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The ministry of women in the West

In the course of the centuries six types of female ministers served their communities:

1. Ministering widows
2. Women presbyters
3. Pastoral assistants
4. Women deacons
5. Freilas
6. Abbesses who were Sacerdos

1. Ministering widows

Italy, North Africa, Gaul

ca 100 - 600 AD

Christian Roman communities were served by women who belonged to the ecclesiastical order of widows (1 Timothy 5,3-16).

They were carefully selected for a ministry among women: instructing catechumens, looking after the poor and giving support through prayer.

In church assemblies they occupied a place of honour.

More information here!

2. Women Presbyters

South of Italy, Sicily

100 - 900 AD

In areas of Italy and Sicily that had been colonised by Phoenicians and Hellenists, some Christian communities were perhaps headed by presbyterae, i.e. female priests.

The evidence is found on inscriptions and in literary sources.

These female ministers are said to have exercised all the functions of their male counterparts.

More information here!


3. Pastoral Assistants

Britain and Ireland

100 - 400 AD

Pastoral assistants assisted at the baptism of women and helped distribute communion at the Eucharist.

More information here!


4. Women Deacons

Gaul, Italy, Germanic lands

350 - 1300 AD

The diaconate of women was introduced to the West from the 4th century onwards. It met opposition both because of Roman prejudice against giving authority to women and because it was considered alien to Christian tradition.

Women deacons were sacramentally ordained for some centuries. Afterwards, the diaconate was slowly reduced to being no more than a special kind of religious commitment.

More information here!



5. Freilas

Basque territories

400 - 1400 AD

In the highlands of the Pyrenees women served as Freilas or Soreras with more or less the same responsibilities as the classic women deacons.

They instructed catechumens and cared for the sick. They acted as sacristans, church wardens and funerary directors.

More information here!


6. Abbesses who were 'Sacerdos'

Germanic lands

900 - 1300 AD

Some Abbesses were given double jurisdiction. They enjoyed political authority over their territories and ecclesiastical jurisdiction. They administered parishes and employed ordained male priests.

A number of them bore the title Sacerdos or even Sacerdos Maxima.

More information here!


Ministries of women in the West

gaul, italy, germany
north africa, gaul, italy
england, wales, ireland
southern italy, sicily
basque area, gaul, spain
england, germany

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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