A decree issued by Pope Francis on Sunday is the first time the Vatican has explicitly and through canon law allowed women access to the altar. The amended law allows women to read scripture during Mass and serve on the altar as eucharistic ministers. Women in many countries (including ours) were already carrying out these ministries. However, this now removes the possibility of conservative bishops from prohibiting women from acceding to these positions. It recognises too, the precious contribution that women have made to the church. They remain barred from becoming deacons or priests.