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'Mainz A' family of pontificals

Family of Pontificals 'Mainz A'

This is one group of Pontificals derived from - the now lost - 'Mainz Original' prototype.
I call them 'family Mainz A' for convenience's sake.

A time for women in authority

In the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation, a number of ecclesiastical territories were ruled by an abbess with the title of Princess-Abbess (Fürstäbtissin or Reichsäbtissin). These 'Imperial Independencies' held a privileged feudal and political status under the direct authority of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Imperial Diet, without any intermediary liege lord(s) and therefore had the right to collect taxes and tolls and held juridical rights themselves. The territories held seats in the College of Prelates of Swabia or the Rhine, which held a joint vote in the College of Princes of the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire.

Famous among them were Gerberga (ca 850-897), Abbess of Gandersheim, Mathilda I von Sachsen (966-999) and Ute I von Kirchberg (1003-1025), the last two Abbesses of Quedlinberg. Chroniclers of the time tell us that these abbesses were ordained as sacerdos maxima, 'highpriestess'. They list 12 who held this title. At the ordination of 11th-century Mechtild in the cathedral of Halberstadt, twelve archbishops and bishops tool part. Croziers and other pontifical insignia have been found in the tombs of some such abbesses.

Features of the Mainz A family

Illustration of Otto III enthroned as Emperor. From Gospel Book in Reichenau (977-1000)

Characteristic of the ordination mass for women deacons found in this family is that they have retained the elements that point to a real sacramental ordination of women deacons in the past. These elements are printed here against a yellow background.

Two of the manuscripts (Cassino 451 & Vallicella 5) depend on an exemplar that seems to have been used in Rome for the coronation of Otto III as Emperor of the (German) Roman Empire in 996. This we know because thewse pontificals contain the rite used for that coronation.

Otto himself had engineered that his cousin, Bruno of Carinthia should be elected as Pope Gregory V. He was the first German pope. Gregory V consequently crowned and enthroned Otto on 21 May 996.

In 983 Willigis, Archbishop of Mainz, had crowned Otto III King of the Germans in Aachen. He was also present in Rome for the ceremony of 996. Is it not likely that the pontifical used for this coronation had been taken to Rome from Germany?

Text of the ordination of women deacons in Family Mainz A

click on each Pontifical to see its full text with variations


1. The rite of ordaining a woman deacon


2. When the bishop ordains a woman deacon, he imposes a diaconate stole on her neck.

She however wears this stole on her neck whenever she enters church, but in such a way that the two extremities of the stole are visible from under her tunic on both sides.

Rubric of the stole

4. Also the mass to consecrate a woman deacon

5. Antiphon: "God in your name save me" (= the antiphone is taken from Psalm 54,1 (old numbering 53,3).

Psalm: "Because foreigners".

6. Let us pray.

God who loves chastity and preserves sexual abstinence, kindly hear our supplication and look with mercy on this your maidservant, so that she who out of respect for you has vowed the purity of sexual abstinence to you, may preserve it with your help and may receive the sixtyfold fruit of her sexual abstinence and eternal life as your gift. Through [Jesus Christ Christ our Lord who lives with you for ever and ever. Amen].

The contents of this prayer focus on the support women deacons need in their commitment to sexual abstinence.

7. Reading from the Letter to the Corinthians: "Brethren, do you not know that your bodies . . ." [= 1 Corinthians 6,15-20]

8. Graduale song: "From my needs, Lord . . ."

Verse: "To you, o Lord, I lift up my hands . . ." [= Psalm 88,10]

Alleluia verse: "The Lord loved her . . ."

9. After this, she prostrates herself in front of the altar and the litany (of invocations) is intoned. When the litany is finished, the bishop says this prayer over her:

In the Latin rite, the litany precedes the actual ordination.

10. "Hear, o Lord, our petition and send down on (name) your maidservant the Spirit of your ordination so that, since you have conferred on her your heavenly office, she may obtain favour with your majesty and may present to others the example of a good life. Through . . . "

This is the ancient ordination prayer, completely parallel to the ordination prayer of a male deacon. Note that 'benedictio' in Latin here means: 'ordination' as it does for bishops and priests.

More information here!

11. Here follows the consecration in the form of a preface.

Ordination prefaces were used in the Latin rite for all the major orders: bishops, priests and deacons.

12. God who preserved Anna, Phanuel's daughter, who escaped the yoke of marriage after just seven years, for eighty-four years in holy and unblemished widowhood, so that you, just remunerator, led her who day and night mixed prayer with fasting, to the grace of being a prophet at the circumcision of Christ,

God who has further ordered, through the intention of the apostle(s), that the hands of these women which are sanctified by this ordination equip her gender - i.e. adolescent and young women - with the visitation of sacred chrism,

deign to accept, omnipotent overarchingly devout God, the commitment of this maidservant of yours, a commitment that is hard and laborious and not so far removed from perfect virginity,

because you, designer of all creatures, rightly understand that the attractions of the world cannot be avoided, but that, when refuge is taken in you, through you neither terrible sufferings nor the lure of pleasures can ever seduce souls once they have been brought to life; for to senses into which you deign to instil [your values], nothing is more desirable than your kingdom, nothing more horrific than your judgment.

Give therefore, Lord, at our request to this your maidservant fruit [= reward] which is thirtyfold among married women, sixtyfold for widows.

May her mercy be tempered by a clear focus, her freedom by uprightness, her social graces by soberness.

May she be intent on your work day and night. Grant this that she may merit to be such on the day of her calling as you wished her to be by the spirit of prophecy.

Through our Lord, [etc.]

This ordination preface tells us that the task of the woman deacon had two main components at this time:

1. prophecy, probably referring to instructions given to women and girls by women deacons;

2. visiting women and anointing them with chrism, referring to visiting sick and dying women at home: when a woman deacon might bring holy communion and perform the anointing of the sick.

The petition to save the woman deacon from the temptations of the world may also refer to the risks she took when performing her ministry in other people's homes.

13. Then the bishop imposes the diaconate stole on her neck saying: "May the Lord dress you with the stole of happiness".

The word 'orarium', derived from its Greek equivalent, uniquely refers only to the diaconate stole.

14. She puts the veil on her head which she received from the altar, in front of everyone. With the antiphon: "I am espoused to him."

According to the Byzantine rite, the bishop adjusts the stole under an ordinary veil which the woman deacon was already wearing. Here the veil becomes another sign of the sexual continence she has vowed.

15. Prayer

"Kindly, Lord, hear the petition of your maidservant so that she may preserve the grace of chastity she has taken on with your help. Through [etc.]"

16. At the giving of the ring

"Receive the ring of faithfulness, the seal of the Holy Spirit, so that you may be called a Spouse of Christ if you will serve him faithfully."

During the wedding ceremony husbands would give a ring to their brides, which perhaps also carried their seal.

17. At the torque [= a crown?]

"Receive this sign of Christ on your head in order that you may be made his wife and that, if you remain with him, you may be crowned for eternity."

The meaning of 'torquis' here is not clear. In classical latin it denotes a clasp round the neck, or a chain hanging from the neck or a necklace. Here it seems to indicate a round quasi-crown on the head.

18. Meanwhile those who stand around continue with the antiphone: "With his ring".

"Subarrhavit" literally: "has acquired me by a down payment".

19. Prayer.

"We ask you, Lord, that her pious devotion may lead your maidservant to forgiveness, to the extent she needs to be cleansed from all the stains of sins. Look on her with a kind face now she is reconciled to you through Christ and forgive all her sins, mercifully suspend also from her the severity of your judgment and generously pour out on her the clemency of your mercy. Through the same [etc.]."

20. Then he starts the Gospel according to Matthew: "At that time Jesus answered and said, 'Human beings cannot understand this' . " until "I must decrease". (text is actually from John 3,27-30)

21. After the reading of the Gospel, she hands an offering to the bishop as one of the veiled women. Meanwhile the choir intones: "Have mercy on me, o Lord".

22. Secreta prayer.

"May the gifts of your maidservant and consecrated woman which she offers to you for the dedication of her body, at the same time be of profit to her for the healing of her soul. Through [etc.]."

24. During the consecration prayer:

"Please accept, piously and propitiously with merciful eyes, this offering from your servant [= the bishop] and from your whole family, Lord, which I present to you for the wellbeing of your maidservant considering the devotion of her mind. Liberally protect those who make supplications to you, and hear them in accordance with your dignity. And our days [etc.]."

25. Blessing.

"Bless, Lord, this maidservant of yours who has been bought with the blood of your Son!" - AMEN [= response by the people]

"May she obtain the grace of your blessing, and may she offer a worthy service to you without offending your majesty in any way!" - AMEN

"May she complete the course of her life without any stain of sin and may she overcome the enemy [= the devil] through good deeds!" - [AMEN]

"What he may grant who [lives and reigns with you, etc.]."

26. Communion antiphon. "Serve the Lord in fear".

27. Post-communion prayer.

"God, initiator of all good works, purify the heart of your maidservant so that you may not find anything to punish, but things to crown."

28. The woman deacon, however, receives communion in the middle of the sacred mysteries and after mass the bishop confirms her peace with a pastoral embrace so that she may possess her peace with security and quiet.

As we know from similar ordination liturgies, this means that, like other sacred ministers, she received communion from the bishop in the sanctuary itself.

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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.

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