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The Ordination of Women Deacons

The ordination of women deacons in the early Greek and Syriac speaking dioceses was clearly a real, sacramental ordination, equal to the ordination of male deacons.

The ordination ceremony

This follows from the following facts:

  1. In the ordination rituals, both the ordination of a deacon and of a deaconess is called cheirotonia, i.e. Greek for ‘imposition of hands’, ‘ordination’.
  2. Both the male and the female deacon are ordained by the Bishop.
  3. Before the ordination of both the male and female deacon the Bishop publicly declares his intention of ordaining the ordinand deacon in the ‘Divine Grace’ statement, as in all major holy orders.
  4. The ordination of both male and female deacon takes places in the sanctuary before the altar, during the liturgy of the Eucharist and at a very solemn moment, namely after the sacred Anaphora. So-called minor orders, such as the lectorate and subdiaconate, are imparted by a simple imposition of hands outside the sanctuary and not during the Eucharist.
  5. The Bishop ordains both by imposing his hands on the head of the person to be ordained (the materia of the sacrament of orders).
  6. The Bishop invokes the Holy Spirit both on the male and the female deacon with the same invocatory prayer, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit . . . ’, (the forma of the sacrament of orders).
  7. Both the man and the woman selected for the diaconate stand waiting on the steps in front of the holy doors leading into the sanctuary, and are then conducted to the sacred altar and there ordained by the Bishop.
  8. The Bishop speaks two prayers of ordination, characteristic for higher orders.
  9. For both the male and the female deacon, the Bishop speaks the ekphonese (=soft-spoken) prayer ‘The divine Grace . . . .’, something that is characteristic of the higher orders.
  10. Because of the presence of the rest of the clergy and the people, the ordination has a public character.
  11. Both the male and the female deacon receive the stole as a sign of their ecclesiastical rank.
  12. Both the deacon and deaconess receive the chalice for communion, which the deaconess returns personally to the altar.

The actual text of the ordination rituals for women deacons has been preserved in a few precious manuscripts:

There are some small differences which do not affect the essence of the ordination.

The sacramental character of the ordination of women deacons is indisputable. In particular, both the matter and form of the ordination are identical for men and women, and express the bishop's intention to ordain a true minister.

“If anyone says that, through sacred ordination, the Holy Spirit is not given, and that therefore the Bishop says in vain: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’, or that through this ordination the character [of holy orders] is not imprinted . . . , let him be anathema.”
The Council of Trent, Canon 4. Denzinger no 964.

The judgement of experts

While some traditional theologians still deny the sacramentality of the deaconesses' ordination, more and more experts concur in stating that the ordination of women deacons undoubtedly belonged to the sacrament of order:

John Wijngaards

Introduction? Overview? Manuscripts? Search?
Full documentation on all the ancient
Women Deacon Texts
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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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