Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Deacons 2

The picture to the left depicts the Apostle Paul with Phoebe. She is mentioned in the Bible in Romans 16:1-2. (I was pleased to discover this morning that the USCCB website has the full text of the New American Bible.) Paul asks that she be received by the Christian community to whom he is writing and given all the help she needs, since she was a Christian minister. Many have said she was a deaconess.

The Roman Catholic Church had permanent deacons in the first millennium, but the practice faded and the diaconate became simply a step along the way for men to become priests. There is evidence that the deacons were both men and women. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 has a section which states: "A woman shall not receive the laying on of hands as a deaconess under 40 years of age, and then only after searching examination" (from: New Advent, Church Fathers, Council of Chalcedon, Canon 15).

The second Vatican Council in 1964 spoke of the need for the office to be restored "not for the priesthood but for the ministry" (Lumen Gentium, 29). The tasks of the deacons include administering Baptism and the Eucharist, presiding over worship and prayer, officiating at funeral and burial services, and visiting shut-ins among other activities. Pope Paul VI restored the office in 1967 on this recommendation of Vatican II. The deacon is ordained by the bishop of the diocese. The USCCB has a Diaconate section on its website with the online National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States.

Phyllis Zagano, author and university professor, wrote about the restoration of women to the diaconate of the Catholic Church in her year 2000 book, Holy Saturday. She has a vast knowledge of Church history and law and sets out a very good argument for this restoration. As she says, women are doing the work of the Church but "there is still no way for the bishop of a diocese, on behalf of the local church, to formally call forth women servants of the Church, to recognize and to ratify their service through orders" (p. 69). Wikipedia also has a lot of information on the subject of Deaconess, which I will not re-write here but direct you there if you are interested.

Catholic Online has an article about a homily given by Pope Benedict over the weekend at a mass in Amman, Jordan. He is visiting there on his week-long pilgrimage of the Holy Land. He exhorts others to pay attention to the "prophetic role" of women. Well, in the Old Testament lands which the Pope visits, many prophets cried out and no one listened. Women prophets cry out today. They beg, they plead, they pray, but the Church authority does not listen. They are saying: women are to be treated equally. Sacraments should not be withheld from women because of their gender. Women should be ordained!


Brother said...

I have wrestled with this question for a long time. Certainly it is a hot button issue among many. I have not arrived at the same conclusion you have, and just because it was the practice of ordaining women deacons in the past does not mean women should be ordained priests. Priesthood is not like getting a driver license - nor is it about equality, it about calling. Most people don't stop and think how it would divide the church. The truth of the matter is the the people of God are not ready for it.

Kay said...

Brother, Thanks for your comment. I agree that the Church may not be ready for women priests (whether now or ever). I am arguing instead for women deacons, as does Phyllis Zagano. I think the majority of Catholics would accept that change. It would also greatly help existing priests in their duties. Those priests are stretched to thin in many areas, including our own Diocese.