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Church constantly enriched by witness of women

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Queens, mothers and religious sisters are among the Church's greatest saints
by Msgr. Pedro Lopez-Gallo

Photo Credit: St. Monica, Olgia of Kievl, and other women are honoured by the Church, but even they were not ordained ministers. (

In the early Church and throughout her secular history, outstanding women have shared in the Church’s mission – holy martyrs, virgins, and mothers of families who bravely bore witness to and passed on their faith and traditions by bringing up their children in the spirit of the Gospel.

The members of the commission set up to study the possibility of allowing women to serve as deacons (or, better, as deaconesses) and defend the dignity of women and their remarkable vocation in the Church recognize with gratitude their faithful service

In every age and country, we find many “perfect” women who, despite persecution, difficulties, and discrimination, have shared their love of God and their neighbors (Prov 31:10). It suffices to mention Monica, the mother of Augustine; Olga of Kievl; Matilda of Tuscany; Therese of Lisieux; but there are hundreds more.

The witness and achievements of these 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 Sienna in the life of the Church, and St. Teresa of Avila in monastic life.

In our own days too, the Church is constantly enriched by the witness of many women who fulfill their vocation to holiness. Holy women are an incarnation of the feminine ideal and are also a model of “Christ’s example.”

Having mentioned these “perfect” women, it is no wonder that the secular aspiration of “equality” between men and women favours and encourages the upgrading of women to the diaconate – an idea renewed by the admission of men as permanent deacons as part of the Catholic clergy.

In fact, by divine institution, some among Christ’s faithful are, through the sacrament of orders, marked with an indelible character and are thus constituted sacred ministers. They are consecrated, each according to his own grade, to fulfill in the person of Christ the offices of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling so that they nourish the people of God.

So sublime a ministry is reserved only to men validly baptized. Was this office granted to some women in the primitive Church? This is what the commission is studying.

Canon 1009 states: “There are three orders: the episcopate, the priesthood, and the diaconate”. These orders are conferred by the laying on of hands and by the liturgical prayers prescribed for each grade. The difference between the episcopate and the priesthood is only one of grade, but the difference between the diaconate and the other two orders is essential because deacons are ordained “not unto the priesthood but unto the ministry” (Lumen Gentium, 29).              

Paul VI re-established the permanent diaconate in the Latin Church. Aspirants should not be promoted to this order before they have completed the time established for their formation, whose regulation corresponds to their episcopal conference. Young candidates to that order are to remain “for at least three years in a special house, unless the diocesan bishop for grave reasons decides otherwise,” and “men of more mature years, whether celibate or married” are to spend “three years in a manner determined by the same conference of bishops” (Canon 236).

It is here that the commission will spare no effort to get what it seeks – the history of the female diaconate in the earliest times of the Church, as Pope Francis wants. Yes, the New Testament quotes the presence of women in the very first Christian communities who dedicated themselves as servers or helpers (diakonon) to the new Christians.

But were these women “sacramentally ordained” and consecrated by the laying on of hands? In his letters, St. Paul seems to indicate the contrary: “I am not giving permission for a woman to teach or to tell a man what to do. A woman ought not to speak in the church” (1 Tim 2:13-15).

Our sister Christian communities – Anglican, Lutheran, and many others –  gradually began to admit women deacons as ministers below bishops and priests. The second step was their priestly ordination, and today they can be bishops.

No wonder St. John Paul II declared: “With the aim of removing all doubt regarding a matter of such importance, I declare that the Church does not have the faculty to confer the priestly ordination to women.”


Last Updated on Thursday, 08 June 2017 10:07  

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