Reviving the Female Deaconate

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Ignatius Press publishes the best book in print on the history of deaconesses in the early Church. The title is “Deaconesses”.

You can find it at

www.ignatius.com

and probably also at Amazon. I recommend it.

Emmaus
 
Weren’t the early church deaconesses not actually ordained, but just given that term? Wasn’t one of the main reasons for using deaconesses because of issues of modesty - ie. to perform some sacraments on a woman would require the priest to touch her or see her in ways that were considered immodest then, so they had women help? I would not want to see a re-institution of this role for women. I would find it hard to believe that in todays world, the institution of deaconesses would do much other than encourage the fight to get women ordained to the priesthood. I’d like to hear more on this, or get the book mentioned above - very curious historical topic indeed.
 
Right…the deaconesses role often pertained specifically to other women in the church. Their role would, of course, be much different in today’s time.
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ThyKingdomCome:
I would find it hard to believe that in todays world, the institution of deaconesses would do much other than encourage the fight to get women ordained to the priesthood.
I disagree…I think it would have the opposite effect. It would give women the voice that they have been looking for in regards to contributing to real decision making at a “higher” level. They could contribute to the ecclesiastical governance in a way that they can’t now. It would be a compromise since ordination to the priesthood is not an option for women.

I understand your concern though. For those women and men who have a radical feminine agenda, it might be just what they need to “fuel their fire”.
 
From the First Council of Nicea (A.D. 325):
Canon 19. Concerning the Paulianists who have flown for refuge to the Catholic Church, it has been decreed that they must by all means be rebaptized; and if any of them who in past time have been numbered among their clergy should be found blameless and without reproach, let them be rebaptized and ordained by the Bishop of the Catholic Church; but if the examination should discover them to be unfit, they ought to be deposed. Likewise in the case of their deaconesses, and generally in the case of those who have been enrolled among their clergy, let the same form be observed. And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity.
 
Saint Epiphanius of Salamis [A.D. 377]:
It is true that in the Church there is an order of deaconesses, but not for being a priestess, nor for any kind of work of administration, but for the sake of the dignity of the female sex, either at the time of baptism or of examining the sick or suffering, so that the naked body of a female may not be seen by men administering sacred rites, but by the deaconess.
{Against Heresies 78:13}
From the Apostolic Constitutions [A.D. 400]:
Concerning the canons I the same make a constitution. A bishop blesses, but does not receive the blessing. He lays on hands, ordains, offers, receives the blessing from bishops, but by no means from presbyters. A bishop deprives any clergyman who deserves deprivation, excepting a bishop; for of himself he has not power to do that. A presbyter blesses, but does not receive the blessing; yet does he receive the blessing from the bishop or a fellow-presbyter. In like manner does he give it to a fellow-presbyter. He lays on hands, but does not ordain; he does not deprive, yet does he separate those that are under him, if they be liable to such a punishment. A deacon does not bless, does not give the blessing, but receives it from the bishop and presbyter: he does not baptize, he does not offer; but when a bishop or presbyter has offered, he distributes to the people, not as a priest, but as one that ministers to the priests. But it is not lawful for any one of the other clergy to do the work of a deacon. A deaconess does not bless, nor perform anything belonging to the office of presbyters or deacons, but only is to keep the doors, and to minister to the presbyters in the baptizing of women, on account of decency. A deacon separates a sub-deacon, a reader, a singer, and a deaconess, if there be any occasion, in the absence of a presbyter. It is not lawful for a sub-deacon to separate either one of the clergy or laity; nor for a reader, nor for a singer, nor for a deaconess, for they are the ministers to the deacons.
 
I would not want the word “deaconess” to be used, since it would appear to be a female form of deacon. Since the latter is impossible, the appearance should be avoided. As at least one poster indicated, this obsession on the word “deaconess” may simply be an attempt for feminists and their friends to try a back door entrance into positions of authority. Power is what those people seek.

There are many avenues of SERVICE in the Church available to women.

Pastoral Authority is not one of them.
 
DominvsVobiscvm…question…when I read the following from your post:
“A deacon does not bless, does not give the blessing, but receives it from the bishop and presbyter: he does not baptize, he does not offer; but when a bishop or presbyter has offered, he distributes to the people, not as a priest, but as one that ministers to the priests.”

Does this say that deacons aren’t allowed to baptize?? My daughter was baptized by a deacon and I have received blessings from deacons. :confused:
 
Does this say that deacons aren’t allowed to baptize?? My daughter was baptized by a deacon and I have received blessings from deacons.
This part of the Apostolic Constitutions reflects legislation from certain parts of the Eastern Church in the 4th/5th century. Notice it does not say deacons may not bless; simply that they do not do so. In the early Church, this function was reserved to bishops and priests, and deacons only in emergencies.

Similarly, I can say today that “Laypeople do not baptize.” Yet, I know very well that in an emergency, anyone can baptize, even a lay-woman!

Or, as the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it:
The deacons were also intimately associated with the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism. They were not, indeed, as a rule allowed themselves to baptize apart from grave necessity (Apost. Const., VII, xlvi expressly rejects any inference that might be drawn from Philip’s baptism of the eunuch), but inquiries about the candidates, their instruction and preparation, the custody of the chrism – which the deacons were to fetch when consecrated – and occasionally the actual administration of the Sacrament as the bishop’s deputies, seem to have formed part of their recognized functions.
As far as blessings are concerned, I direct you to EWTN:
A blessing is a good conferred by a higher personage on a lower personage. All true blessings ultimately come from God, though they come through those whom He has placed over others. In the family parents bless their children, as God has given them natural authority over their children. In the Church spiritual blessings are conferred in God’s Name by those to whom He has given spiritual authority over His People. As is evident by the above, blessings are given by priests (who have the power of the keys), though some are reserved to bishops (high priests). Deacons may also bless, but only where the ritual books, and thus the Church, provide the authority by law. Since the laity do not possess spiritual authority in the Church they cannot confer blessings. The laity can impose some sacramentals (ashes, St. Blaise blessing), but using objects previously blessed by the ordained.
So, in summary:
  1. The Church today gives deacons the right to baptize, more so than she did in the years prior to Vatican II and the revival of the permanent diaconate.
  2. Ditto with blessings.
  3. I quoted the above from the Apostolic Constitutions to show that “deaconesses” were never considered to be “female deacons.” They were a completely separate office, not ordained to the Sacrament of Orders.
 
DVIN CKS:
Does this say that deacons aren’t allowed to baptize?? My daughter was baptized by a deacon and I have received blessings from deacons. :confused:
The functions of deacons evolved gradually, as did the understanding of the distinctions of the different “orders” (ranks) within the one priesthood of Christ.
 
I think this would be a great idea. The term was used by the ancient Church, so I think it would be acceptable today. If the pope (or a future pope) ever re-instituted this office, he should make it very clear, though, that a deaconess is not a ‘female deacon’. These women could be consecrated to serve within the Church, perhaps in a similar fashion to religious sisters who serve in parishes, but as married women. They certainly would not be ordained, but simply consecrated by the bishop, probably using Holy Chrism, for a special ministry.
 
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twf:
I think this would be a great idea. The term was used by the ancient Church, so I think it would be acceptable today. If the pope (or a future pope) ever re-instituted this office, he should make it very clear, though, that a deaconess is not a ‘female deacon’. These women could be consecrated to serve within the Church, perhaps in a similar fashion to religious sisters who serve in parishes, but as married women. They certainly would not be ordained, but simply consecrated by the bishop, probably using Holy Chrism, for a special ministry.
I just don’t see a reason to revive deconesses. They certainly wouldn’t be needed in the roles they had in the early Church. And what needs to be done in the Church that can’t already be done by the current religious, or other lay people? I suppose there might be a place in the Church for a certain level of consecration of married people - maybe these would devote themselves specially to service of the Church. These levels of service already exist in lay movements, so I could see the value of this on a diocesan level. But if that were to happen, why would they need to be deaconesses? Their roles wouldn’t be like deacons. I’m sure if the culture at the time of the early deaconesses was not obsessed with women priests etc. So to argue that the term is appropriate now because it worked in the past would be wrong.
 
You’re right, ThyKingdomCome…reviving their role as it was in history would be a waste! I wouldn’t have a problem with women as deacons today…it’s just an image not many are comfortable with. I’m sure when female alter girls were permitted, a lot of folks had a hard time (and some still do) with that change. I can only imagine the type of flack that would insue from the conservatives if women were deacons. :rolleyes:

I just find it fascinating that at one time there were those who wouldn’t have conceived of the mass being said in any other language than latin…but that changed and - for the most part, Catholics are okay with that change. People, understandably fear any sort of change…especially when it appears to be drastic. Women as deacons would certainly seem to many to be a drastic change.

I can’t wait to see what the next thirty years bring.
 
for the life of me, i just don’t get it when people say women have no voice in the Catholic Church. I serve as a lector, eucharistic minister, and on the liturgy committee at my parish and feel i definitely participate in decisions at the parish level. in our diocese we also have a women’s committee that makes recommendations to the diocese. A woman who wants to serve others can always find ways to do so, just as a lay man can do so.
 
I don’t think it’s the ‘parish level’ some people are concerned about. Women want (name removed by moderator)ut at the highest level. A lot of people misinterpret the word “(name removed by moderator)ut” to mean “power” and therefore shy away from any suggestion of women having a voice in the governance of the Church at a national or world level. This is sad, in my opinion. 😦
 
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hearts929:
for the life of me, i just don’t get it when people say women have no voice in the Catholic Church. I serve as a lector, eucharistic minister, and on the liturgy committee at my parish and feel i definitely participate in decisions at the parish level. in our diocese we also have a women’s committee that makes recommendations to the diocese. A woman who wants to serve others can always find ways to do so, just as a lay man can do so.
I also find it hard to believe since most of the day to day work of a parish is done by women, at least in all of the parishes I have been in.
It is also interesting that your parish or diocese has a “women’s committee”. Does it also have a “men’s committee”?

The USCCB has an office for “women, family, and laity”, but no corresponding office for men’s concerns.

I think there is great opportunity and encouragement for women to be involved, but not much encouragement for laymen. For instance, when was the last time you heard a homily or read a pastoral letter on men’s concerns, such as how to exercise our responsibility as the servant-head of the family?

IMO, women and men are both called to assist the Church as laymen. Why do we have a call to have deaconesses, but no call for a similar office for lay-men? As it is, a man who wants to be involved in the parish (as I am) is already entering into a very feminine envirmonment, we don’t need to encourage this anymore than we already are. I am not saying we should discourage women, only that we should encourage men more.

OK, let the blue dots fly! 😃
 
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re: homilies on the man’s role in the family: have you ever suggested this topic to your pastor or maybe submitted an article or editorial to your local Catholic paper (or parish newsletter if you have one -maybe you could volunteer to spearhead a newsletter project if your parish doesn’t have one.
 
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twf:
I think this would be a great idea. The term was used by the ancient Church, so I think it would be acceptable today. If the pope (or a future pope) ever re-instituted this office, he should make it very clear, though, that a deaconess is not a ‘female deacon’. These women could be consecrated to serve within the Church, perhaps in a similar fashion to religious sisters who serve in parishes, but as married women. They certainly would not be ordained, but simply consecrated by the bishop, probably using Holy Chrism, for a special ministry.
[The bold emphasis is mine.]

Aren’t we all describing the Sacrament of Confirmation? Both genders of laity are consecrated by the Bishop using the sacred oils to do our special ministry in the Church. Perhaps what we really need is a revitalization of the understanding of graces given to all of us at confirmation. Also a legitimate understanding of the role of the laity in the world (not just in the sacristy) is needed (a la Christifidelis laici).
 
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hearts929:
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re: homilies on the man’s role in the family: have you ever suggested this topic to your pastor or maybe submitted an article or editorial to your local Catholic paper (or parish newsletter if you have one -maybe you could volunteer to spearhead a newsletter project if your parish doesn’t have one.
One of my hopes for this next year on our religious ed committee is to get more men involved in CCD classes.
I will think about asking for a homily on the subject, but I don’t have very high hopes since we can’t even bring ourselves to say “man” in the creed or read the long version of Eph 5. I’ll pray about it and maybe bring it up when I see him next. Thanks.
 
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