of service to all, or, as Pope John XXIII was fond of saying, to be the "village fountain" to which all would have recourse in their thirst.

The Forms of Participation in the Life of the Church

28. The lay faithful together with the clergy and women and men religious, make up the one People of God and the Body of Christ.

Being "members" of the Church takes nothing away from the fact that each Christian as an individual is "unique and irrepeatable". On the contrary, this belonging guarantees and fosters the profound sense of that uniqueness and irrepeatability, in so far as these very qualities are the source of variety and richness for the whole Church. Therefore, God calls the individual in Jesus Christ, each one personally by name. In this sense, the Lord's words "You go into my vineyard too", directed to the Church as a whole, come specially addressed to each member individually.

Because of each member's unique and irrepeatable character, that is, one's identity and actions as a person, each individual is placed at the service of the growth of the ecclesial community while, at the same time, singularly receiving and sharing in the common richness of all the Church. This is the "Communion of Saints" which we profess in the Creed. The good of all becomes the good of each one and the good of each one becomes the good of all. "In the Holy Church", writes Saint Gregory the Great, "all are nourished by each one and each ones is nourished by all"(103).

Individual Forms of Participation

Above all, each member of the lay faithful should always be fully aware of being a "member of the Church" yet entrusted with a unique task which cannot be done by another and which is to be fulfilled for the good of all. From this perspective the Council's insistence on the absolute necessity of an apostolate exercised by the individual takes on its full meaning: "The apostolate exercised by the individual-which flows abundantly from a truly Christian life (cf. Jn 4: 11)-is the origin and condition of the whole lay apostolate, even in its organized expression, and admits no substitute. Regardless of circumstance, all lay persons (including those who have no opportunity or possibility for collaboration in associations) are called to this type of apostolate and obliged to engage in it. Such an apostolate is useful at all times and places, but in certain circumstances it is the only one available and feasible"(104).

In the apostolate exercised by the individual, great riches are waiting to be discovered through an intensification of the missionary effort of each of the lay faithful. Such an individual form of apostolate can contribute greatly to a more extensive spreading of the Gospel, indeed it can reach as many places as there are daily lives of individual members of the lay faithful. Furthermore, the spread of the gospel will be continual, since a person's life and faith will be one. Likewise the spread of the gospel will be particularly incisive, because in sharing fully in the unique conditions of the life, work, difficulties and hopes of their sisters and brothers, the lay faithful will be able to reach the hearts of their neighbors, friends, and colleagues, opening them to a full sense of human existence, that is, to communion with God and with all people.

Group Forms of Participation

29. Church communion, already present and at work in the activities of the individual, finds its specific expression in the lay faithful's working together in groups, that is, in activities done with others in the course of their responsible participation in the life and mission of the Church.

In recent days the phenomenon of lay people associating among themselves has taken on a character of particular variety and vitality. In some ways lay associations have always been present throughout the Church's history as various confraternities, third orders and sodalities testify even today. However, in modern times such lay groups have received a special stimulus, resulting in the birth and spread of a multiplicity of group forms: associations, groups, communities, movements. We can speak of a new era of group endeavours of the lay faithful. In fact, "alongside the traditional forming of associations, and at times coming from their very roots, movements and new sodalities have sprouted, with a specific feature and purpose, so great is the richness and the versatility of resources that the Holy Spirit nourishes in the ecclesial community, and so great is the capacity of initiative and the generosity of our lay people"(105).

Oftentimes these lay groups show themselves to be very diverse from one another in various aspects, in their external structures, in their procedures and training methods, and in the fields in which they work. However, they all come together in an all-inclusive and profound convergence when viewed from the perspective of their common purpose, that is, the responsible participation of all of them in the Church'smission of carrying forth the Gospel of Christ, the source of hope for humanity and the renewal of society.

The actual formation of groups of the lay faithful for spiritual purposes or for apostolic work comes from various sources and corresponds to different demands. In fact, their formation itself expresses the social nature of the person and for this reason leads to a more extensive and incisive effectiveness in work. In reality, a "cultural" effect can be accomplished through work done not so much by an individual alone but by an individual as "a social being", that is, as a member of a group, of a community, of an association, or of a movement. Such work is, then, the source and stimulus leading to the transformation of the surroundings and society as well as the fruit and sign of every other transformation in this regard. This is particularly true in the context of a pluralistic and fragmented society-the case in so many parts of the world today-and in light of the problems which have become greatly complex and difficult. On the other hand, in a secularized world, above all, the various group forms of the apostolate can represent for many a precious help for the Christian life in remaining faithful to the demands of the gospel and to the commitment to the Church's mission and the apostolate.

Beyond this, the profound reason that justifies and demands the lay faithful's forming of lay groups comes from a theology based on ecclesiology, as the Second Vatican Council clearly acknowledged in referring to the group apostolate as a "sign of communion and of unity of the Church of Christ"(106).

It is a "sign" that must be manifested in relation to "communion" both in the internal and external aspects of the various group forms and in the wider context of the Christian community. As mentioned, this reason based on ecclesiology explains, on one hand, the "right" of lay associations to form, and on the other, the necessity of "criteria" for discerning the authenticity of the forms which such groups take in the Church.

First of all, the freedom for lay people in the Church to form such groups is to be acknowledged. Such liberty is a true and proper right that is not derived from any kind of "concession" by authority, but flows from the Sacrament of Baptism, which calls the lay faithful to participate actively in the Church's communion and mission. In this regard the Council is quite clear: "As long as the proper relationship is kept to Church authority, the lay faithful have the right to found and run such associations and to join those already existing"(107). A citation from the recently published Code of Canon Law affirms it as well: "The Christian faithful are at liberty to found and govern associations for charitable and religious purposes or for the promotion of the Christian vocation in the world; they are free to hold meetings to pursue these purposes in common"(108).

It is a question of a freedom that is to be acknowledged and guaranteed by ecclesial authority and always and only to be exercised in Church communion. Consequently, the right of the lay faithful to form groups is essentially in relation to the Church's life of communion and to her mission.

"Criteria of Ecclesiality"for Lay Groups

30. It is always from the perspective of the Church's communion and mission, and not in opposition to the freedom to associate, that one understands the necessity of having clear and definite criteria for discerning and recognizing such lay groups, also called "Criteria of Ecclesiality".

The following basic criteria might be helpful in evaluating an association of the lay faithful in the Church:

- The primacy given to the call of every Christian to holiness, as it is manifested "in the fruits of grace which the spirit produces in the faithful"(109) and in a growth towards the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of charity(110).

In this sense whatever association of the lay faithful there might be, it is always called to be more of an instrument leading to holiness in the Church, through fostering and promoting "a more intimate unity between the everyday life of its members and their faith"(111).

- The responsibility of professing the Catholic faith, embracing and proclaiming the truth about Christ, the Church and humanity, in obedience to the Church's Magisterium, as the Church interprets it. For this reason every association of the lay faithful must be a forum where the faith is proclaimed as well as taught in its total content.

- The witness to a strong and authentic communion in filial relationship to the Pope, in total adherence to the belief that he is the perpetual and visible center of unity of the universal Church(112), and with the local Bishop, "the visible principle and foundation of unity"(113) in the particular Church, and in "mutual esteem for all forms of the Church's apostolate"(114).

The communion with Pope and Bishop must be expressed in loyal readiness to embrace the doctrinal teachings and pastoral initiatives of both Pope and Bishop. Moreover, Church communion demands both an acknowledgment of a legitimate plurality of forms in the associations of the lay faithful in the Church and at the same time, a willingness to cooperate in working together.

- Conformity to and participation in the Church's apostolic goals, that is, "the evangelization and sanctification of humanity and the Christian formation of people's conscience, so as to enable them to infuse the spirit of the gospel into the various communities and spheres of life"(115).

From this perspective, every one of the group forms of the lay faithful is asked to have a missionary zeal which will increase their effectiveness as participants in a re-evangelization.

- A commitment to a presence in human society, which in light of the Church's social doctrine, places it at the service of the total dignity of the person.

Therefore, associations of the lay faithful must become fruitful outlets for participation and solidarity in bringing about conditions that are more just and loving within society.

The fundamental criteria mentioned at this time find their verification in the actual fruits that various group forms show in their organizational life and the works they perform, such as: the renewed appreciation for prayer, contemplation, liturgical and sacramental life, the reawakening of vocations to Christian marriage, the ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life; a readiness to participate in programmes and Church activities at the local, national and international levels; a commitment to catechesis and a capacity for teaching and forming Christians; a desire to be present as Christians in various settings of social life and the creation and awakening of charitable, cultural and spiritual works; the spirit of detachment and evangelical poverty leading to a greater generosity in charity towards all; conversion to the Christian life or the return to Church communion of those baptized members who have fallen away from the faith.

The Pastors in Service to Communion

31. The Pastors of the Church even if faced with possible and understandable difficulties as a result of such associations and the process of employing new forms, cannot renounce the service provided by their authority, not simply for the well-being of the Church, but also for the well-being of the lay associations themselves. In this sense they ought to accompany their work of discernment with guidance and, above all, encouragement so that lay associations might grow in Church communion and mission.

It is exceedingly opportune that some new associations and movements receive official recognitionand explicit approval from competent Church authority to facilitate their growth on both the national and international level. The Council has already spoken in this regard: "Depending on its various forms and goals, the lay apostolate provides for different types of relationships with the hierarchy... Certain forms of the lay apostolate are given explicit recognition by the hierarchy, though in different ways. Because of the demands of the common good of the Church, moreover, ecclesial authority can select and promote in a particular way some of the apostolic associations and projects which have an immediately spiritual purpose, thereby assuming in them a special responsibility"(116).

Among the various forms of the lay apostolate which have a particular relationship to the hierarchy, the Synod Fathers have singled out various movements and associations of Catholic Action in which "indeed, in this organic and stable form, the lay faithful may freely associate under the movement of the Holy Spirit, in communion with their bishop and priests, so that in a way proper to their vocation and with some special method they might be of service through their faithfulness and good works to promote the growth of the entire Christian community, pastoral activities and infusing every aspect of life with the gospel spirit"(117).

The Pontifical Council for the Laity has the task of preparing a list of those associations which have received the official approval of the Holy See, and, at the same time, of drawing up, together with the Pontifical Council for the Union of Christians, the basic conditions on which this approval might be given to ecumenical associations in which there is a majority of Catholics, and determining those cases in which such an approval is not possible(118).

All of us, Pastors and lay faithful, have the duty to promote and nourish stronger bonds and mutual esteem, cordiality and collaboration among the various forms of lay associations. Only in this way can the richness of the gifts and charisms that the Lord oflers us bear their fruitful contribution in building the common house: "For the sound building of a common house it is necessary, furthermore, that every spirit of antagonism and conflict be put aside and that the competition be in outdoing one another in showing honour (cf. Rom 12:10), in attaining a mutual affection, a will towards collaboration, with patience, far-sightedness, and readiness to sacrifice which will at times be required"(119).

So as to render thanks to God for the great gift of Church communion which is the reflection in time of the eternal and ineffable communion of the love of God, Three in One, we once again consider Jesus' words: "I am the vine, you are the branches" (Jn 15:5). The awareness of the gift ought to be accompanied by a strong sense of responsibility for its use: it is, in fact, a gift that, like the talent of the gospel parable, must be put to work in a life of ever-increasing communion.

To be responsible for the gift of communion means, first of all, to be committed to overcoming each temptation to division and opposition that works against the Christian life with its responsibility in the apostolate. The cry of Saint Paul continues to resound as a reproach to those who are "wounding the Body of Christ": "What I mean is that each one of you says, 'I belong to Paul', or 'I belong to Cephas', or 'I belong to Christ!' Is Christ divided?" (1 Cor 1: 12-13). No, rather let these words of the apostle sound a persuasive call: " I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Cor 1 :10).

Thus the life of Church communion will become a sign for all the world and a compelling force that will lead persons to faith in Christ: "that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Tn 17:21). In such a way communion leads to mission, and mission itself to communion.


The Coresponsibility of the Lay Faithful in the Church as Mission

Mission to Communion

32. We return to the biblical image of the vine and the branches, which immediately and quite appropriately lends itself to a consideration of fruitfulness and life. Engrafted to the vine and brought to life, the branches are expected to bear fruit: "He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit" (Jn 15:5). Bearing fruit is an essential demand of life in Christ and life in the Church. The person who does not bear fruit does not remain in communion: "Each branch of mine that bears no fruit, he (my Father) takes away" (Jn 15: 2).

Communion with Jesus, which gives rise to the communion of Christians among themselves, is an indispensable condition for bearing fruit: "Apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5). And communion with others is the most magnificent fruit that the branches can give: in fact, it is the gift of Christ and His Spirit.

At this point communion begets communion: essentially it is likened to a mission on behalf of communion. In fact, Jesus says to his disciples: "You did not choose me, but I chose you andappointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide" (Jn 15:16).

Communion and mission are profoundly connected with each other, they interpenetrate and mutually imply each other, to the point that communion represents both the source and the fruit of mission: communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion. It is always the one and the same Spirit who calls together and unifies the Church and sends her to preach the Gospel "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). On her part, the Church knows that the communion received by her as a gift is destined for all people. Thus the Church feels she owes to each individual and to humanity as a whole the gift received from the Holy Spirit that pours the charity of Jesus Christ into the hearts of believers, as a mystical force for internal cohesion and external growth. The mission of the Church flows from her own nature. Christ has willed it to be so: that of "sign and instrument... of unity of all the human race"(120). Such a mission has the purpose of making everyone know and live the "new" communion that the Son of God made man introduced into the history of the world. In this regard, then, the testimony of John the Evangelist defines in an undeniable way the blessed end towards which the entire mission of the Church is directed: "That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 Jn 1:3).

In the context of Church mission, then, the Lord entrusts a great part of the responsibility to the lay faithful, in communion with all other members of the People of God. This fact, fully understood by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, recurred with renewed clarity and increased vigor in all the works of the Synod: "Indeed, Pastors know how much the lay faithful contribute to the welfare of the entire Church. They also know that they themselves were not established by Christ to undertake alone the entire saving mission of the Church towards the world, but they understand that it is their exalted office to be shepherds of the lay faithful and also to recognize the latter's services and charisms that all according to their proper roles may cooperate in this common undertaking with one heart"(121).

Proclaiming the Gospel

33. The lay faithful, precisely because they are members of the Church, have the vocation and mission of proclaiming the Gospel: they are prepared for this work by the sacraments of Christian initiation and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In a very clear and significant passage from the Second Vatican Council we read: "As sharers in the mission of Christ, priest, prophet and king, the lay faithful have an active part to play in the life and activity of the Church... Strengthened by their active participation in the liturgical life of their community, they are eager to do their share in apostolic works of that community. They lead to the Church people who are perhaps far removed from it; they earnestly cooperate in presenting the Word of God, especially by means of catechetical instruction; and offer their special skills to make the care of souls and the administration of the temporal goods of the Church more efficient"(122).

The entire mission of the Church, then, is concentrated and manifested in evangelization. Through the winding passages of history the Church has made her way under the grace and the command of Jesus Christ: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15) "... and lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age" (Mt 28:20). "To evangelize", writes Paul VI, "is the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her most profound identity"(123).

Through evangelization the Church is built up into a community of faith: more precisely, into a community that confesses the faith in full adherence to the Word of God which is celebrated in the Sacraments, and lived in charity, the principle of Christian moral existence. In fact, the "good news" is directed to stirring a person to a conversion of heart and life and a clinging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour; to disposing a person to receive Baptism and the Eucharist and to strengthen a person in the prospect and realization of new life according to the Spirit.

Certainly the command of Jesus: "Go and preach the Gospel" always maintains its vital value and its ever-pressing obligation. Nevertheless, the present situation, not only of the world but also of many parts of the Church, absolutely demands that the word of Christ receive a more ready and generous obedience. Every disciple is personally called by name; no disciple can withhold making a response: "Woe to me, if I do not preach the gospel" (1 Cor 9:16).

The Hour Has Come for a Re-Evangelization

34. Whole countries and nations where religion and the Christian life were formerly flourishing and capable of fostering a viable and working community of faith, are now put to a hard test, and in some cases, are even undergoing a radical transformation, as a result of a constant spreading of an indifference to religion, of secularism and atheism. This particularly concerns countries and nations of the so-called First World, in which economic well-being and consumerism, even if coexistent with a tragic situation of poverty and misery, inspires and sustains a life lived "as if God did not exist". This indifference to religion and the practice of religion devoid of true meaning in the face of life's very serious problems, are not less worrying and upsetting when compared with declared atheism. Sometimes the Christian faith as well, while maintaining some of the externals of its tradition and rituals, tends to be separated from those moments of human existence which have the most significance, such as, birth, suffering and death. In such cases, the questions and formidable enigmas posed by these situations, if remaining without responses, expose contemporary people to an inconsolable delusion or to the temptation of eliminating the truly humanizing dimension of life implicit in these problems.

On the other hand, in other regions or nations many vital traditions of piety and popular forms of Christian religion are still conserved; but today this moral and spiritual patrimony runs the risk of being dispersed under the impact of a multiplicity of processes, including secularization and the spread of sects. Only a re-evangelization can assure the growth of a clear and deep faith, and serve to make these traditions a force for authentic freedom.

Without doubt a mending of the Christian fabric of society is urgently needed in all parts of the world. But for this to come about what is needed is to first remake the Christian fabric of the ecclesial community itself present in these countries and nations.

At this moment the lay faithful, in virtue of their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, are fully part of this work of the Church. Their responsibility, in particular, is to testify how the Christian faith constitutes the only fully valid response-consciously perceived and stated by all in varying degrees-to the problems and hopes that life poses to every person and society. This will be possible if the lay faithful will know how to overcome in themselves the separation of the Gospel from life, to again take up in their daily activities in family, work and society, an integrated approach to life that is fully brought about by the inspiration and strength of the Gospel.

To all people of today I once again repeat the impassioned cry with which I began my pastoral ministry: "Do not be afraid! Open, in deed, open wide the doors to Christ!

Open to his saving power the confines of states, and systems political and economic, as well as the vast fields of culture, civilization, and development. Do not be afraid! Christ knows 'what is inside a person'. Only he knows! Today too often people do not know what they carry inside, in the deepest recesses of their soul, in their heart. Too often people are uncertain about a sense of life on earth. Invaded by doubts they are led into despair. Therefore-with humility and trust I beg and implore you-allow Christ to speak to the person in you. Only he has the words of life, yes, eternal life"(124).

Opening wide the doors to Christ, accepting him into humanity itself poses absolutely no threat to persons, indeed it is the only road to take to arrive at the total truth and the exalted value of the human individual.

This vital synthesis will be achieved when the lay faithful know how to put the gospel and their daily duties of life into a most shining and convincing testimony, where, not fear but the loving pursuit of Christ and adherence to him will be the factors determining how a person is to live and grow, and these will lead to new ways of living more in conformity with human dignity.

Humanity is loved by God! This very simple yet profound proclamation is owed to humanity by the Church. Each Christian's words and life must make this proclamation resound: God loves you, Christ came for you, Christ is for you "the Way, the Truth and the Life!" (Jn 14:6).

This re-evangelization is directed not only to individual persons but also to entire portions of populations in the variety of their situations, surroundings and cultures. Its purpose is the formation of mature ecclesial communities, in which the faith might radiate and fulfill the basic meaning of adherence to the person of Christ and his Gospel, of an encounter and sacramental communion with him, and of an existence lived in charity and in service.

The lay faithful have their part to fulfill in the formation of these ecclesial communities, not only through an active and responsible participation in the life of the community, in other words, through a testimony that only they can give, but also through a missionary zeal and activity towards the many people who still do not believe and who no longer live the faith received at Baptism.

In the case of coming generations, the lay faithful must offer the very valuable contribution, more necessary than ever, of a systematic work in catechesis. The Synod Fathers have gratefully taken note of the work of catechists, acknowledging that they "have a task that carries great importance in animating ecclesial communities"(125). It goes without saying that Christian parents are the primary and irreplaceable catechists of their children, a task for which they are given the grace by the Sacrament of Matrimony. At the same time, however, we all ought to be aware of the "rights" that each baptized person has to being instructed, educated and supported in the faith and the Christian life.

Go Into the Whole World

35. While pointing out and experiencing the present urgency for a re-evangelization, the Church cannot withdraw from her ongoing mission of bringing the gospel to the multitudes -the millions and millions of men and women-who as yet do not know Christ the Redeemer of humanity. In a specific way this is the missionary work that Jesus entrusted and again entrusts each day to his Church.

The activity of the lay faithful, who are always present in these surroundings, is revealed in these days as increasingly necessary and valuable. As it stands, the command of the Lord "Go into the whole world" is continuing to find a generous response from laypersons who are ready to leave familiar surroundings, their work, their region or country, at least for a determined time, to go into mission territory. Even Christian married couples, in imitation of Aquila and Priscilla (cf. Acts 18; Rom 16:3 ff), are offering a comforting testimony of impassioned love for Christ and the Church through their valuable presence in mission lands. A true missionary presence is exercised even by those who for various reasons live in countries or surroundings where the Church is not yet established and bear witness to the faith.

However, at present the missionary concern is taking on such extensive and serious proportions for the Church that only a truly consolidated effort to assume responsibility by all members of the Church, both individuals and communities, can lead to the hope for a more fruitful response.

The invitation addressed by the Second Vatican Council to the particular Church retains all its value, even demanding at present a more extensive and more decisive acceptance: "Since the particular Churches are bound to mirror the universal Church as perfectly as possible, let them be fully aware that they have been sent also to those who do not believe in Christ"(126).

The Church today ought to take a giant step forward in her evangelization effort, and enter into a new stage of history in her missionary dynamism. In a world where the lessening of distance makes the world increasingly smaller, the Church community ought to strengthen the bonds among its members, exchange vital energies and means, and commit itself as a group to a unique and common mission of proclaiming and living the Gospel. "So-called younger Churches have need of the strength of the older Churches and the older ones need the witness and impulse of the younger, so that individual Churches receive the riches of other Churches"(127).

In this area, younger Churches are finding that an essential and undeniable element in the founding of Churches(128) is the formation not only of local clergy but also of a mature and responsible lay faithful: in this way the community which itself has been evangelized goes forth into a new region of the world so that it too might respond to the mission of proclaiming and bearing witness to the Gospel of Christ.

The Synod Fathers have mentioned that the lay faithful can favour the relations which ought to be established with followers of various religions through their example in the situations in which they live and in their activities: "Throughout the world today the Church lives among people of various religions... All the Faithful, especially the lay faithful who live among the people of other religions, whether living in their native region or in lands as migrants, ought to be for all a sign of the Lord and his Church, in a way adapted to the actual living situation of each place. Dialogue among religions has a preeminent part, for it leads to love and mutual respect, and takes away, or at least diminishes, prejudices among the followers of various religions and promotes unity and friendship among peoples"(129).

What is first needed for the evangelization of the world are those who will evangelize. In this regard everyone, beginning with the Christian family, must feel the responsibility to foster the birth and growth of vocations, both priestly and religious as well as in the lay state, specifically directed to the missions. This should be done by relying on every appropriate means, but without ever neglecting the privileged means of prayer, according to the very words of the Lord Jesus: "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest!" (Mt 9:37, 38).

To Live the Gospel Serving the Person and Society

36. In both accepting and proclaiming the Gospel in the power of the Spirit the Church becomes at one and the same time an "evangelizing and evangelized" community, and for this very reason she is made the servant of all. In her the lay faithful participate in the mission of service to the person and society. Without doubt the Church has the Kingdom of God as her supreme goal, of which "she on earth is its seed and beginning"(130), and is therefore totally consecrated to the glorification of the Father. However, the Kingdom is the source of full liberation and total salvation for all people: with this in mind, then, the Church walks and lives, intimately bound in a real sense to their history.

Having received the responsibility of manifesting to the world the mystery of God that shines forth in Jesus Christ, the Church likewise awakens one person to another, giving a sense of one's existence, opening each to the whole truth about the individual and of each person's final destiny(131). From this perspective the Church is called, in virtue of her very mission of evangelization, to serve all humanity. Such service is rooted primarily in the extraordinary and profound fact that "through the Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion to every person"(132).

For this reason the person "is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission: the individual is the primary and fundamental way for the Church, the way traced out by Christ himself, the way that leads in variably through the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption"(133).

The Second Vatican Council, repeatedly and with a singular clarity and force, expressed these very sentiments in its documents. We again read a particularly enlightening text from the ConstitutionGaudium et Spes: "Pursuing the saving purpose which is proper to her, the Church not only communicates divine life to all, but in some way casts the reflected light of that divine life over the entire earth. She does this most of all by her healing and elevating impact on the dignity of the human person, by the way in which she strengthens the bonds of human society, and imbues the daily activity of people with a deeper sense and meaning. Thus, through her individual members and the whole community, the Church believes she càn contribute much to make the family of man and its history more human"(134).

In this work of contributing to the human family, for which the whole Church is responsible, a particular place falls to the lay faithful, by reason of their "secular character", obliging them, in their proper and irreplaceable way, to work towards the Christian animation of the temporal order.

Promoting the Dignity of the Person

37. To rediscover and make others rediscover the inviolable dignity of every human personmakes up an essential task, in a certain sense, the central and unifying task of the service which the Church, and the lay faithful in her, are called to render to the human family.

Among all other earthly beings, only a man or a woman is a "person", a conscious and free beingand, precisely for this reason, the "center and summit" of all that exists on the earth(135).

The dignity of the person is the most precious possession of an individual. As a result, the value of one person transcends all the material world. The words of Jesus, "For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and to forfeit his life?" (Mk 8:36) contain an enlightening and stirring statement about the individual: value comes not from what a person "has" even if the person possessed the whole world!-as much as from what a person "is": the goods of the world do not count as much as the good of the person, the good which is the person individually.

The dignity of the person is manifested in all its radiance when the person's origin and destiny are considered: created by God in his image and likeness as well as redeemed by the most precious blood of Christ, the person is called to be a "child in the Son" and a living temple of the Spirit, destined for the eternal life of blessed communion with God. For this reason every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offence against the Creator of the individual.

In virtue of a personal dignity the human being is always a value as an individual, and as such demands being considered and treated as a person and never, on the contrary, considered and treated as an object to be used, or as a means, or as a thing.

The dignity of the person constitutes the foundation of the equality of all people among themselves. As a result all forms of discrimination are totally unacceptable, especially those forms which unfortunately continue to divide and degrade the human family, from those based on race or economics to those social and cultural, from political to geographic, etc. Each discrimination constitutes an absolutely intolerable injustice, not so much for the tensions and the conflicts that can be generated in the social sphere, as much as for the dishonour inflicted on the dignity of the person: not only to the dignity of the individual who is the victim of the injustice, but still more to the one who commits the injustice.

Just as personal dignity is the foundation of equality of all people among themselves, so it is also the foundation of participation and solidarity of all people among themselves: dialogue and communion are rooted ultimately in what people "are", first and foremost, rather than on what people "have".

The dignity of the person is the indestructible property of every human being. The force of this affirmation is based on the uniqueness and irrepeatibility of every person. From it flows that the individual can never be reduced by all that seeks to crush and to annihilate the person into the anonymity that comes from collectivity, institutions, structures and systems. As an individual, a person is not a number or simply a link in a chain, nor even less, an impersonal element in some system. The most radical and elevating affirmation of the value of every human being was made by the Son of God in his becoming man in the womb of a woman, as we continue to be reminded each Christmas(136).

Respecting the Inviolable Right to Life

38. In effect the acknowledgment of the personal dignity of every human being demands the respect, the defence and the promotion of therights of the human person. It is a question of inherent, universal and inviolable rights. No one, no individual, no group, no authority, no State, can change-let alone eliminate-them because such rights find their source in God himself.

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

The Church has never yielded in the face of all the violations that the right to life of every human being has received, and continues to receive, both from individuals and from those in authority. The human being is entitled to such rights, in every phase of development, from conception until natural death; and in every condition, whether healthy or sick, whole or handicapped, rich or poor. The Second Vatican Council openly proclaimed: "All offences against life itself, such as every kind of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and willful suicide; all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures; all offences against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where men are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons; all these and the like are certainly criminal: they poison human society; and they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator"(137).

If, indeed, everyone has the mission and responsibility of acknowledging the personal dignity of every human being and of defending the right to life, some lay faithful are given a particular title to this task: such as parents, teachers, healthworkers and the many who hold economic and political power.

The Church today lives a fundamental aspect of her mission in lovingly and generously accepting every human being, especially those who are weak and sick. This is made all the more necessary as a "culture of death" threatens to take control. In fact, "the Church family believes that human life, even if weak and suffering, is always a wonderful gift of God's goodness. Against the pessimism and selfishness which casts a shadow over the world, the Church stands for life: in each human life she sees the splendour of that 'Yes', that 'Amen', which is Christ himself (cf. 2 Cor 1:19; Rev 3:14). To the 'No' which assails and afflicts the world, she replies with this living 'Yes', this defending of the human person and the world from all who plot against life"(138). It is the responsibility of the lay faithful, who more directly through their vocation or their profession are involved in accepting life, to make the Church's "Yes" to human life concrete and efficacious.

The enormous development of biological and medical science, united to an amazing power in technology, today provides possibilities on the very frontier of human life which imply new responsibilities. In fact, today humanity is in the position not only of "observing" but even "exercising a control over" human life at its very beginning and in its first stages of development.

The moral conscience of humanity is not able to turn aside or remain indifferent in the face of these gigantic strides accomplished by a technology that is acquiring a continually more extensive and profound dominion over the working processes that govern procreation and the first phases of human life. Today as perhaps never before in history or in this field, wisdom shows itselt to be the only firm basis to salvation, in that persons engaged in scientific research and in its application are always to act with intelligence and love, that is, respecting, even remaining in veneration of, the inviolable dignity of the personhood of every human being, from the first moment of life's existence. This occurs when science and technology are committed with licit means to the defence of life and the cure of disease in its beginnings, refusing on the contrary-even for the dignity of research itself-to perform operations that result in falsifying the genetic patrimony of the individual and of human generative power(139).

The lay faithful, having responsibility in various capacities and at different levels of science as well as in the medical, social, legislative and economic fields must courageously accept the "challenge" posed by new problems in bioethics. The Synod Fathers used these words: "Christians ought to exercise their responsibilities as masters of science and technology, and not become their slaves ... In view of the moral challenges presented by enormous new technological power, endangering not only fundamental human rights but the very biological essence of the human species, it is of utmost importance that lay Christians with the help of the universal Church-take up the task of calling culture back to the principles of an authentic humanism, giving a dynamic and sure foundation to the promotion and defence of the rights of the human being in one's very essence, an essence which the preaching of the Gospel reveals to all(140).

Today maximum vigilance must be exercised by everyone in the face of the phenomenon of the concentration of power and technology. In fact such a concentration has a tendency to manipulate not only the biological essence but the very content of people's consciences and life styles, thereby worsening the condition of entire peoples by discrimination and marginization.

Free to Call Upon the Name of the Lord

39. Respect for the dignity of the person, which implies the defence and promotion of human rights, demands the recognition of the religious dimension of the individual. This is not simply a requirement "concerning matters of faith", but a requirement that finds itself inextricably bound up with the very reality of the individual. In fact, the individual's relation to God is a constitutive element of the very "being" and "existence" of an individual: it is in God that we "live, move and have our being" (Acts17:28). Even if not all believe this truth, the many who are convinced of it have the right to be respected for their faith and for their life-choice, individual and communal, that flows from that faith. This is the right of freedom of conscience and religious freedom, the effective acknowledgment of which is among the highest goods and the most serious duties of every people that truly wishes to assure the good of the person and society. "Religious freedom, an essential requirement of the dignity of every person, is a cornerstone of the structure of human rights, and for this reason an irreplaceable factor in the good of individuals and of the whole of society, as well as of the personal fulfilment of each individual. It follows that the freedom of individuals and of communities to profess and practice their religion is an essential element for peaceful human coexistence ... The civil and social right to religious freedom, inasmuch as it touches the most intimate sphere of the spirit, is a point of reference for the other fundamental rights and in some way becomes a measure of them"(141).

The Synod did not forget the many brothers and sisters that still do not enjoy such a right and have to face difficulties, marginization, suffering, persecution, and oftentimes death because of professing the faith. For the most part, they are brothers and sisters of the Christian lay faithful. The proclamation of the Gospel and the Christian testimony given in a life of suffering and martyrdom make up the summit of the apostolic life among Christ's disciples, just as the love for the Lord Jesus even to the giving of one's life constitutes a source of extraordinary fruitfulness for the building up of the Church. Thus the mystic vine bears witness to its earnestness in the faith, as expressed by Saint Augustine: "But that vine, as predicted by the prophets and even by the Lord himself, spread its fruitful branches in the world, and becomes the more fruitful the more it is watered by the blood of martyrs"(142).

The whole Church is profoundly grateful for this example and this gift. These sons and daughters give reason for renewing the pursuit of a holy and apostolic life. In this sense the Fathers at the Synod have made it their special duty "to give thanks to those lay people who, despite their restricted liberty, live as tireless witnesses of faith in faithful union with the Apostolic See, although they may be deprived of sacred ministers. They risk everything, even life. In this way the lay faithful bear witness to an essential property of the Church: God's Church is born of God's grace, which is expressed in an excellent way in martyrdom"(143).

Without doubt, all that has been said until now on the subject of respect for personal dignity and the acknowledgment of human rights concerns the responsibility of each Christian, of each person. However, we must immediately recognize how such a problem today has a world dimension: in fact, it is a question which at this moment affects entire groups, indeed entire peoples, who are violently being denied their basic rights. Those forms of unequal development among the so-called different "Worlds" were openly denounced in the recent Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis.

Respect for the human person goes beyond the demands of individual morality. Instead, it is a basic criterion, an essential element, in the very structure of society, since the purpose of the whole of socíety itself is geared to the human person.

Thus, intimately connected with the responsibility of service to the person, is the responsibility toserve society, as the general task of that Christian animation of the temporal order to which the lay faithful are called as their proper and specific role.

The Family: Where the Duty to Society Begins

40. The human person has an inherent social dimension which calls a person from the innermost depths of self to communion with others and to the giving of self to others: "God, who has fatherly concern for everyone has willed that all people should form one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood"(144). Thus society as a fruit and sign of the social nature of the individual reveals its whole truth in being a community of persons.

Thus the result is an interdependence and reciprocity between the person and society: all that is accomplished in favour of the person is also a service rendered to society, and all that is done in favour of society redounds to the benefit of the person. For this reason the duty of the lay faithful in the apostolate of the temporal order is always to be viewed both from its meaning of service to the person founded on the individual's uniqueness and irrepeatibility as well as on the meaning of service to all people which is inseparable from it.

The first and basic expression of the social dimension of the person, then, is the married couple and the family: "But God did not create man a solitary being. From the beginning 'male and female he created them' (Gen 1:27). This partnership of man and woman constitutes the first form of communion between persons"(145). Jesus is concerned to restore integral dignity to the married couple and solidity to the family (Mt 19:3-9).Saint Paul shows the deep rapport between marriage and the mystery of Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5:22-6:4; Col 3:18-21; 1 Pt 3:1-7).

The lay faithful's duty to society primarily begins in marriage and in the family. This duty can only be fulfilled adequately with the conviction of the unique and irreplaceable value that the family has in the development of society and the Church herself.

The family is the basic cell of society. It is the cradle of life and love, the place in which the individual "is born" and "grows". Therefore a primary concern is reserved for this community, especially, in those times when human egoism, the anti-birth campaign, totalitarian politics, situations of poverty, material, cultural and moral misery, threaten to make these very springs of life dry up. Furthermore, ideologies and various systems, together with forms of uninterest and indifference, dare to take over the role in education proper to the family.

Required in the face of this is a vast, extensive and systematic work, sustained not only by culture but also by economic and legislative means, which will safeguard the role of family in its task of being theprimary place of "humanization" for the person and society.

It is above all the lay faithful's duty in the apostolate to make the family aware of its identity as the primary social nucleus, and its basic role in society, so that it might itself become always a moreactive and responsible place for proper growth and proper participation in social life. In such a way the family can and must require from all, beginning with public authority, the respect for those rights which in saving the family, will save society itself.

All that is written in the Exhortation Familiaris Consortio about participation in the development of society(146) and all that the Holy See, at the invitation of the 1980 Synod of Bishops, has formulated with the "Charter of Rights for the Family", represent a complete and coordinated working programme for all those members of the lay faithful who, in various capacities, are interested in the values and the needs of the family. Such a programme needs to be more opportunely and decisively realized as the threats to the stability and fruitfulness of the family become more serious and the attempt to reduce the value of the family and to lessen its social value become more pressing and coordinated.

As experience testifies, whole civilizations and the cohesiveness of peoples depend above all on the human quality of their families. For this reason the duty in the apostolate towards the family acquires an incomparable social value. The Church, for her part, is deeply convinced of it, knowing well that "the path to the future passes through the family"(147)

Charity: The Soul and Sustenance of Solidarity

41. Service to society is expressed and realized in the most diverse ways, from those spontaneous and informal to those more structured, from help given to individuals to those destined for various groups and communities of persons.

The whole Church as such, is directly called to the service of charity: "In the very early days the Church added the agape to the Eucharistic Supper, and thus showed herself to be wholly united around Christ by the bond of charity. So too, in all ages, she is recognized by this sign of love, and while she rejoices in the undertakings of others, she claims works of charity as her own inalienable duty and right. For this reason, mercy to the poor and the sick, works of charity and mutual aid intended to relieve human needs of every kind, are held in special honour in the Church"(148).Charity towards one's neighbor, through contemporary forms of the traditional spiritual and corporal works of mercy, represent the most immediate, ordinary and habitual ways that lead to the Christian animation of the temporal order, the specific duty of the lay faithful.

Through charity towards one's neighbor, the lay faithful exercise and manifest their participation in the kingship of Christ, that is, in the power of the Son of man who "came not to be served but to serve"(Mk 10:45). They live and manifest such a kingship in a most simple yet exalted manner, possible for everyone at all times because charity is the highest gift offered by the Spirit for building up the Church (cf. 1 Cor 13:13) and for the good of humanity. In fact, charity gives life and sustains the works of solidarity that look to the total needs of the human being.

The same charity, realized not only by individuals but also in a joint way by groups and communities, is and will always be necessary. Nothing and no one will be able to substitute for it, not even the multiplicity of institutions and public initiatives forced to give a response to the needs-oftentimes today so serious and widespread-of entire populations. Paradoxically such charity is made increasingly necessary the more that institutions become complex in their organization and pretend to manage every area at hand. In the end such projects lose their effectiveness as a result of an impersonal functionalism, an overgrown bureaucracy, unjust private interests and an all-too-easy and generalized disengagement from a sense of duty.

Precisely in this context various forms of volunteer work which express themselves in a multiplicity of services and activities continue to come about and to spread, particularly in organized society. If this impartial service be truly given for the good of all persons, especially the most in need and forgotten by the social services of society itself, then, volunteer work can be considered an important expression of the apostolate, in which lay men and women have a primary role.

Public Life: for Everyone and by Everyone

42. A charity that loves and serves the person is never able to be separated from justice. Each in its own way demands the full, effective acknowledgment of the rights of the individual, to which society is ordered in all its structures and institutions(149).

In order to achieve their task directed to the Christian animation of the temporal order, in the sense of serving persons and society, the lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in "public life", that is, in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good. The Synod Fathers have repeatedly affirmed that every person has a right and duty to participate in public life, albeit in a diversity and complementarity of forms, levels, tasks and responsibilities. Charges of careerism, idolatry of power, egoism and corruption that are oftentimes directed at persons in government, parliaments, the ruling classes, or political parties, as well as the common opinion that participating in politics is an absolute moral danger, does not in the least justify either skepticism or an absence on the part of Christians in public life.

On the contrary, the Second Vatican Council's words are particularly significant: "The Ckurch regards as worthy of praise and consideration the work of those who, as a service to others, dedicate themselves to the public good of the state and undertake the burdens of this task"(150).

Public life on behalf of the person and society finds its basic standard in the pursuit of the common good, as the good of everyone and as the good of each person taken as a whole, which is guaranteed and offered in a fitting manner to people, both as individuals and in groups, for their free and responsible acceptance. "The political community"-we read in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes-"exists for that common good in which the community finds its full justification and meaning, and from which it derives its basic, proper and lawful arrangement. The common good embraces the sum total of all those conditions of social life by which individuals, families, and organizations can achieve more thoroughly their own fulfilment"(151). Furthermore, public life on behalf of the person and society finds its continuous line of action in the defence and the promotion of justice,understood to be a "virtue", an understanding which requires education, as well as a moral "force" that sustains the obligation to foster the rights and duties of each and everyone, based on the personal dignity of each human being.

The spirit of service is a fundamental element in the exercise of political power. This spirit of service, together with the necessary competence and efficiency, can make "virtuous" or "above criticism" the activity of persons in public life which is justly demanded by the rest of the people. To accomplish this requires a fullscale battle and a determination to overcome every temptation, such as the recourse to disloyalty and to falsehood, the waste of public funds for the advantage of a few and those with special interests, and the use of ambiguous and illicit means for acquiring, maintaining and increasing power at any cost.

The lay faithful given a charge in public life certainly ought to respect the autonomy of earthly realities properly understood, as we read in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes: "It is of great importance, especially in a pluralistic society, to work out a proper vision of the relationship between the political community and the Church, and to distinguish clearly between the activities of Christians, acting individually or collectively, in their own name as citizens guided by the dictates of a Christian conscience, and their activity in communion with their Pastors in the name of the Church. The Church by reason of her role and competence, is not identified with any political community nor bound by ties to any political system. She is at once the sign and the safeguard of the transcendental dimension of the human person"(152).At the same time-and this is felt today as a pressing responsibility-the lay faithful must bear witness to those human and gospel values that are intimately connected with political activity itself, such as liberty and justice, solidarity, faithful and unselfish dedication for the good of all, a simple life-style, and a preferential love for the poor and the least. This demands that the lay faithful always be more animated by a real participation in the life of the Church and enlightened by her social doctrine. In this they can be supported and helped by the nearness of the Christian community and their Pastors(153).

The manner and means for achieving a public life which has true human development as its goal issolidarity. This concerns the active and responsible participation of all in public life, from individual citizens to various groups, from labour unions to political parties. All of us, each and everyone, are the goal of public life as well as its leading participants. In this environment, as I wrote in the EncyclicalSollicitudo Rei Socialis, solidarity "is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are all really responsible for all"(154).

Today political solidarity requires going beyond single nations or a single block of nations, to a consideration on a properly continental and world level.

The fruit of sound political activity, which is so much desired by everyone but always lacking in advancement, is peace. The lay faithful cannot remain indifferent or be strangers and inactive in the face of all that denies and compromises peace, namely, violence and war, torture and terrorism, concentration camps, militarization of public life, the arms race, and the nuclear threat. On the contrary, as disciples of Jesus Christ, "Prince of Peace" (Is 9:5) and "Our Peace" (Eph 2:14), the lay faithful ought to take upon themselves the task of being "peacemakers" (Mt 5:9), both through a conversion of "heart", justice and charity, all of which are the undeniable foundation of peace(155).

The lay faithful in working together with all those that truly seek peace and themselves serving in specific organizations as well as national and international institutions, ought to promote an extensive work of education intended to defeat the ruling culture of egoism, hate, the vendetta and hostility, and thereby to develop the culture of solidarity at every level. Such solidarity, in fact, "is the way to peace and at the same time to development"(156).From this perspective the Synod Fathers have invited Christians to reject as unacceptable all forms of violence, to promote attitudes of dialogue and peace and to commit themselves to establish a just international and social order(157).

Placing the Individual at the Center of Socio-Economic Life

43. Service to society on the part of the lay faithful finds its essence in the socio-economic question,which depends on the organization of work.

Recently recalled in the Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, is the seriousness of present problems as they relate to the subject of development and a proposed solution according to the social doctrine of the Church. I warmly desire to again refer its contents to all, in particular, to the lay faithful.

The basis for the social doctrine of the Church is the principle of the universal destination of goods.According to the plan of God the goods of the earth are offered to all people and to each individual as a means towards the development of a truly human life. At the service of this destination of goods is private property, which -precisely for this purpose-possesses an intrinsic social function.Concretely the work of man and woman represents the most common and most immediate instrument for the development of economic life, an instrument that constitutes at one and the same time a right and a duty for every individual.

Once again, all of this comes to mind in a particular way in the mission of the lay faithful. The Second Vatican Council formulates in general terms the purpose and criterion of their presence and their action: "In the socio-economic realm the dignity and total vocation of the human person must be honoured and advanced along with the welfare of society as a whole, for man is the source, the center, and the purpose of all socio-economic life"(158).

In the context of the tranformations taking place in the world of economy and work which are a cause of concern, the lay faithful have the responsibility of being in the forefront in working out a solution to the very serious problems of growing unemployment; to fight for the most opportune overcoming of numerous injustices that come from organizations of work which lack a proper goal; to make the workplace become a community of persons respected in their uniqueness and in their right to participation; to develop new solidarity among those that participate in a common work; to raise up new forms of entrepreneurship and to look again at systems of commerce, finance and exchange of technology.

To such an end the lay faithful must accomplish their work with professional competence, with human honesty, and with a Christian spirit, and especially as a way of their own sanctification(159), according to the explicit invitation of the Council: "By work an individual ordinarily provides for self and family, is joined in fellowship to others, and renders them service; and is enabled to exercise genuine charity and be a partner in the work of bringing divine creation to perfection. Moreover, we know that through work offered to God an individual is associated with the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, whose labour with his hands at Nazareth greatly ennobled the dignity of work"(160).

Today in an ever-increasingly acute way, the so-called "ecological" question poses itself in relation to socio-economic life and work Certainly humanity has received from God himself the task of "dominating" the created world and "cultivating the garden" of the world. But this is a task that humanity must carry out in respect for the divine image received, and, therefore, with intelligence and with love, assuming responsibility for the gifts that God has bestowed and continues to bestow. Humanity has in its possession a gift that must be passed on to future generations, if possible, passed on in better condition. Even these future generations are the recipients of the Lord's gifts: "The dominion granted to humanity by the Creator is not an absolute power, nor can one speak of a freedom to 'use and misuse', or to dispose of things as one pleases. The limitation imposed from the beginning by the Creator himself and expressed symbolically by the prohibition not to 'eat of the fruit of the tree' (cf. Gen 2:16-17) shows clearly enough that, when it comes to the natural world, we are subject not only to biological laws but also to moral ones, which cannot be violated with impunity. A true concept of development cannot ignore the use of the things of nature, the renewability of resources and the consequences of haphazard industrialization-three considerations which alert our consciences to the moral dimension of development"(161).

Evangelizing Culture and the Cultures of Humanity

44. Service to the individual and to human society is expressed and finds its fulfilment through the creation and the transmission of culture, which especially in our time constitutes one of the more serious tasks of living together as a human family and of social evolution. In light of the Council, we mean by "culture" all those "factors which go to the refining and developing of humanity's diverse spiritual and physical endowments. It means the efforts of the human family to bring the world under its control through its knowledge and its labour; to humanize social life both in the family and in the whole civic community through the improvement of customs and institutions; to express through its works the great spiritual experiences and aspirations of all peoples throughout the ages; finally, to communicate and to preserve them to be an inspiration for the progress of many, indeed of the whole human race"(162). In this sense, culture must be held as the common good of every people, the expression of its dignity, liberty and creativity, and the testimony of its course through history. In particular, only from within and through culture does the Christian faith become a part of history and the creator of history.

The Church is fully aware of a pastoral urgency that calls for an absolutely special concern for culture in those circumstances where the development of a culture becomes disassociated not only from Christian faith but even from human values(163), as well as in those situations where science and technology are powerless in giving an adequate response to the pressing questions of truth and well-being that burn in people's hearts. For this reason the Church calls upon the lay faithful to be present, as signs of courage and intellectual creativity, in the privileged places of culture, that is, the world of education-school and university-in places of scientific and technological research, the areas of artistic creativity and work in the humanities. Such a presence is destined not only for the recognition and possible purification of the elements that critically burden existing culture, but also for the elevation of these cultures through the riches which have their source in the Gospel and the Christian faith. The extensive treatment by the Second Vatican Council of the rapport between the Gospel and culture represents a constant historic fact and at the same time serves as a working ideal of particular and immediate urgency. It is a challenging programme given as a pastoral responsibility to the entire Church, but in a specific way to the lay faithful in her. "The good news of Christ continually renews the life and culture of fallen humanity; it combats and removes the error and evil which flow from the attraction of sin which are a perpetual threat. She never ceases to purify and to elevate the morality of peoples... In this way the Church carries out her mission and in that very act she stimulates and makes her contribution to human and civic culture. By her action, even in its liturgical forms, she leads people to interior freedom"(164).

Some particularly significant citations from Paul VI's Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi merit recollection here: "The Church evangelizes when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims (cf. Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:18; 2:4), both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieux which are theirs. Strata of humanity are transformed: for the Church it is a question not only of preaching the Gospel in ever-wider geographic areas or to ever-greater numbers of people, but also of affecting and as it were challenging, through the power of the Gospel, mankind's criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation. All this could be expressed in the following words: What matters is to evangelizehumanity's culture and the cultures of the human family... the split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times. Therefore, every effort must be made to ensure a full evangelization of culture, or more correctly of cultures"(165).

The privileged way at present for the creation and transmission of culture is the means of socialcommunications(166). The world of the massmedia represents a new frontier for the mission of the Church, because it is undergoing a rapid and innovative development and has an extensive worldwide influence on the formation of mentality and customs. In particular, the lay faithful's responsibility as professionals in this field, exercised both by individual right and through community initiatives and institutions, demands a recognition of all its values, and demands that it be sustained by more adequate resource materials, both intellectual and pastoral.

The use of these instruments by professionals in communication and their reception by the public demand both a work of education in a critical sense, which is animated by a passion for the truth, and a work of defence of liberty, respect for the dignity of individuals, and the elevation of the authentic culture of peoples which occurs through a firm and courageous rejection of every form of monopoly and manipulation.

However, the pastoral responsibility among the lay faithful does not stop with this work of defence. It extends to everyone in the world of communications, even to those professional people of the press, cinema, radio, television and theatre. These also are called to proclaim the gospel that brings salvation.


Good Stewards of God's Varied Grace

The Variety of Vocations

45. According to the gospel parable, the "householder" calls the labourers for his vineyard at varioustimes during the day: some at dawn, others about nine in the morning, still others about midday and at three, the last, around five (cf. Mt 20:1 ff.). In commenting on these words of the gospel, Saint Gregory the Great makes a comparison between the various times of the call and the different stages in life: "It is possible to compare the different hours", he writes, "to the various stages in a person's life. According to our analogy the morning can certainly represent childhood. The third hour, then, can refer to adolescence; the sun has now moved to the height of heaven, that is, at this stage a person grows in strength. The sixth hour is adulthood, the sun is in the middle of the sky, indeed at this age the fullness of vitality is obvious. Old age represents the ninth hour, because the sun starts its descent from the height of heaven, thus the youthful vitality begins to decline. The eleventh hour represents those who are most advanced in years... The labourers, then, are called and sent forth into the vineyard at different hours, that is to say, one is led to a holy life during childhood, another in adolescence, another in adulthood and another in old age"(167).

We can make a further application of the comments of Saint Gregory the Great to the extraordinary variety of ways the Church becomes "present" in life; one and all are called to work for the coming of the Kingdom of God according to the diversity of callings and situations, charisms and ministries. This variety is not only linked to age, but also to the difference of sex and to the diversity of natural gifts, as well as to careers and conditions affecting a person's life. It is a variety that makes the riches of the Church more vital and concrete.

Young People, Children and Older People

Youth, the Hope of the Church

46. The Synod wished to give particular attention to the young. And rightly so. In a great many countries of the world, they represent half of entire populations, and often constitute in number half of the People of God itself living in those countries. Simply from this aspect youth make up an exceptional potential and a great challenge for the future of the Church. In fact the Church sees her path towards the future in the youth, beholding in them a reflection of herself and her call to that blessed youthfulness which she constantly enjoys as a result of Christ's Spirit. In this sense the Council has defined youth as "the hope of the Church"(168).

In the letter of 31 March 1985 to young men and women in the world we read: "The Church looks to the youth, indeed the Church in a special way looks at herself in the youth, in all of you and in each of you. It has been so from the beginning, from apostolic times. The words of St. John in his First Letter can serve as special testimony: 'I am writing to you, young people, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father... write to you,young people, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you (1 Jn 2:13 ff.)... In our generation, at the end of the Second Millennium after Christ, the Church also sees herself in the youth"(169).

Youth must not simply be considered as an object of pastoral concern for the Church: in fact, young people are and ought to be encouraged to be active on behalf of the Church as leading characters in evangelization and participants in the renewal of society.(170) Youth is a time of an especially intensive discovery of a "self" and "a choice of life". It is a time for growth which ought to progress "in wisdom, age and grace before God and people" (Lk 2:52).

The Synod Fathers have commented: "The sensitivity of young people profoundly affects their perceiving of the values of justice, nonviolence and peace. Their hearts are disposed to fellowship, friendship and solidarity. They are greatly moved by causes that relate to the quality of life and the conservation of nature. But they are troubled by anxiety, deceptions, anguishes and fears of the world as well as by the temptations that come with their state"(171).

The Church must seek to rekindle the very special love displayed by Christ towards the young man in the Gospel: "Jesus, looking upon him, loved him" (Mk 10:21). For this reason the Church does not tire of proclaiming Jesus Christ, of proclaiming his Gospel as the unique and satisfying response to the most deep-seated aspirations of young people, as illustrated in Christ's forceful and exalted personal call to discipleship ("Come and follow me." Mk 10:21), that brings about a sharing in the filial love of Jesus for his Father and the participation in his mission for the salvation of humanity.

The Church has so much to talk about with youth, and youth have so much to share with the Church. This mutual dialogue, by taking place with great cordiality, clarity and courage, will provide a favorable setting for the meeting and exchange between generations, and will be a source of richness and youthfulness for the Church and civil society. In its message to young people the Council said: "The Church looks to you with confidence and with love... She is the real youthfulness of the world... Look upon the Church and you will find in her the face of Christ"(172).

Children and the Kingdom of Heaven

47. Children are certainly the object of the Lord Jesus' tender and generous love. To them he gave his blessing, and, even more, to them he promised the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 19:13-15; Mk10:14). In particular Jesus exalted the active role that little ones have in the Kingdom of God. They are the eloquent symbol and exalted image of those moral and spiritual conditions that are essential for entering into the Kingdom of God and for living the logic of total confidence in the Lord: "Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children. vou will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18, 3-5; cf.Lk 9:48).

Children are a continual reminder that the missionary fruitfulness of the Church has its life-giving basis not in human means and merits, but in the absolute gratuitous gift of God. The life itself of innocence and grace of many children, and even the suffering and oppression unjustly inflicted upon them are in virtue of the Cross of Christ a source of spiritual enrichment for them and for the entire Church. Everyone ought to be more conscious and grateful for this fact.

Furthermore, it must be acknowledged that valuable possibilities exist even in the life's stages of infancy and childhood, both for the building up of the Church and for making society more humane. How often the Council referred to the beneficial and constructive affects for the family, "the domestic Church", through the presence of sons and daughters: "Children as living members of the family, contribute in their in their own way to the sanctification of their parents"(173). The Council's words must also be repeated about children in relation to the local and universal Church. John Gerson, a great theologian and educator of the 15th Century, had already emphasized this fact in stating that "children and young people are in no way a negligible part of the Church"(174).

Older People and the Gift of Wisdom

48. I now address older people, oftentimes unjustly considered as unproductive, if not directly an insupportable burden. I remind older people that the Church calls and expects them to continue to exercise their mission in the apostolic and missionary life. This is not only a possibility for them, but it is their duty even in this time in their life when age itself provides opportunities in some specific and basic way.

The Bible delights in presenting the older person as the symbol of someone rich in wisdom and fear of the Lord (cf. Sir 25:4-6). In this sense the "gift" of older people can be specifically that of being the witness to tradition in the faith both in the Church and in society (cf. Ps 44: 2; Ex 12:26-27), the teacher of the lessons of life (cf. Sir 6:34; 8:11-12), and the worker of charity.

At this moment the growing number of older people in different countries worldwide and the expected retirement of persons from various professions and the workplace provides older people with a new opportunity in the apostolate. Involved in the task is their determination to overcome the temptation of taking refuge in a nostalgia in a never-to-return past or fleeing from present responsibility because of difficulties encountered in a world of one novelty after another. They must always have a clear knowledge that one's role in the Church and society does not stop at a certain age at all, but at such times knows only new ways of application. As the Psalmist says: "They still bring forth fruit in old age, they are ever full of sap and green, to show that the Lord is upright" (Ps92:15-16). I repeat all that I said during the celebration of the Older People's Jubilee: "Arriving at an older age is to be considered a privilege: not simply because not everyone has the good fortune to reach this stage in life, but also, and above all, because this period provides real possibilities for better evaluating the past, for knowing and living more deeply the Paschal Mystery, for becoming an example in the Church for the whole People of God... Despite the complex nature of the problems you face: a strength that progressively diminishes, the insufficiencies of social organizations, official legislation that comes late, or the lack of understanding by a self-centered society, you are not to feel yourselves as persons underestimated in the life of the Church or as passive objects in a fast-paced world, but as participants at a time of life which is humanly and spiritually fruitful. You still have a mission to fulfill, a contribution to make. According to the divine plan, each individual human being lives a life of continual growth, from the beginning of existence to the moment at which the last breath is taken"(175).

Women and Men

49. The Synod Fathers gave special attention to the status and role of women, with two purposes in mind: to themselves acknowledge and to invite all others to once again acknowledge the indispensable contribution of women to the building up of the Church and the development of society. They wished as well to work on a more specific analysis of women's participation in the life and mission of the Church.

Making reference to Pope John XXIII, who saw women's greater consciousness of their proper dignity and their entrance into public life as signs of our times(176), the Synod Fathers, when confronted with the various forms of discrimination and marginization to which women are subjected simply because they are women, time and time again strongly affirmed the urgency to defend and to promote the personal dignity of woman, and consequently, her equality with man.

If anyone has this task of advancing the dignity of women in the Church and society, it is women themselves, who must recognize their responsibility as leading characters. There is still much effort to be done, in many parts of the world and in various surroundings, to destroy that unjust and deleterious mentality which considers the human being as a thing, as an object to buy and sell, as an instrument for selfish interests or for pleasure only. Women themselves, for the most part, are the prime victims of such a mentality. Only through openly acknowledging the personal dignity of women is the first step taken to promote the full participation of women in Church life as well as in social and public life. A more extensive and decisive response must be given to the demands made in the Exhortation Familiaris Consortio concerning the many discriminations of which women are the victims: "Vigorous and incisive pastoral action must be taken by all to overcome completely these forms of discrimination so that the image of God that shines in all human beings without exception may be fully respected"(177). Along the same lines, the Synod Fathers stated: "As an expression of her mission the Church must stand firmly against all forms of discrimination and abuse of women"(178). And again: "The dignity of women, gravely wounded in public esteem, must be restored through effective respect for the rights of the human person and by putting the teaching of the Church into practice"(179).

In particular when speaking of active and responsible participation in the life and mission of the Church, emphasis should be placed on what has already been stated and clearly urged by the Second Vatican Council: "Since in our days women are taking an increasingly active share in the whole life of society, it is very important that they participate more widely also in the various fields of the Church's apostolate"(180).

The awareness that women with their own gifts and tasks have their own specific vocation, has increased and been deepened in the years following the Council and has found its fundamental inspiration in the Gospel and the Church's history. In fact, for the believer the Gospel, namely, the word and example of Jesus Christ, remains the necessary and decisive point of reference. In no other moment in history is this fact more fruitful and innovative.

Though not called to the apostolate of the Twelve, and thereby, to the ministerial priesthood, many women, nevertheless, accompanied Jesus in his ministry and assisted the group of Apostles (cf. Lk8:2-3), were present at the foot of the Cross (cf. Lk 23:49), assisted at the burial of Christ (cf. Lk23:55) received and transmitted the message of resurrection on Easter morn (cf. Lk 24:1-10), and prayed with the apostles in the Cenacle awaiting Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:14).

From the evidence of the Gospel, the Church at its origin detached herself from the culture of the time and called women to tasks connected with spreading the gospel. In his letters the Apostle Paul even cites by name a great number of women for their various functions in service of the primitive Christian community (cf. Rom 16:1-15; Phil 4:2-3; Col 4:15 and 1 Cor 11:5; 1 Tim 5:16). "If the witness of the Apostles founds the Church", stated Paul VI, "the witness of women contributes greatly towards nourishing the faith of Christian communities"(181).

Both in her earliest days and in her successive development the Church, albeit in different ways and with diverse emphases, has always known women who have exercised an oftentimes decisive role in the Church herself and accomplished tasks of considerable value on her behalf. History is marked by grand works, quite often lowly and hidden, but not for this reason any less decisive to the growth and the holiness of the Church. It is necessary that this history continue, indeed that it be expanded and intensified in the face of the growing and widespread awareness of the personal dignity of woman and her vocation, particularly in light of the urgency of a "re-evangelization" and a major effort towards "humanizing" social relations.

Gathering together the pronouncements of the Second Vatican Council, which reflect the Gospel's message and the Church's history, the Synod Fathers formulated, among others, this precise "recommendation": "It is necessary that the Church recognize all the gifts of men and women for her life and mission, and put them into practice"(182). And again, "This Synod proclaims that the Church seeks the recognition and use of all the gifts, experiences and talents of men and women to make her mission effective (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation, 72)"(183).

Anthropological and Theological Foundations

50. The condition that will assure the rightful presence of woman in the Church and in society is a more penetrating and accurate consideration of the anthropological foundation for masculinity and femininity with the intent of clarifying woman's personal identity in relation to man, that is, a diversity yet mutual complementarity, not only as it concerns roles to be held and functions to be performed, but also, and more deeply, as it concerns her make-up and meaning as a person.

The Synod Fathers have deeply felt this requirement, maintaining that "the anthropological and theological foundations for resolving questions about the true significance and dignity of each sex require deeper study"(184).

Through committing herself to a reflection on the anthropological and theological basis of femininity, the Church enters the historic process of the various movements for the promotion of woman, and, in going to the very basic aspect of woman as a personal being, provides her most precious contribution. But even before this the Church intends, in such a way, to obey God, who created the individual "in his image", "male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27) and who intended that they would accept the call of God to come to know, reverence and live his plan. It is a plan that "from the beginning" has been indelibly imprinted in the very being of the human person-men and women-and, therefore, in the make-up, meaning and deepest workings of the individual. This most wise and loving plan must be explored to discover all its richness of content-a richness that "from the beginning" came to be progressively manifested and realized in the whole history of salvation, and was brought to completion in "the fullness of time", when "God sent his Son, born of a woman" (Gal 4:4). That "fullness" continues in history: God's plan for woman is read and is to be read within the context of the faith of the Church, and also, in the lives lived by so many Christian women today. Without forgetting the help that can come from different human sciences and cultures, researchers because of an informed discernment, will be able to help gather and clarify the values and requirements that belong to the enduring essential aspects of women and those bound to evolve in history. The Second Vatican Council reminds us: "The Church maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change; these find their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever (cf. Heb 13:8)"(185). The Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Woman gives much attention to the anthropological and theological foundation of woman's dignity as a person. The document seeks to again treat and develop the catechetical reflections of the Wednesday General Audiences devoted over a long period of time to the "theology of the body", while at the same time fulfilling a promise made in the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater(186) and serving as a response to the request of the Synod Fathers.

May the reading of the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, in particular, as a biblical theological meditation, be an incentive for everyone, both women and men, and especially for those who devote their lives to the human sciences and theological disciplines, to pursue on the basis of the personal dignity of man and woman and their mutual relationship, a critical study to better and more deeply understand the values and specific gifts of femininity and masculinity, not only in the surroundings of social living but also and above all in living as Christians and as members of the Church.

This meditation on the anthropological and theological foundations of women ought to enlighten and guide the Christian response to the most frequently asked questions, oftentimes so crucial, on the "place" that women can have and ought to have in the Church and in society.

It is quite clear from the words and attitude of Christ, which are normative for the Church, that no discrimination exists on the level of an individual's relation to Christ, in which "there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28) and on the level of participation in the Church's life of grace and holiness, as Joel's prophecy fulfilled at Pentecost wonderfully attests: "I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophecy" (Joel 3:1; cf. Acts 2:17 ff). As the Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Woman reads: "Both women and men ... are equally capable of receiving the outpouring of divine truth and love in the Holy Spirit. Both receive his salvific and sanctifying 'visits'"(187).

Mission in the Church and in the World

51. In speaking about participation in the apostolic mission of the Church, there is no doubt that in virtue of Baptism and Confirmation, a woman-as well as a man-is made a sharer in the threefold mission of Jesus Christ, Priest, Prophet and King, and is thereby charged and given the ability to fulfill the fundamental apostolate of the Church: evangelization. However, a woman is called to put to work in this apostolate the "gifts" which are properly hers: first of all, the gift that is her very dignity as a person exercised in word and testimony of life, gifts therefore, connected with her vocation as a woman.

In her participation in the life and mission of the Church a woman cannot receive the Sacrament of Orders, and therefore, cannot fulfil the proper function of the ministerial priesthood. This is a practice that the Church has always found in the expressed will of Christ, totally free and sovereign, who called only men to be his apostles(188); a practice that can be understood from the rapport between Christ, the Spouse, and his Bride, the Church(189). Here we are in the area of function, not ofdignity and holiness. In fact, it must be maintained: "Although the Church possesses a 'hierarchical' structure, nevertheless this structure is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ's members"(190).

However, as Paul VI has already said, "We cannot change what our Lord did, nor his call to women; but we can recognize and promote the role of women in the mission of evangelization and in the life of the Christian community(191).

Above all the acknowledgment in theory of the active and responsible presence of woman in the Church must be realized in practice. With this in mind this Exhortation addressed to the lay faithful with its deliberate and repeated use of the terms "women and men", must be read. Furthermore the revised Code of Canon Law contains many provisions on the participation of women in the life and mission of the Church: they are provisions that must be more commonly known and, according to the diverse sensibilities of culture and opportuneness in a pastoral situation, be realized with greater timeliness and determination.

An example comes to mind in the participation of women on diocesan and parochial Pastoral Councils as well as Diocesan Synods and particular Councils. In this regard the Synod Fathers have written: "Without discrimination women should be participants in the life of the Church, and also in consultation and the process of coming to decisions"(192).And again: "Women, who already hold places of great importance in transmitting the faith and offering every kind of service in the life of the Church, ought to be associated in the preparation of pastoral and missionary documents and ought to be recognized as cooperators in the mission of the church in the family, in professional life and in the civil community"(193).

In the more specific area of evangelization and catechesis the particular work that women have in the transmission of the faith, not only in the family but also in the various educational environments, is to be more strongly fostered. In broader terms, this should be applied in all that regard embracing the Word of God, its understanding and its communication, as well as its study, research and theological teaching.

While she is to fulfill her duty to evangelize, woman is to feel more acutely her need to be evangelized. Thus, with her vision illumined by faith (cf. Eph 1:18), woman is to be able to distinguish what truly responds to her dignity as a person and to her vocation from all that, under the pretext of this "dignity" and in the name of "freedom" and "progress", militates against true values. On the contrary, these false values become responsible for the moral degradation of the person, the environment and society. This same "discernment", made possible and demanded from Christian women's participation in the prophetic mission of Christ and his Church, recurs with continued urgency throughout history. This "discernment", often mentioned by the Apostle Paul, is not only a matter of evaluating reality and events in the light of faith, but also involves a real decision and obligation to employ it, not only in Church life but also in human society.

It can be said that the problems of today's world already cited in the second part of the Council's Constitution Gaudium et Spes, which remain unresolved and not at all affected by the passage of time, must witness the presence and commitment of women with their irreplaceable and customary contributions.

In particular, two great tasks entrusted to women merit the attention of everyone.

First of all, the task of bringing full dignity to the conjugal lite and to motherhood. Today new possibilities are opened to women for a deeper understanding and a richer realization of human and Christian values implied in the conjugal life and the experience of motherhood. Man himself-husband and father-can be helped to overcome forms of absenteeism and of periodic presence as well as a partial fulfilment of parental responsibilities-indeed he can be involved in new and significant relations of interpersonal communion-precisely as a result of the intelligent, loving and decisive intervention of woman.

Secondly, women have the task of assuring the moral dimension of culture, the dimension, namely of a culture worthy of the person, of an individual yet social life. The Second Vatican Council seems to connect the moral dimension of culture with the participation of the lay faithful in the kingly mission of Christ: "Let the lay faithful by their combined efforts remedy the institutions and conditions of the world when the latter are an inducement to sin, that all such things may be conformed to the norms of justice, and may favor the practice of virtue rather than hindering it. By so doing, they will infuse culture and human works with a moral value"(194).

As women increasingly participate more fully and responsibly in the activities of institutions which are associated with safeguarding the basic duty to human values in various communities, the words of the Council just quoted point to an important field in the apostolate of women: in all aspects of the life of such communities, from the socio-economic to the sociopolitical dimension, the personal dignity of woman and her specific vocation ought to be respected and promoted. Likewise this should be the case in living situations not only affecting the individual but also communities, not only in forms left to personal freedom and responsibility, but even in those guaranteed by just civil laws.

"It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18). God entrusted the human being to woman. Certainly, every human being is entrusted to each and every other human being, but in a special way the human being is entrusted to woman, precisely because the woman in virtue of her special experience of motherhood is seen to have a specific sensitivitytowards the human person and all that constitutes the individual's true welfare, beginning with the fundamental value of life. How great are the possibilities and responsibilities of woman in this area, at a time when the development of science and technology is not always inspired and measured by true wisdom, with the inevitable risk of "de-humanizing" human life, above all when it would demand a more intense love and a more generous acceptance.

The participation of women in the life of the Church and society in the sharing of her gifts is likewise the path necessary of her personal fulfillment-on which so many justly insist today-and the basic contribution of woman to the enrichment of Church communion and the dynamism in the apostolate of the People of God.

From this perspective the presence also of men, together with women, ought to be considered.

The Presence and Collaboration of Men Together with Women

52. Many voices were raised in the Synod Hall expressing the fear that excessive insistence given to the status and role of women would lead to an unacceptable omission, that, in point, regarding men.In reality, various sectors in the Church must lament the absence or the scarcity of the presence of men, some of whom abdicate their proper Church responsibilities, allowing them to be fulfilled only by women. Such instances are participation in the liturgical prayer of the Church, education and, in particular, catechesis of their own sons and daughters and other children, presence at religious and cultural meetings, and collaboration in charitable and missionary initiatives.

Therefore, the coordinated presence of both men and women is to be pastorally urged so that the participation of the lay faithful in the salvific mission of the Church might be rendered more rich, complete and harmonious.

The fundamental reason that requires and explains the presence and the collaboration of both men and women is not only, as it was just emphasized, the major source of meaning and efficacy in the pastoral action of the Church, nor even less is it the simple sociological fact of sharing a life together as human beings, which is natural for man and woman. It is, rather, the original plan of the Creator who from the "beginning" willed the human being to be a "unity of the two", and willed man and woman to be the prime community of persons, source of every other community, and, at the same time, to be a "sign" of that interpersonal communion of love which constitutes the mystical, intimate life of God, One in Three.

Precisely for this reason, the most common and widespread way, and at the same time, fundamental way, to assure this coordinated and harmonious presence of men and women in the life and mission of the Church, is the fulfilment of the tasks and responsibilities of the couple and the Christian family, in which the variety of diverse forms of life and love is seen and communicated: conjugal, paternal and maternal, filial and familial. We read in the Exhortation Familiaris Consortio: "Since the Christian family is a community in which the relationships are renewed by Christ through faith and the sacraments, the family's sharing in the Church's mission should follow a community pattern: the spouses together as a couple, the parents and children as a family, must live their service to the Church and to the world ... The Christian family also builds up the Kingdom of God in history through the everyday realities that concern and distinguish its state of life: it is thus in the love between husband and wife and between members of the family-a love lived out in all its extraordinary richness of values and demands: totality, oneness, fidelity and fruitfulness-that the Christian family's participation in the prophetic, priestly and kingly mission of Jesus Christ and of his Church finds expression and realization"(195).

From this perspective, the Synod Fathers have recalled the meaning that the Sacrament of Matrimony ought to assume in the Church and society in order to illuminate and inspire all the relations between men and women. In this regard they have emphasized an " urgent need for every Christian to live and proclaim the message of hope contained in the relation between man and woman. The Sacrament of Matrimony, which consecrates this relation in its conjugal form and reveals it as a sign of the relation of Christ with his Church, contains a teaching of great importance for the Church's life-a teaching that ought to reach today's world through the Church; all those relations between man and woman must be imbued by this spirit. The Church should even more fully rely on the riches found here"(196). These same Fathers have rightly emphasized that "the esteem for virginity and reverence for motherhood must be respectively restored"(197), and still again they have called for the development of diverse and complementary vocations in the living context of Church communion and in the service of its continued growth.

The Sick and the Suffering

53. People are called to joy. Nevertheless, each day they experience many forms of suffering and pain. The Synod Fathers in addressing men and women affected by these various forms of suffering and pain used the following words in their final Message: "You who are the abandoned and pushed to the edges of our consumer society; you who are sick, people with disabilities, the poor and hungry, migrants and prisoners, refugees, unemployed, abandoned children and old people who feel alone; you who are victims of war and all kinds of violence: the Church reminds you that she shares your suffering. She takes it to the Lord, who in turn associates you with his redeeming Passion. You are brought to life in the light of his resurrection. We need you to teach the whole world what love is. We will do everything we can so that you may find your rightful place in the Church and in society"(198).

In the context of such a limitless world as human suffering, We now turn our attention to all those struck down by sickness in its various forms: sickness is indeed the most frequent and common expression of human suffering.

The Lord addresses his call to each and every one. Even the sick are sent forth as labourers into the Lord's vineyard: the weight that wearies the body's members and dissipates the soul's serenity is far from dispensing a person from working in the vineyard. Instead the sick are called to live their human and Christian vocation and to participate in the growth of the Kingdom of God in a new and even more valuable manner. The words of the apostle Paul ought to become their approach to life or, better yet, cast an illumination to permit them to see the meaning of grace in their very situation: "In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church"(Col 1:24). Precisely in arriving at this realization, the apostle is raised up in joy: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake" (Col 1:24). In the same way many of the sick can become bearers of the "joy inspired by the Holy Spirit in much affliction" (1 Thes 1:6) and witnesses to Jesus' resurrection. A handicapped person expressed these sentiments in a presentation in the Synod Hall: "It is very important to make clear that Christians who live in situations of illness, pain and old age are called by God not only to unite their suffering to Christ's Passion but also to receive in themselves now, and to transmit to others, the power of renewal and the joy of the risen Christ (cf. 2 Cor 4:10-11; 1 Pt 4:13;Rom 8:18 ff)"(199).

On the Church's part-as it reads in the Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris-"Born in the mystery of Redemption in the Cross of Christ, the Church has to try to meet man in a special way on the path of suffering. In this meeting man 'becomes the way for the Church', and this is one of the most important ways"(200). At this moment the suffering individual is the way of the Church because that person is, first of all, the way of Christ Himself, who is the Good Samaritan who "does not pass by", but "has compassion on him, went to him ... bound up his wounds ... took care of him" (Lk 10:32-34).

From century to century the Christian community in revealing and communicating its healing love and the consolation of Jesus Christ has reenacted the gospel parable of the Good Samaritan in caring for the vast multitude of persons who are sick and suffering. This came about through the untiring commitment of all those who have taken care of the sick and suffering as a result of science and the medical arts as well as the skilled and generous service of healthcare workers. Today there is an increase in the presence of lay women and men in Catholic hospital and healthcare institutions. At times the lay faithful's presence in these institutions is total and exclusive. It is to just such people-doctors, nurses, other healthcare workers, volunteers-that the call becomes the living signof Jesus Christ and his Church in showing love towards the sick and suffering.

Renewed Pastoral Action

54. It is necessary that this most precious heritage, which the Church has received from Jesus Christ, "Physician of the body and the spirit"(201), must never diminish but always must come to be more valued and enriched through renewal and decisive initiatives of pastoral activity for and with the sick and suffering. This activity must be capable of sustaining and fostering attention, nearness, presence, listening, dialogue, sharing, and real help toward individuals in moments when sickness and suffering sorely test not only faith in life but also faith in God and his love as Father. Such pastoral initiatives find most meaningful expression in sacramental celebrations with and for the sick, as a source of strength amid pain and weakness, hope amid despair, and as an occasion of joyful encounter.

One of the basic objectives of this renewed and intensified pastoral action, which must involve all components of the ecclesial community in a coordinated way, is an attitude which looks upon the sick person, the bearer of a handicap, or the suffering individual, not simply as an object of the Church's love and service, but as an active and responsible participant in the work of evangelization and salvation. From this perspective the Church has to let the good news resound within a society and culture, which, having lost the sense of human suffering, "censors" all talk on such a hard reality of life. Thegood news is the proclamation that suffering can even have a positive meaning for the individual and for society itself, since each person is called to a form of participation in the salvific suffering of Christ and in the joy of resurrection, as well as, thereby, to become a force for the sanctification and building up of the Church.

The proclamation of this good news gains credibility when it is not simply voiced in words, but passes into a testimony of life, both in the case of all those who lovingly care for the sick, the handicapped and the suffering, as well as the suffering themselves who are increasingly made more conscious and responsible of their place and task within and on behalf of the Church.

In order that "the civilization of love" can flourish and produce fruit in this vast world of human pain, I invite all to reread and meditate on the Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris, from which I am pleased to again propose the lines from its conclusion: "There should come together in spirit beneath the Cross of Calvary all suffering people who believe in Christ, and particularly those who suffer because of their faith in him who is the Crucified and Risen One, so that the offering of their sufferings may hasten the fulfilment of the prayer of the Saviour himself that all may be one. Let there also gather beneath the Cross all people of good will, for on this Cross is the 'Redeemer of Man', the Man of Sorrows, who has taken upon himself the physical and moral sufferings of the people of all times, so that in love they may find the salvific meaning of their sorrow and valid answers to all their questions.

Together with Mary, Mother of Christ, who stood beneath the Cross, we pause beside all the crosses of contemporary man and we ask all of you who suffer to support us. We ask precisely you who are weak to become a source of strength for the Church and humanity. In the terrible battle between the forces of good and evil revealed to our eyes by our modern world, may your sufferings in union with the Cross of Christ be victorious"(202).

The States of Life and Vocations

55. All the members of the People of God -clergy, men and women religious, the lay faithful-are labourers in the vineyard. At one and the same time they all are the goal and subjects of Church communion as well as of participation in the mission of salvation. Every one of us possessing charisms and ministries, diverse yet complementary, works in the one and the same vineyard of the Lord.

Simply in being Christians, even before actually doing the works of a Christian, all are branches of the one fruitful vine which is Christ.

All are living members of the one Body of the Lord built up through the power of the Spirit. The significance of "being" a Christian does not come about simply from the life of grace and holiness which is the primary and more productive source of the apostolic and missionary fruitfulness of Holy Mother Church. Its meaning also arises from the state of life that characterizes the clergy, men and women religious, members of secular institutes and the lay faithful.

In Church Communion the states of life by being ordered one to the other are thus bound together among themselves. They all share in a deeply basic meaning: that of being the manner of living out the commonly shared Christian dignity and the universal call to holiness in the perfection of love. They are different yet complementary, in the sense that each of them has a basic and unmistakable character which sets each apart, while at the same time each of them is seen in relation to the other and placed at each other's service.

Thus the lay state of life has its distinctive feature in its secular character. It fulfills an ecclesial service in bearing witness and, in its own way recalling for priests, women and men religious, the significance of the earthly and temporal realities in the salvific plan of God. In turn, the ministerial priesthood represents in different times and places, the permanent guarantee of the sacramental presence of Christ, the Redeemer. The religious state bears witness to the eschatological character of the Church, that is, the straining towards the Kingdom of God that is prefigured and in some way anticipated and experienced even now through the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.

All the states of life, whether taken collectively or individually in relation to the others, are at the service of the Church's growth. While different in expression they are deeply united in the Church's "mystery of communion" and are dynamically coordinated in its unique mission.

Thus in the diversity of the states of life and the variety of vocations this same, unique mystery of the Church reveals and experiences anew the infinite richness of the mystery of Jesus Christ. The Fathers were fond of referring to the Church as a field of a pleasing and wonderful variety of herbs, plants, flowers and fruits. Saint Ambrose writes: "A field produces many fruits, but the one which has an abundance of both fruits and flowers is far better. The field of holy Church is fruitful in both one and the other. In this field there are the priceless buds of virginity blossoming forth, widowhood stands out boldly as the forest in the plain; elsewhere the rich harvest of weddings blessed by the Church fills the great granary of the world with abundant produce, and the wine-presses of the Lord Jesus overflow with the grapes of a productive vine, enriches Christian marriages"(203).

The Various Vocations in the Lay State

56. The Church's rich variety is manifested still further from within each state of life. Thus within the lay state diverse "vocations" are given, that is, there are different paths in the spiritual life and the apostolate which are taken by individual members of the lay faithful. In the field of a "commonly shared" lay vocation "special" lay vocations flourish. In this area we can also recall the spiritual experience of the flourishing of diverse forms of secular institutes that have developed recently in the Church. These offer the lay faithful, and even priests, the possibility of professing the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience through vows or promises, while fully maintaining one's lay or clerical state(204). In this regard the Synod Fathers have commented, "The Holy Spirit stirs up other forms of self-giving to which people who remain fully in the lay state devote themselves"(205).

We can conclude by reading a beautiful passage taken from Saint Francis de Sales, who promoted lay spirituality so well(206). In speaking of "devotion", that is, Christian perfection or "life according to the Spirit", he presents in a simple yet insightful way the vocation of all Christians to holiness while emphasizing the specific form with which individual Christians fulfill it: "In creation God commanded the plants to bring forth their fruits, each one after its kind. So does he command all Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each according to his character and vocation. Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the workman, the servant, the prince, the widow, the maid and the married woman. Not only this, but the practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strength, the employment, and the duties of each one in particular ... It is an error, or rather a heresy, to try to banish the devout life from the regiment of soldiers, the shop of the mechanic, the court of princes, or the home of married folk. It is true, Philothea, that a purely contemplative, monastic and religious devotion cannot be exercised in such ways of life. But besides these three kinds of devotion, there are several others adapted to bring to perfection those who live in the secular state"(207).

Along the same line the Second Vatican Council states: "This lay spirituality should take its particular character from the circumstances of one's state in life (married and familylife, celibacy, widowhood), from one's state of health and from one's professional and social activity. All should not cease to develop earnestly the qualities and talents bestowed on them in accord with these conditions of life and should make use of the gifts which they have received from the Holy Spirit"(208).

What has been said about the spiritual vocation can also be said-and to a certain degree with greater reason-of the infinite number of ways through which all members of the Church are employed as labourers in the vineyard of the Lord, building up the Mystical Body of Christ. Indeed as a person with a truly unique lifestory, each is called by name, to make a special contribution to the coming of the Kingdom of God. No talent, no matter how small, is to be hidden or left unused (cf. Mt 25:24-27).

In this regard the apostle Peter gives us a stern warning: "As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace" (1 Pt 4:10).


The Formation of the Lay Faithful in the Lay State

A Continual Process of Maturation

57. The gospel image of the vine and the branches reveals to us another fundamental aspect of the lay faithful's life and mission: the call to growth and a continual process of maturation, of always bearing much fruit.

As a diligent vinedresser, the Father takes care of his vine. God's solicitude is so ardently called upon by Israel, that she prays: "Turn again, O God of hosts! / Look down from heaven, and see; / have regard for this vine, / the stock which your right hand has planted" (Ps 80:15-16). Jesus himself speaks of the Father's work: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away. and every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes that it may bear more fruit" (Jn 15:1-2).

The vitality of the branches depends on their remaining attached to the vine, which is Jesus Christ:"He who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn15:5).

People are approached in liberty by God who calls everyone to grow, develop and bear fruit. A person cannot put off a response nor cast off personal responsibility in the matter. The solemn words of Jesus refer to this exalted and serious responsibility: "If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned" (Jn 15:6).

In this dialogue between God who offers his gifts, and the person who is called to exercise responsibility, there comes the possibility, indeed the necessity, of a total and ongoing formation of the lay faithful, as the Synod Fathers have rightly emphasized in much of their work. After having described Christian formation as "a continual process in the individual of maturation in faith and a likening to Christ, according to the will of the Father, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit", they have clearly affirmed that the formation of the lay faithful must be placed among the priorities of a diocese. It ought to be so placed within the plan of pastoral action that the efforts of the whole community (clergy, lay faithful and religious) converge on this goal"(209).

To Discover and Live One's Vocation and Mission

58. The fundamental objective of the formation of the lay faithful is an ever-clearer discovery of one's vocation and the ever-greater willingness to live it so as to fulfil one's mission.

God calls me and sends me forth as a labourer in his vineyard. He calls me and sends me forth to work for the coming of his Kingdom in history. This personal vocation and mission defines the dignity and the responsibility of each member of the lay faithful and makes up the focal point of the whole work of formation, whose purpose is the joyous and grateful recognition of this dignity and the faithful and generous living-out of this responsibility.

In fact, from eternity God has thought of us and has loved us as unique individuals. Every one of us he called by name, as the Good Shepherd "calls his sheep by name" (Jn 10:3). However, only in the unfolding of the history of our lives and its events is the eternal plan of God revealed to each of us. Therefore, it is a gradual process; in a certain sense, one that happens day by day.

To be able to discover the actual will of the Lord in our lives always involves the following: a receptive listening to the Word of God and the Church, fervent and constant prayer, recourse to a wise and loving spiritual guide, and a faithful discernment of the gifts and talents given by God, as well as the diverse social and historic situations in which one lives.

Therefore, in the life of each member of the lay faithful there are particularly significant and decisive moments for discerning God's call and embracing the mission entrusted by Him. Among these are the periods of adolescence and young adulthood. No one must forget that the Lord, as the master of the labourers in the vineyard, calls at every hour of life so as to make his holy will more precisely and explicitly known. Therefore, the fundamental and continuous attitude of the disciple should be one of vigilance and a conscious attentiveness to the voice of God.

It is not a question of simply knowing what God wants from each of us in the various situations of life. The individual must do what God wants, as we are reminded in the words that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, addressed to the servants at Cana: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5). However, to act in fidelity to God's will requires a capability for acting and the developing of that capability. We can rest assured that this is possible through the free and responsible collaboration of each of us with the grace of the Lord which is never lacking. Saint Leo the Great says: "The one who confers the dignity will give the strength!"(210).

This, then, is the marvelous yet demanding task awaiting all the lay faithful and all Christians at every moment: to grow always in the knowledge of the richness of Baptism and faith as well as to live it more fully. In referring to birth and growth as two stages in the Christian life the apostle Peter makes the following exhortation: "Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation" (1 Pt 2:2).

A Total Integrated Formation for Living an Integrated Life

59. In discovering and living their proper vocation and mission, the lay faithful must be formed according to the union which exists from their being members of the Church and citizens of human society.

There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called "spiritual" life, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called "secular" life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social relationships, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture. The branch, engrafted to the vine which is Christ, bears its fruit in every sphere of existence and activity. In fact, every area of the lay faithful's lives, as different as they are, enters into the plan of God, who desires that these very areas be the "places in time" where the love of Christ is revealed and realized for both the glory of the Father and service of others. Every activity, every situation, every precise responsibility-as, for example, skill and solidarity in work, love and dedication in the family and the education of children, service to society and public life and the promotion of truth in the area of culture-are the occasions ordained by Providence for a "continuous exercise of faith, hope and charity"(211).

The Second Vatican Council has invited all the lay faithful to this unity of life by forcefully decrying the grave consequences in separating faith from life, and the gospel from culture: "The Council exhorts Christians, as citizens of one city and the other, to strive to perform their earthly duties faithfully in response to the spirit of the Gospel. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities; for they are forgetting that by faith itself they are more than ever obliged to measure up to these duties, each according to one's vocation ... This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age"(212).

Therefore, I have maintained that a faith that does not affect a person's culture is a faith "not fully embraced, not entirely thought out, not faithfully lived"(213).

Various Aspects of Formation

60. The many interrelated aspects of a totally integrated formation of the lay faithful are situated within this unity of life.

There is no doubt that spiritual formation ought to occupy a privileged place in a person's life. Everyone is called to grow continually in intimate union with Jesus Christ, in conformity to the Father's will, in devotion to others in charity and justice. The Council writes: "This life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is nourished by spiritual helps available to all the faithful, especially by active participation in the liturgy. Lay people should so make use of these helps in such a way that, while properly fulfilling their secular duties in the ordinary conditions of life, they do not disassociate union with Christ from that life, but through the very performance of their tasks according to God's will, may they actually grow in it"(214).

The situation today points to an ever-increasing urgency for a doctrinal formation of the lay faithful, not simply in a better understanding which is natural to faith's dynamism but also in enabling them to "give a reason for their hoping" in view of the world and its grave and complex problems. Therefore, a systematic approach to catechesis, geared to age and the diverse situations of life, is an absolute necessity, as is a more decided Christian promotion of culture, in response to the perennial yet always new questions that concern individuals and society today.

This is especially true for the lay faithful who have responsibilities in various fields of society and public life. Above all, it is indispensable that they have a more exact knowledge -and this demands a more widespread and precise presentation-of the Church's social doctrine, as repeatedly stressed by the Synod Fathers in their presentations. They refer to the participation of the lay faithful in public life, in the following words: "But for the lay faithful to take up actively this noble purpose in political matters, it is not enough to exhort them. They must be offered a proper formation of a social conscience, especially in the Church's social teaching, which contains principles - of reflection, criteria for judging and practical directives (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction of Christian Freedom and Liberation, 72), and which must be present in general catechetical instruction and in specialized gatherings, as well as in schools and universities. Nevertheless, this social doctrine of the Church is dynamic; that is, adapted to circumstances of time and place. It is the right and duty of Pastors to propose moral principles even concerning the social order and of all Christians to apply them in defence of human rights Nevertheless, active participation in political parties is reserved to the lay faithful"(215).

The cultivation of human values finds a place in the context of a totally integrated formation, bearing a particular significance for the missionary and apostolic activities of the lay faithful. In this regard the Council wrote: "(the lay faithful) should also hold in high esteem professional skill, family and civic spirit, and the virtues related to social behaviour, namely, honesty, a spirit of justice, sincerity, courtesy, moral courage; without them there is no true Christian life"(216).

In bringing their lives into an organic synthesis, which is, at one and the same time, the manifestation of the unity of "who they are" in the Church and society as well as the condition for the effective fulfilment of their mission, the lay faithful are to be guided interiorly and sustained by the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of unity and fullness of life.

Collaborators with God the Teacher

61. Where are the lay faithful formed? What are the means of their formation? Who are the persons and the communities called upon to assume the task of a totally integrated formation of the lay faithful?

Just as the work of human education is intimately connected with fatherhood and motherhood, so Christian formation finds its origin and its strength in God the Father who loves and educates his children. Yes, God is the first and great teacher of his People, as it states in the striking passage of the Song of Moses: "He found him in a desert land / and in the howling waste of the wilderness; / he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. / Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, / the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no foreign God with him" (Deut 32:10-12; cf. 8:5).

God's work in forming his people is revealed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ the Teacher, and reaches to the depths of every individual's heart as a result of the living presence of the Spirit. Mother Church is called to take part in the divine work of formation, both through a sharing of her very life, and through her various pronouncements and actions. It is thus that the lay faithful are formed by the Church andin the Church in a mutual communion and collaboration of all her members: clergy, religious and lay faithful. Thus the whole ecclesial community, in its diverse members, receives the fruitfulness of the Spirit and actively cooperates towards that end. With this in mind Methodius of Olympo wrote: "Those not yet perfected are carried and formed by those more perfect, as in the womb of a mother, until the time they are generated and brought forth for the greatness and beauty of virtue"(217). This happened with Saint Paul, who was carried and brought forth in the Church by those who were perfected (in the person of Ananias) and, then Paul in his turn, became perfected and fruitful in bringing forth many children.

First of all the Church is a teacher, in which the Pope takes the "primary" role in the formation of the lay faithful. As successor of Saint Peter, he has the ministry of "confirming his brothers in the faith", instructing all believers in the essential content of vocation and mission in light of the Christian faith and membership in the Church. Therefore, not simply the words coming directly from him, but also those transmitted by the various departments of the Holy See call for a loving and receptive hearing by the lay faithful.

The one and universal Church is present in various parts of the world, in and through the particular Churches. In each of them the Bishop in his person has a responsibility towards the lay faithful, in forming the animation and guidance of their Christian life through the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacraments.

Situated and at work within the particular Church or diocese is the Parish which has the essential task of a more personal and immediate formation of the lay faithful. In fact, because it is in the position to reach more easily individual persons and singular groups, the parish is called to instruct its members in hearing God's Word, in liturgical and personal dialogue with God, in the life of fraternal charity, and in allowing a more direct and concrete perception of the sense of ecclesial communion and responsibility in the Church's mission.

Internal to the parish, especially if vast and territorially extensive, small Church communities, where present, can be a notable help in the formation of Christians, by providing a consciousness and an experience of ecclesial communion and mission which are more extensive and incisive. The Synod Fathers have said that a post-baptismal catechesis in the form of a catechumenate can also be helpful by presenting again some elements from the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults with the purpose of allowing a person to grasp and live the immense, extraordinary richness and responsibility received at Baptism(218).

In the formation that the lay faithful receive from their diocese and parish, especially concerning communion and mission, the help that diverse members of the Church can give to each other is particularly important. This mutual help also aids in revealing the mystery of the Church as Mother and Teacher. Priests and religious ought to assist the lay faithful in their formation. In this regard the Synod Fathers have invited priests and candidates for Orders to "be prepared carefully so that they are ready to foster the vocation and mission of the lay faithful"(219). In turn, the lay faithful themselves can and should help priests and religious in the course of their spiritual and pastoral journey.

Other Places for Formation

62 . The Christian family, as the "domestic Church", also makes up a natural and fundamental school for formation in the faith: father and mother receive from the Sacrament of Matrimony the grace and the ministry of the Christian education of their children, before whom they bear witness and to whom they transmit both human and religious values. While learning their first words, children learn also the praise of God, whom they feel is near them as a loving and providential Father; while learning the first acts of love, children also learn to open themselves to others, and through the gift of self receive the sense of living as a human being. The daily life itself of a truly Christian family makes up the first "experience of Church", intended to find confirmation and development in an active and responsible process of the children's introduction into the wider ecclesial community and civil society. The more that Christian spouses and parents grow in the awareness that their "domestic church" participates in the life and mission of the universal Church, so much the more will their sons and daughters be able to be formed in a "sense of the Church" and will perceive all the beauty of dedicating their energies to the service of the Kingdom of God.

Schools and Catholic universities, as well as centers of spiritual renewal which are becoming ever more widespread in these days, are also important places for formation. In the present social and historical context which is marked by an extensively deep cultural involvement, the Synod Fathers have emphasized that parents' participation in school life-besides being always necessary and without substitution-is no longer enough. What is needed is to prepare the lay faithful to dedicate themselves to the work of rearing their children as a true and proper part of Church mission. What is needed is to constitute and develop this "formation community" which is together comprised of parents, teachers, clergy, women and men religious and representatives of youth. In order that the school can suitably fulfill its natural function in formation, the lay faithful ought to feel charged to demand from everyone and for everyone a true freedom in education, even through opportune civil legislation(220).

The Synod Fathers expressed words of esteem and encouragement to all those lay faithful, both women and men, who with a civic and Christian spirit, fulfill a task which is involved in the education of children both in schools and institutes of formation. In addition they have emphasized the urgent need in various schools, whether Catholic or not, for teachers and professors among the lay faithful to be true witnesses of the gospel, through their example of life, their professional competence and uprightness, their Christian inspired teaching, preserving always-as is obvious-the autonomy of various sciences and disciplines. It is of singular importance that scientific and technological research done by the faithful be correct from the standpoint of service to an individual in the totality of the context of one's values and needs: to these lay faithful the Church entrusts the task of allowing all to better understand the intimate bond that exists between faith and science, between the gospel and human culture(221).

"This Synod"-we read in the proposition-"appeals to the prophetic task of Catholic schools and universities, and praises teachers and professors, now lay people for the most part, for their dedication to maintaining institutes of Catholic education that can form men and women in whom the new commandment is enfleshed. The simultaneous presence of clergy, the lay faithful and men and women religious, offers students a vivid image of the Church and makes recognition of its riches easier (cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, Concerning the Lay Educator, Witness of Faith in the Schools)"(222).

Groups, associations and movements also have their place in the formation of the lay faithful. In fact they have the possibility, each with its own method, of oflfering a formation through a deeply shared experience in the apostolic life, as well as having the opportunity to integrate, to make concrete and specific the formation that their members receive from other persons and communities.

The Reciprocal Formation Received and Given by All

63. Formation is not the privilege of a few, but a right and duty of all. In this regard the Synod Fathers have said: "Possibilities of formation should be proposed to all, especially the poor, who can also be a source of formation for all"; and they added: "Suitable means to help each person fulfill a full, human and Christian vocation should be applied to formation"(223).

For the purpose of a truly incisive and effective pastoral activity the formation of those who will form others is to be developed through appropriate courses or suitable schools. Forming those who, in turn, will be given the responsibility for the formation of the lay faithful, constitutes a basic requirement of assuring the general and widespread formation of all the lay faithful.

According to the explicit invitation of the Synod Fathers special attention ought to be devoted to the local culture in the work of formation: "The formation of Christians will take the greatest account of local human culture, which contributes to formation itself, and will help to discern the value, whether implanted in tradition or proposed in modern affairs. Attention should be paid to diverse cultures which can exist in one and the same people or nation at the same time. The Church, the mother and teacher of peoples, should strive to safeguard, where the need exists, the culture of a less numerous people living in large nations when the situation exists"(224).

In the work of formation some convictions reveal themselves as particularly necessary and fruitful. First of all, there is the conviction that one cannot offer a true and effective formation to others if the individual has not taken on or developed a personal responsibility for formation: this, in fact, is essentially a "formation of self".

In addition, there is the conviction that at one and the same time each of us is the goal and principle of formation: the more we are formed and the more we feel the need to pursue and deepen our formation, still more will we be formed and be rendered capable of forming others.

It is particularly important to know that the work of formation, while having intelligent recourse to the means and methods available from human science, is made more effective the more it is open to theaction of God. Only the branch which does not fear being pruned by the heavenly vinedresser can bear much fruit for the individual and for others.

An Appeal and A Prayer

64. At the conclusion of this post-Synodal document I once again put forward the invitation of "the householder", proposed in the gospel: You go into my vineyard too. It can be said that the significance of the Synod on the vocation and mission of the lay faithful might very well consist in thiscall of the Lord which he addresses to eueryone, yet, in a particular way to the lay faithful, both women and men.

The happenings at the Synod have been a great spiritual experience for all the participants. The experience has been that of a Church under the light and the power of the Spirit, intent on discerning and embracing the renewed call of her Lord so that she can again propose to today's world, the mystery of her communion and the dynamism of her mission of salvation, especially, by centering on the specific place and role of the lay faithful. This Exhortation, then, intends to urge the most abundant possible fruitfulness from this Synod in every part of the Church worldwide. This will come about as a result of an effective hearkening to the Lord's call by the entire People of God, in particular, by the lay faithful.

Therefore I make a strong appeal to one and all, Pastors and faithful, never to become tired of maintaining-indeed always taking an active part to fix deeply in one's mind, heart and life-an ecclesial consciousness, which is ever mindful of what it means to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ, participants in her mystery of communion and in her dynamism in mission and the apostolate.

It is of particular importance that all Christians be aware that through Baptism they have received anextraordinary dignity: through grace we are called to be children loved by the Father, members incorporated in Christ and his Church, living and holy temples of the Spirit. With deep emotion and gratitude, we again hear the words of John the Evangelist: "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are" (1 Jn 3:1).

While this "Christian newness of life" given to the members of the Church, constitutes for all the basis of their participation in the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Christ and of their vocation to holines in love, it receives expression and is fulfilled in the lay faithful through the "secular character" which is "uniquely and properly" theirs.

Besides imparting an awareness of a commonly shared Christian dignity, an ecclesial consciousness brings a sense of belonging to the mystery of the Church as Communion. This is a basic and undeniable aspect of the life and mission of the Church. For one and all the earnest prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper, "That all may be one" (Jn 17-21), ought to become daily a required and undeniable programme of life and action.

A real sense of Church communion, the gift of the Spirit that urges our free and generous response, will bring forth as its precious fruit, in the "one and catholic" Church the continuing value of the rich variety of vocations and conditions of life, charisms, ministries, works, and responsibilities, as well as a more demonstrable and decisive collaboration of groups, associations and movements of the lay faithful in keeping with the accomplishment of the commonly shared salvific mission of the Church herself. This communion is already in itself the first great sign in the world of the presence of Christ, the Saviour. At the same time, it promotes and stimulates the proper apostolic and missionary action of the Church.

The whole Church, Pastors and lay faithful alike, standing on the threshold of the Third Millennium, ought to feel more strong]y the Church's responsibility to obey the command of Christ, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15), and take up anew the missionary endeavour. A great venture, both challenging and wonderful, is entrusted to the Church-that of a re-evangelization, which is so much needed by the present world. The lay faithful ought to regard themselves as an active and responsible part of thisventure, called as they are to proclaim and to live the gospel in service to the person and to society while respecting the totality of the values and needs of both.

Since the Synod of Bishops was celebrated last October during the Marian Year, its work was entrusted in a very special way to the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Redeemer. I too entrust the spiritual fruitfulness of the Synod to her prayerful intercession. Therefore, along with the Synod Fathers, the lay faithful present at the Synod and all the other members of the People of God, I have recourse at the end of this post-Synodal document to the Virgin Mary. At this moment this appeal becomes a prayer:

O Most Blessed Virgin Mary,
Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church, With joy and wonder we seek to make our own yourMagnificat, joining you in your hymn of thankfulness and love.

With you we give thanks to God,
"whose mercy
is from generation to generation",
for the exalted vocation
and the many forms of mission
entrusted to the lay faithful.

God has called each of them by name
to live his own communion of love
and holiness
and to be one
in the great family of God's children.
He has sent them forth
to shine with the light of Christ
and to communicate the fire of the Spirit
in every part of society
through their life
inspired by the gospel.

O Virgin of the Magnificat,
fill their hearts
with a gratitude and enthusiasm
for this vocation and mission.

With humility and magnanimity
you were the "handmaid of the Lord";
give us your unreserved willingness
for service to God
and the salvation of the world.
Open our hearts
to the great anticipation
of the Kingdom of God
and of the proclamation of the Gospel
to the whole of creation.
Your mother's heart
is ever mindful of the many dangers
and evils which threaten
to overpower men and women
in our time.

At the same time your heart also takes notice
of the many initiatives
undertaken for good,
the great yearning for values,
and the progress achieved
in bringing forth
the abundant fruits of salvation.

O Virgin full of courage,
may your spiritual strength
and trust in God inspire us,
so that we might know
how to overcome all the obstacles
that we encounter
in accomplishing our mission.
Teach us to treat the affairs
of the world
with a real sense of Christian responsibility
and a joyful hope
of the coming of God's Kingdom, and
of a "new heaven and a new earth".

You who were gathered in prayer
with the Apostles in the Cenacle,
awaiting the coming
of the Spirit at Pentecost,
implore his renewed outpouring
on all the faithful, men and women alike,
so that they might more fully respond
to their vocation and mission,
as branches engrafted to the true vine,
called to bear much fruit
for the life of the world.

O Virgin Mother,
guide and sustain us
so that we might always live
as true sons and daughters
of the Church of your Son.
Enable us to do our part
in helping to establish on earth
the civilization of truth and love,
as God wills it,
for his glory.


Given at Rome, in St. Peter's, on 30 December, the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in the year 1988, the eleventh of my Pontificate.


© Copyright 1998 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana


Mulieris Dignitatum, August 15, 1988


Venerable Brothers and dear Sons and Daughters, 

Health and the Apostolic Blessing.



A sign of the times

1. THE DIGNITY AND THE VOCATION OF WOMEN - a subject of constant human and Christian reflection - have gained exceptional prominence in recent years. This can be seen, for example, in the statements of the Church's Magisterium present in various documents of the Second Vatican Council, which declares in its Closing Message: "The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at his moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling".1 This Message sums up what had already been expressed in the Council's teaching, specifically in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes2 and in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam Actuositatem.3

Similar thinking had already been put forth in the period before the Council, as can be seen in a number of Pope Pius XII's Discourses4 and in the Encyclical Pacem in Terris of Pope John XXIII.5 After the Second Vatican Council, my predecessor Paul VI showed the relevance of this "sign of the times", when he conferred the title "Doctor of the Church" upon Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint Catherine of Siena,6 and likewise when, at the request of the 1971 Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, he set up a special Commission for the study of contemporary problems concerning the "effective promotion of the dignity and the responsibility of women".7 In one of his Discourses Paul VI said: "Within Christianity, more than in any other religion, and since its very beginning, women have had a special dignity, of which the New Testament shows us many important aspects...; it is evident that women are meant to form part of the living and working structure of Christianity in so prominent a manner that perhaps not all their potentialities have yet been made clear".8

The Fathers of the recent Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (October 1987), which was devoted to "The Vocation and Mission of the Laity in the Church and in the World Twenty Years after the Second Vatican Council", once more dealt with the dignity and vocation of women. One of their recommendations was for a further study of the anthropological and theological bases that are needed in order to solve the problems connected with the meaning and dignity of being a woman and being a man. It is a question of understanding the reason for and the consequences of the Creator's decision that the human being should always and only exist as a woman or a man. It is only by beginning from these bases, which make it possible to understand the greatness of the dignity and vocation of women, that one is able to speak of their active presence in the Church and in society.

This is what I intend to deal with in this document. The Post-Synodal Exhortation, which will be published later, will present proposals of a pastoral nature on the place of women in the Church and in society. On this subject the Fathers offered some important reflections, after they had taken into consideration the testimonies of the lay Auditors - both women and men - from the particular Churches throughout the world.

The Marian Year

2. The last Synod took place within the Marian Year, which gives special thrust to the consideration of this theme, as the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater points out.9 This Encyclical develops and updates the Second Vatican Council's teaching contained in Chapter VIII of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium. The title of this chapter is significant: "The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, in the Mystery of Christ and of the Church". Mary - the "woman" of the Bible (cf. Gen 3:15;Jn 2:4; 19:16) - intimately belongs to the salvific mystery of Christ, and is therefore also present in a special way in the mystery of the Church. Since "the Church is in Christ as a sacrament... of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race",10 the special presence of the Mother of God in the mystery of the Church makes us think of the exceptional link between this "woman" and the whole human family. It is a question here of every man and woman, all the sons and daughters of the human race, in whom from generation to generation a fundamental inheritance is realized, the inheritance that belongs to all humanity and that is linked with the mystery of the biblical "beginning": "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them"(Gen 1: 27).11

This eternal truth about the human being, man and woman - a truth which is immutably fixed in human experience - at the same time constitutes the mystery which only in "the Incarnate Word takes on light... (since) Christ fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear", as the Council teaches.12 In this "revealing of man to himself", do we not need to find a special place for that "woman" who was the Mother of Christ? Cannot the "message" of Christ, contained in the Gospel, which has as its background the whole of Scripture, both the Old and the New Testament, say much to the Church and to humanity about the dignity of women and their vocation?

This is precisely what is meant to be the common thread running throughout the present document, which fits into the broader context of the Marian Year, as we approach the end of the second millennium after Christ's birth and the beginning of the third. And it seems to me that the best thing is to give this text the style and character of a meditation.



Union with God

3. "When the time had fully come, God sent forth his son, born of woman". With these words of his Letter to the Galatians (4:4), the Apostle Paul links together the principal moments which essentially determine the fulfilment of the mystery "pre-determined in God" (cf. Eph 1:9). The Son, the Word one in substance with the Father, becomes man, born of a woman, at "the fullness of time". This event leads to the turning point of man's history on earth, understood as salvation history. It is significant that Saint Paul does not call the Mother of Christ by her own name "Mary", but calls her "woman": this coincides with the words of the Proto-evangelium in the Book of Genesis (cf. 3:15). She is that "woman" who is present in the central salvific event which marks the "fullness of time": this event is realized in her and through her.

Thus there begins the central event, the key event in the history of salvation: the Lord's Paschal Mystery. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to reconsider it from the point of view of man's spiritual history, understood in the widest possible sense, and as this history is expressed through the different world religions. Let us recall at this point the words of the Second Vatican Council: "People look to the various religions for answers to those profound mysteries of the human condition which, today, even as in olden times, deeply stir the human heart: What is a human being? What is the meaning and purpose of our life? What is goodness and what is sin? What gives rise to our sorrows, and to what intent? Where lies the path to true happiness? What is the truth about death, judgment and retribution beyond the grave? What, finally, is that ultimate and unutterable mystery which engulfs our being, and from which we take our origin and towards which we move?"13 "From ancient times down to the present, there has existed among different peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which is present in the course of things and in the events of human life; at times, indeed, recognition can be found of a Supreme Divinity or even a Supreme Father".14

Against the background of this broad panorama, which testifies to the aspirations of the human spirit in search of God - at times as it were "groping its way" (cf. Acts 17: 27) - the "fullness of time" spoken of in Paul's Letter emphasizes the response of God himself, "in whom we live and move and have our being" (cf. Acts 17:28). This is the God who "in many and various ways spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days has spoken to us by a Son" (Heb 1:1-2). The sending of this Son, one in substance with the Father, as a man "born of woman", constitutes the culminating and definitive point of God's self-revelation to humanity. This self-revelation issalvific in character, as the Second Vatican Council teaches in another passage: "In his goodness and wisdom, God chose to reveal himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of his will (cf.Eph 1: 9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man has access to the Father in the Holy Spirit and comes to share in the divine nature (cf. Eph 2:18; 2 Pt 1:4)".15

A woman is to be found at the centre of this salvific event. The self-revelation of God, who is the inscrutable unity of the Trinity, is outlined in the Annunciation at Nazareth. "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High" - "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" - "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God... For with God nothing will be impossible" (cf. Lk 1: 31-37).16

It may be easy to think of this event in the setting of the history of Israel, the Chosen People of which Mary is a daughter, but it is also easy to think of it in the context of all the different ways in which humanity has always sought to answer the fundamental and definitive questions which most beset it. Do we not find in the Annunciation at Nazareth the beginning of that definitive answer by which God himself "attempts to calm people's hearts"?17 It is not just a matter here of God's words revealed through the Prophets; rather with this response "the Word is truly made flesh" (cf. Jn1:14). Hence Mary attains a union with God that exceeds all the expectations of the human spirit. It even exceeds the expectations of all Israel, in particular the daughters of this Chosen People, who, on the basis of the promise, could hope that one of their number would one day become the mother of the Messiah. Who among them, however, could have imagined that the promised Messiah would be "the Son of the Most High"? On the basis of the Old Testament's monotheistic faith such a thing was difficult to imagine. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit, who "overshadowed" her, was Mary able to accept what is "impossible with men, but not with God" (cf. Mk 10: 27).


4. Thus the "fullness of time" manifests the extraordinary dignity of the "woman". On the one hand, this dignity consists in the supernatural elevation to union with God in Jesus Christ, which determines the ultimate finality of the existence of every person both on earth and in eternity. From this point of view, the "woman" is the representative and the archetype of the whole human race: she represents the humanity which belongs to all human beings, both men and women. On the other hand, however, the event at Nazareth highlights a form of union with the living God which can only belong to the "woman", Mary: the union between mother and son. The Virgin of Nazareth truly becomes the Mother of God.

This truth, which Christian faith has accepted from the beginning, was solemnly defined at the Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.).18 In opposition to the opinion of Nestorius, who held that Mary was only the mother of the man Jesus, this Council emphasized the essential meaning of the motherhood of the Virgin Mary. At the moment of the Annunciation, by responding with her "fiat", Mary conceived a man who was the Son of God, of one substance with the Father. Therefore she is truly the Mother of God, because motherhood concerns the whole person, not just the body, nor even just human "nature". In this way the name "Theotókos" - Mother of God - became the name proper to the union with God granted to the Virgin Mary.

The particular union of the "Theotókos" with God - which fulfils in the most eminent manner the supernatural predestination to union with the Father which is granted to every human being (filii in Filio) - is a pure grace and, as such, a gift of the Spirit. At the same time, however, through her response of faith Mary exercises her free will and thus fully shares with her personal and feminine "I" in the event of the Incarnation. With her "fiat", Mary becomes the authentic subject of that union with God which was realized in the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, who is of one substance with the Father. All of God's action in human history at all times respects the free will of the human "I". And such was the case with the Annunciation at Nazareth.

"To serve means to reign"

5. This event is clearly interpersonal in character: it is a dialogue. We only understand it fully if we place the whole conversation between the Angel and Mary in the context of the words: "full of grace".19 The whole Annunciation dialogue reveals the essential dimension of the event, namely, itssupernatural dimension (***). Grace never casts nature aside or cancels it out, but rather perfects it and ennobles it. Therefore the "fullness of grace" that was granted to the Virgin of Nazareth, with a view to the fact that she would become "Theotókos", also signifies the fullness of the perfection of" what is characteristic of woman", of "what is feminine". Here we find ourselves, in a sense, at the culminating point, the archetype, of the personal dignity of women.

When Mary responds to the words of the heavenly messenger with her "fiat", she who is "full of grace" feels the need to express her personal relationship to the gift that has been revealed to her, saying: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord" (Lk 1:38). This statement should not be deprived of its profound meaning, nor should it be diminished by artificially removing it from the overall context of the event and from the full content of the truth revealed about God and man. In the expression "handmaid of the Lord", one senses Mary's complete awareness of being a creature of God. The word "handmaid", near the end of the Annunciation dialogue, is inscribed throughout the whole history of the Mother and the Son. In fact, this Son, who is the true and consubstantial "Son of the Most High", will often say of himself, especially at the culminating moment of his mission: "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve" (Mk 10:45).

At all times Christ is aware of being "the servant of the Lord" according to the prophecy of Isaiah (cf.Is 42:1; 49:3, 6; 52:13) which includes the essential content of his messianic mission, namely, his awareness of being the Redeemer of the world. From the first moment of her divine motherhood, of her union with the Son whom "the Father sent into the world, that the world might be saved through him" (cf. Jn 3:17), Mary takes her place within Christ's messianic service.20 It is precisely this service which constitutes the very foundation of that Kingdom in which "to serve ... means to reign".21 Christ, the "Servant of the Lord", will show all people the royal dignity of service, the dignity which is joined in the closest possible way to the vocation of every person.

Thus, by considering the reality "Woman - Mother of God", we enter in a very appropriate way into this Marian Year meditation. This reality also determines the essential horizon of reflection on the dignity and the vocation of women. In anything we think, say or do concerning the dignity and the vocation of women, our thoughts, hearts and actions must not become detached from this horizon. The dignity of every human being and the vocation corresponding to that dignity find their definitive measure in union with God. Mary, the woman of the Bible, is the most complete expression of this dignity and vocation. For no human being, male or female, created in the image and likeness of God, can in any way attain fulfilment apart from this image and likeness.



The Book of Genesis

6. Let us enter into the setting of the biblical "beginning". In it the revealed truth concerning man as "the image and likeness" of God constitutes the immutable basis of all Christian anthropology.22"God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). This concise passage contains the fundamental anthropological truths: man is the highpoint of the whole order of creation in the visible world; the human race, which takes its origin from the calling into existence of man and woman, crowns the whole work of creation;both man and woman are human beings to an equal degree, both are created in God's image.This image and likeness of God, which is essential for the human being, is passed on by the man and woman, as spouses and parents, to their descendants: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen 1: 28). The Creator entrusts dominion over the earth to the human race, to all persons, to all men and women, who derive their dignity and vocation from the common "beginning".

In the Book of Genesis we find another description of the creation of man - man and woman (cf. 2:18-25) - to which we shall refer shortly. At this point, however, we can say that the biblical account puts forth the truth about the personal character of the human being. Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God. What makes man like God is the fact that - unlike the whole world of other living creatures, including those endowed with senses (animalia) - man is also a rational being (animal rationale).23 Thanks to this property, man and woman are able to "dominate" the other creatures of the visible world (cf. Gen1:28).

The second description of the creation of man (cf. Gen 2:18-25) makes use of different language to express the truth about the creation of man, and especially of woman. In a sense the language is less precise, and, one might say, more descriptive and metaphorical, closer to the language of the myths known at the time. Nevertheless, we find no essential contradiction between the two texts. The text of Gen 2:18-25 helps us to understand better what we find in the concise passage of Gen 1:27-28. At the same time, if it is read together with the latter, it helps us to understand even more profoundly the fundamental truth which it contains concerning man created as man and woman in the image and likeness of God.

In the description found in Gen 2:1 8-25, the woman is created by God "from the rib" of the man and is placed at his side as another "I", as the companion of the man, who is alone in the surrounding world of living creatures and who finds in none of them a "helper" suitable for himself. Called into existence in this way, the woman is immediately recognized by the man as "flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones" (cf. Gen 2:23) and for this very reason she is called "woman". In biblical language this name indicates her essential identity with regard to man - 'is-'issah - something which unfortunately modern languages in general are unable to express: "She shall be called woman ('issah) because she was taken out of man ('is)": Gen 2:23.

The biblical text provides sufficient bases for recognizing the essential equality of man and woman from the point of view of their humanity.24 From the very beginning, both are persons, unlike the other living beings in the world about them. The woman is another "I" in a common humanity.From the very beginning they appear as a "unity of the two", and this signifies that the original solitude is overcome, the solitude in which man does not find "a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:20). Is it only a question here of a "helper" in activity, in "subduing the earth" (cf. Gen 1: 28)? Certainly it is a matter of a life's companion, with whom, as a wife, the man can unite himself, becoming with her "one flesh" and for this reason leaving "his father and his mother" (cf. Gen 2: 24). Thus in the same context as the creation of man and woman, the biblical account speaks of God's instituting marriage as an indispensable condition for the transmission of life to new generations, the transmission of life to which marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordered: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen 1:28).

Person - Communion - Gift

7. By reflecting on the whole account found in Gen 2:18-25, and by interpreting it in light of the truth about the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26-27), we can understand even more fully what constitutes the personal character of the human being, thanks to which both man and woman are like God. For every individual is made in the image of God, insofar as he or she is a rational and free creature capable of knowing God and loving him. Moreover, we read that man cannot exist "alone" (cf. Gen 2:18); he can exist only as a "unity of the two", and therefore in relation to another human person. It is a question here of a mutual relationship: man to woman and woman to man. Being a person in the image and likeness of God thus also involves existing in a relationship, in relation to the other "I". This is a prelude to the definitive self-revelation of the Triune God: a living unity in the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

At the beginning of the Bible this is not yet stated directly. The whole Old Testament is mainly concerned with revealing the truth about the oneness and unity of God. Within this fundamental truth about God the New Testament will reveal the inscrutable mystery of God's inner life. God, who allows himself to be known by human beings through Christ, is the unity of the Trinity: unity in communion. In this way new light is also thrown on man's image and likeness to God, spoken of in the Book of Genesis. The fact that man "created as man and woman" is the image of God means not only that each of them individually is like God, as a rational and free being. It also means that man and woman, created as a "unity of the two" in their common humanity, are called to live in a communion of love, and in this way to mirror in the world the communion of love that is in God, through which the Three Persons love each other in the intimate mystery of the one divine life. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God through the unity of the divinity, exist as persons through the inscrutable divine relationship. Only in this way can we understand the truth that God in himself is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:16).

The image and likeness of God in man, created as man and woman (in the analogy that can be presumed between Creator and creature), thus also expresses the "unity of the two" in a common humanity. This "unity of the two", which is a sign of interpersonal communion, shows that the creation of man is also marked by a certain likeness to the divine communion ("communio"). This likeness is a quality of the personal being of both man and woman, and is also a call and a task. The foundation of the whole human "ethos" is rooted in the image and likeness of God which the human being bears within himself from the beginning. Both the Old and New Testament will develop that "ethos", which reaches its apex in the commandment of love.25

In the "unity of the two", man and woman are called from the beginning not only to exist "side by side" or "together", but they are also called to exist mutually "one for the other".

This also explains the meaning of the "help" spoken of in Genesis 2 :1 8-25: "I will make him a helper fit for him". The biblical context enables us to understand this in the sense that the woman must "help" the man - and in his turn he must help her - first of all by the very fact of their "being human persons". In a certain sense this enables man and woman to discover their humanity ever anew and to confirm its whole meaning. We can easily understand that - on this fundamental level - it is a question of a "help" on the part of both, and at the same time a mutual "help". To be human means to be called to interpersonal communion. The text of Genesis 2:18-25 shows that marriage is the first and, in a sense, the fundamental dimension of this call. But it is not the only one. The whole of human history unfolds within the context of this call. In this history, on the basis of the principle of mutually being "for" the other, in interpersonal "communion", there develops in humanity itself, in accordance with God's will, the integration of what is "masculine" and what is "feminine". The biblical texts, from Genesis onwards, constantly enable us to discover the ground in which the truth about man is rooted, the solid and inviolable ground amid the many changes of human existence.

This truth also has to do with the history of salvation. In this regard a statement of the Second Vatican Council is especially significant. In the chapter on "The Community of Mankind" in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, we read: "The Lord Jesus, when he prayed to the Father 'that all may be one ... as we are one' (Jn 17: 21-22), opened up vistas closed to human reason. For he implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons and the union of God's children in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for its own sake, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self".26

With these words, the Council text presents a summary of the whole truth about man and woman - a truth which is already outlined in the first chapters of the Book of Genesis, and which is the structural basis of biblical and Christian anthropology. Man - whether man or woman - is the only being among the creatures of the visible world that God the Creator "has willed for its own sake";that creature is thus a person. Being a person means striving towards self-realization (the Council text speaks of self-discovery), which can only be achieved "through a sincere gift of self". The model for this interpretation of the person is God himself as Trinity, as a communion of Persons. To say that man is created in the image and likeness of God means that man is called to exist "for" others, to become a gift.

This applies to every human being, whether woman or man, who live it out in accordance with the special qualities proper to each. Within the framework of the present meditation on the dignity and vocation of women, this truth about being human constitutes the indispensable point of departure.Already in the Book of Genesis we can discern, in preliminary outline, the spousal character of the relationship between persons, which will serve as the basis for the subsequent development of the truth about motherhood, and about virginity, as two particular dimensions of the vocation of women in the light of divine Revelation. These two dimensions will find their loftiest expression at the "fullness of time" (cf. Gal 4:4) in the "woman" of Nazareth: the Virgin-Mother.

The anthropomorphism of biblical language

8. The presentation of man as "the image and likeness of God" at the very beginning of Sacred Scripture has another significance too. It is the key for understanding biblical Revelation as God's word about himself. Speaking about himself, whether through the prophets, or through the Son" (cf.Heb 1:1, 2) who became man, God speaks in human language, using human concepts and images. If this manner of expressing himself is characterized by a certain anthropomorphism, the reason is that man is "like" God: created in his image and likeness. But then, God too is in some measure "like man", and precisely because of this likeness, he can be humanly known. At the same time, the language of the Bible is sufficiently precise to indicate the limits of the "likeness", the limits of the "analogy". For biblical Revelation says that, while man's "likeness" to God is true, the "non-likeness"27 which separates the whole of creation from the Creator is still more essentially true.Although man is created in God's likeness, God does not cease to be for him the one "who dwells in unapproachable light" (1 Tim 6:16): he is the "Different One", by essence the "totally Other".

This observation on the limits of the analogy - the limits of man's likeness to God in biblical language - must also be kept in mind when, in different passages of Sacred Scripture (especially in the Old Testament), we find comparisons that attribute to God "masculine" or "feminine" qualities. We find in these passages an indirect confirmation of the truth that both man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God. If there is a likeness between Creator and creatures, it is understandable that the Bible would refer to God using expressions that attribute to him both "masculine" and "feminine" qualities.

We may quote here some characteristic passages from the prophet Isaiah: "But Zion said, 'The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me'. 'Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you'". (49:14-15). And elsewhere: "As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem" (66: 13). In the Psalms too God is compared to a caring mother: "Like a child quieted at its mother's breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul. O Israel, hope in the Lord". (Ps 131:2-3). In various passages the love of God who cares for his people is shown to be like that of a mother: thus, like a mother God "has carried" humanity, and in particular, his Chosen People, within his own womb; he has given birth to it in travail, has nourished and comforted it (cf. Is42:14; 46: 3-4). In many passages God's love is presented as the "masculine" love of the bridegroom and father (cf. Hosea 11:1-4; Jer 3:4-19), but also sometimes as the "feminine" love of a mother.

This characteristic of biblical language - its anthropomorphic way of speaking about God - pointsindirectly to the mystery of the eternal "generating" which belongs to the inner life of God. Nevertheless, in itself this "generating" has neither "masculine" nor "feminine" qualities. It is by nature totally divine. It is spiritual in the most perfect way, since "God is spirit" (Jn 4:24) and possesses no property typical of the body, neither "feminine" nor "masculine". Thus even "fatherhood" in God is completely divine and free of the "masculine" bodily characteristics proper to human fatherhood. In this sense the Old Testament spoke of God as a Father and turned to him as a Father. Jesus Christ - who called God "Abba Father" (Mk 14: 36), and who as the only-begotten and consubstantial Son placed this truth at the very centre of his Gospel, thus establishing the norm of Christian prayer - referred to fatherhood in this ultra-corporeal, superhuman and completely divine sense. He spoke as the Son, joined to the Father by the eternal mystery of divine generation, and he did so while being at the same time the truly human Son of his Virgin Mother.

Although it is not possible to attribute human qualities to the eternal generation of the Word of God, and although the divine fatherhood does not possess "masculine" characteristics in a physical sense, we must nevertheless seek in God the absolute model of all "generation" among human beings. This would seem to be the sense of the Letter to the Ephesians: "I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (3:14-15). All "generating" among creatures finds its primary model in that generating which in God is completely divine, that is, spiritual. All "generating" in the created world is to be likened to this absolute and uncreated model. Thus every element of human generation which is proper to man, and every element which is proper to woman, namely human "fatherhood" and "motherhood", bears within itself a likeness to, or analogy with the divine "generating" and with that "fatherhood" which in God is "totally different", that is, completely spiritual and divine in essence; whereas in the human order, generation is proper to the "unity of the two": both are "parents", the man and the woman alike.



The "beginning" and the sin

9. "Although he was made by God in a state of justice, from the very dawn of history man abused his liberty, at the urging of the Evil One. Man set himself against God and sought to find fulfilment apart from God".28 With these words the teaching of the last Council recalls the revealed doctrine about sin and in particular about that first sin, which is the "original" one. The biblical "beginning" - the creation of the world and of man in the world - contains in itself the truth about this sin, which can also be called the sin of man's "beginning" on the earth. Even though what is written in the Book of Genesis is expressed in the form of a symbolic narrative, as is the case in the description of the creation of man as male and female (cf. Gen 2:18-25), at the same time it reveals what should be called "the mystery of sin", and even more fully, "the mystery of evil" which exists in the world created by God.

It is not possible to read "the mystery of sin" without making reference to the whole truth about the "image and likeness" to God, which is the basis of biblical anthropology. This truth presents the creation of man as a special gift from the Creator, containing not only the foundation and source of the essential dignity of the human being - man and woman - in the created world, but also the beginning of the call to both of them to share in the intimate life of God himself. In the light of Revelation, creation likewise means the beginning of salvation history. It is precisely in this beginning that sin is situated and manifests itself as opposition and negation.

It can be said, paradoxically, that the sin presented in the third chapter of Genesis confirms the truth about the image and likeness of God in man, since this truth means freedom, that is, man's use of free will by choosing good or his abuse of it by choosing evil, against the will of God. In its essence, however, sin is a negation of God as Creator in his relationship to man, and of what God wills for man, from the beginning and for ever. Creating man and woman in his own image and likeness, God wills for them the fullness of good, or supernatural happiness, which flows from sharing in his own life.By committing sin man rejects this gift and at the same time wills to become "as God, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:5), that is to say, deciding what is good and what is evil independently of God, his Creator. The sin of the first parents has its own human "measure": an interior standard of its own in man's free will, and it also has within itself a certain "diabolic" characteristic,29 which is clearly shown in the Book of Genesis (3:15). Sin brings about a break in the original unity which man enjoyed in the state of original justice: union with God as the source of the unity within his own "I", in the mutual relationship between man and woman ("communio personarum") as well as in regard to the external world, to nature.

The biblical description of original sin in the third chapter of Genesis in a certain way "distinguishes the roles" which the woman and the man had in it. This is also referred to later in certain passages of the Bible, for example, Paul's Letter to Timothy: "For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (1 Tim 2:13-14). But there is no doubt that, independent of this "distinction of roles" in the biblical description, that first sin is the sin of man, created by God as male and female. It is also the sin of the "first parents", to which is connected its hereditary character. In this sense we call it "original sin".

This sin, as already said, cannot be properly understood without reference to the mystery of the creation of the human being - man and woman - in the image and likeness of God. By means of this reference one can also understand the mystery of that "non-likeness" to God in which sin consists, and which manifests itself in the evil present in the history of the world. Similarly one can understand the mystery of that "non-likeness" to God, who "alone is good" (cf. Mt 19:17) and-the fullness of good. If sin's "non-likeness" to God, who is Holiness itself, presupposes "likeness" in the sphere of freedom and free will, it can then be said that for this very reason the "non-likeness" contained in sin is all the more tragic and sad. It must be admitted that God, as Creator and Father, is here wounded, "offended" - obviously offended - in the very heart of that gift which belongs to God's eternal plan for man.

At the same time, however, as the author of the evil of sin, the human being - man and woman - is affected by it. The third chapter of Genesis shows this with the words which clearly describe the new situation of man in the created world. It shows the perspective of "toil", by which man will earn his living (cf. Gen 3:17-19) and likewise the great "pain" with which the woman will give birth to her children (cf. Gen 3 :16). And all this is marked by the necessity of death, which is the end of human life on earth. In this way man, as dust, will "return to the ground, for out of it he was taken": "you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (cf. Gen 3:19).

These words are confirmed generation after generation. They do not mean that the image and the likeness of God in the human being, whether woman or man, has been destroyed by sin; they mean rather that it has been "obscured"30 and in a sense "diminished". Sin in fact "diminishes" man, as the Second Vatican Council also recalls.31 If man is the image and likeness of God by his very nature as a person, then his greatness and his dignity are achieved in the covenant with God, in union with him, in striving towards that fundamental unity which belongs to the internal "logic" of the very mystery of creation. This unity corresponds to the profound truth concerning all intelligent creatures and in particular concerning man, who among all the creatures of the visible world was elevated from the beginning through the eternal choice of God in Jesus: "He chose us in (Christ) before the foundation of the world, ... He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will" (Eph 1:4-6). The biblical teaching taken as a whole enables us to say that predestination concerns all human persons, men and women, each and every one without exception.

"He shall rule over you"

10. The biblical description in the Book of Genesis outlines the truth about the consequences of man's sin, as it is shown by the disturbance of that original relationship between man and woman which corresponds to their individual dignity as persons. A human being, whether male or female, is a person, and therefore, "the only creature on earth which God willed for its own sake"; and at the same time this unique and unrepeatable creature "cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self".32 Here begins the relationship of "communion" in which the "unity of the two" and the personal dignity of both man and woman find expression. Therefore when we read in the biblical description the words addressed to the woman: "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16)we discover a break and a constant threat precisely in regard to this "unity of the two" which corresponds to the dignity of the image and likeness of God in both of them. But this threat is more serious for the woman, since domination takes the place of "being a sincere gift" and therefore living "for" the other: "he shall rule over you". This "domination" indicates the disturbance and loss of the stability of that fundamental equality which the man and the woman possess in the "unity of the two": and this is especially to the disadvantage of the woman, whereas only the equality resulting from their dignity as persons can give to their mutual relationship the character of an authentic "communio personarum". While the violation of this equality, which is both a gift and a right deriving from God the Creator, involves an element to the disadvantage of the woman, at the same time it also diminishes the true dignity of the man. Here we touch upon an extremely sensitive point in the dimension of that "ethos" which was originally inscribed by the Creator in the very creation of both of them in his own image and likeness.

This statement in Genesis 3:16 is of great significance. It implies a reference to the mutual relationship of man and woman in marriage. It refers to the desire born in the atmosphere of spousal love whereby the woman's "sincere gift of self" is responded to and matched by a corresponding "gift" on the part of the husband. Only on the basis of this principle can both of them, and in particular the woman, "discover themselves" as a true "unity of the two" according to the dignity of the person. The matrimonial union requires respect for and a perfecting of the true personal subjectivity of both of them. The woman cannot become the "object" of "domination" and male "possession". But the words of the biblical text directly concern original sin and its lasting consequences in man and woman. Burdened by hereditary sinfulness, they bear within themselves the constant "inclination to sin", the tendency to go against the moral order which corresponds to the rational nature and dignity of man and woman as persons. This tendency is expressed in a threefold concupiscence, which Saint John defines as the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life (cf. 1 Jn 2:16). The words of the Book of Genesis quoted previously (3: 16) show how this threefold concupiscence, the "inclination to sin", will burden the mutual relationship of man and woman.

These words of Genesis refer directly to marriage, but indirectly they concern the different spheres of social life: the situations in which the woman remains disadvantaged or discriminated against by the fact of being a woman. The revealed truth concerning the creation of the human being as male and female constitutes the principal argument against all the objectively injurious and unjust situations which contain and express the inheritance of the sin which all human beings bear within themselves. The books of Sacred Scripture confirm in various places the actual existence of such situationsand at the same time proclaim the need for conversion, that is to say, for purification from evil and liberation from sin: from what offends neighbour, what "diminishes" man, not only the one who is offended but also the one who causes the offence. This is the unchangeable message of the Word revealed by God. In it is expressed the biblical "ethos" until the end of time.33

In our times the question of "women's rights" has taken on new significance in the broad context of the rights of the human person. The biblical and evangelical message sheds light on this cause, which is the object of much attention today, by safeguarding the truth about the "unity" of the "two", that is to say the truth about that dignity and vocation that result from the specific diversity and personal originality of man and woman. Consequently, even the rightful opposition of women to what is expressed in the biblical words "He shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16) must not under any condition lead to the "masculinization" of women. In the name of liberation from male "domination", women must not appropriate to themselves male characteristics contrary to their own feminine "originality". There is a well-founded fear that if they take this path, women will not "reach fulfilment", but instead will deform and lose what constitutes their essential richness. It is indeed an enormous richness. In the biblical description, the words of the first man at the sight of the woman who had been created are words of admiration and enchantment, words which fill the whole history of man on earth.

The personal resources of femininity are certainly no less than the resources of masculinity: they are merely different. Hence a woman, as well as a man, must understand her "fulfilment" as a person, her dignity and vocation, on the basis of these resources, according to the richness of the femininity which she received on the day of creation and which she inherits as an expression of the "image and likeness of God" that is specifically hers. The inheritance of sin suggested by the words of the Bible - "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you" - can be conquered only by following this path. The overcoming of this evil inheritance is, generation after generation, the task of every human being, whether woman or man. For whenever man is responsible for offending a woman's personal dignity and vocation, he acts contrary to his own personal dignity and his own vocation.


11. The Book of Genesis attests to the fact that sin is the evil at man's "beginning" and that since then its consequences weigh upon the whole human race. At the same time it contains the first foretelling of victory over evil, over sin. This is proved by the words which we read in Genesis 3:15, usually called the "Proto-evangelium": "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel". It is significant that the foretelling of the Redeemer contained in these words refers to "the woman". She is assigned the first place in the Proto-evangelium as the progenitrix of him who will be the Redeemer of man.34 And since the redemption is to be accomplished through a struggle against evil - through the "enmity" between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of him who, as "the father of lies" (Jn 8:44), isthe first author of sin in human history - it is also an enmity between him and the woman.

These words give us a comprehensive view of the whole of Revelation, first as a preparation for the Gospel and later as the Gospel itself. From this vantage point the two female figures, Eve and Mary,are joined under the name of woman.

The words of the Proto-evangelium, re-read in the light of the New Testament, express well the mission of woman in the Redeemer's salvific struggle against the author of evil in human history.

The comparison Eve-Mary constantly recurs in the course of reflection on the deposit of faith received from divine Revelation. It is one of the themes frequently taken up by the Fathers, ecclesiastical writers and theologians.35 As a rule, from this comparison there emerges at first sight a difference, a contrast. Eve, as "the mother of all the living" (Gen 3: 20), is the witness to the biblical "beginning", which contains the truth about the creation of man made in the image and likeness of God and the truth about original sin. Mary is the witness to the new "beginning" and the "new creation" (cf. 2 Cor 5:17), since she herself, as the first of the redeemed in salvation history, is "a new creation": she is "full of grace". It is difficult to grasp why the words of the Protoevangelium place such strong emphasis on the "woman", if it is not admitted that in her the new and definitive Covenant of God with humanity has its beginning, the Covenant in the redeeming blood of Christ. The Covenant begins with a woman, the "woman" of the Annunciation at Nazareth. Herein lies the absolute originality of the Gospel: many times in the Old Testament, in order to intervene in the history of his people, God addressed himself to women, as in the case of the mothers of Samuel and Samson. However, to make his Covenant with humanity, he addressed himself only to men: Noah, Abraham, and Moses. At the beginning of the New Covenant, which is to be eternal and irrevocable, there is a woman: the Virgin of Nazareth. It is a sign that points to the fact that "in Jesus Christ" "there is neither male nor female" (Gal 3:28).In Christ the mutual opposition between man and woman - which is the inheritance of original sin - is essentially overcome. "For you are all one in Jesus Christ", Saint Paul will write (ibid.).

These words concern that original "unity of the two" which is linked with the creation of the human being as male and female, made in the image and likeness of God, and based on the model of that most perfect communion of Persons which is God himself. Saint Paul states that the mystery of man's redemption in Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, resumes and renews that which in the mystery of creation corresponded to the eternal design of God the Creator. Precisely for this reason, on the day of the creation of the human being as male and female "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen 1:31). The Redemption restores, in a sense, at its very root, the good that was essentially "diminished" by sin and its heritage in human history.

The "woman" of the Proto-evangelium fits into the perspective of the Redemption. The comparison Eve-Mary can be understood also in the sense that Mary assumes in herself and embraces themystery of the "woman" whose beginning is Eve, "the mother of all the living" (Gen 3:20). First of all she assumes and embraces it within the mystery of Christ, "the new and the last Adam" (cf. 1 Cor15:45),who assumed in his own person the nature of the first Adam. The essence of the New Covenant consists in the fact that the Son of God, who is of one substance with the eternal Father, becomes man: he takes humanity into the unity of the divine Person of the Word. The one who accomplishes the Redemption is also a true man. The mystery of the world's Redemption presupposes that God the Son assumed humanity as the inheritance of Adam, becoming like him and like every man in all things, "yet without sinning" (Heb 4:15). In this way he "fully reveals man to himself and makes man's supreme calling clear", as the Second Vatican Council teaches.36 In a certain sense, he has helped man to discover "who he is" (cf. Ps 8:5).

In the tradition of faith and of Christian reflection throughout the ages, the coupling Adam-Christ is often linked with that of Eve-Mary. If Mary is described also as the "new Eve", what are the meanings of this analogy? Certainly there are many. Particularly noteworthy is the meaning which sees Mary as the full revelation of all that is included in the biblical word "woman": a revelation commensurate with the mystery of the Redemption. Mary means, in a sense, a going beyond the limit spoken of in the Book of Genesis (3: 16) and a return to that "beginning" in which one finds the "woman" as she was intended to be in creation, and therefore in the eternal mind of God: in the bosom of the Most Holy Trinity. Mary is "the new beginning" of the dignity and vocation of women, of each and every woman.37

A particular key for understanding this can be found in the words which the Evangelist puts on Mary's lips after the Annunciation, during her visit to Elizabeth: "He who is mighty has done great things for me" (Lk 1:49). These words certainly refer to the conception of her Son, who is the "Son of the Most High" (Lk1:32), the "holy one" of God; but they can also signify the discovery of her own feminine humanity. He "has done great things for me": this is the discovery of all the richness and personal resources of femininity, all the eternal originality of the "woman", just as God wanted her to be, a person for her own sake, who discovers herself "by means of a sincere gift of self".

This discovery is connected with a clear awareness of God's gift, of his generosity. From the very "beginning" sin had obscured this awareness, in a sense had stifled it, as is shown in the words of the first temptation by the "father of lies" (cf. Genesis 3:1-5).At the advent of the "fullness of time" (cf.Gal 4:4),when the mystery of Redemption begins to be fulfilled in the history of humanity, this awareness bursts forth in all its power in the words of the biblical "woman" of Nazareth. In Mary, Eve discovers the nature of the true dignity of woman, of feminine humanity. This discovery must continually reach the heart of every woman and shape her vocation and her life.



"They marvelled that he was talking with a woman"

12. The words of the Proto-evangelium in the Book of Genesis enable us to move into the context of the Gospel. Man's Redemption, foretold in Genesis, now becomes a reality in the person and mission of Jesus Christ, in which we also recognize what the reality of the Redemption means for the dignity and the vocation of women. This meaning becomes clearer for us from Christ's words and from his whole attitude towards women, an attitude which is extremely simple, and for this very reason extraordinary, if seen against the background of his time. It is an attitude marked by great clarity and depth. Various women appear along the path of the mission of Jesus of Nazareth, and his meeting with each of them is a confirmation of the evangelical "newness of life" already spoken of.

It is universally admitted - even by people with a critical attitude towards the Christian message - thatin the eyes of his contemporaries Christ became a promotor of women's true dignity and of thevocation corresponding to this dignity. At times this caused wonder, surprise, often to the point of scandal: "They marvelled that he was talking with a woman" (Jn 4:27), because this behaviour differed from that of his contemporaries. Even Christ's own disciples "marvelled". The Pharisee to whose house the sinful woman went to anoint Jesus' feet with perfumed oil "said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner'" (Lk 7:39). Even greater dismay, or even "holy indignation", must have filled the self-satisfied hearers of Christ's words: "the tax collectors and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you" (Mt 21:31).

By speaking and acting in this way, Jesus made it clear that "the mysteries of the Kingdom" were known to him in every detail. He also "knew what was in man" (Jn 2:25), in his innermost being, in his "heart". He was a witness of God's eternal plan for the human being, created in his own image and likeness as man and woman. He was also perfectly aware of the consequences of sin, of that "mystery of iniquity" working in human hearts as the bitter fruit of the obscuring of the divine image. It is truly significant that in his important discussion about marriage and its indissolubility, in the presence of "the Scribes", who by profession were experts in the Law, Jesus makes reference to the "beginning". The question asked concerns a man's right "to divorce one's wife for any cause" (Mt19:3) and therefore also concerns the woman's right, her rightful position in marriage, her dignity. The questioners think they have on their side the Mosaic legislation then followed in Israel: "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" (Mt 19: 7). Jesus answers: "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" (Mt 19: 8). Jesus appeals to the "beginning", to the creation of man as male and female and their ordering by God himself, which is based upon the fact that both were created "in his image and likeness". Therefore, when "a man shall leave his father and mother and is joined to his wife, so that the two become one flesh", there remains in force the law which comes from God himself: "What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Mt 19: 6).

The principle of this "ethos", which from the beginning marks the reality of creation, is now confirmed by Christ in opposition to that tradition which discriminated against women. In this tradition the male "dominated", without having proper regard for woman and for her dignity, which the "ethos" of creation made the basis of the mutual relationships of two people united in marriage. This "ethos" isrecalled and confirmed by Christ's words; it is the "ethos" of the Gospel and of Redemption.

Women in the Gospel

13. As we scan the pages of the Gospel, many women, of different ages and conditions, pass before our eyes. We meet women with illnesses or physical sufferings, such as the one who had "a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself" (Lk13:11); or Simon's mother-in-law, who "lay sick with a fever" (Mk 1:30); or the woman "who had a flow of blood" (cf. Mk 5:25-34), who could not touch anyone because it was believed that her touch would make a person "impure". Each of them was healed, and the last-mentioned - the one with a flow of blood, who touched Jesus' garment "in the crowd" (Mk 5:27) - was praised by him for her great faith: "Your faith has made you well" (Mk 5:34). Then there is the daughter of Jairus, whom Jesus brings back to life, saying to her tenderly: "Little girl, I say to you, arise" (Mk 5:41). There also is the widow of Nain, whose only son Jesus brings back to life, accompanying his action by an expression of affectionate mercy: "He had compassion on her and said to her, 'Do not weep!'"(Lk7:13). And finally there is the Canaanite woman, whom Christ extols for her faith, her humility and for that greatness of spirit of which only a mother's heart is capable. "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire" (Mt 15:28). The Canaanite woman was asking for the healing of her daughter.

Sometimes the women whom Jesus met and who received so many graces from him, also accompanied him as he journeyed with the Apostles through the towns and villages, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God; and they "provided for them out of their means". The Gospel names Joanna, who was the wife of Herod's steward, Susanna and "many others" (cf. Lk 8:1-3).

Sometimes women appear in the parables which Jesus of Nazareth used to illustrate for his listeners the truth about the Kingdom of God. This is the case in the parables of the lost coin (cf. Lk 15: 8-10), the leaven (cf. Mt 13:33), and the wise and foolish virgins (cf. Mt 25:1-13). Particularly eloquent is the story of the widow's mite. While "the rich were putting their gifts into the treasury... a poor widow put in two copper coins". Then Jesus said: "This poor widow has put in more than all of them...she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had" (Lk 21:1-4). In this way Jesus presents her as a model for everyone and defends her, for in the socio-juridical system of the time widows were totally defenceless people (cf. also Lk 18:1-7).

In all of Jesus' teaching, as well as in his behaviour, one can find nothing which reflects the discrimination against women prevalent in his day. On the contrary, his words and works always express the respect and honour due to women. The woman with a stoop is called a "daughter of Abraham" (Lk 13:16), while in the whole Bible the title "son of Abraham" is used only of men. Walking the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha, Jesus will say to the women: "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me" (Lk 23:28). This way of speaking to and about women, as well as his manner of treating them, clearly constitutes an "innovation" with respect to the prevailing custom at that time.

This becomes even more explicit in regard to women whom popular opinion contemptuously labelled sinners, public sinners and adulteresses. There is the Samaritan woman, to whom Jesus himself says: "For you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband". And she, realizing that he knows the secrets of her life, recognizes him as the Messiah and runs to tell her neighbours. The conversation leading up to this realization is one of the most beautiful in the Gospel (cf. Jn 4:7-27).

Then there is the public sinner who, in spite of her condemnation by common opinion, enters into the house of the Pharisee to anoint the feet of Jesus with perfumed oil. To his host, who is scandalized by this, he will say: "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much" (cf. Lk 7:37-47).

Finally, there is a situation which is perhaps the most eloquent: a woman caught in adulterv is brought to Jesus. To the leading question "In the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?", Jesus replies: "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her". The power of truth contained in this answer is so great that "they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest". Only Jesus and the woman remain. "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?". "No one, Lord". "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again" (cf. Jn8:3-11).

These episodes provide a very clear picture. Christ is the one who "knows what is in man" (cf. Jn2:25) - in man and woman. He knows the dignity of man, his worth in God's eyes. He himself, the Christ, is the definitive confirmation of this worth. Everything he says and does is definitively fulfilled in the Paschal Mystery of the Redemption. Jesus' attitude to the women whom he meets in the course of his Messianic service reflects the eternal plan of God, who, in creating each one of them, chooses her and loves her in Christ (cf. Eph 1:1-5). Each woman therefore is "the only creature on earth which God willed for its own sake". Each of them from the "beginning" inherits as a woman the dignity of personhood. Jesus of Nazareth confirms this dignity, recalls it, renews it, and makes it a part of the Gospel and of the Redemption for which he is sent into the world. Every word and gesture of Christ about women must therefore be brought into the dimension of the Paschal Mystery. In this way everything is completely explained.

The woman caught in adultery

14. Jesus enters into the concrete and historical situation of women, a situation which is weighed down by the inheritance of sin. One of the ways in which this inheritance is expressed is habitual discrimination against women in favour of men. This inheritance is rooted within women too. From this point of view the episode of the woman "caught in adultery" (cf. Jn 8:3-11) is particularly eloquent. In the end Jesus says to her: "Do not sin again", but first he evokes an awareness of sin in the men who accuse her in order to stone her, thereby revealing his profound capacity to see human consciences and actions in their true light. Jesus seems to say to the accusers: Is not this woman, for all her sin, above all a confirmation of your own transgressions, of your "male" injustice, your misdeeds?

This truth is valid for the whole human race. The episode recorded in the Gospel of John is repeated in countless similar situations in every period of history. A woman is left alone, exposed to public opinion with "her sin", while behind "her" sin there lurks a man - a sinner, guilty "of the other's sin", indeed equally responsible for it. And yet his sin escapes notice, it is passed over in silence: he does not appear to be responsible for "the others's sin"! Sometimes, forgetting his own sin, he even makes himself the accuser, as in the case described. How often, in a similar way, the woman paysfor her own sin (maybe it is she, in some cases, who is guilty of the "others's sin" - the sin of the man), but she alone pays and she pays all alone! How often is she abandoned with her pregnancy, when the man, the child's father, is unwilling to accept responsibility for it? And besides the many "unwed mothers" in our society, we also must consider all those who, as a result of various pressures, even on the part of the guilty man, very often "get rid of" the child before it is born. "They get rid of it": but at what price? Public opinion today tries in various ways to "abolish" the evil of this sin. Normally awoman's conscience does not let her forget that she has taken the life of her own child, for she cannot destroy that readiness to accept life which marks her "ethos" from the "beginning".

The attitude of Jesus in the episode described in John 8:3-11 is significant. This is one of the few instances in which his power - the power of truth - is so clearly manifested with regard to human consciences. Jesus is calm, collected and thoughtful. As in the conversation with the Pharisees (cf. Mt19:3-9), is Jesus not aware of being in contact with the mystery of the "beginning", when man was created male and female, and the woman was entrusted to the man with her feminine distinctiveness, and with her potential for motherhood? The man was also entrusted by the Creator to the woman - they were entrusted to each other as persons made in the image and likeness of God himself. This entrusting is the test of love, spousal love. In order to become "a sincere gift" to one another, each of them has to feel responsible for the gift. This test is meant for both of them - man and woman - from the "beginning". After original sin, contrary forces are at work in man and woman as a result of the threefold concupiscence, the "stimulus of sin". They act from deep within the human being. Thus Jesus will say in the Sermon on the Mount: "Every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt 5:28). These words, addressed directly to man, show the fundamental truth of his responsibility vis-a-vis woman: her dignity, her motherhood, her vocation. But indirectly these words concern the woman. Christ did everything possible to ensure that - in the context of the customs and social relationships of that time - women would find in his teaching and actions their own subjectivity and dignity. On the basis of the eternal "unity of the two", this dignity directly depends on woman herself, as a subject responsible for herself, and at the same time it is "given as a task" to man. Christ logically appeals to man's responsibility. In the present meditation on women's dignity and vocation, it is necessary that we refer to the context which we find in the Gospel. The dignity and the vocation of women - as well as those of men - find their eternal source in the heart of God. And in the temporal conditions of human existence, they are closely connected with the "unity of the two". Consequently each man must look within himself to see whether she who was entrusted to him as a sister in humanity, as a spouse, has not become in his heart an object of adultery; to see whether she who, in different ways, is the cosubject of his existence in the world, has not become for him an "object": an object of pleasure, of exploitation.

Guardians of the Gospel message

15. Christ's way of acting, the Gospel of his words and deeds, is a consistent protest against whatever offends the dignity of women. Consequently, the women who are close to Christ discover themselves in the truth which he "teaches" and "does", even when this truth concerns their "sinfulness". They feel "liberated" by this truth, restored to themselves: they feel loved with "eternal love", with a love which finds direct expression in Christ himself.

In Christ's sphere of action their position is transformed. They feel that Jesus is speaking to them about matters which in those times one did not discuss with a woman. Perhaps the most significant example of this is the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar. Jesus - who knows that she is a sinner and speaks to her about this - discusses the most profound mysteries of God with her. He speaks to her of God's infinite gift of love, which is like a "spring of water welling up to eternal life"(Jn 4:14). He speaks to her about God who is Spirit, and about the true adoration which the Father has a right to receive in spirit and truth (cf. Jn 4:24). Finally he reveals to her that he is the Messiah promised to Israel (cf. Jn 4:26).

This is an event without precedent: that a woman, and what is more a "sinful woman", becomes a "disciple" of Christ. Indeed, once taught, she proclaims Christ to the inhabitants of Samaria, so that they too receive him with faith (cf. Jn 4: 39-42). This is an unprecedented event, if one remembers the usual way women were treated by those who were teachers in Israel; whereas in Jesus of Nazareth's way of acting such an event becomes normal. In this regard, the sisters of Lazarus also deserve special mention: "Jesus loved Martha and her sister (Mary) and Lazarus" (cf. Jn 11:5). Mary "listened to the teaching" of Jesus: when he pays them a visit, he calls Mary's behaviour "the good portion" in contrast to Martha's preoccupation with domestic matters (cf. Lk 10: 3842). On another occasion - after the death of Lazarus - Martha is the one who talks to Christ, and the conversation concerns the most profound truths of revelation and faith: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died". "Your brother will rise again". "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day". Jesus said to her: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world" (Jn 11:21-27). After this profession of faith Jesus raises Lazarus. This conversation with Martha is one of the most important in the Gospel.

Christ speaks to women about the things of God, and they understand them; there is a true resonance of mind and heart, a response of faith. Jesus expresses appreciation and admiration for this distinctly "feminine" response, as in the case of the Canaanite woman (cf. Mt 15:28). Sometimes he presents this lively faith, filled with love, as an example. He teaches, therefore, taking as his starting-point this feminine response of mind and heart. This is the case with the "sinful" woman in the Pharisee's house, whose way of acting is taken by Jesus as the starting-point for explaining the truth about the forgiveness of sins: "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little" (Lk 7:47). On the occasion of another anointing, Jesus defends the woman and her action before the disciples, Judas in particular: "Why do you trouble this woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me... In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her" (Mt 26: 6-13).

Indeed, the Gospels not only describe what that woman did at Bethany in the house of Simon the Leper; they also highlight the fact that women were in the forefront at the foot of the Cross, at the decisive moment in Jesus of Nazareth's whole messianic mission. John was the only Apostle who remained faithful, but there were many faithful women. Not only the Mother of Christ and "his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene" (Jn 19:25) were present, but "there were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him" (Mt 27: 55). As we see, in this most arduous test of faith and fidelity the women proved stronger than the Apostles. In this moment of danger, those who love much succeed in overcoming their fear. Before this there were the women on the Via Dolorosa, "who bewailed and lamented him" (Lk 23:27). Earlier still, there was Pilate's wife, who had warned her husband: "Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream" (Mt 27:19).

First witnesses of the Resurrection

16. From the beginning of Christ's mission, women show to him and to his mystery a specialsensitivity which is characteristic of their femininity. It must also be said that this is especially confirmed in the Paschal Mystery, not only at the Cross but also at the dawn of the Resurrection. The women are the first at the tomb. They are the first to find it empty. They are the first to hear: "He is not here. He has risen, as he said" (Mt 28:6). They are the first to embrace his feet (cf. Mt 28:9). They are also the first to be called to announce this truth to the Apostles (cf. Mt 28:1-10; Lk 24:8-11). The Gospel of John (cf. also Mk 16: 9) emphasizes the special role of Mary Magdalene. She is the first to meet the Risen Christ. At first she thinks he is the gardener; she recognizes him only when he calls her by name: "Jesus said to her, 'Mary'. She turned and said to him in Hebrew, 'Rabbuni' (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, 'Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God'. Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord'; and she told them that he had said these things to her" (Jn 20:16-18).

Hence she came to be called "the apostle of the Apostles".38 Mary Magdalene was the first eyewitness of the Risen Christ, and for this reason she was also the first to bear witness to him before the Apostles. This event, in a sense, crowns all that has been said previously about Christ entrusting divine truths to women as well as men. One can say that this fulfilled the words of the Prophet: "I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" (Jl3:1). On the fiftieth day after Christ's Resurrection, these words are confirmed once more in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, at the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete (cf. Act 2:17).

Everything that has been said so far about Christ's attitude to women confirms and clarifies, in the Holy Spirit, the truth about the equality of man and woman. One must speak of an essential "equality", since both of them - the woman as much as the man - are created in the image and likeness of God. Both of them are equally capable of receiving the outpouring of divine truth and love in the Holy Spirit. Both receive his salvific and sanctifying "visits".

The fact of being a man or a woman involves no limitation here, just as the salvific and sanctifying action of the Spirit in man is in no way limited by the fact that one is a Jew or a Greek, slave or free, according to the well-known words of Saint Paul: "For you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).This unity does not cancel out diversity. The Holy Spirit, who brings about this unity in the supernatural order of sanctifying grace, contributes in equal measure to the fact that "your sons will prophesy" and that "your daughters will prophesy". "To prophesy" means to express by one's words and one's life "the mighty works of God" (Acts 2: 11), preserving the truth and originality of each person, whether woman or man. Gospel "equality", the "equality" of women and men in regard to the "mighty works of God" - manifested so clearly in the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth - constitutes the most obvious basis for the dignity and vocation of women in the Church and in the world. Every vocation has a profoundly personal and prophetic meaning. In "vocation" understood in this way, what is personally feminine reaches a new dimension: the dimension of the "mighty works of God", of which the woman becomes the living subject and an irreplaceable witness.



Two dimensions of women's vocation"

17. We must now focus our meditation on virginity and motherhood as two particular dimensions of the fulfillment of the female personality. In the light of the Gospel, they acquire their full meaning and value in Mary, who as a Virgin became the Mother of the Son of God. These two dimensions of the female vocation were united in her in an exceptional manner, in such a way that one did not exclude the other but wonderfully complemented it. The description of the Annunciation in the Gospel of Luke clearly shows that this seemed impossible to the Virgin of Nazareth. When she hears the words: "You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus", she immediately asks: "How can this be, since I have no husband?" (Lk 1: 31, 34). In the usual order of things motherhood is the result of mutual "knowledge" between a man and woman in the marriage union. Mary, firm in her resolve to preserve her virginity, puts this question to the divine messenger, and obtains from him the explanation: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you" - your motherhood will not be the consequence of matrimonial "knowledge", but will be the work of the Holy Spirit; the "power of the Most High" will "overshadow" the mystery of the Son's conception and birth; as the Son of the Most High, he is given to you exclusively by God, in a manner known to God. Mary, therefore, maintained her virginal "I have no husband" (cf. Lk 1: 34) and at the same time became a Mother. Virginity and motherhood co-exist in her: they do not mutually exclude each other or place limits on each other. Indeed, the person of the Mother of God helps everyone - especially women - to see how these two dimensions, these two paths in the vocation of women as persons, explain and complete each other.


18 . In order to share in this "vision", we must once again seek a deeper understanding of the truth about the human person recalled by the Second Vatican Council. The human being - both male and female - is the only being in the world which God willed for its own sake. The human being is a person, a subject who decides for himself. At the same time, man "cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self".39 It has already been said that this description, indeed this definition of the person, corresponds to the fundamental biblical truth about the creation of the human being - man and woman - in the image and likeness of God. This is not a purely theoretical interpretation, nor an abstract definition, for it gives an essential indication of what it means to be human, while emphasizing the value of the gift of self, the gift of the person. In this vision of the person we also find the essence of that "ethos" which, together with the truth of creation, will be fully developed by the books of Revelation, particularly the Gospels.

This truth about the person also opens up the path to a full understanding of women's motherhood. Motherhood is the fruit of the marriage union of a man and woman, of that biblical "knowledge" which corresponds to the "union of the two in one flesh" (cf. Gen 2:24). This brings about - on the woman's part - a special "gift of self", as an expression of that spousal love whereby the two are united to each other so closely that they become "one flesh". Biblical "knowledge" is achieved in accordance with the truth of the person only when the mutual self-giving is not distorted either by the desire of the man to become the "master" of his wife ("he shall rule over you") or by the woman remaining closed within her own instincts ("your desire shall be for your husband": Gen 3:16).

This mutual gift of the person in marriage opens to the gift of a new life, a new human being,who is also a person in the likeness of his parents. Motherhood implies from the beginning a special openness to the new person: and this is precisely the woman's "part". In this openness, in conceiving and giving birth to a child, the woman "discovers herself through a sincere gift of self". The gift of interior readiness to accept the child and bring it into the world is linked to the marriage union, which - as mentioned earlier - should constitute a special moment in the mutual self-giving both by the woman and the man. According to the Bible, the conception and birth of a new human being are accompanied by the following words of the woman: "I have brought a man into being with the help of the Lord" (Gen 4:1).This exclamation of Eve, the "mother of all the living" is repeated every time a new human being comes into the world. It expresses the woman's joy and awareness that she is sharing in the great mystery of eternal generation. The spouses share in the creative power of God!

The woman's motherhood in the period between the baby's conception and birth is a bio-physiological and psychological process which is better understood in our days than in the past, and is the subject of many detailed studies. Scientific analysis fully confirms that the very physical constitution of women is naturally disposed to motherhood - conception, pregnancy and giving birth - which is a consequence of the marriage union with the man. At the same time, this also corresponds to the psycho-physical structure of women. What the different branches of science have to say on this subject is important and useful, provided that it is not limited to an exclusively bio-physiological interpretation of women and of motherhood. Such a "restricted" picture would go hand in hand with a materialistic concept of the human being and of the world. In such a case, what is truly essential would unfortunately be lost. Motherhood as a human fact and phenomenon, is fully explained on the basis of the truth about the person. Motherhood is linked to the personal structure of the woman and to the personal dimension of the gift: "I have brought a man into being with the help of the Lord" (Gen 4:1). The Creator grants the parents the gift of a child. On the woman's part, this fact is linked in a special way to "a sincere gift of self". Mary's words at the Annunciation - "Let it be to me according to your word" - signify the woman's readiness for the gift of self and her readiness to accept a new life.

The eternal mystery of generation, which is in God himself, the one and Triune God (cf. Eph 3:14-15), is reflected in the woman's motherhood and in the man's fatherhood. Human parenthood is something shared by both the man and the woman. Even if the woman, out of love for her husband, says: "I have given you a child", her words also mean: "This is our child". Although both of them together are parents of their child, the woman's motherhood constitutes a special "part" in this shared parenthood, and the most demanding part. Parenthood - even though it belongs to both - is realized much more fully in the woman, especially in the prenatal period. It is the woman who "pays" directly for this shared generation, which literally absorbs the energies of her body and soul. It is therefore necessary that the man be fully aware that in their shared parenthood he owes a special debt to the woman. No programme of "equal rights" between women and men is valid unless it takes this fact fully into account.

Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman's womb. The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and "understands" with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the "beginning", the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings - not only towards her own child, but every human being - which profoundly marks the woman's personality. It is commonly thought that women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person, and that motherhood develops this predisposition even more. The man - even with all his sharing in parenthood - always remains "outside" the process of pregnancy and the baby's birth; in many ways he has to learn his own"fatherhood" from the mother. One can say that this is part of the normal human dimension of parenthood, including the stages that follow the birth of the baby, especially the initial period. The child's upbringing, taken as a whole, should include the contribution of both parents: the maternal and paternal contribution. In any event, the mother's contribution is decisive in laying the foundation for a new human personality.

Motherhood in relation to the Covenant

19. Our reflection returns to the biblical exemplar of the "woman" in the Proto-evangelium. The "woman", as mother and first teacher of the human being (education being the spiritual dimension of parenthood), has a specific precedence over the man. Although motherhood, especially in the bio-physical sense, depends upon the man, it places an essential "mark" on the whole personal growth process of new children. Motherhood in the bio-physical sense appears to be passive: the formation process of a new life "takes place" in her, in her body, which is nevertheless profoundly involved in that process. At the same time, motherhood in its personal-ethical sense expresses a very important creativity on the part of the woman, upon whom the very humanity of the new human being mainly depends. In this sense too the woman's motherhood presents a special call and a special challenge to the man and to his fatherhood.

The biblical exemplar of the "woman" finds its culmination in the motherhood of the Mother of God. The words of the Proto-evangelium - "I will put enmity between you and the woman" - find here a fresh confirmation. We see that through Mary - through her maternal "fiat", ("Let it be done to me") - God begins a New Covenant with humanity. This is the eternal and definitive Covenant in Christ, in his body and blood, in his Cross and Resurrection. Precisely because this Covenant is to be fulfilled "in flesh and blood" its beginning is in the Mother. Thanks solely to her and to her virginal and maternal "fiat", the "Son of the Most High" can say to the Father: "A body you have prepared for me. Lo, I have come to do your will, O God" (cf. Heb 10:5, 7).

Motherhood has been introduced into the order of the Covenant that God made with humanity in Jesus Christ. Each and every time that motherhood is repeated in human history, it is always related to the Covenant which God established with the human race through the motherhood of the Mother of God.

Does not Jesus bear witness to this reality when he answers the exclamation of that woman in the crowd who blessed him for Mary's motherhood: "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!"? Jesus replies: "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it"(Lk 11:27-28). Jesus confirms the meaning of motherhood in reference to the body, but at the same time he indicates an even deeper meaning, which is connected with the order of the spirit: it is a sign of the Covenant with God who "is spirit" (Jn 4: 24). This is true above all for the motherhood of the Mother of God. The motherhood of every woman, understood in the light of the Gospel, is similarly not only "of flesh and blood": it expresses a profound "listening to the word of the living God" and a readiness to "safeguard" this Word, which is "the word of eternal life" (cf. Jn 6:68). For it is precisely those born of earthly mothers, the sons and daughters of the human race, who receive from the Son of God the power to become "children of God" (Jn 1:12). A dimension of the New Covenant in Christ's blood enters into human parenthood, making it a reality and a task for "new creatures" (cf. 2 Cor 5: 17). The history of every human being passes through the threshold of a woman's motherhood; crossing it conditions "the revelation of the children of God" (cf. Rom 8: 19).

"When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world" (Jn 16: 21). The first part of Christ's words refers to the "pangs of childbirth" which belong to the heritage of original sin; at the same time these words indicate the link that exists between the woman's motherhood and the Paschal Mystery. For this mystery also includes the Mother's sorrow at the foot of the Cross - the Mother who through faith shares in the amazing mystery of her Son's "self-emptying": "This is perhaps the deepest 'kenosis' of faith in human history".40

As we contemplate this Mother, whose heart "a sword has pierced" (cf. Lk 2: 35), our thoughts go toall the suffering women in the world, suffering either physically or morally. In this suffering a woman's sensitivity plays a role, even though she often succeeds in resisting suffering better than a man. It is difficult to enumerate these sufferings; it is difficult to call them all by name. We may recall her maternal care for her children, especially when they fall sick or fall into bad ways; the death of those most dear to her; the loneliness of mothers forgotten by their grown up children; the loneliness of widows; the sufferings of women who struggle alone to make a living; and women who have been wronged or exploited. Then there are the sufferings of consciences as a result of sin, which has wounded the woman's human or maternal dignity: the wounds of consciences which do not heal easily. With these sufferings too we must place ourselves at the foot of the Cross.

But the words of the Gospel about the woman who suffers when the time comes for her to give birth to her child, immediately afterwards express joy: it is "the joy that a child is born into the world".This joy too is referred to the Paschal Mystery, to the joy which is communicated to the Apostles onthe day of Christ's Resurrection: "So you have sorrow now" (these words were said the day before the Passion); "but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you" (Jn 16: 22-23).

Virginity for the sake of the Kingdom

20. In the teaching of Christ, motherhood is connected with virginity, but also distinct from it.Fundamental to this is Jesus' statement in the conversation on the indissolubility of marriage. Having heard the answer given to the Pharisees, the disciples say to Christ: "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry" (Mt 19: 10). Independently of the meaning which "it is not expedient" had at that time in the mind of the disciples, Christ takes their mistaken opinion as a starting point for instructing them on the value of celibacy. He distinguishes celibacy which results from natural defects - even though they may have been caused by man - from "celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven". Christ says, "and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:12). It is, then, a voluntary celibacy, chosen for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, in view of man's eschatological vocation to union with God. He then adds: "He who is able to receive this, let him receive it". These words repeat what he had said at the beginning of the discourse on celibacy (cf. Mt 19:11). Consequently, celibacy for the kingdom of heaven results not only from a free choice on the part of man, but also from a specialgrace on the part of God, who calls a particular person to live celibacy. While this is a special sign of the Kingdom of God to come, it also serves as a way to devote all the energies of soul and body during one's earthly life exclusively for the sake of the eschatological kingdom.

Jesus' words are the answer to the disciples' question. They are addressed directly to those who put the question: in this case they were men. Nevertheless, Christ's answer, in itself, has a value both for men and for women. In this context it indicates the evangelical ideal of virginity, an ideal which constitutes a clear "innovation" with respect to the tradition of the Old Testament. Certainly that tradition was connected in some way with Israel's expectation of the Messiah's coming, especially among the women of Israel from whom he was to be born. In fact, the ideal of celibacy and virginity for the sake of greater closeness to God was not entirely foreign to certain Jewish circles, especially in the period immediately preceding the coming of Jesus. Nevertheless, celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, or rather virginity, is undeniably an innovation connected with the incarnation of God.

From the moment of Christ's coming, the expectation of the People of God has to be directed to the eschatological Kingdom which is coming and to which he must lead "the new Israel". A new awareness of faith is essential for such a turn-about and change of values. Christ emphasizes this twice: "He who is able to receive this, let him receive it". Only "those to whom it is given" understand it (Mt 19:11). Mary is the first person in whom this new awareness is manifested, for she asks the Angel: "How can this be, since I have no husband?" (Lk 1:34).Even though she is "betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph" (cf. Lk 1:27), she is firm in her resolve to remain a virgin. The motherhood which is accomplished in her comes exclusively from the "power of the Most High", and is the result of the Holy Spirit's coming down upon her (cf. Lk 1:35). This divine motherhood, therefore, is an altogether unforeseen response to the human expectation of women in Israel: it comes to Mary as a gift from God himself. This gift is the beginning and the prototype of a new expectation on the part of all. It measures up to the Eternal Covenant, to God's new and definitive promise: it is a sign of eschatological hope.

On the basis of the Gospel, the meaning of virginity was developed and better understood as a vocation for women too, one in which their dignity, like that of the Virgin of Nazareth, finds confirmation. The Gospel puts forward the ideal of the consecration of the person, that is, the person's exclusive dedication to God by virtue of the evangelical counsels: in particular, chastity, poverty and obedience. Their perfect incarnation is Jesus Christ himself. Whoever wishes to follow him in a radical way chooses to live according to these counsels. They are distinct from the commandments and show the Christian the radical way of the Gospel. From the very beginning of Christianity men and women have set out on this path, since the evangelical ideal is addressed to human beings without any distinction of sex.

In this wider context, virginity has to be considered also as a path for women, a path on which they realize their womanhood in a way different from marriage. In order to understand this path, it is necessary to refer once more to the fundamental idea of Christian anthropology. By freely choosing virginity, women confirm themselves as persons, as beings whom the Creator from the beginning has willed for their own sake.41 At the same time they realize the personal value of their own femininity by becoming "a sincere gift" for God who has revealed himself in Christ, a gift for Christ, the Redeemer of humanity and the Spouse of souls: a "spousal" gift. One cannot correctly understand virginity - a woman's consecration in virginity - without referring to spousal love. It is through this kind of love that a person becomes a gift for the other.42 Moreover, a man's consecration in priestly celibacy or in the religious state is to be understood analogously.

The naturally spousal predisposition of the feminine personality finds a response in virginity understood in this way. Women, called from the very "beginning" to be loved and to love, in a vocation to virginity find Christ first of all as the Redeemer who "loved until the end" through his total gift of self; and they respond to this gift with a "sincere gift" of their whole lives. They thus give themselves to the divine Spouse, and this personal gift tends to union, which is properly spiritual in character. Through the Holy Spirit's action a woman becomes "one spirit" with Christ the Spouse (cf. 1 Cor 6:17).

This is the evangelical ideal of virginity, in which both the dignity and the vocation of women are realized in a special way. In virginity thus understood the so-called radicalism of the Gospel finds expression: "Leave everything and follow Christ" (cf. Mt 19:27). This cannot be compared to remaining simply unmarried or single, because virginity is not restricted to a mere "no", but contains a profound "yes" in the spousal order: the gift of self for love in a total and undivided manner.

Motherhood according to the Spirit

21. Virginity according to the Gospel means renouncing marriage and thus physical motherhood.Nevertheless, the renunciation of this kind of motherhood, a renunciation that can involve great sacrifice for a woman, makes possible a different kind of motherhood: motherhood "according to the Spirit" (cf. Rom 8:4). For virginity does not deprive a woman of her prerogatives. Spiritual motherhood takes on many different forms. In the life of consecrated women, for example, who live according to the charism and the rules of the various apostolic Institutes, it can express itself as concern for people, especially the most needy: the sick, the handicapped, the abandoned, orphans, the elderly, children, young people, the imprisoned and, in general, people on the edges of society. In this way a consecrated woman finds her Spouse, different and the same in each and every person, according to his very words: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me"(Mt 25:40). Spousal love always involves a special readiness to be poured out for the sake of those who come within one's range of activity. In marriage this readiness, even though open to all, consists mainly in the love that parents give to their children. In virginity this readiness is open to all people, who are embraced by the love of Christ the Spouse.

Spousal love - with its maternal potential hidden in the heart of the woman as a virginal bride - when joined to Christ, the Redeemer of each and every person, is also predisposed to being open to each and every person. This is confirmed in the religious communities of apostolic life, and in a different way in communities of contemplative life, or the cloister. There exist still other forms of a vocation to virginity for the sake of the Kingdom; for example, the Secular Institutes, or the communities of consecrated persons which flourish within Movements, Groups and Associations. In all of these the same truth about the spiritual motherhood of virgins is confirmed in various ways. However, it is not only a matter of communal forms but also of non-communal forms. In brief, virginity as a woman's vocation is always the vocation of a person - of a unique, individual person. Therefore the spiritual motherhood which makes itself felt in this vocation is also profoundly personal.

This is also the basis of a specific convergence between the virginity of the unmarried woman andthe motherhood of the married woman. This convergence moves not only from motherhood towards virginity, as emphasized above; it also moves from virginity towards marriage, the form of woman's vocation in which she becomes a mother by giving birth to her children. The starting point of this second analogy is the meaning of marriage. A woman is "married" either through the sacrament of marriage or spiritually through marriage to Christ. In both cases marriage signifies the "sincere gift of the person" of the bride to the groom. In this way, one can say that the profile of marriage is found spiritually in virginity. And does not physical motherhood also have to be a spiritual motherhood, in order to respond to the whole truth about the human being who is a unity of body and spirit? Thus there exist many reasons for discerning in these two different paths - the two different vocations of women - a profound complementarity, and even a profound union within a person's being.

"My little children with whom I am again in travail"

22. The Gospel reveals and enables us to understand precisely this mode of being of the human person. The Gospel helps every woman and every man to live it and thus attain fulfilment. There exists a total equality with respect to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, with respect to the "mighty works of God" (Acts 2:11). Moreover, it is precisely in the face of the "mighty works of God" that Saint Paul, as a man, feels the need to refer to what is essentially feminine in order to express the truth about his own apostolic service. This is exactly what Paul of Tarsus does when he addresses the Galatians with the words: "My little children, with whom I am again in travail" (Gal 4:19). In the First Letter to the Corinthians (7: 38) Saint Paul proclaims the superiority of virginity over marriage, which is a constant teaching of the Church in accordance with the spirit of Christ's words recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (19: 10-12); he does so without in any way obscuring the importance of physical and spiritual motherhood. Indeed, in order to illustrate the Church's fundamental mission, he finds nothing better than the reference to motherhood.

The same analogy - and the same truth - are present in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.Mary is the "figure" of the Church:43 "For in the mystery of the Church, herself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin came first as an eminent and singular exemplar of both virginity and motherhood. ... The Son whom she brought forth is He whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren (cf. Rom 8: 29),namely, among the faithful. In their birth and development she cooperates with a maternal love".44 "Moreover, contemplating Mary's mysterious sanctity, imitating her charity, and faithfully fulfilling the Father's will, the Church herself becomes a mother by accepting God's word in faith. For by her preaching and by baptism she brings forth to a new and immortal life children who are conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God".45 This is motherhood "according to the Spirit" with regard to the sons and daughters of the human race. And this motherhood - as already mentioned - becomes the woman's "role" also in virginity. "The Churchherself is a virgin, who keeps whole and pure the fidelity she has pledged to her Spouse".46 This is most perfectly fulfilled in Mary. The Church, therefore, "imitating the Mother of her Lord, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, ... preserves with virginal purity an integral faith, a firm hope, and a sincere charity".47

The Council has confirmed that, unless one looks to the Mother of God, it is impossible to understand the mystery of the Church, her reality, her essential vitality. Indirectly we find here a reference to thebiblical exemplar of the "woman" which is already clearly outlined in the description of the "beginning" (cf. Gen 3:15)and which procedes from creation, through sin to the Redemption. In this way there is a confirmation of the profound union between what is human and what constitutes the divine economy of salvation in human history. The Bible convinces us of the fact that one can have no adequate hermeneutic of man, or of what is "human", without appropriate reference to what is "feminine". There is an analogy in God's salvific economy: if we wish to understand it fully in relation to the whole of human history, we cannot omit, in the perspective of our faith, the mystery of "woman": virgin-mother-spouse.



The "great mystery"

23. Of fundamental importance here are the words of the Letter to the Ephesians: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body. 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'. This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church" (5:25-32).

In this Letter the author expresses the truth about the Church as the bride of Christ, and also indicates how this truth is rooted in the biblical reality of the creation of the human being as male and female. Created in the image and likeness of God as a "unity of the two", both have been called to a spousal love. Following the description of creation in the Book of Genesis (2:18-25), one can also say that this fundamental call appears in the creation of woman, and is inscribed by the Creator in the institution of marriage, which, according to Genesis 2:24, has the character of a union of persons ("communio personarum") from the very beginning. Although not directly, the very description of the "beginning" (cf. Gen 1:27; 2:24) shows that the whole "ethos" of mutual relations between men and women has to correspond to the personal truth of their being.

All this has already been considered. The Letter to the Ephesians once again confirms this truth, while at the same time comparing the spousal character of the love between man and woman to the mystery of Christ and of the Church. Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church - the Church is the Bride of Christ. This analogy is not without precedent; it transfers to the New Testament what was already contained in the Old Testament, especially in the prophets Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah.48 The respective passages deserve a separate analysis. Here we will cite only one text. This is how God speaks to his Chosen People through the Prophet: "Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be put to shame; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer. ... For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you" (Is 54:4-8, 10).

Since the human being - man and woman - has been created in God's image and likeness, God can speak about himself through the lips of the Prophet using language which is essentially human. In the text of Isaiah quoted above, the expression of God's love is "human", but the love itself is divine.Since it is God's love, its spousal character is properly divine, even though it is expressed by the analogy of a man's love for a woman. The woman-bride is Israel, God's Chosen People, and this choice originates exclusively in God's gratuitous love. It is precisely this love which explains the Covenant, a Covenant often presented as a marriage covenant which God always renews with his Chosen People. On the part of God the Covenant is a lasting "commitment"; he remains faithful to his spousal love even if the bride often shows herself to be unfaithful.

This image of spousal love, together with the figure of the divine Bridegroom - a very clear image in the texts of the Prophets - finds crowning confirmation in the Letter to the Ephesians (5:23-32).Christ is greeted as the bridegroom by John the Baptist (cf. Jn 3:27-29). Indeed Christ applies to himself this comparison drawn from the Prophets (cf. Mk 2:19-20). The Apostle Paul, who is a bearer of the Old Testament heritage, writes to the Corinthians: "I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband" (2 Cor 11:2). But the fullest expression of the truth about Christ the Redeemer's love, according to the analogy of spousal love in marriage, is found in the Letter to the Ephesians: "Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her" (5:25), thereby fully confirming the fact that the Church is the bride of Christ: "The Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer" (Is 54:5). In Saint Paul's text the analogy of the spousal relationship moves simultaneously in two directions which make up the whole of the "great mystery"("sacramentum magnum").

The covenant proper to spouses "explains" the spousal character of the union of Christ with the Church, and in its turn this union, as a "great sacrament", determines the sacramentality of marriage as a holy covenant between the two spouses, man and woman. Reading this rich and complex passage, which taken as a whole is a great analogy, we must distinguish that element which expresses the human reality of interpersonal relations from that which expresses in symbolic language the "great mystery" which is divine.

The Gospel "innovation"

24. The text is addressed to the spouses as real women and men. It reminds them of the "ethos" of spousal love which goes back to the divine institution of marriage from the "beginning". Corresponding to the truth of this institution is the exhortation: "Husbands, love your wives", love them because of that special and unique bond whereby in marriage a man and a woman become "one flesh" (Gen 2:24; Eph 5:31). In this love there is a fundamental affirmation of the woman as a person. This affirmation makes it possible for the female personality to develop fully and be enriched. This is precisely the way Christ acts as the bridegroom of the Church; he desires that she be "in splendour, without spot or wrinkle" (Eph 5:27). One can say that this fully captures the whole "style" of Christ in dealing with women. Husbands should make their own the elements of this style in regard to their wives; analogously, all men should do the same in regard to women in every situation. In this way both men and women bring about "the sincere gift of self".

The author of the Letter to the Ephesians sees no contradiction between an exhortation formulated in this way and the words: "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife" (5:22-23). The author knows that this way of speaking, so profoundly rooted in the customs and religious tradition of the time, is to be understood and carried out in a new way: as a "mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ" (cf. Eph 5:21). This is especially true because the husband is called the "head" of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church; he is so in order to give "himself up for her" (Eph 5:25), and giving himself up for her means giving up even his own life. However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the "subjection" is not one-sided but mutual.

In relation to the "old" this is evidently something "new": it is an innovation of the Gospel. We find various passages in which the apostolic writings express this innovation, even though they also communicate what is "old": what is rooted in the religious tradition of Israel, in its way of understanding and explaining the sacred texts, as for example the second chapter of the Book of Genesis.49

The apostolic letters are addressed to people living in an environment marked by that same traditional way of thinking and acting. The "innovation" of Christ is a fact: it constitutes the unambiguous content of the evangelical message and is the result of the Redemption. However, the awareness that in marriage there is mutual "subjection of the spouses out of reverence for Christ", and not just that of the wife to the husband, must gradually establish itself in hearts, consciences, behaviour and customs. This is a call which from that time onwards, does not cease to challenge succeeding generations; it is a call which people have to accept ever anew. Saint Paul not only wrote: "In Christ Jesus... there is no more man or woman", but also wrote: "There is no more slave or freeman". Yet how many generations were needed for such a principle to be realized in the history of humanity through the abolition of slavery! And what is one to say of the many forms of slavery to which individuals and peoples are subjected, which have not yet disappeared from history?

But the challenge presented by the "ethos" of the Redemption is clear and definitive. All the reasons in favour of the "subjection" of woman to man in marriage must be understood in the sense of a "mutual subjection" of both "out of reverence for Christ". The measure of true spousal love finds its deepest source in Christ, who is the Bridegroom of the Church, his Bride.

The symbolic dimension of the "great mystery"

25. In the Letter to the Ephesians we encounter a second dimension of the analogy which, taken as a whole, serves to reveal the "great mystery". This is a symbolic dimension. If God's love for the human person, for the Chosen People of Israel, is presented by the Prophets as the love of the bridegroom for the bride, such an analogy expresses the "spousal" quality and the divine and non-human character of God's love: "For your Maker is your husband ... the God of the whole earth he is called" (Is 54:5). The same can also be said of the spousal love of Christ the Redeemer: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3:16). It is a matter, therefore, of God's love expressed by means of the Redemption accomplished by Christ. According to Saint Paul's Letter, this love is "like" the spousal love of human spouses, but naturally it is not "the same". For the analogy implies a likeness, while at the same time leaving ample room for non-likeness.

This is easily seen in regard to the person of the "bride". According to the Letter to the Ephesians, the bride is the Church, just as for the Prophets the bride was Israel. She is therefore a collective subject and not an individual person. This collective subject is the People of God, a community made up of many persons, both women and men. "Christ has loved the Church" precisely as a community, as the People of God. At the same time, in this Church, which in the same passage is also called his "body" (cf. Eph 5:23), he has loved every individual person. For Christ has redeemed all without exception, every man and woman. It is precisely this love of God which is expressed in the Redemption; the spousal character of this love reaches completion in the history of humanity and of the world.

Christ has entered this history and remains in it as the Bridegroom who "has given himself". "To give" means "to become a sincere gift" in the most complete and radical way: "Greater love has no man than this" (Jn 15:13). According to this conception, all human beings - both women and men - are called through the Church, to be the "Bride" of Christ, the Redeemer of the world. In this way "being the bride", and thus the "feminine" element, becomes a symbol of all that is "human", according to the words of Paul: "There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal3:28).

From a linguistic viewpoint we can say that the analogy of spousal love found in the Letter to the Ephesians links what is "masculine" to what is "feminine", since, as members of the Church, men too are included in the concept of "Bride". This should not surprise us, for Saint Paul, in order to express his mission in Christ and in the Church, speaks of the "little children with whom he is again in travail" (cf. Gal 4:19). In the sphere of what is "human" - of what is humanly personal - "masculinity" and "femininity" are distinct, yet at the same time they complete and explain each other. This is also present in the great analogy of the "Bride" in the Letter to the Ephesians. In the Church every human being - male and female - is the "Bride", in that he or she accepts the gift of the love of Christ the Redeemer, and seeks to respond to it with the gift of his or her own person.

Christ is the Bridegroom. This expresses the truth about the love of God who "first loved us" (cf. 1Jn 4:19) and who, with the gift generated by this spousal love for man, has exceeded all human expectations: "He loved them to the end" (Jn 13:1). The Bridegroom - the Son consubstantial with the Father as God - became the son of Mary; he became the "son of man", true man, a male. The symbol of the Bridegroom is masculine. This masculine symbol represents the human aspect of the divine love which God has for Israel, for the Church, and for all people. Meditating on what the Gospels say about Christ's attitude towards women, we can conclude that as a man, a son of Israel, he revealed the dignity of the "daughters of Abraham" (cf. Lk 13:16), the dignity belonging to women from the very "beginning" on an equal footing with men. At the same time Christ emphasized the originality which distinguishes women from men, all the richness lavished upon women in the mystery of creation. Christ's attitude towards women serves as a model of what the Letter to the Ephesians expresses with the concept of "bridegroom". Precisely because Christ's divine love is the love of a Bridegroom, it is the model and pattern of all human love, men's love in particular.

The Eucharist

26. Against the broad background of the "great mystery" expressed in the spousal relationship between Christ and the Church, it is possible to understand adequately the calling of the "Twelve". In calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behaviour, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time. Consequently, the assumption that he called men to be apostles in order to conform with the widespread mentality of his times, does not at all correspond to Christ's way of acting. "Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men" (Mt 22:16). These words fully characterize Jesus of Nazareth's behaviour. Here one also finds an explanation for the calling of the "Twelve". They are with Christ at the Last Supper. They alone receive the sacramental charge, "Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24), which is joined to the institution of the Eucharist. On Easter Sunday night they receive the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins: "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20:23).

We find ourselves at the very heart of the Paschal Mystery, which completely reveals the spousal love of God. Christ is the Bridegroom because "he has given himself": his body has been "given", his blood has been "poured out" (cf. Lk 22:19-20). In this way "he loved them to the end" (Jn 13:1). The "sincere gift" contained in the Sacrifice of the Cross gives definitive prominence to the spousal meaning of God's love. As the Redeemer of the world, Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of our Redemption. It is the Sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride. The Eucharist makes present and realizes anew in a sacramental manner the redemptive act of Christ, who "creates" the Church, his body. Christ is united with this "body" as the bridegroom with the bride. All this is contained in the Letter to the Ephesians. The perennial "unity of the two" that exists between man and woman from the very "beginning" is introduced into this "great mystery" of Christ and of the Church.

Since Christ, in instituting the Eucharist, linked it in such an explicit way to the priestly service of the Apostles, it is legitimate to conclude that he thereby wished to express the relationship between man and woman, between what is "feminine" and what is "masculine". It is a relationship willed by God both in the mystery of creation and in the mystery of Redemption. It is the Eucharist above all that expresses the redemptive act of Christ the Bridegroom towards the Church the Bride. This is clear and unambiguous when the sacramental ministry of the Eucharist, in which the priest acts "inpersona Christi", is performed by a man. This explanation confirms the teaching of the DeclarationInter Insigniores, published at the behest of Paul VI in response to the question concerning the admission of women to the ministerial priesthood.50

The Gift of the Bride

27. The Second Vatican Council renewed the Church's awareness of the universality of the priesthood. In the New Covenant there is only one sacrifice and only one priest: Christ. All the baptized share in the one priesthood of Christ, both men and women, inasmuch as they must "present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (cf. Rom 12:1), give witness to Christ in every place, and give an explanation to anyone who asks the reason for the hope in eternal life that is in them (cf. 1 Pt 3:15)".51 Universal participation in Christ's sacrifice, in which the Redeemer has offered to the Father the whole world and humanity in particular, brings it about that all in the Church are "a kingdom of priests" (Rev 5:10; cf. 1 Pt 2:9), who not only share in the priestly mission but also in the prophetic and kingly mission of Christ the Messiah. Furthermore, this participation determines the organic unity of the Church, the People of God, with Christ. It expresses at the same time the "great mystery" described in the Letter to the Ephesians: the bride united to her Bridegroom; united, because she lives his life; united, because she shares in his threefold mission(tria munera Christi); united in such a manner as to respond with a "sincere gift" of self to the inexpressible gift of the love of the Bridegroom, the Redeemer of the world. This concerns everyone in the Church, women as well as men. It obviously concerns those who share in the a ministerial priesthood",52 which is characterized by service. In the context of the "great mystery" of Christ and of the Church, all are called to respond - as a bride - with the gift of their lives to the inexpressible gift of the love of Christ, who alone, as the Redeemer of the world, is the Church's Bridegroom. The "royal priesthood", which is universal, at the same time expresses the gift of the Bride.

This is of fundamental importance for understanding the Church in her own essence, so as to avoid applying to the Church - even in her dimension as an "institution" made up of human beings and forming part of history - criteria of understanding and judgment which do not pertain to her nature. Although the Church possesses a "hierarchical" structure,53 nevertheless this structure is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ's members. And holiness is measured according to the "great mystery" in which the Bride responds with the gift of love to the gift of the Bridegroom. She does this "in the Holy Spirit", since "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom 5:5). The Second Vatican Council, confirming the teaching of the whole of tradition, recalled that in the hierarchy of holiness it is precisely the "woman", Mary of Nazareth, who is the "figure" of the Church. She "precedes" everyone on the path to holiness; in her person "the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she exists without spot or wrinkle (cf. Eph5:27)".54 In this sense, one can say that the Church is both "Marian" and "Apostolic-Petrine".55

In the history of the Church, even from earliest times, there were side-by-side with men a number of women, for whom the response of the Bride to the Bridegroom's redemptive love acquired full expressive force. First we see those women who had personally encountered Christ and followed him. After his departure, together with the Apostles, they "devoted themselves to prayer" in the Upper Room in Jerusalem until the day of Pentecost. On that day the Holy Spirit spoke through "the sons and daughters" of the People of God, thus fulfilling the words of the prophet Joel (cf. Acts 2: 17). These women, and others afterwards, played an active and important role in the life of the early Church, in building up from its foundations the first Christian community - and subsequent communities - through their own charisms and their varied service. The apostolic writings note their names, such as Phoebe, "a deaconess of the Church at Cenchreae" (cf. Rom 16:1), Prisca with her husband Aquila (cf. 2 Tim 4:19), Euodia and Syntyche (cf. Phil 4:2), Mary, Tryphaena, Persis, and Tryphosa (cf. Rom 16:6, 12). Saint Paul speaks of their "hard work" for Christ, and this hard work indicates the various fields of the Church's apostolic service, beginning with the "domestic Church". For in the latter, "sincere faith" passes from the mother to her children and grandchildren, as was the case in the house of Timothy (cf. 2 Tim 1:5).

The same thing is repeated down the centuries, from one generation to the next, as the history of the Church demonstrates. By defending the dignity of women and their vocation, the Church has shown honour and gratitude for those women who - faithful to the Gospel - have shared in every age in the apostolic mission of the whole People of God. They are the holy martyrs, virgins, and mothers of families, who bravely bore witness to their faith and passed on the Church's faith and tradition by bringing up their children in the spirit of the Gospel.

In every age and in every country we find many "perfect" women (cf. Prov. 31:10) who, despite persecution, difficulties and discrimination, have shared in the Church's mission. It suffices to mention: Monica, the mother of Augustine, Macrina, Olga of Kiev, Matilda of Tuscany, Hedwig of Silesia, Jadwiga of Cracow, Elizabeth of Thuringia, Birgitta of Sweden, Joan of Arc, Rose of Lima, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Mary Ward.

The witness and the achievements of Christian women have had a significant impact on the life of the Church as well as of society. Even in the face of serious social discrimination, holy women have acted "freely", strengthened by their union with Christ. Such union and freedom rooted in God explain, for example, the great work of Saint Catherine of Siena in the life of the Church, and the work of Saint Teresa of Jesus in the monastic life.

In our own days too the Church is constantly enriched by the witness of the many women who fulfil their vocation to holiness. Holy women are an incarnation of the feminine ideal; they are also a model for all Christians, a model of the "sequela Christi", an example of how the Bride must respond with love to the love of the Bridegroom.



In the face of changes

28. "The Church believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all, can through his Spirit offer man the light and the strength to respond to his supreme destiny".56 We can apply these words of the Conciliar Constitution Gaudium et Spes to the present reflections. The particular reference to the dignity of women and their vocation, precisely in our time, can and must be received in the "light and power" which the Spirit grants to human beings, including the people of our own age, which is marked by so many different transformations. The Church "holds that in her Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point, and the goal" of man and "of all human history", and she "maintainsthat beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever".57

These words of the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World show the path to be followed in undertaking the tasks connected with the dignity and vocation of women, against the background of the significant changes of our times. We can face these changes correctly and adequately only if we go back to the foundations which are to be found in Christ, to those "immutable" truths and valuesof which he himself remains the "faithful witness" (cf. Rev. 1:5) and Teacher. A different way of acting would lead to doubtful, if not actually erroneous and deceptive results.

The dignity of women and the order of love

29. The passage from the Letter to the Ephesians already quoted (5:21-33), in which the relationship between Christ and the Church is presented as the link between the Bridegroom and the Bride, also makes reference to the institution of marriage as recorded in the Book of Genesis (cf. 2:24). This passage connects the truth about marriage as a primordial sacrament with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:27; 5:1). The significant comparison in the Letter to the Ephesians gives perfect clarity to what is decisive for the dignity of women both in the eyes of God - the Creator and Redeemer - and in the eyes of human beings - men and women. In God's eternal plan, woman is the one in whom the order of love in the created world of persons takes first root. The order of love belongs to the intimate life of God himself, the life of the Trinity. In the intimate life of God, the Holy Spirit is the personal hypostasis of love. Through the Spirit, Uncreated Gift, love becomes a gift for created persons. Love, which is of God, communicates itself to creatures: "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom 5:5).

The calling of woman into existence at man's side as "a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18) in the "unity of the two", provides the visible world of creatures with particular conditions so that "the love of God may be poured into the hearts" of the beings created in his image. When the author of the Letter to the Ephesians calls Christ "the Bridegroom" and the Church "the Bride", he indirectly confirms through this analogy the truth about woman as bride. The Bridegroom is the one who loves. The Bride is loved: it is she who receives love, in order to love in return.

Rereading Genesis in light of the spousal symbol in the Letter to the Ephesians enables us to grasp a truth which seems to determine in an essential manner the question of women's dignity, and, subsequently, also the question of their vocation: the dignity of women is measured by the order of love, which is essentially the order of justice and charity.58

Only a person can love and only a person can be loved. This statement is primarily ontological in nature, and it gives rise to an ethical affirmation. Love is an ontological and ethical requirement of the person. The person must be loved, since love alone corresponds to what the person is. This explainsthe commandment of love, known already in the Old Testament (cf. Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18) and placed by Christ at the very centre of the Gospel "ethos" (cf. Mt 22:36-40; Mk 12:28-34). This also explains the primacy of love expressed by Saint Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians: "the greatest of these is love" (cf. 13:13).

Unless we refer to this order and primacy we cannot give a complete and adequate answer to the question about women's dignity and vocation. When we say that the woman is the one who receives love in order to love in return, this refers not only or above all to the specific spousal relationship of marriage. It means something more universal, based on the very fact of her being a woman within all the interpersonal relationships which, in the most varied ways, shape society and structure the interaction between all persons - men and women. In this broad and diversified context, a woman represents a particular value by the fact that she is a human person, and, at the same time, this particular person, by the fact of her femininity. This concerns each and every woman, independently of the cultural context in which she lives, and independently of her spiritual, psychological and physical characteristics, as for example, age, education, health, work, and whether she is married or single.

The passage from the Letter to the Ephesians which we have been considering enables us to think of a special kind of "prophetism" that belongs to women in their femininity. The analogy of the Bridegroom and the Bride speaks of the love with which every human being - man and woman - is loved by God in Christ. But in the context of the biblical analogy and the text's interior logic, it is precisely the woman - the bride - who manifests this truth to everyone. This "prophetic" character of women in their femininity finds its highest expression in the Virgin Mother of God. She emphasizes, in the fullest and most direct way, the intimate linking of the order of love - which enters the world of human persons through a Woman - with the Holy Spirit. At the Annunciation Mary hears the words: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you" (Lk 1:35).

Awareness of a mission

30. A woman's dignity is closely connected with the love which she receives by the very reason of her femininity; it is likewise connected with the love which she gives in return. The truth about the person and about love is thus confirmed. With regard to the truth about the person, we must turn again to the Second Vatican Council: "Man, who is the only creature on earth that God willed for its own sake, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self".59 This applies to every human being, as a person created in God's image, whether man or woman. This ontological affirmation also indicates the ethical dimension of a person's vocation. Woman can only hand herself by giving love to others.

From the "beginning", woman - like man - was created and "placed" by God in this order of love. The sin of the first parents did not destroy this order, nor irreversibly cancel it out. This is proved by the words of the Proto-evangelium (cf. Gen 3:15). Our reflections have focused on the particular place occupied by the "woman" in this key text of revelation. It is also to be noted how the same Woman, who attains the position of a biblical "exemplar", also appears within the eschatological perspective of the world and of humanity given in the Book of Revelation 60 She is "a woman clothed with the sun", with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of stars (cf. Rev 12:1). One can say she is a Woman of cosmic scale, on a scale with the whole work of creation. At the same time she is "suffering the pangs and anguish of childbirth" (Rev 12:2) like Eve "the mother of all the living" (Gen3:20). She also suffers because "before the woman who is about to give birth" (cf. Rev 12:4) there stands "the great dragon ... that ancient serpent" (Rev 12:9), already known from the Proto-evangelium: the Evil One, the "father of lies" and of sin (cf. Jn 8:44). The "ancient serpent" wishes to devour "the child". While we see in this text an echo of the Infancy Narrative (cf. Mt 2:13,16), we can also see that the struggle with evil and the Evil One marks the biblical exemplar of the "woman" from the beginning to the end of history. It is also a struggle for man, for his true good, for his salvation. Is not the Bible trying to tell us that it is precisely in the "woman" - Eve-Mary - that history witnesses a dramatic struggle for every human being, the struggle for his or her fundamental "yes" or "no" to God and God's eternal plan for humanity?

While the dignity of woman witnesses to the love which she receives in order to love in return, the biblical "exemplar" of the Woman also seems to reveal the true order of love which constitutes woman's own vocation. Vocation is meant here in its fundamental, and one may say universal significance, a significance which is then actualized and expressed in women's many different "vocations" in the Church and the world.

The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way. Of course, God entrusts every human being to each and every other human being. But this entrusting concerns women in a special way - precisely by reason of their femininity - and this in a particular way determines their vocation.

The moral force of women, which draws strength from this awareness and this entrusting, expresses itself in a great number of figures of the Old Testament, of the time of Christ, and of later ages right up to our own day.

A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting, strong because of the fact that God "entrusts the human being to her", always and in every way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself. This awareness and this fundamental vocation speak to women of the dignity which they receive from God himself, and this makes them "strong" and strengthens their vocation.

Thus the "perfect woman" (cf. Prov 31:10) becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit. These "perfect women" are owed much by their families, and sometimes by whole nations.

In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well-being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favours some, it pushes others to the edges of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human. In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that "genius" which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! - and because "the greatest of these is love" (cf. 1 Cor13:13).

Thus a careful reading of the biblical exemplar of the Woman - from the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation - confirms that which constitutes women's dignity and vocation, as well as that which is unchangeable and ever relevant in them, because it has its "ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever".61 If the human being is entrusted by God to women in a particular way, does not this mean that Christ looks to them for the accomplishment of the "royal priesthood" (1 Pt 2:9), which is the treasure he has given to every individual? Christ, as the supreme and only priest of the New and Eternal Covenant, and as the Bridegroom of the Church, does not cease to submit this same inheritance to the Father through the Spirit, so that God may be "everything to everyone" (1 Cor 15:28).62

Then the truth that "the greatest of these is love" (cf. 1 Cor 13:13) will have its definitive fulfillment.



If you knew the gift of God

31. "If you knew the gift of God" (Jn 4:10), Jesus says to the Samaritan woman during one of those remarkable conversations which show his great esteem for the dignity of women and for the vocation which enables them to share in his messianic mission.

The present reflections, now at an end, have sought to recognize, within the "gift of God", what he, as Creator and Redeemer, entrusts to women, to every woman. In the Spirit of Christ, in fact, women can discover the entire meaning of their femininity and thus be disposed to making a "sincere gift of self" to others, thereby finding themselves.

During the Marian Year the Church desires to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the "mystery of woman" and for every woman - for that which constitutes the eternal measure of her feminine dignity, for the "great works of God", which throughout human history have been accomplished in and through her. After all, was it not in and through her that the greatest event in human history - the incarnation of God himself - was accomplished?

Therefore the Church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers, for sisters, for wives; for women consecrated to God in virginity; for women dedicated to the many human beings who await the gratuitous love of another person; for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened by a great social responsibility; for "perfect" women and for "weak" women - for all women as they have come forth from the heart of God in all the beauty and richness of their femininity; as they have been embraced by his eternal love; as, together with men, they are pilgrims on this earth, which is the temporal "homeland" of all people and is transformed sometimes into a "valley of tears"; as they assume, together with men, a common responsibility for the destiny of humanity according to daily necessities and according to that definitive destiny which the human family has in God himself, in the bosom of the ineffable Trinity.

The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine "genius" which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness.

The Church asks at the same time that these invaluable "manifestations of the Spirit" (cf. 1 Cor12:4ff.), which with great generosity are poured forth upon the "daughters" of the eternal Jerusalem, may be attentively recognized and appreciated so that they may return for the common good of the Church and of humanity, especially in our times. Meditating on the biblical mystery of the "woman", the Church prays that in this mystery all women may discover themselves and their "supreme vocation".

May Mary, who "is a model of the Church in the matter of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ",63 obtain for all of us this same "grace", in the Year which we have dedicated to her as we approach the third millennium from the coming of Christ.

With these sentiments, I impart the Apostolic Blessing to all the faithful, and in a special way to women, my sisters in Christ.

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 15 August, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the year 1988, the tenth of my Pontificate.

  Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana


Commentary by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger on Ad Tuendam Fidem, June 29, 1998

Hoping for golden silence on the question of women's ordination, Cardinal Ratzinger provides this commentary on John Paul II's, Ad Tuendam Fidem.  This commentary contains the judgment that those who hold women can be ordained priests are 'no longer in full communion with the Catholic Church.' 

We  remind our readers of Canon Law:

Canon 212, § 2. The Christian faithful are free to make known their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires to the pastors of the Church.

Canon 212, § 3. In accord with the knowledge, competence and preeminence which they possess, the Christian faithful have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard for the integrity of faith and morals and reverence towards their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons.

Ad Tuendam Fidem

'For the Defence of the Faith'

COMMENTARY on Ad Tuendam Fidem by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

1. FROM her very beginning, the Church has professed faith in the Lord, crucified and risen, and has gathered the fundamental contents of her belief into certain formulae. The central event of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, expressed first in simple formulae and subsequently in formulae that were more developed, made it possible to give life to that uninterrupted proclamation of faith, in which the Church has handed on both what had been received from the lips of Christ and from his works, as well as what had been learned at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

The same New Testament is the singular witness of the first profession proclaimed by the disciples immediately after the events of Easter: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve” (1 Cor.15:3-5).

2. In the course of the centuries, from this unchangeable nucleus testifying to Jesus as Son of God and as Lord, symbols witnessing to the unity of the faith and to the communion of the churches came to be developed. In these, the fundamental truths which every believer is required to know and to profess were gathered together. Thus, before receiving Baptism, the catechumen must make his profession of faith. The Fathers too, coming together in councils to respond to historical challenges that required a more complete presentation of the truths of the faith or a defence of the orthodoxy of those truths, formulated new creeds which occupy “a special place in the Church’s life” up to the present day. The diversity of these symbols expresses the richness of the one faith, none of them is superseded or nullified by subsequent professions of faith formulated in response to later historical circumstances.

3. Christ’s promise to bestow the Holy Spirit, who “will guide you into all truth”, constantly sustains the Church on her way. Thus, in the course of her history, certain truths have been defined as having been acquired through the Holy Spirit's assistance and are therefore perceptible stages in the realisation of the original promise. Other truths, however, have to be understood still more deeply before full possession can be attained of what God, in his mystery of love, wished to reveal to men for their salvation.

In more recent times too in her pastoral care for souls, the Church has thought it opportune to express in a more explicit way the faith of all time. In addition, the obligation has been established for some members of the Christian faithful, called to assume particular offices in the community in the name of the Church, to publicly make a profession of faith according to the formula approved by the Apostolic See.

4. This new formula of the Professio fidei restates the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and concludes with the addition of three propositions or paragraphs intended to better distinguish the order of the truths to which the believer adheres. The correct explanation of these paragraphs deserves a clear presentation, so that their authentic meaning, as given by the Church’s magisterium, will be well understood, received and integrally preserved.

In contemporary usage, the term “Church” has come to include a variety of meanings, which, while tme and consistent, require greater precision when one refers to the specific and proper functions of persons who act within the Church. In this area, it is clear that, on questions of faith and morals, the only subject qualified to fulfil the office of teaching with binding authority for the faithful is the Supreme Pontiff and the College of Bishops in communion with him. The bishops are the “authentic teachers” of the faith, “endowed with the authority of Christ", because by divine institution they are the successors of the Apostles “in teaching and in pastoral governance”: together with the Roman pontiff they exercise supreme and full power over all the Church, although this power cannot be exercised without the consent of the Roman pontiff (cf. Vatican 11, Lumen Gentium).

5. The first paragraph states: “With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgement or by the ordinary and universal magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.” The object taught in this paragraph is constituted by all those doctrines of divine and Catholic faith which the Church proposes as divinely and formally revealed and, as such, as irreformable.

These doctrines are contained in thc Word of God, written or handed down, and defined with a solemn judgement as divinely revealed tn~ths either by the Roman pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, or by the Colkge of Bishops gathered in council, or infallibly proposed for belief by the ordinary and unircrsal magistenum.

These doctrines require the assent of theological faith by all members of the faithful. Thus whoever obstinately places them in doubt or denies them falls under the censure of heresy, as indicated by the respective canons of the Codes of Canon Law.

6. The second proposition of the Professio fidei states: “I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.” The object taught by this formula includes all those teachings belonging to the dogmatic or moral area, which are necessary for faithfully keepu’R and expounding the deposit of faith, even if they have not been proposed by the magisterium of the Church as formally revealed.

Such doctrines can be defined solemnly by the Roman pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra or bjv the College of Bishops gathered in council, or they can be taught infallibly by the ordinarjv and universal magisterium of the Church as a sententia definitive tenenda Every believer, therefore, is required to give firm and definitive assent to these truths based on faith in the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the Church’s magisterium, and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the magisterium in these matters. Whoever denies these truths would be in a position of rejecting a tnuth of Catholic doctrine and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.

7. The truths belonging to this second paragraph can be of various natures, thus giving different qualities to their relationship with revelation. There are truths which are necessarily connected with revelation by virtue of an historical relationship, while other truths evince a logical connection that expresses a stage in the maturation of understanding of revelation which the Church is called to undertake. The fact that these doctrines may not be proposed as formally revealed, insofar as they add to the data of faith elements that are not revealed or which are not yet expressly recopgnized as such in no way dimishes their definitive character which is required at least by their intrinsic connection with revealed truth. Moreover, it cannot be excluded that at a certain point in dogmatic development, the understanding of the realities and the words of the deposit of faith can progress in the life of the Church, and the magisterium may proclaim some of these doctrines as also dogmas of divine and Catholic faith.

8. With regard to the nature of the assent owed to the truths set forth by the Church as divinely revealed (those of the first paragraph) or to be held definitively (those of the second paragraph), it is important to emphasise that there is no difference with respect to the full and irrevocable character of the assent which is owed to these teachings. The difference concerns the supernatural virtue of faith: in the case of truths of the first paragraph, the assent is based directly on faith in the authority of the Word of God (doctrines de fide credenda); in the case of the truths of the second paragraph, the assent is based on faith in the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the magisterium and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the magisterium (doctrines de fide tenenda).

9. The magisterium of the Church, however, teaches a doctrine to be believed as divinely revealed (first paragraph) or to be held definitively (second paragraph) with an act which is either defining or non-defining. In the case of a defining act, a truth is solemnly defined by an ex cathedra pronouncement by the Roman pontiff or by the action of an ecumenical council. In the case of a non-defining act, a doctrine is taught infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium of the bishops dispersed throughout the world who are in communion with the Successor of Peter. Such a doctrine can be confirmed or reaffirmed by the Roman pontiff even without recourse to a solemn definition, by declaring explicitly that it belongs to the teaching of the ordinary and universal magisterium as a truth that is divinely revealed (first paragraph) or as a truth of Catholic doctrine (second paragraph). Consequently, when there has not been a judgement on a doctrine in the solemn form of a definition, but this doctrine, belonging to the inheritance of the depositum fidei, is taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium, which necessarily includes the pope, such a doctrine is to be understood as having been set forth infallibly. The declaration ofconfirmation or reaffirmation by the Roman pontiff in this case is not a new dogmatic definition, but a formal attestation of a truth already possessed and infallibly transmitted by the Church.

10. The third proposition of the Professio fidei states: “Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman pontiffor the Colleve of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.”

To this paragraph belong all those teachings - on faith and morals - presented as true or at least as sure, even if thc,v have not been defined with a solemn judgement or proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal magisterium. Such teachings are, however, an authentic expression of the ordinary mag isterium of the Roman pontiff or of the College of Bishops and therefore require religious submission of will and intellect. They are set forth in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of revelation, or to recall the conformity of a teaching with the truths of faith, or lastly to warn against ideas incompatible with these truths or against dangerous opinions that can lead to error.

A proposition contrary to these doctrines can be qualified as erroneous or, in the case of teachings of the prudential order, asrash or dangerous and therefore tuto doceri non potest.

11. Examples. Without any intention of completeness or exhaustiveness, some examples of doctrines relative to the three paragraphs described above can be recalled.

To the truths of the first paragraph belong the articles of faith of the Creed, the various christological dogmas and marian dogmas, the doctrine of the institution of the sacraments by Christ and their eff’cacy with regard to grace; the doctrine of the real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the sacrificial nature of the eucharistic celebration; the foundation of the Church by the will of Christ; the doctrine on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman pontiff; the doctrine on the existence of original sin; the doctrine on the immortality of the spiritual soul and on the immediate recompense after death; the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts; the doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being.

With respect to the truths of the second paragraph, with reference to those connected with revelation by a logical necessity, one can consider, for example, the development in the understanding of the doctrine connected with the definition of papal infallibility, prior to the dogmatic definition of the First Vatican Council. The primacy of the Successor of Peter was always believed as a revealed fact, although until Vatican I the discussion remained open as to whether the conceptual elaboration of what is understood by the terms “jurisdiction” and “infallibility” was to be considered an intrinsic part of revelation or only a logical consequence. On the other hand, although its character as a divinely revealed truth was defined in the First Vatican Council, the doctrine on the infallibility and primacy of jurisdiction of the Roman pontiff was already recognised as definitive in the period before the council. History clearly shows, therefore, that what was accepted into the consciousness of the Church was considered a true doctrine from the beginning, and was subsequently held to be definitive; however, only in the final stage - the definition of Vatican I - was it also accepted as a divinely revealed truth.

A similar process can be observed in the more recent teaching regarding the doctrine that priestly ordination is reserved only to men. The Supreme Pontiff, while not wishing to proceed to a dogmatic definition, intended to reaffirm that this doctrine is to be held definitively, since, founded on the written Word of God, constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium. As the prior example illustrates this does not foreclose the possibility that in the future, the consciousness of the Church might prouess to the point where this teaching could be defined as a doctrine to be believed as divinely revealed.

The doctrine on the illicitness of euthanasia, taught in the encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae, can also be recalled. Confirming that euthanasia is “a grave violation of the law of God”, the Pope declares that “this doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal magisterium”. It could seem that there is only a logical element in the doctrine on euthanasia, since Scripture does not seem to be aware of the concept. In this case, however, the interrelationship between the orders of faith and reason becomes apparent: Scripture, in fact, clearly excludes every form of the kind of self-determination of human existence that is presupposed in the theory and practice of euthanasia.

Other examples of moral doctrines which are taught as definitive by the universal and ordinary magisterium of the Church are: the teaching on the illicitness of prostitution and of fornication.

With regard to those truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively, but are not able to be declared as divinely revealed, the following examples can be given: the legitimacy of the election of the supreme pontiff or of the celebration of an ecumenical council, the canonisations of saints (dogmatic facts), the declaration of Pope Leo Xlll in the apostolic letterApostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations...

As examples of doctrines belonging to thc third paragraph, one can point in general to teachings set forth by the authentic ordinary magisteriurn in a non-definitive way, which require degrees of adherence differentiated according to the mind and the will manifested; this is shown especially by the nature of the documents, by the frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or by the tenor of the verbal expression.

12. With the different symbols of faith, the believer recognises and attests that he professes the faith of the entire Church. It is for this reason that, above all in the earliest symbols of faith, this consciousness is expressed in the formula “We believe”. As theCatechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “’I believe’ (apostles’ Creed) is the faith of the Church professed personally by each believer, principally during Baptism. ‘We believe’ (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed) is the faith of the Church confessed by the bishops assembled in council or more generally by the liturgical assembly of believers. ‘I believe’ is also the Church, our mother, responding to God by faith as she teaches us to say both ‘I believe’ and ‘We believe’.”

In every profession of faith, the Church verifies different stages she has reached on her path toward the definitive meeting with the Lord. No content is abrogated with the passage of time; instead, all of it becomes an irreplaceable inheritance through which the faith of all time, of all believers, and lived out in every place, contemplates the constant action of the Spirit of the risen Christ, the Spirit who accompanies and gives life to his Church and leads her into the fullness of the truth.

Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 29 June 1998, the Solemnity of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.

Joseph Card. Ratzinger

Tarcisio Bertone SDB

Ad Tuendam Fidem, May 18, 1998

This ‘Motu Proprio’ of John Paul II is issued with the intention of tightening norms for theologians in the Church.  In reference to discussion about women's ordination, it represents a further attempt by the Vatican to crush dialogue about the question.


Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio AD TUENDAM FIDEM, 
by which certain norms are inserted  into the Code of Canon Law  and into the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches

TO PROTECT THE FAITH of the Catholic Church against errors arising from certain members of the Christian faithful, especially from among those dedicated to the various disciplines of sacred theology, we, whose principal duty is to confirm the brethren in the faith (Lk 22:32), consider it absolutely necessary to add to the existing texts of the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, new norms which expressly impose the obligation of upholding truths proposed in a definitive way by the Magisterium of the Church, and which also establish related canonical sanctions.

1. From the first centuries to the present day, the Church has professed the truths of her faith in Christ and the mystery of his redemption. These truths were subsequently gathered into the Symbols of the faith, today known and proclaimed in common by the faithful in the solemn and festive celebration of Mass as the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

This same Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is contained in the Profession of faith developed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,(1) which must be made by specific members of the faithful when they receive an office, that is directly or indirectly related to deeper investigation into the truths of faith and morals, or is united to a particular power in the governance of the Church.(2)

2. The Profession of faith, which appropriately begins with the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, contains three propositions or paragraphs intended to describe the truths of the Catholic faith, which the Church, in the course of time and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit “who will teach the whole truth” (Jn 16:13), has ever more deeply explored and will continue to explore.(3)

The first paragraph states: “With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.”(4) This paragraph appropriately confirms and is provided for in the Church’s universal legislation, in canon 750 of the Code of Canon Law(5) and canon 598 of the Code of the Canons of the Eastern Churches.(6)

The third paragraph states: “Moreover I adhere with submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.”(7) This paragraph has its corresponding legislative expression in canon 752 of the Code of Canon Law(8) and canon 599 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.(9)

3. The second paragraph, however, which states “I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals,”(10) has no corresponding canon in the Codes of the Catholic Church. This second paragraph of theProfession of faith is of utmost importance since it refers to truths that are necessarily connected to divine revelation. These truths, in the investigation of Catholic doctrine, illustrate the Divine Spirit’s particular inspiration for the Church’s deeper understanding of a truth concerning faith and morals, with which they are connected either for historical reasons or by a logical relationship.

4. Moved therefore by this need, and after careful deliberation, we have decided to overcome this lacuna in the universal law in the following way:

A) Canon 750 of the Code of Canon Law will now consist of two paragraphs; the first will present the text of the existing canon; the second will contain a new text. Thus, canon 750, in its complete form, will read:

Canon 750 – § 1. Those things are to be believed by divine and catholic faith which are contained in the word of God as it has been written or handed down by tradition, that is, in the single deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and which are at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn Magisterium of the Church, or by its ordinary and universal Magisterium, which in fact is manifested by the common adherence of Christ’s faithful under the guidance of the sacred Magisterium. All are therefore bound to avoid any contrary doctrines.

§ 2. Furthermore, each and everything set forth definitively by the Magisterium of the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals must be firmly accepted and held; namely, those things required for the holy keeping and faithful exposition of the deposit of faith; therefore, anyone who rejects propositions which are to be held definitively sets himself against the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Canon 1371, n. 1 of the Code of Canon Law, consequently, will receive an appropriate reference to canon 750 § 2, so that it will now read:

Canon 1371 – The following are to be punished with a just penalty:

1° a person who, apart from the case mentioned in canon 1364 § 1, teaches a doctrine condemned by the Roman Pontiff, or by an Ecumenical Council, or obstinately rejects the teachings mentioned in canon 750 § 2 or in canon 752 and, when warned by the Apostolic See or by the Ordinary, does not retract;

2° a person who in any other way does not obey the lawful command or prohibition of the Apostolic See or the Ordinary or Superior and, after being warned, persists in disobedience.

B) Canon 598 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches will now have two paragraphs: the first will present the text of the existing canon and the second will contain a new text. Thus canon 598, in its complete form, will read as follows:

Canon 598 – § 1. Those things are to be believed by divine and catholic faith which are contained in the word of God as it has been written or handed down by tradition, that is, in the single deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and which are at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn Magisterium of the Church, or by its ordinary and universal Magisterium, which in fact is manifested by the common adherence of Christ’s faithful under the guidance of the sacred Magisterium. All Christian faithful are therefore bound to avoid any contrary doctrines.

§ 2. Furthermore, each and everything set forth definitively by the Magisterium of the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals must be firmly accepted and held; namely, those things required for the holy keeping and faithful exposition of the deposit of faith; therefore, anyone who rejects propositions which are to be held definitively sets himself against the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Canon 1436 § 2 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, consequently, will receive an appropriate reference to canon 598 § 2, so that it will now read:

Canon 1436 – § 1. Whoever denies a truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or who calls into doubt, or who totally repudiates the Christian faith, and does not retract after having been legitimately warned, is to be punished as a heretic or an apostate with a major excommunication; a cleric moreover can be punished with other penalties, not excluding deposition.

§ 2. In addition to these cases, whoever obstinately rejects a teaching that the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops, exercising the authentic Magisterium, have set forth to be held definitively, or who affirms what they have condemned as erroneous, and does not retract after having been legitimately warned, is to be punished with an appropriate penalty.

5. We order that everything decreed by us in this Apostolic Letter, given motu proprio, be established and ratified, and we prescribe that the insertions listed above be introduced into the universal legislation of the Catholic Church, that is, into the Code of Canon Law and into the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, all things to the contrary notwithstanding.

Given in Rome, at St Peter’s, on 18 May, in the year 1998, the twentieth of our Pontificate.


(1) CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity, (9 January 1989): AAS 81 (1989), 105.

(2) Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 833.

(3) Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 747 § 1; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 595 § 1.

(4) Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the ChurchLumen Gentium, 25; Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 5; CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian Donum veritatis (24 May 1990), 15: AAS 82 (1990), 1556.

(5) Code of Canon Law, Canon 750 – Those things are to be believed by divine and catholic faith which are contained in the word of God as it has been written or handed down by tradition, that is, in the single deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and which are at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn Magisterium of the Church, or by its ordinary and universal Magisterium, which in fact is manifested by the common adherence of Christ’s faithful under the guidance of the sacred Magisterium. All are therefore bound to avoid any contrary doctrines.

(6) Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 598 – Those things are to be believed by divine and catholic faith which are contained in the word of God as it has been written or handed down by tradition, that is, in the single deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and which are at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn Magisterium of the Church, or by its ordinary and universal Magisterium, which in fact is manifested by the common adherence of Christ’s faithful under the guidance of the sacred Magisterium. All Christian faithful are therefore bound to avoid any contrary doctrines.

(7) Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian Donum veritatis (24 May 1990), 17: AAS 82 (1990), 1557.

(8) Code of Canon Law, Canon 752 – While the assent of faith is not required, a religious submission of intellect and will is to be given to any doctrine which either the Supreme Pontiff or the College of Bishops, exercising their authentic Magisterium, declare upon a matter of faith and morals, even though they do not intend to proclaim that doctrine by definitive act. Christ’s faithful are therefore to ensure that they avoid whatever does not accord with that doctrine.

(9) Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 599 – While the assent of faith is not required, a religious submission of intellect and will is to be given to any doctrine which either the Supreme Pontiff or the College of Bishops, exercising their authentic Magisterium, declare upon a matter of faith and morals, even though they do not intend to proclaim that doctrine by definitive act. Christ’s faithful are therefore to ensure that they avoid whatever does not accord with that doctrine.

(10) Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian Donum veritatis (24 May 1990), 16: AAS 82 (1990), 1557.

© Copyright 1998 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Joseph Ratzinger on Women's Ordination, 1997

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on women's ordination...

This segment from Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium, an Interview of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Peter Seewald (Ignatius Press, 1997) details his response to a question about the Vatican's position on women's ordination.

with thanks to the diligent researchers at for provision of this piece.

Women's Ordination

[Journalist Peter Seewald:] On another issue, women's ordination, an absolute "no" has been "promulgated by the Magisterium in an infallible way". This was reconfirmed by the Pope in the fall of 1995. "We do not have the right to change this", reads the statement. So here, too, it is the historical argument that counts. But if one takes that seriously, there ought never to have been a Saint Paul, for everything new also does away with holy and venerable things. Paul did new things. The question is: When can you put an end to a particular [disciplinary] regulation? How can new things come into being? And: Can't the foreshortening of history also be an idolatry that is incompatible with the freedom of a Christian?

[Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger] Here, I think, it is necessary to state a few things more precisely. The first point is that Saint Paul did new things in the name of Christ but not in his own name. And he emphasized very explicitly that anyone who acknowledges Old Testament revelation as valid but then, on the other hand, alters a few things without authorization is acting unjustly. There could be new things because God had done new things in Christ. And as a servant of this newness, he knew that he hadn't invented it but that it came out of the newness of Jesus Christ himself. Which then in turn has its conditions; and in that matter he was very strict. If you think, for example, of the account of the Last Supper, he says expressly: "I received myself what I have handed on to you", thus clearly declaring that he is bound to what the Lord did on the last night and what has come down to him by way of tradition. Or think of the message of Easter, where he says once more: This I received, and I also encountered him myself. And so we teach, and so we all teach; and whoever doesn't do that estranges himself from Christ. Paul distinguished very clearly between the new things that come from Christ and the bond to Christ, which alone authorizes him to do these new things. That is the first point.

The second is that in all areas that aren't really defined by the Lord and the apostolic tradition there are in fact constant changes — even today. The question is just this: Does it [the teaching] come from the Lord or not? And how does one recognize this? The answer, confirmed by the Pope, that we, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave to the issue of women's ordination does not say that the Pope has now performed an infallible act of teaching. The Pope rather established that the Church, the bishops of all places and times, have always taught and acted in this way. The Second Vatican Council says: What bishops teach and do in unison over a very long time is infallible; it is the expression of a bond that they themselves did not create. Theresponsum appeals to this passage of the Council (Lumen Gentium, 25). It is not, as I said, an infallible act of the Pope, but the binding authority rests upon the continuity of the tradition. And, as a matter of fact, this continuity with the origin is already something significant. For it was never something self-evident. The ancient religions, without exception, had priestesses, and it was so in the Gnostic movements as well. An Italian scholar recently discovered that in southern Italy, around the fifth or sixth century, various groups instituted priestesses and that the bishops and the pope immediately took steps against this. Tradition didn't emerge from the surrounding world but from within Christianity.

But I would now add a further piece of information that I find very interesting. I am referring to the diagnosis that one of the most important Catholic feminists, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, has given in this matter. She is a German, an important exegete, who studied exegesis in Munster, where she married an Italian-American from Fiorenza, and who now teaches in America. At first she took a vehement part in the struggle for women's ordination, but now she says that that was a wrong goal. The experience with female priests in the Anglican Church has, she says, led to the realization that "ordination is not a solution; it isn't what we wanted." She also explains why. She says, "ordination is subordination, and that's exactly what we don't want." And on this point her diagnosis is completely correct.

To enter into an ordo always also means to enter into a relationship of subordination. But in our liberation movement, says Schussler-Fiorenza, we don't want to enter into an ordo, into a subordo, a "subordination", but to overcome the very phenomenon itself. Our struggle, she says, therefore mustn't aim at women's ordination; that is precisely the wrong thing to do. Rather, it must aim at the cessation of ordination altogether and at making the Church a society of equals in which there is only a "shifting leadership". Given the motivations behind the struggle for women's ordination, which does in fact aim at powersharing and liberation from subordination, she has seen that correctly. But then one must really say there is a whole question behind this: What is the priesthood actually? Does the sacrament exist, or should there be only a shifting leadership in which no one is allowed permanent access to "power"? I think that in this sense perhaps the discussion will also change in the near future.

[Journalist Peter Seewald:] All these questions that we have just touched upon have for years been constantly reorchestrated, sometimes with more, sometimes with less, response from the people. How do you judge undertakings like the "Petition of the People of the Church" in Germany?

[Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger] I already said a few things about that when we were talking about the situation of the Church in Italy and in other countries. I find that Metz's remarks in many respects are right on the mark. If I recall correctly, he points out that this movement merely tries to cure the symptoms, whereas it excludes the question that is really at the core of the crisis in the Church, which he terms — and the expression is perhaps not entirely felicitous — a "God-crisis". As far as the content is concerned, he has indicated exactly the decisive point. And when we spoke earlier of the modern consensus that is opposed to faith, I described it in these terms: God no longer counts, even if he should exist. If we live in this way, then the Church becomes a club, which now has to search for substitute goals and meanings. And then all the things that can't be explained without God are vexatious. In other words, the precise point that is centrally at issue is bracketed out. Metz then — I'm still following my memory points out that the "Petition of the People of the Church" is on the whole met in the Protestant Churches. It is quite obvious that this does not protect them from the crisis. So the question is raised — he says something more or less like this — why we want to make ourselves a clone of Protestant Christianity. I can only agree with all that.

It seems that something like a Western-liberal civilizational Christianity has formed, a sort of secularized faith that regards many things as one and the same. This culture, which often no longer really has much to do with the essence of Christianity — or of Catholicism — clearly seems to be becoming more attractive. One has the impression that the official Church has hardly anything, at least theologically, to say against this philosophy, which is represented especially by Eugen Drewermann.

The Drewermann craze [Welle] is already beginning to abate. What he proposes is indeed just a variant of that general culture of secularized faith of which you spoke. I would say that people don't want to do without religion, but they want it only to give, not to make its own demands on man. People want to take the mysterious element in religion but spare themselves the effort of faith. The diverse forms of this new religion, of its religiosity and its philosophy, all largely converge today under the heading "New Age". A sort of mystical union with the divine ground of the world is the goal to which various techniques are supposed to lead. So there is the idea that it is possible to experience religion in its highest form and at the same time to remain completely within the scientific picture of the world. In contrast to this, the Christian faith seems complicated. It is doubtless in a difficult situation. But, thank God, great Christian thinkers and exemplary figures of Christian life have not been lacking even in this very century. They show the relevance of Christian faith and make evident that this faith helps one attain the fulfillment of humanity. For this reason there are most definitely new movements toward a decisive Christian life precisely in the younger generation, even if this can't become a mass movement.

The "canon of criticism" just treated is apparently not so easy to be rid of. If that is so, how must one deal with it? Is it possible to wait out all these questions? Will we ever be rid of them?

In any case, they will lose their urgency as soon as the Church is no longer looked upon as a final end, an end in itself, and as a place for gaining power. As soon as celibacy is once again lived convincingly out of a strong faith. As soon as we see eternal life as the goal of Christianity instead of ensconcing ourselves in a group in which one can exercise power, I am convinced that a spiritual turning point will come sometime and that then these questions will lose their urgency as suddenly as they arose. After all, in the end, they are not man's real questions, either.

Everything revolves again and again on this point: What must the Church salvage from her tradition and what must she, if the need arises, discard. How is this question decided? Is there a list with two columns? On the right: always valid; on the left: capable of renewal?

No, it's obviously not that simple. But there are various degrees of importance in the tradition. It was once customary in theology to speak of degrees of certitude, and that was not so wrong. Many say that we have to go back to that. The term hierarchy of truths does seem to point in this direction, namely, that not everything has the same weight, that there are, so to speak, essentials, for example, the great conciliar decisions or what is stated in the Creed. These things are the Way and as such are vital to the Church's existence; they belong to her inner identity. And then there are ramifications that are connected with these essentials and that certainly belong to the whole tree but that are not all of the same importance. The identity of the Church has clear distinguishing marks, so that it is not rigid, but the identity of something living, which remains true to itself in the midst of development.

Letter by Cardinal Ratzinger to explain Responsum ad Propositum Dubium, October 28, 1995

In attempt to clarify the nature of the document Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (the Vatican's attempt to close for all time discussion about the question of women's ordination, The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued its, Responsum ad Propositum Dubium.

This letter was issued in an attempt to clarify the CDF's Responsum!

Clear?  as mud?

Recall: Code of Canon Law Canon 749, § 3No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless it is clearly established as such.

For more read here: 

with thanks to Dr. John Wijngaards and his team at

Letter of October 28, 1995
Regarding the SCDF Responsum on Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

by  His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect, Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Paragraph numbering by John Wijngaards

1. THE PUBLICATION OF THE REPLY of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to a dubium regarding the reason for which the teaching contained in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is to be considered definitive tenenda seems the appropriate moment to offer certain reflections.

2. The ecclesiological significance of this Apostolic Letter was underscored even by its date of publication, for it was on that day, May 22, 1994, that the Church celebrated the Solemnity of Pentecost. Its importance, however, could be discovered above all in the concluding words of the Letter: "in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful" (n. 4).

3. The Pope's intervention was necessary not simply to reiterate the validity of a discipline observed in the Church from the beginning, but to confirm a doctrine "preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents," which "pertains to the Church's divine consitution itself" (n. 4). In this way, the Holy Father intended to make clear that the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved solely to men could not be considered "open to debate" and neither could one attribute to the decision of the Church "a merely disciplinary force" (ibid).

4. The fruits of this Letter have been evident since its publication. Many consciences which in good faith had been disturbed, more by doubt than by uncertainty, found serenity once again thanks to the teaching of the Holy Father. However, some perplexity continued, not only among those who, distant from the Catholic faith, do not accept the existence of a doctrinal authority within the Church -- that is, a Magisterium sacramentally invested with the authority of Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium, 21) -- but also among some of the faithful to whom it continued to seem that the exclusion of women from the priestly ministry represents a form of injustice or discrimination against them. Some objected that it is not evident from Revelation that such an exclusion was the will of Christ for his Church, and others had questions concerning the assent owed to the Letter.

5. Certainly, the understanding of the reasons for which the Church does not have the power to confer priestly ordination on women can be deepened further. Such reasons, for example, have been set out already in the Declaration Inter Insigniores(October 15, 1976), issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Pope Paul VI, and in a number of the documents of John Paul II (for example, Christifideles Laici, 51; Mulieris Dignitatem, 26), as well as in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1577). But in any case it cannot be forgotten that the Church teaches, as an absolutely fundamental truth of Christian anthropology, the equal personal dignity of men and women, and the necessity of overcoming and doing away with "every type of discrimination regarding fundamental rights" (Gaudium et Spes, 29). It is in the light of this truth that one can seek to understand better the teaching that women cannot receive priestly ordination. A correct theology can prescind neither from one nor from the other of these doctrines, but must hold the two together; only thus will it be able to deepen our comprehension of God's plan regarding woman and regarding the priesthood -- and hence, regarding the mission of woman in the Church. If however, perhaps by allowing oneself to be conditioned too much by the ways and spirit of the age, one should assert that a contradiction exists between these two truths, the way of progress in the intelligence of the faith would be lost.

6. In the Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis the Pope focuses attention on the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and Mother of the Church. The fact that she "received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them" (n. 3). Diversity of mission in no way compromises equality of personal dignity.

7. Furthermore, to understand that this teaching implies no injustice or discrimination against women, one has to consider the nature of the ministerial priesthood itself, which is a service and not a position of privilege or human power over others. Whoever, man or woman, conceives of the priesthood in terms of personal affirmation, as a goal or point of departure in a career of human success, is profoundly mistaken, for the true meaning of Christian priesthood, whether it be the common priesthood of the faithful or, in a most special way, the ministerial priesthood, can only be found in the sacrifice of one's own being in union with Christ, in service of the brethren. Priestly ministry constitutes neither the universal ideal nor, even less, the goal of Christian life. In this connection, it is helpful to recall once again that "the only higher gift, which can and must be desired, is charity" (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; Inter Insigniores).

8. With respect to its foundation in Sacred Scripture and in Tradition, John Paul II directs his attention to the fact that the Lord Jesus, as is witnessed by the New Testament, called only men, and not women, to the ordained ministry, and that the Apostles "did the same when they chose fellow workers who would succeed them in their ministry" (n. 2; cf. 1 Tim. 3:1ff; 2 Tim. 1:6; Tit. 1:5). There are sound arguments supporting the fact that Christ's way of acting was not determined by cultural motives (cf. n. 2), as there are also sufficient grounds to state that Tradition has interpreted the choice made by the Lord as binding for the Church of all times.

9. Here, however, we find ourselves before the essential interdependence of Holy Scripture and Tradition, an interdependence which makes of these two forms of the transmission of the Gospel an unbreakable unity with the Magisterium, which is an integral part of Tradition and is entrusted with the authentic interpretation of the Word of God, written and handed down (Dei Verbum, 9 and 10). In the specific case of priestly ordination, the successors of the Apostles have always observed the norm of conferring it only on men, and the Magisterium, assisted by the Holy Spirit, teaches us that this did not occur by chance, habitual repetition, subjection to sociological conditioning, or even less because of some imaginary inferiority of women; but rather because "the Church has always acknowledged as a perennial norm her Lord's way of acting in choosing the twelve men whom he made the foundation of his Church" (n. 2).

10. As is well known, there are reasons ex convenientia by which theology has sought and seeks to understand the reasonableness of the will of the Lord. Such reasons, expounded for example in the Declaration Inter Insigniores, have their undoubted value, and yet they are not conceived or employed as if they were strictly logical proofs derived from absolute principles. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind, as these reasons help us to comprehend, that the human will of Christ not only is not arbitrary, but that it is intimately united with the divine will of the eternal Son, on which the ontological and anthropological truth of the creation of the two sexes depends.

11. In response to this precise act of the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, explicitly addressed to the entire Catholic Church, all members of the faithful are required to give their assent to the teaching stated therein. To this end, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the approval of the Holy Father, has given an official Reply on the nature of this assent; it is a matter of full definitive assent, that is to say, irrevocable, to a doctrine taught infallibly by the Church. In fact, as the Reply explains, the definitive nature of this assent derives from the truth of the doctrine itself, since, founded on the written Word of God, and constantly held and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary universal Magisterium (cf. Lumen Gentium, 25). Thus, the Reply specifies that this doctrine belongs to the deposit of the faith of the Church. It should be emphasized that the definitive and infallible nature of this teaching of the Church did not arise with the publication of the Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. In the Letter, as the Reply of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also explains, the Roman Pontiff, having taken account of present circumstances, has confirmed the same teaching by a formal declaration, giving expression once again to quod semper, quod ubique et quod ab omnibus tenendum est, utpote ad fidei depositum pertinens. In this case, an act of the ordinary Papal Magisterium, in itself not infallible, witnesses to the infallibility of the teaching of a doctrine already possessed by the Church.

12. Finally, there have been some commentaries on the Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis which have suggested that the document constitutes an additional and inopportune obstacle on the already difficult path of ecumenism. In this regard, it should not be forgotten that according to both the letter and the spirit of the Second Vatican Council (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 11), the authentic ecumenical task, to which the Catholic Church is unequivocally and permanently committed, requires complete sincerity and clarity in the presentation of one's own faith. Furthermore, it should be noted that the doctrine reaffirmed by the Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis cannot but further the pursuit of full communion with the Orthodox Churches which, in fidelity to Tradition, have maintained and continue to maintain the same teaching.

13. The singular originality of the Church and of the priestly ministry within the Church requires a precise clarity of criteria. Concretely, one must never lose sight of the fact that the Church does not find the source of her faith and her constitutive structure in the principles of the social order of any historical period. While attentive to the world in which she lives and for whose salvation she labours, the Church is conscious of being the bearer of a higher fidelity to which she is bound. It is a question of a radical faithfulness to the Word of God which she has received from Christ who established her to last until the end of the ages. This Word of God, in proclaiming the essential value and eternal destiny of every person, reveals the ultimate foundation of the dignity of every human being, of every woman and of every man.

+ Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

October 28, 1995

Responsum Ad Propositum Dubium, October 28, 1995

In an attempt to clarify the nature and status of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, one year after its release, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued this 'response to doubts' about the John Paul II's attempt to 'for all time' close the door to discussion about women's ordination.

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith


Dubium: Whether the teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith.

Responsum: Affirmative.

This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.

The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Reply, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published.

Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the Feast of the Apostles SS. Simon and Jude, October 28, 1995.

Joseph Card. Ratzinger

Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B.
Archbishop Emeritus of Vercelli

Letter to Women from John Paul II, June 29, 1995


I greet you all most cordially, women throughout the world!

1. I am writing this letter to each one of you as a sign of solidarity and gratitude on the eve of the Fourth World Conference on Women, to be held in Beijing this coming September.

Before all else, I wish to express my deep appreciation to the United Nations Organization for having sponsored this very significant event. The Church desires for her part to contribute to upholding the dignity, role and rights of women, not only by the specific work of the Holy See's official Delegation to the Conference in Beijing, but also by speaking directly to the heart and mind of every woman. Recently, when Mrs Gertrude Mongella, the Secretary General of the Conference, visited me in connection with the Peking meeting, I gave her a written Message which stated some basic points of the Church's teaching with regard to women's issues. That message, apart from the specific circumstances of its origin, was concerned with a broader vision of the situation and problems of women in general, in an attempt to promote the cause of women in the Church and in today's world. For this reason, I arranged to have it forwarded to every Conference of Bishops, so that it could be circulated as widely as possible.

Taking up the themes I addressed in that document, I would now like to speak directly to every woman, to reflect with her on the problems and the prospects of what it means to be a woman in our time. In particular I wish to consider the essential issue of the dignity and rights of women, as seen in the light of the word of God.

This "dialogue" really needs to begin with a word of thanks. As I wrote in my Apostolic LetterMulieris Dignitatemthe Church "desires to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the 'mystery of woman' and for every woman-for all that constitutes the eternal measure of her feminine dignity, for the 'great works of God', which throughout human history have been accomplished in and through her" (No. 31).

2. This word of thanks to the Lord for his mysterious plan regarding the vocation and mission of women in the world is at the same time a concrete and direct word of thanks to women, to every woman, for all that they represent in the life of humanity.

Thank you, women who are mothers!  You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God's own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child's first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.

Thank you, women who are wives!  You irrevocably join your future to that of your husbands, in a relationship of mutual giving, at the service of love and life.

Thank you, women who are daughters and women who are sisters!  Into the heart of the family, and then of all society, you bring the richness of your sensitivity, your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity.

Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of "mystery", to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.

Thank you, consecrated women!  Following the example of the greatest of women, the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, you open yourselves with obedience and fidelity to the gift of God's love. You help the Church and all mankind to experience a "spousal" relationship to God, one which magnificently expresses the fellowship which God wishes to establish with his creatures.

Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world's understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.

3. I know of course that simply saying thank you is not enough. Unfortunately, we are heirs to a history which has conditioned us to a remarkable extent. In every time and place, this conditioning has been an obstacle to the progress of women. Women's dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity. Certainly it is no easy task to assign the blame for this, considering the many kinds of cultural conditioning which down the centuries have shaped ways of thinking and acting. And if objective blame, especially in particular historical contexts, has belonged to not just a few members of the Church, for this I am truly sorry. May this regret be transformed, on the part of the whole Church, into a renewed commitment of fidelity to the Gospel vision. When it comes to setting women free from every kind of exploitation and domination, the Gospel contains an ever relevant message which goes back to the attitude of Jesus Christ himself. Transcending the established norms of his own culture, Jesus treated women with openness, respect, acceptance and tenderness. In this way he honoured the dignity which women have always possessed according to God's plan and in his love. As we look to Christ at the end of this Second Millennium, it is natural to ask ourselves: how much of his message has been heard and acted upon?

Yes, it is time to examine the past with courage, to assign responsibility where it is due in a review of the long history of humanity. Women have contributed to that history as much as men and, more often than not, they did so in much more difficult conditions. I think particularly of those women who loved culture and art, and devoted their lives to them in spite of the fact that they were frequently at a disadvantage from the start, excluded from equal educational opportunities, underestimated, ignored and not given credit for their intellectual contributions. Sadly, very little of women's achievements in history can be registered by the science of history. But even though time may have buried the documentary evidence of those achievements, their beneficent influence can be felt as a force which has shaped the lives of successive generations, right up to our own. To this great, immense feminine "tradition" humanity owes a debt which can never be repaid. Yet how many women have been and continue to be valued more for their physical appearance than for their skill, their professionalism, their intellectual abilities, their deep sensitivity; in a word, the very dignity of their being!

4. And what shall we say of the obstacles which in so many parts of the world still keep women from being fully integrated into social, political and economic life? We need only think of how the gift of motherhood is often penalized rather than rewarded, even though humanity owes its very survival to this gift. Certainly, much remains to be done to prevent discrimination against those who have chosen to be wives and mothers. As far as personal rights are concerned, there is an urgent need to achievereal equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights and the recognition of everything that is part of the rights and duties of citizens in a democratic State.

This is a matter of justice but also of necessity. Women will increasingly play a part in the solution of the serious problems of the future: leisure time, the quality of life, migration, social services, euthanasia, drugs, health care, the ecology, etc. In all these areas a greater presence of women in society will prove most valuable, for it will help to manifest the contradictions present when society is organized solely according to the criteria of efficiency and productivity, and it will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favours the pro- cesses of humanization which mark the "civilization of love".

5. Then too, when we look at one of the most sensitive aspects of the situation of women in the world, how can we not mention the long and degrading history, albeit often an "underground" history, of violence against women in the area of sexuality? At the threshold of the Third Millennium we cannot remain indifferent and resigned before this phenomenon. The time has come to condemn vigorously the types of sexual violence which frequently have women for their object and to pass laws which effectively defend them from such violence. Nor can we fail, in the name of the respect due to the human person, to condemn the widespread hedonistic and commercial culture which encourages the systematic exploitation of sexuality and corrupts even very young girls into letting their bodies be used for profit.

In contrast to these sorts of perversion, what great appreciation must be shown to those women who, with a heroic love for the child they have conceived, proceed with a pregnancy resulting from the injustice of rape. Here we are thinking of atrocities perpetrated not only in situations of war, still so common in the world, but also in societies which are blessed by prosperity and peace and yet are often corrupted by a culture of hedonistic permissiveness which aggravates tendencies to aggressive male behaviour. In these cases the choice to have an abortion always remains a grave sin. But before being something to blame on the woman, it is a crime for which guilt needs to be attributed to men and to the complicity of the general social environment.

6. My word of thanks to women thus becomes a heartfelt appeal that everyone, and in a special way States and international institutions, should make every effort to ensure that women regain full respect for their dignity and role. Here I cannot fail to express my admiration for those women of good will who have devoted their lives to defending the dignity of womanhood by fighting for their basic social, economic and political rights, demonstrating courageous initiative at a time when this was considered extremely inappropriate, the sign of a lack of femininity, a manifestation of exhibitionism, and even a sin!

In this year's World Day of Peace Message, I noted that when one looks at the great process of women's liberation, "the journey has been a difficult and complicated one and, at times, not without its share of mistakes. But it has been substantially a positive one, even if it is still unfinished, due to the many obstacles which, in various parts of the world, still prevent women from being acknowledged, respected, and appreciated in their own special dignity" (No. 4).

This journey must go on! But I am convinced that the secret of making speedy progress in achieving full respect for women and their identity involves more than simply the condemnation of discrimination and injustices, necessary though this may be. Such respect must first and foremost be won through an effective and intelligent campaign for the promotion of women, concentrating on all areas of women's life and beginning with a universal recognition of the dignity of women. Our ability to recognize this dignity, in spite of historical conditioning, comes from the use of reason itself, which is able to understand the law of God written in the heart of every human being. More than anything else, the word of God enables us to grasp clearly the ultimate anthropological basis of the dignity of women, making it evident as a part of God's plan for humanity.

7. Dear sisters, together let us reflect anew on the magnificent passage in Scripture which describes the creation of the human race and which has so much to say about your dignity and mission in the world.

The Book of Genesis speaks of creation in summary fashion, in language which is poetic and symbolic, yet profoundly true: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). The creative act of God takes place according to a precise plan. First of all, we are told that the human being is created "in the image and likeness of God" (cf. Gen 1:26). This expression immediately makes clear what is distinct about the human being with regard to the rest of creation.

We are then told that, from the very beginning, man has been created "male and female" (Gen 1:27). Scripture itself provides the interpretation of this fact: even though man is surrounded by the innumerable creatures of the created world, he realizes that he is alone (cf. Gen 2:20). God intervenes in order to help him escape from this situation of solitude: "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18). The creation of woman is thus marked from the outset by the principle of help: a help which is not one-sided but mutual. Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: men and women are complementary.Womanhood expresses the "human" as much as manhood does, but in a different and complementary way.

When the Book of Genesis speaks of "help", it is not referring merely to acting, but also to being.Womanhood and manhood are complementary not only from the physical and psychological points of view, but also from the ontological. It is only through the duality of the "masculine" and the "feminine" that the "human" finds full realization.

8. After creating man male and female, God says to both: "Fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen1:28). Not only does he give them the power to procreate as a means of perpetuating the human species throughout time, he also gives them the earth, charging them with the responsible use of its resources. As a rational and free being, man is called to transform the face of the earth. In this task, which is essentially that of culture, man and woman alike share equal responsibility from the start. In their fruitful relationship as husband and wife, in their common task of exercising dominion over the earth, woman and man are marked neither by a static and undifferentiated equality nor by an irreconcilable and inexorably conflictual difference. Their most natural relationship, which corresponds to the plan of God, is the "unity of the two", a relational "uni-duality", which enables each to experience their interpersonal and reciprocal relationship as a gift which enriches and which confers responsibility.

To this "unity of the two" God has entrusted not only the work of procreation and family life, but the creation of history itself. While the 1994 International Year of the Family focused attention onwomen as mothers, the Beijing Conference, which has as its theme "Action for Equality, Development and Peace", provides an auspicious occasion for heightening awareness of the many contributions made by women to the life of whole societies and nations. This contribution is primarily spiritual and cultural in nature, but socio-political and economic as well. The various sectors of society, nations and states, and the progress of all humanity, are certainly deeply indebted to the contribution of women!

9. Progress usually tends to be measured according to the criteria of science and technology. Nor from this point of view has the contribution of women been negligible. Even so, this is not the only measure of progress, nor in fact is it the principal one. Much more important is the social and ethical dimension, which deals with human relations and spiritual values. In this area, which often develops in an inconspicuous way beginning with the daily relationships between people, especially within the family, society certainly owes much to the "genius of women".

Here I would like to express particular appreciation to those women who are involved in the variousareas of education extending well beyond the family: nurseries, schools, universities, social service agencies, parishes, associations and movements. Wherever the work of education is called for, we can note that women are ever ready and willing to give themselves generously to others, especially in serving the weakest and most defenceless. In this work they exhibit a kind of affective, cultural and spiritual motherhood which has inestimable value for the development of individuals and the future of society. At this point how can I fail to mention the witness of so many Catholic women and Religious Congregations of women from every continent who have made education, particularly the education of boys and girls, their principal apostolate? How can I not think with gratitude of all the women who have worked and continue to work in the area of health care, not only in highly organized institutions, but also in very precarious circumstances, in the poorest countries of the world, thus demonstrating a spirit of service which not infrequently borders on martyrdom?

10. It is thus my hope, dear sisters, that you will reflect carefully on what it means to speak of the"genius of women", not only in order to be able to see in this phrase a specific part of God's plan which needs to be accepted and appreciated, but also in order to let this genius be more fully expressed in the life of society as a whole, as well as in the life of the Church. This subject came up frequently during the Marian Year and I myself dwelt on it at length in my Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (1988). In addition, this year in the Letter which I customarily send to priests for Holy Thursday, I invited them to reread Mulieris Dignitatem and reflect on the important roles which women have played in their lives as mothers, sisters and co-workers in the apostolate. This is another aspect-different from the conjugal aspect, but also important-of that "help" which women, according to the Book of Genesis, are called to give to men.

The Church sees in Mary the highest expression of the "feminine genius" and she finds in her a source of constant inspiration. Mary called herself the "handmaid of the Lord" (Lk 1:38). Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her lofty yet not easy vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth. Putting herself at God's service, she also put herself at the service of others: aservice of love. Precisely through this service Mary was able to experience in her life a mysterious, but authentic "reign". It is not by chance that she is invoked as "Queen of heaven and earth". The entire community of believers thus invokes her; many nations and peoples call upon her as their "Queen". For her, "to reign" is to serve! Her service is "to reign"!

This is the way in which authority needs to be understood, both in the family and in society and the Church. Each person's fundamental vocation is revealed in this "reigning", for each person has been created in the "image" of the One who is Lord of heaven and earth and called to be his adopted son or daughter in Christ. Man is the only creature on earth "which God willed for its own sake", as the Second Vatican Council teaches; it significantly adds that man "cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self" (Gaudium et Spes24).

The maternal "reign" of Mary consists in this. She who was, in all her being, a gift for her Son, has also become a gift for the sons and daughters of the whole human race, awakening profound trust in those who seek her guidance along the difficult paths of life on the way to their definitive and transcendent destiny. Each one reaches this final goal by fidelity to his or her own vocation; this goal provides meaning and direction for the earthly labours of men and women alike.

11. In this perspective of "service"-which, when it is carried out with freedom, reciprocity and love, expresses the truly "royal" nature of mankind-one can also appreciate that the presence of a certain diversity of roles is in no way prejudicial to women, provided that this diversity is not the result of an arbitrary imposition, but is rather an expression of what is specific to being male and female. This issue also has a particular application within the Church. If Christ-by his free and sovereign choice, clearly attested to by the Gospel and by the Church's constant Tradition-entrusted only to men the task of being an "icon" of his countenance as "shepherd" and "bridegroom" of the Church through the exercise of the ministerial priesthood, this in no way detracts from the role of women, or for that matter from the role of the other members of the Church who are not ordained to the sacred ministry, since all share equally in the dignity proper to the "common priesthood" based on Baptism. These role distinctions should not be viewed in accordance with the criteria of functionality typical in human societies. Rather they must be understood according to the particular criteria of thesacramental economy, i.e. the economy of "signs" which God freely chooses in order to become present in the midst of humanity.

Furthermore, precisely in line with this economy of signs, even if apart from the sacramental sphere, there is great significance to that "womanhood" which was lived in such a sublime way by Mary. In fact, there is present in the "womanhood" of a woman who believes, and especially in a woman who is "consecrated", a kind of inherent "prophecy" (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem29), a powerfully evocative symbolism, a highly significant "iconic character", which finds its full realization in Mary and which also aptly expresses the very essence of the Church as a community consecrated with the integrity of a"virgin" heart to become the "bride" of Christ and "mother" of believers. When we consider the "iconic" complementarity of male and female roles, two of the Church's essential dimensions are seen in a clearer light: the "Marian" principle and the Apostolic- Petrine principle (cf. ibid., 27).

On the other hand-as I wrote to priests in this year's Holy Thursday Letter-the ministerial priesthood, according to Christ's plan, "is an expression not of domination but of service" (No. 7). The Church urgently needs, in her daily self-renewal in the light of the Word of God, to emphasize this fact ever more clearly, both by developing the spirit of communion and by carefully fostering all those means of participation which are properly hers, and also by showing respect for and promoting the diverse personal and communal charisms which the Spirit of God bestows for the building up of the Christian community and the service of humanity.

In this vast domain of service, the Church's two-thousand-year history, for all its historical conditioning, has truly experienced the "genius of woman"; from the heart of the Church there have emerged women of the highest calibre who have left an impressive and beneficial mark in history. I think of the great line of woman martyrs, saints and famous mystics. In a particular way I think of Saint Catherine of Siena and of Saint Teresa of Avila, whom Pope Paul VI of happy memory granted the title of Doctors of the Church. And how can we overlook the many women, inspired by faith, who were responsible for initiatives of extraordinary social importance, especially in serving the poorest of the poor? The life of the Church in the Third Millennium will certainly not be lacking in new and surprising manifestations of "the feminine genius".

12. You can see then, dear sisters, that the Church has many reasons for hoping that the forthcoming United Nations Conference in Beijing will bring out the full truth about women. Necessary emphasis should be placed on the "genius of women", not only by considering great and famous women of the past or present, but also those ordinary women who reveal the gift of their womanhood by placing themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives. For in giving themselves to others each day women fulfil their deepest vocation. Perhaps more than men, womenacknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them. In this way the basic plan of the Creator takes flesh in the history of humanity and there is constantly revealed, in the variety of vocations, that beauty-not merely physical, but above all spiritual-which God bestowed from the very beginning on all, and in a particular way on women.

While I commend to the Lord in prayer the success of the important meeting in Beijing, I inviteEcclesial Communities to make this year an occasion of heartfelt thanksgiving to the Creator and Redeemer of the world for the gift of this great treasure which is womanhood. In all its expressions, womanhood is part of the essential heritage of mankind and of the Church herself.

May Mary, Queen of Love, watch over women and their mission in service of humanity, of peace, of the spread of God's Kingdom!

With my Blessing.

From the Vatican, 29 June 1995, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.


Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, May 22, 1994

In his Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, John Paul II attempts to address the question of women's ordination once and for all when he says that ordination is reserved for men alone.  Through the document, he also attempts to ban any further discussion about the topic.

Clear? Infallible? Confusion quickly arises as to nature of the document.  Is it an infallible statement?  Is it merely his opinion?  Canon law experts quickly remind all that Canon 749, § 3 says: 'No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless it is clearly established as such.'

Eventually even the Vatican accede the fact that it was not clearly an infallible statement but only a definitive one.  'Definitive'.  Suddenly a new word pops up in the Vatican's lexicon ... used for the first time in the Church's 2,000 year old history.



Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. Priestly ordination, which hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his Apostles of teaching, sanctifying and governing the faithful, has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone. This tradition has also been faithfully maintained by the Oriental Churches.

When the question of the ordination of women arose in the Anglican Communion, Pope Paul VI, out of fidelity to his office of safeguarding the Apostolic Tradition, and also with a view to removing a new obstacle placed in the way of Christian unity, reminded Anglicans of the position of the Catholic Church: "She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church."(1)

But since the question had also become the subject of debate among theologians and in certain Catholic circles, Paul VI directed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to set forth and expound the teaching of the Church on this matter. This was done through the Declaration Inter Insigniores, which the Supreme Pontiff approved and ordered to be published.(2)

2. The Declaration recalls and explains the fundamental reasons for this teaching, reasons expounded by Paul VI, and concludes that the Church "does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination."(3) To these fundamental reasons the document adds other theological reasons which illustrate the appropriateness of the divine provision, and it also shows clearly that Christ's way of acting did not proceed from sociological or cultural motives peculiar to his time. As Paul VI later explained: "The real reason is that, in giving the Church her fundamental constitution, her theological anthropology-thereafter always followed by the Church's Tradition- Christ established things in this way."(4)

In the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, I myself wrote in this regard: "In calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behavior, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time."(5)

In fact the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles attest that this call was made in accordance with God's eternal plan; Christ chose those whom he willed (cf. Mk 3:13-14; Jn 6:70), and he did so in union with the Father, "through the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:2), after having spent the night in prayer (cf. Lk 6:12). Therefore, in granting admission to the ministerial priesthood,(6) the Church has always acknowledged as a perennial norm her Lord's way of acting in choosing the twelve men whom he made the foundation of his Church (cf. Rv 21:14). These men did not in fact receive only a function which could thereafter be exercised by any member of the Church; rather they were specifically and intimately associated in the mission of the Incarnate Word himself (cf. Mt 10:1, 7-8; 28:16-20; Mk 3:13-16; 16:14-15). The Apostles did the same when they chose fellow workers(7) who would succeed them in their ministry.(8) Also included in this choice were those who, throughout the time of the Church, would carry on the Apostles' mission of representing Christ the Lord and Redeemer.(9)

3. Furthermore, the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them. Rather, it is to be seen as the faithful observance of a plan to be ascribed to the wisdom of the Lord of the universe.

The presence and the role of women in the life and mission of the Church, although not linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary and irreplaceable. As the Declaration Inter Insigniores points out, "the Church desires that Christian women should become fully aware of the greatness of their mission: today their role is of capital importance both for the renewal and humanization of society and for the rediscovery by believers of the true face of the Church."(10)

The New Testament and the whole history of the Church give ample evidence of the presence in the Church of women, true disciples, witnesses to Christ in the family and in society, as well as in total consecration to the service of God and of the Gospel. "By defending the dignity of women and their vocation, the Church has shown honor and gratitude for those women who-faithful to the Gospel-have shared in every age in the apostolic mission of the whole People of God. They are the holy martyrs, virgins and mothers of families, who bravely bore witness to their faith and passed on the Church's faith and tradition by bringing up their children in the spirit of the Gospel."(11)

Moreover, it is to the holiness of the faithful that the hierarchical structure of the Church is totally ordered. For this reason, the Declaration Inter Insigniores recalls: "the only better gift, which can and must be desired, is love (cf. 1 Cor 12 and 13). The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are not the ministers but the saints."(12)

4. Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

Invoking an abundance of divine assistance upon you, venerable brothers, and upon all the faithful, I impart my apostolic blessing.

From the Vatican, on May 22, the Solemnity of Pentecost, in the year 1994, the sixteenth of my Pontificate.


1. Paul VI, Response to the Letter of His Grace the Most Reverend Dr. F.D. Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury, concerning the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood (November 30, 1975); AAS 68 (1976), 599.

2. Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Inter Insigniores on the question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood (October 15, 1976): AAS 69 (1977), 98-116.

3. Ibid., 100.

4. Paul VI, Address on the Role of Women in the Plan of Salvation (January 30, 1977): Insegnamenti, XV (1977), 111. Cf. Also John Paul II Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici (December 30, 1988), n. 51: AAS 81 (1989), 393-521; Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1577.

5. Apsotolic Letter Mulieris Dignnitatem (August 15, 1988), n. 26: AAS 80 (1988), 1715.

6. Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 28 Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 2b.

7. Cf. 1 Tm 3:1-13; 2 Tm 1:6; Ti 1:5-9.

8. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1577.

9. Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, nn. 20,21.

10. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Inter Insigniores, n. 6: AAS 69 (1977), 115-116.

11. Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 27: AAS 80 (1988), 1719.

12. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Inter Insigniores n. 6: AAS 69 (1977), 115.

Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana 

The Catechism, 1992

The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church adds a paragraph to say that women cannot be ordained priests.

The Catechism on Women's Ordination

From: The Catechism of the Catholic Church, ed. Geoffrey Chapman, London 1994, pp. 353-354.

§ 1577. "Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination."[66] The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry.[67] The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.[68]

§ 1578. No one has a right to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. Indeed no one claims this office for himself; he is called to it by God.[69] Anyone who thinks he recognizes the signs of God's call to the ordained ministry must humbly submit his desire to the authority of the Church, who has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive orders. Like every grace this sacrament can be received only as an unmerited gift.


66. Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 1024.

67. Cf. Mk 3:14-19; Lk 6:12-16; 1 Tim 3:1 -13; 2 Tim 1:6; St. Clement of Rome. Ad Cor. 42,4; 44,3: PG 1,292-293; 300.

68. Cf. John Paul II, MD 26-27; CDF, Decl. Inter Insigniores: AAS 69 (1977) 98-116.

69. Heb 5:4.

Donum Veritatis, May 24, 1990




1. The truth which sets us free is a gift of Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 8:32). Man's nature calls him to seek the truth while ignorance keeps him in a condition of servitude. Indeed, man could not be truly free were no light shed upon the central questions of his existence including, in particular, where he comes from and where he is going. When God gives Himself to man as a friend, man becomes free, in accordance with the Lord's word: «No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you» (Jn 15:15). Man's deliverance from the alienation of sin and death comes about when Christ, the Truth, becomes the "way" for him (cf. Jn 14:6).

In the Christian faith, knowledge and life, truth and existence are intrinsically connected. Assuredly, the truth given in God's revelation exceeds the capacity of human knowledge, but it is not opposed to human reason. Revelation in fact penetrates human reason, elevates it, and calls it to give an account of itself (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). For this reason, from the very beginning of the Church, the "standard of teaching" (cf. Rom 6:17) has been linked with baptism to entrance into the mystery of Christ. The service of doctrine, implying as it does the believer's search for an understanding of the faith, i.e., theology, is therefore something indispensable for the Church.

Theology has importance for the Church in every age so that it can respond to the plan of God "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4). In times of great spiritual and cultural change, theology is all the more important. Yet it also is exposed to risks since it must strive to "abide" in the truth (cf. Jn 8:31), while at the same time taking into account the new problems which confront the human spirit. In our century, in particular, during the periods of preparation for and implementation of the Second Vatican Council, theology contributed much to a deeper "understanding of the realities and the words handed on"(1). But it also experienced and continues to experience moments of crisis and tension.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith deems it opportune then to address to the Bishops of the Catholic Church, and through them her theologians, the present Instruction which seeks to shed light on the mission of theology in the Church. After having considered truth as God's gift to His people (I), the instruction will describe the role of theologians (II), ponder the particular mission of the Church's Pastors (III), and finally, propose some points on the proper relationship between theologians and pastors (IV). In this way, it aims to serve the growth in understanding of the truth (cf.Col 1:10) which ushers us into that freedom which Christ died and rose to win for us (cf. Gal 5:1).


2. Out of His infinite love, God desired to draw near to man, as he seeks his own proper identity, and walk with him ( cf. Lk 24:15 ) . He also wanted to free him from the snares of the "father of lies" (cf.Jn 8:44) and to open the way to intimacy with Himself so that man could find there, superabundantly, full truth and authentic freedom. This plan of love, conceived by "the Father of lights" (Jas 1:17; cf. IPet 2:9; 1 Jn 1:5) and realized by the Son victorious over death (cf. Jn 8:36), is continually made present by the Spirit who leads "to all truth" (Jn 16:13) .

3. The truth possesses in itself a unifying force. It frees men from isolation and the oppositions in which they have been trapped by ignorance of the truth. And as it opens the way to God, it, at the same time, unites them to each other. Christ destroyed the wall of separation which had kept them strangers to God's promise and to the fellowship of the covenant (cf. Eph 2:12-14). Into the hearts of the faithful He sends His Spirit through whom we become nothing less than "one" in Him (cf. Rom5:5; 6 Gal 3:28). Thus thanks to the new birth and the anointing of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 3:5; 1 Jn2:20. 27), we become the one, new People of God whose mission it is, with our different vocations and charisms, to preserve and hand on the gift of truth. Indeed, the whole Church, as the "salt of the earth" and "the light of the world" (cf. Mt 5:13 f.), must bear witness to the truth of Christ which sets us free.

4. The People of God respond to this calling "above all by means of the life of faith and charity, and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise". More specifically, as far as the "life of faith" is concerned, the Second Vatican Council makes it clear that "the whole body of the faithful who have an anointing that comes from the holy one (cf. 1 Jn 2:20. 27) cannot err in matters of belief". And "this characteristic is shown in the supernatural sense of the faith of the whole people, when 'from the bishops to the last of the faithful' they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals".(2)

5. In order to exercise the prophetic function in the world, the People of God must continually reawaken or "rekindle" its own life of faith (cf. 2 Tim 1:6). It does this particularly by contemplating ever more deeply, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the contents of the faith itself and by dutifully presenting the reasonableness of the faith to those who ask for an account of it (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). For the sake of this mission, the Spirit of truth distributes among the faithful of every rank special graces "for the common good" (1 Cor 12:7-11).


6. Among the vocations awakened in this way by the Spirit in the Church is that of the theologian. His role is to pursue in a particular way an ever deeper understanding of the Word of God found in the inspired Scriptures and handed on by the living Tradition of the Church. He does this in communion with the Magisterium which has been charged with the responsibility of preserving the deposit of faith.
By its nature, faith appeals to reason because it reveals to man the truth of his destiny and the way to attain it. Revealed truth, to be sure, surpasses our telling. All our concepts fall short of its ultimately unfathomable grandeur (cf. Eph 3:19). Nonetheless, revealed truth beckons reason - God's gift fashioned for the assimilation of truth - to enter into its light and thereby come to understand in a certain measure what it has believed. Theological science responds to the invitation of truth as it seeks to understand the faith. It thereby aids the People of God in fulfilling the Apostle's command (cf. 1Pet 3:15 ) to give an accounting for their hope to those who ask it.

7. The theologian's work thus responds to a dynamism found in the faith itself. Truth, by its nature, seeks to be communicated since man was created for the perception of truth and from the depths of his being desires knowledge of it so that he can discover himself in the truth and find there his salvation (cf. 1 Tim 2:4). For this reason, the Lord sent forth His apostles to make "disciples" of all nations and teach them (cf. Mt 28:19 f. ). Theology, which seeks the "reasons of faith" and offers these reasons as a reponse to those seeking them, thus constitutes an integral part of obedience to the command of Christ, for men cannot become disciples if the truth found in the word of faith is not presented to them (cf. Rom 10:14 f.).

Theology therefore offers its contribution so that the faith might be communicated. Appealing to the understanding of those who do not yet know Christ, it helps them to seek and find faith. Obedient to the impulse of truth which seeks to be communicated, theology also arises from love and love's dynamism. In the act of faith, man knows God's goodness and begins to love Him. Love, however, is ever desirous of a better knowledge of the beloved.(3) From this double origin of theology, inscribed upon the interior life of the People of God and its missionary vocation, derives the method with which it ought to be pursued in order to satisfy the requirements of its nature.

8. Since the object of theology is the Truth which is the living God and His plan for salvation revealed in Jesus Christ, the theologian is called to deepen his own life of faith and continuously unite his scientific research with prayer.(4) In this way, he will become more open to the "supernatural sense of faith" upon which he depends, and it will appear to him as a sure rule for guiding his reflections and helping him assess the correctness of his conclusions.

9. Through the course of centuries, theology has progressively developed into a true and proper science. The theologian must therefore be attentive to the epistemological requirements of his discipline, to the demands of rigorous critical standards, and thus to a rational verification of each stage of his research. The obligation to be critical, however, should not be identified with the critical spirit which is born of feeling or prejudice. The theologian must discern in himself the origin of and motivation for his critical attitude and allow his gaze to be purified by faith. The commitment to theology requires a spiritual effort to grow in virtue and holiness.

10. Even though it transcends human reason, revealed truth is in profound harmony with it. It presumes that reason by its nature is ordered to the truth in such a way that, illumined by faith, it can penetrate to the meaning of Revelation. Despite the assertions of many philosophical currents, but in conformity with a correct way of thinking which finds confirmation in Scripture, human reason's ability to attain truth must be recognized as well as its metaphysical capacity to come to a knowledge of God from creation. (5)

Theology's proper task is to understand the meaning of revelation and this, therefore, requires the utilization of philosophical concepts which provide "a solid and correct understanding of man, the world, and God" (6) and can be employed in a reflection upon revealed doctrine. The historical disciplines are likewise necessary for the theologian's investigations. This is due chiefly to the historical character of revelation itself which has been communicated to us in "salvation history". Finally, a consultation of the "human sciences" is also necessary to understand better the revealed truth about man and the moral norms for his conduct, setting these in relation to the sound findings of such sciences.

It is the theologian's task in this perspective to draw from the surrounding culture those elements which will allow him better to illumine one or other aspect of the mysteries of faith. This is certainly an arduous task that has its risks, but it is legitimate in itself and should be encouraged.

Here it is important to emphasize that when theology employs the elements and conceptual tools of philosophy or other disciplines, discernment is needed. The ultimate normative principle for such discernment is revealed doctrine which itself must furnish the criteria for the evaluation of these elements and conceptual tools and not vice versa.

11. Never forgetting that he is also a member of the People of God, the theologian must foster respect far them and be committed to offering them a teaching which in no way does harm to the doctrine of the faith.

The freedom proper to theological research is exercised within the Church's faith. Thus while the theologian might often feel the urge to be daring in his work, this will not bear fruit or "edify" unless it is accompanied by that patience which permits maturation to occur. New proposals advanced for understanding the faith "are but an offering made to the whole Church. Many corrections and broadening of perspectives within the context of fraternal dialogue may be needed before the moment comes when the whole Church can accept them" . Consequently, "this very disinterested service to the community of the faithful", which theology is, "entails in essence an objective discussion, a fraternal dialogue, an openness and willingness to modify one's own opinions".(7)

12. Freedom of research, which the academic community rightly holds most precious, means an openness to accepting the truth that emerges at the end of an investigation in which no element has intruded that is foreign to the methodology corresponding to the object under study.
In theology this freedom of inquiry is the hallmark of a rational discipline whose object is given by Revelation, handed on and interpreted in the Church under the authority of the Magisterium, and received by faith. These givens have the force of principles. To eliminate them would mean to cease doing theology. In order to set forth precisely the ways in which the theologian relates to the Church's teaching authority, it is appropriate now to reflect upon the role of the Magisterium in the Church.


13. "God graciously arranged that the things he had once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety, throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations"(8) He bestowed upon His Church, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, a participation in His own infallibility.(9) Thanks to the "supernatural sense of Faith", the People of God enjoys this privilege under the guidance of the Church's living Magisterium, which is the sole authentic interpreter of the Word of God, written or handed down, by virtue of the authority which it exercises in the name of Christ.(10)

14. As successors of the apostles, the bishops of the Church "receive from the Lord, to whom all power is given in heaven and on earth, the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain to salvation...".(11) They have been entrusted then with the task of preserving, explaining, and spreading the Word of God of which they are servants.(12)

It is the mission of the Magisterium to affirm the definitive character of the Covenant established by God through Christ with His People in a way which is consistent with the "eschatological" nature of the event of Jesus Christ. It must protect God's People from the danger of deviations and confusion, guaranteeing them the objective possibility of professing the authentic faith free from error, at all times and in diverse situations. It follows that the sense and the weight of the Magisterium's authority are only intelligible in relation to the truth of Christian doctrine and the preaching of the true Word. The function of the Magisterium is not, then, something extrinsic to Christian truth nor is it set above the faith. It arises directly from the economy of the faith itself, inasmuch as the Magisterium is, in its service to the Word of God, an institution positively willed by Christ as a constitutive element of His Church. The service to Christian truth which the Magisterium renders is thus for the benefit of the whole People of God called to enter the liberty of the truth revealed by God in Christ.

15. Jesus Christ promised the assistance of the Holy Spirit to the Church's Pastors so that they could fulfill their assigned task of teaching the Gospel and authentically interpreting Revelation. In particular, He bestowed on them the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. This charism is manifested when the Pastors propose a doctrine as contained in Revelation and can be exercised in various ways. Thus it is exercised particularly when the bishops in union with their visible head proclaim a doctrine by a collegial act, as is the case in an ecumenical council, or when the Roman Pontiff, fulfilling his mission as supreme Pastor and Teacher of all Christians, proclaims a doctrine "ex cathedra". (13)

16. By its nature, the task of religiously guarding and loyally expounding the deposit of divine Revelation (in all its integrity and purity), implies that the Magisterium can make a pronouncement "in a definitive way" (14) on propositions which, even if not contained among the truths of faith, are nonetheless intimately connected with them, in such a way, that the definitive character of such affirmations derives in the final analysis from revelation itself.(15).

What concerns morality can also be the object of the authentic Magisterium because the Gospel, being the Word of Life, inspires and guides the whole sphere of human behavior. The Magisterium, therefore, has the task of discerning, by means of judgments normative for the consciences of believers, those acts which in themselves conform to the demands of faith and foster their expression in life and those which, on the contrary, because intrinsically evil, are incompatible with such demands. By reason of the connection between the orders of creation and redemption and by reason of the necessity, in view of salvation, of knowing and observing the whole moral law, the competence of the Magisterium also extends to that which concerns the natural law.(16)

Revelation also contains moral teachings which per se could be known by natural reason. Access to them, however, is made difficult by man's sinful condition. It is a doctrine of faith that these moral norms can be infallibly taught by the Magisterium (17).

17. Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and in a particular way, to the Roman Pontiff as Pastor of the whole Church, when exercising their ordinary Magisterium, even should this not issue in an infallible definition or in a "definitive" pronouncement but in the proposal of some teaching which leads to a better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals and to moral directives derived from such teaching.

One must therefore take into account the proper character of every exercise of the Magisterium, considering the extent to which its authority is engaged. It is also to be borne in mind that all acts of the Magisterium derive from the same source, that is, from Christ who desires that His People walk in the entire truth. For this same reason, magisterial decisions in matters of discipline, even if they are not guaranteed by the charism of infallibility, are not without divine assistance and call for the adherence of the faithful.

18. The Roman Pontiff fulfills his universal mission with the help of the various bodies of the Roman Curia and in particular with that of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in matters of doctrine and morals. Consequently, the documents issued by this Congregation expressly approved by the Pope participate in the ordinary magisterium of the successor of Peter.(18)

19. Within the particular Churches, it is the bishop's responsibility to guard and interpret the Word of God and to make authoritative judgments as to what is or is not in conformity with it. The teaching of each bishop, taken individually, is exercised in communion with the Roman Pontiff, Pastor of the universal Church, and with the other bishops dispersed throughout the world or gathered in an ecumenical council. Such communion is a condition for its authenticity.

Member of the Episcopal College by virtue of his sacramental ordination and hierarchical communion, the bishop represents his Church just as all the bishops, in union with the Pope, represent the Church universal in the bonds of peace, love, unity, and truth. As they come together in unity, the local Churches, with their own proper patrimonies, manifest the Church's catholicity. The episcopal conferences for their part contribute to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit ("affectus").(19)

20. The pastoral task of the Magisterium is one of vigilance. It seeks to ensure that the People of God remain in the truth which sets free. It is therefore a complex and diversified reality. The theologian, to be faithful to his role of service to the truth, must take into account the proper mission of the Magisterium and collaborate with it. How should this collaboration be understood? How is it put into practice and what are the obstacles it may face? These questions should now be examined more closely.


A. Collaborative Relations

21. The living Magisterium of the Church and theology, while having different gifts and functions, ultimately have the same goal: preserving the People of God in the truth which sets free and thereby making them "a light to the nations". This service to the ecclesial community brings the theologian and the Magisterium into a reciprocal relationship. The latter authentically teaches the doctrine of the Apostles. And, benefiting from the work of theologians, it refutes objections to and distortions of the faith and promotes, with the authority received from Jesus Christ, new and deeper comprehension, clarification, and application of revealed doctrine. Theology, for its part, gains, by way of reflection, an ever deeper understanding of the Word of God found in the Scripture and handed on faithfully by the Church's living Tradition under the guidance of the Magisterium. Theology strives to clarify the teaching of Revelation with regard to reason and gives it finally an organic and systematic form.(20)

22. Collaboration between the theologian and the Magisterium occurs in a special way when the theologian receives the canonical mission or the mandate to teach. In a certain sense, such collaboration becomes a participation in the work of the Magisterium, linked, as it then is, by a juridic bond. The theologian's code of conduct, which obviously has its origin in the service of the Word of God, is here reinforced by the commitment the theologian assumes in accepting his office, making the profession of faith, and taking the oath of fidelity.(21)

From this moment on, the theologian is officially charged with the task of presenting and illustrating the doctrine of the faith in its integrity and with full accuracy.

23. When the Magisterium of the Church makes an infallible pronouncement and solemnly declares that a teaching is found in Revelation, the assent called for is that of theological faith. This kind of adherence is to be given even to the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium when it proposes for belief a teaching of faith as divinely revealed.

When the Magisterium proposes "in a definitive way" truths concerning faith and morals, which, even if not divinely revealed, are nevertheless strictly and intimately connected with Revelation, these must be firmly accepted and held.(22)

When the Magisterium, not intending to act "definitively", teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect.(23) This kind of response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith.

24. Finally, in order to serve the People of God as well as possible, in particular, by warning them of dangerous opinions which could lead to error, the Magisterium can intervene in questions under discussion which involve, in addition to solid principles, certain contingent and conjectural elements. It often only becomes possible with the passage of time to distinguish between what is necessary and what is contingent.

The willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule. It can happen, however, that a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions. Here the theologian will need, first of all, to assess accurately the authoritativeness of the interventions which becomes clear from the nature of the documents, the insistence with which a teaching is repeated, and the very way in which it is expressed.(24)

When it comes to the question of interventions in the prudential order, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies. Bishops and their advisors have not always taken into immediate consideration every aspect or the entire complexity of a question. But it would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church's Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments, or that it does not enjoy divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission. In fact, the theologian, who cannot pursue his discipline well without a certain competence in history, is aware of the filtering which occurs with the passage of time. This is not to be understood in the sense of a relativization of the tenets of the faith. The theologian knows that some judgments of the Magisterium could be justified at the time in which they were made, because while the pronouncements contained true assertions and others which were not sure, both types were inextricably connected. Only time has permitted discernment and, after deeper study, the attainment of true doctrinal progress.

25. Even when collaboration takes place under the best conditions, the possibility cannot be excluded that tensions may arise between the theologian and the Magisterium. The meaning attributed to such tensions and the spirit with which they are faced are not matters of indifference. If tensions do not spring from hostile and contrary feelings, they can become a dynamic factor, a stimulus to both the Magisterium and theologians to fulfill their respective roles while practicing dialogue.

26. In the dialogue, a two-fold rule should prevail. When there is a question of the communion of faith, the principle of the "unity of truth" (unitas veritatis) applies. When it is a question of differences which do not jeopardize this communion, the "unity of charity" (unitas caritatis) should be safeguarded.

27. Even if the doctrine of the faith is not in question, the theologian will not present his own opinions or divergent hypotheses as though they were non-arguable conclusions. Respect for the truth as well as for the People of God requires this discretion (cf. Rom 14:1-15; 1 Cor 8; 10: 23-33 ) . For the same reasons, the theologian will refrain from giving untimely public expression to them.

28. The preceding considerations have a particular application to the case of the theologian who might have serious difficulties, for reasons which appear to him wellfounded, in accepting a non-irreformable magisterial teaching.

Such a disagreement could not be justified if it were based solely upon the fact that the validity of the given teaching is not evident or upon the opinion that the opposite position would be the more probable. Nor, furthermore, would the judgment of the subjective conscience of the theologian justify it because conscience does not constitute an autonomous and exclusive authority for deciding the truth of a doctrine.

29. In any case there should never be a diminishment of that fundamental openness loyally to accept the teaching of the Magisterium as is fitting for every believer by reason of the obedience of faith. The theologian will strive then to understand this teaching in its contents, arguments, and purposes. This will mean an intense and patient reflection on his part and a readiness, if need be, to revise his own opinions and examine the objections which his colleagues might offer him.

30. If, despite a loyal effort on the theologian's part, the difficulties persist, the theologian has the duty to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented. He should do this in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties. His objections could then contribute to real progress and provide a stimulus to the Magisterium to propose the teaching of the Church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the arguments.

In cases like these, the theologian should avoid turning to the "mass media", but have recourse to the responsible authority, for it is not by seeking to exert the pressure of public opinion that one contributes to the clarification of doctrinal issues and renders servite to the truth.

31. It can also happen that at the conclusion of a serious study, undertaken with the desire to heed the Magisterium's teaching without hesitation, the theologian's difficulty remains because the arguments to the contrary seem more persuasive to him. Faced with a proposition to which he feels he cannot give his intellectual assent, the theologian nevertheless has the duty to remain open to a deeper examination of the question.

For a loyal spirit, animated by love for the Church, such a situation can certainly prove a difficult trial. It can be a call to suffer for the truth, in silence and prayer, but with the certainty, that if the truth really is at stake, it will ultimately prevail.

B. The problem of dissent

32. The Magisterium has drawn attention several times to the serious harm done to the community of the Church by attitudes of general opposition to Church teaching which even come to expression in organized groups. In his apostolic exhortation Paterna cum benevolentia, Paul VI offered a diagnosis of this problem which is still apropos.(25) In particular, he addresses here that public opposition to the Magisterium of the Church also called "dissent", which must be distinguished from the situation of personal difficulties treated above. The phenomenon of dissent can have diverse forms. Its remote and proximate causes are multiple.

The ideology of philosophical liberalism, which permeates the thinking of our age, must be counted among the factors which may exercise their remote or indirect influence. Here arises the tendency to regard a judgment as having all the more validity to the extent that it proceeds from the individual relying upon his own powers. In such a way freedom of thought comes to oppose the authority of tradition which is considered a cause of servitude. A teaching handed on and generally received is apriori suspect and its truth contested. Ultimately, freedom of judgment understood in this way is more important than the truth itself. We are dealing then here with something quite different from the legitimate demand for freedom in the sense of absence of constraint as a necessary condition for the loyal inquiry into truth. In virtue of this exigency, the Church has always held that "nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will" .(26)

The weight of public opinion when manipulated and its pressure to conform also have their influence. Often models of society promoted by the "mass media" tend to assume a normative value. The view is particularly promoted that the Church should only express her judgment on those issues which public opinion considers important and then only by way of agreeing with it. The Magisterium, for example, could intervene in economic or social questions but ought to leave matters of conjugal and family morality to individual judgment.

Finally, the plurality of cultures and languages, in itself a benefit, can indirectly bring on misunderstandings which occasion disagreements.

In this context, the theologian needs to make a critical, well-considered discernment, as well as have a true mastery of the issues, if he wants to fulfill his ecclesial mission and not lose, by conforming himself to this present world (cf. Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23), the independence of judgment which should be that of the disciples of Christ.

33. Dissent has different aspects. In its most radical form, it aims at changing the Church following a model of protest which takes its inspiration from political society. More frequently, it is asserted that the theologian is not bound to adhere to any Magisterial teaching unless it is infallible. Thus a Kind of theological positivism is adopted, according to which, doctrines proposed without exercise of the charism of infallibility are said to have no obligatory character about them, leaving the individual completely at liberty to adhere to them or not. The theologian would accordingly be totally free to raise doubts or reject the non-infallible teaching of the Magisterium particularly in the case of specific moral norms. With such critical opposition, he would even be making a contribution to the development of doctrine.

34. Dissent is generally defended by various arguments, two of which are more basic in character. The first lies in the order of hermeneutics. The documents of the Magisterium, it is said, reflect nothing more than a debatable theology. The second takes theological pluralism sometimes to the point of a relativism which calls the integrity of the faith into question. Here the interventions of the Magisterium would have their origin in one theology among many theologies, while no particular theology, however, could presume to claim universal normative status. In opposition to and in competition with the authentic magisterium, there thus arises a kind of "parallel magisterium" of theologians.(27)

Certainly, it is one of the theologian's tasks to give a correct interpretation to the texts of the Magisterium and to this end he employs various hermeneutical rules. Among these is the principle which affirms that Magisterial teaching, by virtue of divine assistance, has a validity beyond its argumentation, which may derive at times from a particular theology. As far as theological pluralism is concerned, this is only legitimate to the extent that the unity of the faith in its objective meaning is not jeopardized.(28) Essential bonds link the distinct levels of unity of faith, unity-plurality of expressions of the faith, and plurality of theologies. The ultimate reason for plurality is found in the unfathomable mystery of Christ who transcends every objective systematization. This cannot mean that it is possible to accept conclusions contrary to that mystery and it certainly does not put into question the truth of those assertions by which the Magisterium has declared itself.(29) As to the "parallel magisterium", it can cause great spiritual harm by opposing itself to the Magisterium of the Pastors. Indeed, when dissent succeeds in extending its influence to the point of shaping; a common opinion, it tends to become the rule of conduct. This cannot but seriously trouble the People of God and lead to contempt for true authority.(30)

35. Dissent sometimes also appeals to a kind of sociological argumentation which holds that the opinion of a large number of Christians would be a direct and adequate expression of the "supernatural sense of the faith".

Actually, the opinions of the faithful cannot be purely and simply identified with the "sensus fidei".(31) The sense of the faith is a property of theological faith; and, as God's gift which enables one to adhere personally to the Truth, it cannot err. This personal faith is also the faith of the Church since God has given guardianship of the Word to the Church. Consequently, what the believer believes is what the Church believes. The "sensus fidei" implies then by its nature a profound agreement of spirit and heart with the Church, "sentire cum Ecclesia".

Although theological faith as such then cannot err, the believer can still have erroneous opinions since all his thoughts do not spring from faith.(32) Not all the ideas which circulate among the People of God are compatible with the faith. This is all the more so given that people can be swayed by a public opinion influenced by modern communications media. Not without reason did the Second Vatican Council emphasize the indissoluble bond between the "sensus fidei" and the guidance of God's People by the magisterium of the Pastors. These two realities cannot be separated.(33) Magisterial interventions serve to guarantee the Church's unity in the truth of the Lord. They aid her to "abide in the truth" in face of the arbitrary character of changeable opinions and are an expression of obedience to the Word of God.(34) Even when it might seem that they limit the freedom of theologians, these actions, by their fidelity to the faith which has been handed on, establish a deeper freedom which can only come from unity in truth.

36. The freedom of the act of faith cannot justify a right to dissent. In fact this freedom does not indicate at all freedom with regard to the truth but signifies the free self-determination of the person in conformity with his moral obligation to accept the truth. The act of faith is a voluntary act because man, saved by Christ the Redeemer and called by Him to be an adopted son (cf. Rom 8:15; Gal 4:5;Eph 1:5; Jn 1:12), cannot adhere to God unless, "drawn by the Father" (Jn 6:44), he offer God the rational homage of his faith (cf. Rom 12:1). As the Declaration Dignitatis humanae recalls,(35) no human authority may overstep the limits of its competence and claim the right to interfere with this choice by exerting pressure or constraint. Respect for religious liberty is the foundation of respect for all the rights of man.

One cannot then appeal to these rights of man in order to oppose the interventions of the Magisterium. Such behavior fails to recognize the nature and mission of the Church which has received from the Lord the task to proclaim the truth of salvation to all men. She fulfills this task by walking in Christ's footsteps, knowing that "truth can impose itself on the mind only by virtue of its own truth, which wins over the mind with both gentleness and power".(36)

37. By virtue of the divine mandate given to it in the Church, the Magisterium has the mission to set forth the Gospel's teaching, guard its integrity, and thereby protect the Faith of the People of God. In order to fulfill this duty, it can at times be led to take serious measures as, for example, when it withdraws from a theologian, who departs from the doctrine of the faith, the canonical mission or the teaching mandate it had given him, or declares that some writings do not conform to this doctrine. When it acts in such ways, the Magisterium seeks to be faithful to its mission of defending the right of the People of God to receive the message of the Church in its purity and integrity and not be disturbed by a particular dangerous opinion.

The judgment expressed by the Magisterium in such circumstances is the result of a thorough investigation conducted according to established procedures which afford the interested party the opportunity to clear up possible misunderstandings of his thought. This judgment, however, does not concern the person of the theologian but the intellectual positions which he has publicly espoused. The fact that these procedures can be improved does not mean that they are contrary to justice and right. To speak in this instance of a violation of human rights is out of place for it indicates a failure to recognize the proper hierarchy of these rights as well as the nature of the ecclesial community and her common good. Moreover, the theologian who is not disposed to think with the Church ("sentire cum Ecclesia") contradicts the commitment he freely and knowingly accepted to teach in the name of the Church.(37)

38. Finally, argumentation appealing to the obligation to follow one's own conscience cannot legitimate dissent. This is true, first of all, because conscience illumines the practical judgment about a decision to make, while here we are concerned with the truth of a doctrinal pronouncement. This is furthermore the case because while the theologian, like every believer, must follow his conscience, he is also obliged to form it. Conscience is not an independent and infallible faculty. It is an act of moral judgement regarding a responsible choice. A right conscience is one duly illumined by faith and by the objective moral law and it presupposes, as well, the uprightness of the will in the pursuit of the true good.

The right conscience of the Catholic theologian presumes not only faith in the Word of God whose riches he must explore, but also love for the Church from whom he receives his mission, and respect for her divinely assisted Magisterium. Setting up a supreme magisterium of conscience in opposition to the magisterium of the Church means adopting a principle of free examination incompatible with the economy of Revelation and its transmission in the Church and thus also with a correct understanding of theology and the role of the theologian. The propositions of faith are not the product of mere individual research and free criticism of the Word of God but constitute an ecclesial heritage. If there occur a separation from the Bishops who watch over and keep the apostolic tradition alive, it is the bond with Christ which is irreparably compromised(38).

39. The Church, which has her origin in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, (39) is a mystery of communion. In accordance with the will of her founder, she is organized around a hierarchy established for the service of the Gospel and the People of God who live by it. After the pattern of the members of the first community, all the baptized with their own proper charisms are to strive with sincere hearts for a harmonious unity in doctrine, life, and worship (cf. Acts 2:42). This is a rule which flows from the very being of the Church. For this reason, standards of conduct, appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy, cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church. Even less can relationships within the Church be inspired by the mentality of the world around it (ct. Rom 12:2). Polling public opinion to determine the proper thing to think or do, opposing the Magisterium by exerting the pressure of public opinion, making the excuse of a "consensus" among theologians, maintaining that the theologian is the prophetical spokesman of a "base" or autonomous community which would be the source of all truth, all this indicates a grave loss of the sense of truth and of the sense of the Church.

40. The Church "is like a sacrament, a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men".(40) Consequently, to pursue concord and communion is to enhance the force of her witness and credibility. To succumb to the temptation of dissent, on the other hand, is to allow the "leaven of infidelity to the Holy Spirit" to start to work.(41)

To be sure, theology and the Magisterium are of diverse natures and missions and cannot be confused. Nonetheless they fulfill two vital roles in the Church which must interpenetrate and enrich each other for the service of the People of God.

It is the duty of the Pastors by virtue of the authority they have received from Christ Himself to guard this unity and to see that the tensions arising from life do not degenerate into divisions. Their authority, which transcends particular positions and oppositions, must unite all in the integrity of the Gospel which is the "word of reconciliation" (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-20).

As for theologians, by virtue of their own proper charisms, they have the responsibility of participating in the building up of Christ's Body in unity and truth. Their contribution is needed more than ever, for evangelization on a world scale requires the efforts of the whole People of God.(42) If it happens that they encounter difficulties due to the character of their research, they should seek their solution in trustful dialogue with the Pastors, in the spirit of truth and charity which is that of the communion of the Church.

41. Both Bishops and theologians will keep in mind that Christ is the definitive Word of the Father (cf. Heb 1:2 ) in whom, as St. John of the Cross observes: "God has told us everything all together and at one time".(43) As such, He is the Truth who sets us free (cf. Jn 8:36; 14:6). The acts of assent and submission to the Word entrusted to the Church under the guidance of the Magisterium are directed ultimately to Him and lead us into the realm of true freedom.


42. The Virgin Mary is Mother and perfect Icon of the Church. From the very beginnings of the New Testament, she has been called blessed because of her immediate and unhesitating assent of faith to the Word of God (cf. Lk 1:38. 45) which she kept and pondered in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19. 51). Thus did she become a model and source of help for all of the People of God entrusted to her maternal care. She shows us the way to accept and serve the Word. At the same time, she points out the final goal, on which our sights should ever be set, the salvation won for the world by her Son Jesus Christ which we are to proclaim to all men.

At the close of this Instruction, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith earnestly invites Bishops to maintain and develop relations of trust with theologians in the fellowship of charity and in the realization that they share one spirit in their acceptance and service of the Word. In this context, they will more easily overcome some of the obstacles which are part of the human condition on earth. In this way, all can become ever better servants of the Word and of the People of God, so that the People of God, persevering in the doctrine of truth and freedom heard from the beginning, may abide also in the Son and the Father and obtain eternal life, the fulfillment of the Promise (cf. 1 Jn 2:24-25).

This Instruction was adopted at an Plenary Meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and was approved at an audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect by the Supreme Pontiff, Pope John Paul II, who ordered its publication.

Given at Rome, at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on May 24, 1990, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord.


Titular Archbishop of Caesarea in Numidia

(1) Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, n. 8.

(2) Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, n. 12.

(3)Cf. St. Bonaventure, Prooem. in I Sent., q. 2, ad 6: "Quando fides non assentit propter rationem, sed propter amorem eius cui assentit, desiderat habere rationes".

(4) CF. John Paul II, "Discorso in occasione della consegna del premio internazionale Paulo VI a Hans Urs von Balthasar", June 23, 1984: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II. VII, 1 (1984) 1911-1917.

(5) Cf. Vatican Council. I, Dogmatic Constitution De fide catholicaDe revelatione, can. l: DS 3026.

(6) Decree Optatam totius, n. 15.

(7) John Paul II, "Discorso ai teologi ad Altötting", November 18, 1980: AAS 73 (1981) 104; cf. also Paul VI, "Discorso ai membri della Commissione Teologica Internazionale", October 11, 1972: AAS 64 (1972) 682-683; John Paul II, "Discorso ai membri della Commissione Teologica Internazionale", October 26, 1979: AAS 71 (1979) 1428-1433.

(8) Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, n. 7.

(9) Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Decl. Mysterium Ecclesiae. n. 2:AAS 65 (1973 ) 398 f.

(10) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, n. 10.

(11) Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, n. 24.

(12) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, n. 10.

(13) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium. n. 25; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Decl. Mysterium Ecclesiae. n. 3: AAS 65 ( 1973 ) 400 f.

(14) Cf. Professio fidei et Iusiurrandum fidelitatis: AAS 81 (1989) 104 f.: "omnia et singula quae circa doctrinam de fide vel moribus ab eadem definitive proponuntur".

(15) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, n. 25; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Decl. Mysterium Ecclesiae, nn. 3-5: AAS 65 ( 1973) 400-404; Professio fidei et Iusiurandum fidelitatis AAS 81 (1989) 104 f.

(16) Cf. Paul VI, Encycl. Humanae Vitae, n. 4: AAS 60 (1968), 483.

(17) Cf. Vatican Council, I, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, ch. 2: DS 3005.

(18)Cf. Code of Canon Law, cc. 360-361; Paul VI, Apost. Const. Regimini Ecclesiae Universae, August 15, 1967, nn. 29-40: AAS 59 (1967) 879-899; John Paul II, Apost. Const. Pastor Bonus, June 28, 1988: AAS 80 ( 1988) 873-874.

(19) Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, nn. 22-23. As it is known, following upon the Second Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, the Holy Father gave the Congregation for Bishops the task of exploring the "Theological-Juridical Status of Episcopal Conferences".

(20) Cf. Paul VI, "Discorso ai partecipanti al Congresso internazionale suila Teologia del Concilio Vaticano II", October 1, 1966: Insegnamenti di Paolo VI: AAS 58 (1966) 892 f.

(21) Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 833; Professio fidei et Iusiurandum fidelitatis: AAS 81 (1989) 104 f.

(22) The text of the new Profession of Faith (cf. n. 15 ) makes explicit the kind of assent called for by these teachings in these terms: "Firmiter etiam amplector et retineo. ...".

(23) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, n. 25; Code of Canon Law, can. 752.

(24) Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 25, § 1.

(25) Cf. Paul VI, Apost. Exhort. Paterna cum benevolentia, December 8, 1974: AAS 67 (1975) 5-23. Cf. also Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Decl. Mysterium Ecclesiae: AAS 65 (1973) 396-408.

(26) Decl. Dignitatis humanae, n. 10.

(27) The notion of a "parallel magisterium" of theologians in opposition to and in competition with the magisterium of the Pastors is sometimes supported by reference to some texts in which St. Thomas Aquinas makes a distinction between the "magisterium cathedrae pastoralis" and "magisterium cathedrae magisterialis" (Contro impugnantes, c. 2; Quodlib. III, q. 4, a.l (9); In IV.Sent. 19, 2, 2, q.3 sol. 2 ad 4). Actually, these texts do not give any support to this position for St. Thomas was absolutely certain that the right to judge in matters of doctrine was the sole responsibility of the "officium praelationis".

(28) Paul VI, Apost. Export. Paterna cum benevolentia, n. 4: AAS 67 (1975) 14-15.

(29) Cf. Paul VI, "Discorso ai membri della Commissione Teologica Internazionale'', October 11, 1973: AAS 65 (1973) 555-559.

(30)Cf. John Paul II, Encyc. Redemptor hominis, n. 19: AAS 71 (1979) 308; "Discorso ai fedeli di Managua", March 4, 1983, n. 7: AAS 75 (1983) 723; "Discorso ai religiosi a Guatemala", March 8, 1983, n. 3: AAS 75 (1983) 746; "Discorso ai vescovi a Lima", February 2, 1985, n. 5: AAS 77 (1985 ) 874; "Discorso alla Conferenza dei vescovi belgi a Malines", May 18, 1985, n. 5: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, VIII, 1 (1985) 1481; "Discorso ad alcuni vescovi americani in visita ad limina", October 15, 1988, n. 6: L'Osservatore Romano, October 16, 1988. p. 4.

(31) Cf. John Paul. II, Apost. Exhort. Familiaris consortio, n. 5: AAS 74 (1982) 85-86.

(32) Cf, the formula of the Council of Trent, sess. VI, cap. 9: fides "cui non potest subesse falsum": DS 1534; cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 1, a. 3, ad 3: "Possibile est enim hominem fidelem ex coniectura humana falsum aliquid aestimare. Sed quod ex fide falsum aestimet, hoc est impossibile".

(33) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, n. 12.

(34) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, n. 10.

(35) Decl. Dignitatis humanae, nn. 9-10.

(36) Ibid. n. 1.

(37) Cf. John Paul II, Apost. Const. Sapientia Christiana, April 15, 1979, n. 27, 1: AAS 71 (1979) 483; Code of Canon Law, can. 812.

(38) Cf. Paul VI, Apost. Exhort. Paterna cum benevolentia, n. 4: AAS 67 (1975)15.

(39) Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 4.

(40) Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 1

(41) Cf. Paul VI, Apost. Exhort. Paterna cum benevolentia, nn. 2-3: AAS 67 (1975) 10-11.

(42) Cf. John Paul II, Post-synodal Apost. Exhort. Christifideles laici, nn. 32-35: AAS 81 (1989) 451-459.

(43) St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, 22, 3.