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The Role of Women in Ministry
It is the intention of this article to affirm the intrinsic dignity, love and respect the church has for women, and to make known that the CCIA as a Catholic/Christian Communion values women in a wide variety of ministry roles.
While it is never prudent for the Catholic Church to create doctrine out of whole cloth, or to modify traditional teachings based upon cultural trends or pressure from those insisting on politically correctness, the CCIA recognizes that the history of the Catholic Church gives ample evidence of the ministry of women, not limited to, but especially in regards to the office of Deacon. Many women in scripture are referenced to as ministers in the ancient Church and are recognized as such. St. Paul calls one of these women, Phoebe, a deacon of the Church (Romans 16:1-2). Her title and her legacy are the foundation of the modern discussion about the ministry of women, much of which centers on the ordination and certification of women ministers.
Over the centuries the Roman Catholic Church seems to have succumbed to the political-cultural pressure of to deny the traditional dignity and value of women in ordained ministry. In the Catholic Church, the history of women’s ordination has become clouded, except in some Eastern Churches. While many mistakenly think of the Catholic Church as only the Church of Rome — the Roman Catholic Church — there are many Eastern Churches and an unknown number of Churches in the “Old Catholic” tradition with a deep history of the sacramental ordination of women to the ministry of the diaconate.
While Roman Catholicism has traditionally spoken to the equality of all persons, it specifically limits persons according to gender and carte blanche refuses women clerical status, and the consequent ability to hold any clerical office. The Roman Church conveniently forgets that in Christ Jesus “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The CCIA recognizes that this was not always the case, and argues this through the history of ancient rituals and practice. In this matter, the CCIA presents our affirmation of essential dignity and value of women in the ordained ministry, despite the denial, which has been echoed in the unfortunate history of the status of women in Western civilization.
Ordination – Holy Orders
Ordination is one of seven sacraments recognized by the universal Church. While in modern times ordination has been restricted to men, this has not always been the case. Women were ordained deacons up until the fifth century in the West and up to the 11th century in the East. Women have been ordained up to modern times, even to the present, in some of the Churches of Orthodoxy that separated from Rome in 1054, or Churches of the Old Catholic that separated as a result of innovations introduced at the First Vatican Council in 1868.
My research into the restoration of the ancient practice of ordaining women into Sacramental Holy Orders began more than 20 years ago in my own preparation and formation for ministry in a “liberal” Old Catholic jurisdiction. My bishop at the time was preparing to ordain his first woman candidate to the diaconate and even to the priesthood. This led to my investigation of the history of women in ministry, as well as the
Sacramental theology, ecclesiology, canon law, historical and ecumenical sources, and contemporary understandings of the various ordained ministries, with a particular focus on the historic roles of women.
The scope of this research looked at the traditional understanding of ordained ministry, and even at the diaconate as a permanent vocation. The vocation of deacon is more a triangle than a direct relationship among bishop, priest, and deacon. As the deacon related directly to the bishop of a territorial diocese in earlier church history, so does the deacon relate directly to the pastor — the “bishop” — of the territorial parish in the present. Hence, the diaconate is not solely a stage through which celibate candidates for priesthood pass. It is also a permanent vocation for married and celibate persons, and we as a Church contend, women.
The need for women deacons is overwhelmingly present in the life of ministry in the Church. Even in the Roman Catholic Church, women currently serve in traditional diaconal positions in most parishes: visiting the homebound and hospitalized, catechizing the young, aiding the poor with programs that provide food and clothing, caring for the church building and arranging for liturgies. Their ministry continues in parish liturgies: women read the Scriptures at mass, distribute Communion as Eucharistic ministers, and are greeters, leaders of song, altar servers, and gift bearers. The aggregate of these roles both comprises and signify the diaconate.
Other roles, however, such as preaching, are typically restricted to the ordained. Significantly, only ordained persons may preach during mass. With women as deacons, women could preach. They will also have what the Church understands as the charism of orders to support their diaconal work. They will also join with male deacons, who are called by the bishop to a life dedicated to the Word (Scripture), the liturgy and charity.
In her book “History and Ritual: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church” (Crossroad/Herder, 2000) Phyllis Zagano established the validity and legality of ordaining Catholic women deacons. “Our current understanding, including historical analysis of Catholic rituals for women, points to an ancient status in Church which has been either lost or ignored.”
Rituals for ordination (deacons), benediction (Abbesses), enrollment (widows), consecration (virgins), and profession of vows (nuns and sisters) have faded or collapsed over the centuries. The question arises whether women, who clearly are continuing to serve, gradually adopted other ritual means of certifying their status once the diaconate died out. We theorize, for example, that rituals of the profession of vows and/or consecration of virgins have partly replaced the ritual of the ordination of women to the diaconate. There are virtually no comprehensive studies of Catholic rituals for women, aside from historical studies of individual religious institutes and orders. Ancient and medieval sources — beginning with the Apostolic Constitutions — reveal parallel developments of rituals to accept Women’s Ministry in the Catholic Church
Over centuries and in different locales bishops accepted and certified women’s ministry through various ceremonies, but eventually, official recognition of women’s ministry outside the monastery was repressed, and women who wished to dedicate their lives to God entered cloisters. As women’s monasteries grew, so did formalized profession rites for the nuns and consecration (or benediction) rites for their abbesses. With power nearly equivalent to that of diocesan bishops, abbesses wielded juridical and often sacramental power over their abbeys’ territories