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Women Deacons / Deaconesses
in the Catholic Church

For ten centuries women were routinely ordained deacons in the Catholic Church.

Historical Information

An estimated 50,000 women deacons ministered in parishes throughout the eastern part of the Catholic Church during the first millennium. We know more than a hundred of them by name.

Women deacons were essential, as ancient sources tell us, because only they could enter the women's quarters. Only women could effectively prepare women catechumens for their joining the Church. Only women deacons could anoint and immerse the women at baptism, for which catechumens had to strip totally.

Church councils endorsed the diaconate of women. In spite of an appalling ignorance about this in the Church, the ministry of women deacons during the first thousand years is an undeniable fact.


Sacramental Ordination

Equally appalling is the ignorance about the official status of these women within the ordained ministries. For there is absolutely no doubt about the fact that they received a fully sacramental ordination.

Abundant evidence about this can be found in the manuscripts that have preserved the exact rite of ordination, next to the ordination rites of bishops, priests and male deacons. We publish the full text of that rite in the documents listed here.

The sacramentality of the women's diaconate can be seen from the six features recognised by contemporaries at the time:

1. ordination in front of the altar
2. public election through the Divine Grace formula
3. laying on of hands with the invocation of the Holy Spirit
4. a second ordination prayer with renewed laying on of hands and the calling down of the Spirit
5. receiving the distinctive diaconate stole
6. receiving the power to hold the chalice with the consecrated body and blood.

Moreover, male deacons were ordained with substantially the same rite. If women were not sacramentally ordained as deacons, then neither were the men.

The ancient Ordination rite

Overview of documents on women deacons

The Ordination Rite was sacramental

Book by John Wijngaards:
The Ancient Women Deacons
Canterbury Press & Continuum

The ministry of women deacons

Ambiguous statement by the Congregation for Doctrine in Rome


The sacramental diaconate for women should be re-instated in the Catholic Church!

For a full explanation on the tombstones, click here!

See also our mirror site for women deacons

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.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.

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