Why Women Don’t Need to Preach at Mass

COMMENTARY: You don’t need a collar to evangelize the Good News.

Foundress of EWTN, Mother Angelica.
Foundress of EWTN, Mother Angelica. (photo: EWTN)

On the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, an online debate broke out amongst Catholics about women giving homilies. This stemmed from a tweet by Jesuit priest Father James Martin who wrote, in part: “It is stupefying to me that women cannot preach at Mass.” The tweet linked to an America magazine article written by a woman who used to preach at Mass before restrictions were enforced.

The Church, according to canon law, teaches that “the diocesan bishop may never dispense from the norm, which reserves the homily to the sacred ministers.”

As a Catholic woman, albeit not standing behind a pulpit, I would still love to contribute my thoughts on the matter.

Women’s voices, and actions, have helped to shape the course of Church history from its very beginning. This week alone is evidence of that. On Monday, we celebrated St. Mary Magdalene, the first person in Scripture to encounter our Risen Lord. It was St. Mary Magdalene, a woman, who proclaimed to the disciples that she had “seen the Lord” (John 20:18). She is the “Apostle to the Apostles” — and she didn’t need a pulpit to be so.

Every single Catholic woman, by virtue of our baptismal call to evangelize, must imitate St. Mary Magdalene’s example in witnessing to Christ’s life, death and resurrection. For many modern-day Catholics, the clearest reference of preaching we have may be our local priest giving a homily at Sunday Mass. However, if we restrict ourselves to thinking that’s the most influential way to share the good news, we are severely lacking in creativity and vision and are falling prey to clericalism.

I am reminded of the many female Catholic saints who flood the Church with their holy example, not only this week, but throughout the entire liturgical calendar. St. Catherine of Siena was counselor to Pope Urban VI and exhorted him to return to Rome from his exile in France. He listened, and she was declared a doctor of the Church. Another doctor of the Church, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, also never preached behind a pulpit at Mass but still managed to minister to many souls. Two and half years before her death, Thérèse began writing down her childhood memories, and, soon after, her Story of a Soul became a modern spiritual classic read by millions. This seems an unlikely accomplishment for a woman who never left her cloistered convent, but the Lord makes a way.

A more modern example of a Catholic woman powerfully proclaiming truth is EWTN’s own foundress, Mother Angelica. The Poor Clare nun created a TV studio out of an Alabama garage where she would speak boldly week after week, looking directly into the camera lens as if she were talking to you. Her influence surpassed the efforts of the U.S. bishops, and, today, EWTN is the largest religious media network in the world.

This American Catholic media pioneer did not shy away from sharing her opinions about the unique role men and women offer the Church. As recalled in her biography Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles by Raymond Arroyo, Mother Angelica once said, “Women in the priesthood, that’s just a power play, that’s ridiculous. As it is women have more power in the Church than anybody. They built and run the schools. God has designed that men be priests, and we can’t afford to deny God his sovereign rights."

It is only through a lens of clericalism, or false esteem for clergy, that we view preaching at Mass as the summit of sharing our voice in the Church and forget the influence we can have beyond the pulpit. If we as women have such a unique witness and perspective, why would we want to conform to male priesthood in sharing that? The pulpit is not our platform.

Your platform as a Catholic woman may be your family dinner table, or your social media page, or your Bible study, and these are all beautiful. As the host of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, my primary platform happens to be a television show. The point is: You don’t need a pulpit to preach, and you don’t need a collar to evangelize the Good News. You must discern for yourself how to use your voice, and as the saints remind us time and time again, God will show you the way if you ask him.

As our beloved Church suffers from a clergy sexual-abuse crisis, now is the time to be creative with how we use our voice! Now is the time to embrace our call to evangelization! Now is the time for us, as women, the ones who sat at the foot of the cross during the Crucifixion, to be the face of the Church today.

 Catherine Hadro writes from Washington.

She is the host and producer of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.