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Differences in the Ordination Service? for male and female deacons.

Differences in the Ordination Service?

There are some small differences in the rituals for the ordination of male and female deacons which do not affect the essence of the ordination.

  • For instance, according to some rituals the male ordinand when approaching the altar touched the altar with his forehead and genuflected; the female ordinand remained standing straight.
  • The male deacon received the sacred fan as one of his tokens of the ministry, the female deacon did not.
  • Both received holy communion at the altar. The deacon distributed communion afterwards; the deaconess not, as far as we know, in that service. She would, however, take communion to sick women.

These differences seem to be due to two reasons:

  1. Propriety, rightly or wrongly, tended to keep women away from the sanctuary for fear that they might be having one of their monthly periods.
    It did not deny them total access to the altar however, as the ordination ceremony shows and as we know from women deacons' participation in distributing communion to women.
    People who press this point as an objection, should consider:
    (a) Why should the prejudice regarding menstruation, which limited the involvement of women deacons to some extent, be considered to invalidate their other ministry which the Church took so seriously?
    (b) If so much is made of women staying away from ‘the altar’, is the Body of Christ which women deacons distributed to women not infinitely more sacred than ‘the altar’?
  2. A female deacon's special ministry to women also led to a difference in service for male and female deacons. Male deacons, apart from functions relating to church order and baptism, additionally had a more immediate task around the altar. Deaconesses, though not altogether excluded from such service, were more directly involved in the baptism of women, and the ministry to women, both inside and outside the church.
    Those who claim the male diaconate was ‘totally different in kind’ from the female diaconate should give a thought to this:
    (a) The essential nature of the diaconate service consisted in supporting weak members of the community, preparing them for baptism, and assisting in the liturgical service, all of which service female deacons also performed.
    (b) In all its essential parts, the ordination ritual dedicated men and women to the same holy orders of the diaconate.

The small differences in the ordination ceremony, as little as the immediate tasks of deacon and deaconess, did not affect the sacramental character of both ordinations, which were identical in all essentials. In particular, both the matter and form of the ordination were identical.

For a historical record of some of the many women who were ordained as deacons in the early church click here


Introduction? Overview? Manuscripts? Search?
Full documentation on all the ancient
Women Deacon Texts
is now available in print!


Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

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