Did you all know that, a few years ago, the question of deaconettes was put to the International Theological Commission (under the aegis of the CDF)? Yes, indeed! HERE The Commission has no teaching authority. However, they did come down against the notion.
At the time it was reported:
The general secretary of the International Theological Commission, Father Georges Cottier, O.P., has responded to certain questions about the Commission’s study of the diaconate raised by the October 8th issue of La Croix. Fr. Cottier stated that the Commission’s study has not concluded that the possibility that women could be ordained to the diaconate remains open, as asserted by La Croix, but rather tends to support the exclusion of this possibility. [The short translation of this is, “No”. The longer translation is, “Nooooooooo!”]
The Commission of theologians, even if it has not the role of pronouncing with the authority, which is characteristic of the Magisterium, presented two important indications which emerge from study of the matter. In the first place, the Commission observed that the deaconesses mentioned in the tradition of the early Church cannot simply be assimilated to ordained deacons. In support of this conclusion, Fr. Cottier noted that both the rite of institution and the functions exercised by deaconesses distinguished them from ordained deacons. [Diaconate doesn’t apply in the same way to women as it does to men. Men were ordained with a sacrament.]
Furthermore, Fr. Cottier noted that the Commission’s study reaffirmed the unity of the sacrament of Holy Orders. The distinction between the ministry of bishops and priests, on the one hand, and that of deacons, on the other hand, is nonetheless embraced within the unity of the sacrament of Holy Orders.
So, for what it is worth, the ITC came down against this.
I wonder what was lacking in the “commission” that is the ITC? After all, these were experts in the field, right? It was a “commission”, right? It studied this question, right?
Recently we saw two well-organized Synods take bites at the same apple. Is that what we are going to see now?
“But Father! But Father!”, you fishy-smelling, print-besmeared Fishwrap types are slavering, “‘Ha! Ha!’ on you! Pope Francis understands. He is, after all, the first Pope who smiled! Heeee. We should create committees after committees after committees, with lots of authority! Eventually, one of them will get it right and that one will be the only one that counts! That’s how Vatican II did it… with committees. That’s how we’ll do it now… with committees! The Spirit of Vatican II wanted women to be ordained, right? But you don’t get that because YOU HATE VATICAN II!”
To which I respond, “I really like this paragraph from the ITC’s explanation:
The deaconesses were named before the sub-deacon who, in his turn, received a cheirotonia like the deacon (CA 8, 21), while the virgins and widows could not be “ordained” (8, 24-25). The Constitutiones insist that the deaconesses should have no liturgical function (3, 9, 1-2), but should devote themselves to their function in the community which was “service to the women” (CA 3, 16, 1) and as intermediaries between women and the bishop. It is still stated that they represent the Holy Spirit, but they “do nothing without the deacon” (CA 2, 26, 6). They should stand at the women’s entrances in the assemblies (2, 57, 10). Their functions are summed up as follows: “The deaconess does not bless, and she does not fulfil any of the things that priests and deacons do, but she looks after the doors and attends the priests during the baptism of women, for the sake of decency” (CA 8, 28, 6).
“She looks after the doors”… sort of like ecclesial bouncers. But wait, there was an order of doorkeepers, men, who did that: porters. So, I suppose the deaconettes helped with the women who were pests or making trouble.
I received the following on deaconettes from a very smart, Churchy-trained, American woman friend. She gives a pretty good summary but with my patented emphases and comments :
Deaconesses could not possibly have been considered ‘ordained’ as the part of the seven grades of order, since they did not follow the cursus honorum: there were no ostiariae, lectrices, exorcist-esses [exorcistines? exorcistettes?], acolyte-esses, [acolytettes] subdeaconesses (though there is a mention of these among the Copts). If anything, ‘diakonissa’ was a honorary title, [just as ‘episkopa’ was for the mother of the Pope in the famous mosaic in Rome] since one was jettisoned into the office without any known previous office or ‘order’ (all the more so if one were married to a man who became a deacon and his wife came by the title that way). There were instances of presbyters and bishops being suddenly chosen from among men (‘per saltum’) but it was certainly not the norm. [Jerome scorned Ambrose on that account: “Heri catechumenus, hodie pontifex; heri in amphitheatro, hodie in ecclesia; uespere in circo, mane in altari; dudum fautor strionum, nunc uirginum consecrator: num ignorabat apostolus tergiuersationes nostras et argumentorum ineptias nesciebat?”]
AND — we forget that there were many ‘orders’: not just minor orders, but the order of virgins, widows, energumens, catechumens, ‘fossores’, [grave-diggers!] penitents — into which people were enrolled (‘ordained’ into an ‘order’ or an ‘office’ — like cantors) usually by a prayer and a blessing and/or imposition of hands. Even our modern form of the Sacrament of Penance retains the vestige of the imposition of hands, as in the rubrics the priest is of course to raise his hand toward the penitent as he recites the formula of absolution. [I don’t do that hand-imposition thing, but it is in the book. I call that the law-suit bit of the modern rite.] We also forget we had two kinds of deaconesses — wives of deacons who were called ‘deaconess’ as an honorific, though no doubt she helped her husband in his ministry, and deaconesses in their own right, as it were, usually older women (and usually widows) who assisted with total immersion baptism for (unclothed) female catechumens, and full-body anointing/chrismation (or at least a woman’s forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, ears, breast, hands and feet), as well as keeping the women’s side of the assembly in line and visiting sick women and girls. Being ‘ordained’ into one of the ‘orders’ — even with the prayer and the imposition of hands — did not mean Ordination to Holy Orders.
But I think that’s not what this current idea is about, eh?
No, that is not what this is about.
Although… that brings up an interest thought. WERE the ordination of women to be approved, even though they didn’t have any sacramental ministry or liturgical role in the ancient Church, I bet we would suddenly see a huge increase in Pontifical Masses in the older, traditional rite! I foresee massive expeditures – not for the poor, but for glorious vestments in gold and silk, the sort that haven’t been produced for over a century. It would suddenly be discovered that splendid lace albs are actually not evil after all. I can see now the consultants pouring in from the AME and the Anglicans to offer their help. And pause to consider the fantastic new head gear possibilities!
It would be a new age!
Now… I have a more important task. I get to work on the new red dalmatics – vestments for deacons which just arrived from Gammarelli. HERE There are four dalmatics for the priests and or deacons and one super light silk dalmatic for the bishop. These vestments will never be worn by a woman.