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'Mainz B' family of pontificals.

Family of pontificals 'Mainz B'

This is a second group of Pontificals derived from - the now lost - 'Mainz Original' prototype.
One copy of the Mainz Original introduced significant changes. I call this pontifical 'Mainz B'. Other pontificals used it as their exemplar.

Background: watering down of the diaconate

Abbess blessing a nun
(from queen mary psalter) Below left: new lady being welcomed to a convent.

The early Middle Ages saw a deterioration of the diaconate ministry. For men this meant that the diaconate was now seen as purely a step to the sacrificial priesthood, a trend which only the Second Vatican Council reversed. For the diaconate of women, the situation was even worse. Their former involvement in the real apostolate: instructing female catechumens for baptism, assisting at their baptism itself, taking communion to the sick or administering their anointing, had now ben forgotten.

Theologians like Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) were ignorant of what the original ministry of the woman deacon had meant. He writes in the context of whether women can receive ordination:

"Some, however, have asserted that the male sex is necessary for the lawfulness and not for the validity of the sacrament, because even in the Decretals (cap. Mulieres dist. 32; cap. Diaconissam, 27, qu. i) mention is made of deaconesses . . . But deaconess there denotes a woman who shares in some act of a deacon, namely who reads the homilies in the Church . . ." Summa Theologica Suppl. qu. 39 art. 1.

Prominent ladies at times entered religious life on their own terms. Hroswitha of Gandersheim (935-1002), for instance, entered the Benedictine abbey of Gandersheim as a canonness not as a nun. She took the vows of chastity and obedience, but not the vow of poverty. "She was allowed to receive guests, to come and go with permission, to own books, to own property, and was permitted to have servants, although she lived a communal life and shared the daily recitation of the Divine Office." (Ann Lyon Haight,Hroswitha of Gandersheim: Her Life, Her Times, Her Works, p. 11) It is clear that she enjoyed an outstanding education and read the Latin classics as well as Christian authors.

Historians have - perhaps rightly - suggested that the diaconate for women in the early Middle Ages had become a status symbol, bestowed on women of noble descent who wanted to join a convent but could not become its abbess because someone else already held that position.

Making such ladies a 'deaconess' would give them a status of their own. (So F. Maasen, 'Glossen des canonischen Rechts aus dem karolingischen Zeitalter', Akademie der Wissenschaften vol 84, 1876, p. 274.)

Characteristics of 'Mainz B'

The editor of the 'Mainz B' Pontifical, on which four manuscripts known to us (see below) depend, has significantly altered the 'Mass to Consecrate a Woman Deacon'. He removed practically all features relating to the ancient deacon's ministry:

  1. the ancient ordination prayer (Exaudi)
  2. the imposition of the diaconate stole
  3. the woman deacon's receiving communion directly from the bishop, etc.

However, he maintained the first section he found in the Mainz Original, entitled 'To make a deaconess'. He retained here both the rubric about the deacon's stole and the ancient ordination prayer (Exaudi). Perhaps he was aware of the fact that this section, via the Hadrianum, derived from the Gregorian sacramentary that 'should not be altered'.

The text of 'Mainz B'

click on each pontifical to see its detailed text (Latin and English)


A. Ancient Ordination Rite

1. To make a woman deacon

The word 'diacona' was ancient. Later the word 'diaconissa' (deaconness) became common.

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.

The stole originally indicated the full status of the diaconate. Whoever wore a diaconate stole without ordination was excommunicated (Synod of Laodicea 363 AD).

3."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 . . . "


The ordination prayer - EXAUDI - is the oldest part of the woman deacons' rite of ordination.

More information here!

B. Mass for the ordination of a woman deacon - purged form

Many ancient 'ordination' elements have been purged from the formulary of this Mass: the ordination prayer EXAUDI, the ordination preface, the laying on of the diaconate stole and the woman deacon's special role in communion. Only the ordination preface is still there, at least in substance. Omissions are noted against a purple background.

The whole Mass now focuses on 'the vow of sexual abstinence' required of the deacon. This makes it all the more curious to distinguish the mass from other masses (i) for the ordination of an abbess; (ii) for the consecration of virgins ("who decide to live a life of celibacy in their own homes"); (iii) for the consecration of a widow who has professed chastity; and (iv) for the consecration of a nun.

4. 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. Prayer.

"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. weekday 4a: "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 and adorned her . . ."

9. Litany (of all saints). Kyrie (eleison)

In the old rite, the litany preceded the actual ordination.

10. "Kindly hear, we beg you o Lord, the prayers of your maidservant that, having taken on the grace of chastity, she may preserve it with your help. Through."

Instead of the ancient ordination prayer, a prayer for chastity is substituted which formerly was used when the woman deacon put on her veil.

11. Also, the consecration.

This is presented as 'another' ordination prayer.

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 ancient ordination preface is now interpreted as referring only to the woman deacon's vow of sexual abstinence.



The imposition of the diaconate stole has now been omitted.


No imposition of the veil.


a prayer omitted

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.


Rubric about antiphon to be sung by bystanders is omitted.


dedication prayer over woman deacon omitted

20. [According to Matthew] "At that time Jesus answered and said, 'Human beings cannot understand this' . (text is actually from John 3,27-30)


the woman deacon's offering a gift to the bishop is omitted

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.]."

23. Preface.

It is truly right, eternal God, etc. . . . Through him we implore you, almighty God, that this offering that I present to you for your maidservant, may in your eyes always be acceptable, and just as for your saints their unwavering faithfulness leands to their crowns, may so her devotion through your help lead her to forgiveness, so that she may deserve through this sacrifice to be cleansed from all the stains of crimes and, since she has been reconciled to you through Christ, you may look on her with a serene face and forgive her all her sins, that you may also mercifully suspend from her the severity of your judgment and pour out over her the clemency of your compassion. Through Christ our Lord.

This preface of the mass we only find in manuscripts copied from Mainz B

24. During the canon (of the Mass):

"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."


Woman deacon's receiving communion from the bishop in the sanctuary itself is omitted.

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

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