Is it possible to ordain female deacons? Nope. Here are 7 reasons why women can’t receive the sacrament of Holy Orders—not even to the diaconate.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
19 April 2020
It’s not uncommon to find people who decry the Church’s refusal—more accurately inability—to ordain women in some fashion. If not to the priesthood, then to the diaconate. And if we should once have female deacons, it will be a small step to ordaining female priests, so the thinking goes. Deaconesses are seen as a steppingstone to priestesses.
It would be nice if this problem would go away. But, it will remain as long as pride, sin, and dissent remain.
Beginning in the late 20th century with the development of new ideologies about inclusiveness, gender equality, the rise of feminism, and the influences of the modernist heresy, we’ve witnessed increasing pressure to ordain women. When considering the origins of this movement, we cannot overlook the influences of Protestantism. It’s not uncommon to find women ministers in Protestant communities who claim to be “priests,” “deacons” and even “bishops.” Unfortunately, this situation has rubbed off on many Catholics.
Can women be ordained as deacons? Nope. Here are 7 reasons why it’s not possible:
- The Church has no authority to ordain women. Christ ordained only men as apostles. In turn, his apostles ordained only men as deacons and, later, men as priests. Ordained female deacons have never existed in the history of the Church. The International Theological Commission (ITC) agreed with that fact in a study released in 2002, titled “From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles.” It’s reported that the commission Pope Francis instituted in 2016 came to the same conclusion, although its findings were not widely publicized.
- There is one sacrament of Holy Orders comprised of three degrees of hierarchy: bishops, priests, and deacons. As the ITC noted in its study, all three degrees act as instruments of Christ in persona Christi Capitis, although with distinct functions pertaining to each office. Consequently, as instruments of Christ who serve the Church, bishops, priests, and deacons teach, sanctify, and rule, although to different degrees. The sacrament of Holy Orders is one of unity. It’s not possible to fracture the sacrament into a separate category for the ordination of women. As the Catechism explains, “Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination” (CCC 1577).
- Acting as instruments of Christ the Head and Bridegroom of the Church, ordained clergy act in a male mode, whereas the faithful act in a feminine receptive mode. The fact is, Christ is a man—and God, of course. Yes, in the Church sex has meaning, and it means male or female. Christ’s Church can be spoken of theologically as feminine, using feminine pronouns. That is why we speak of the Church as “she” or “her” in relation to Christ. Hence we have Bridegroom and Bride. Christ the Bridegroom and the Church, his Bride. The clergy and faithful image that same reality. Therefore if we were to have female deacons, we would have Bride and Bride, we would have female receiving female. We can all imagine what that kind of a relationship images, and it’s abnormal. It’s not Christ and his Church.
- When deacons proclaim the gospel, they are acting in persona Christi Capitis, speaking the words of Christ in a male mode, as Christ is man, to the faithful who receive in a feminine receptive mode. Through the deacon, Christ as the God-man speaks to his Bride, the Church. A woman cannot fulfill this role in the public liturgy, as a man imaging Christ, speaking the words of Christ, who is God and man, to his Church. This situation is mirrored, in a sense, when the deacon preaches as an instrument of the male Christ. These offer at least two reasons why St. Paul said, “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak” (1 Cor 14:33-34).
- But wait. Weren’t there deaconesses in the early Church? St. Paul even mentions them in Romans chapter 16. Doesn’t that prove women were ordained as deacons? Nope. The Greek word used for deacon (diakonos or one of its derivatives) simply means “servant” or “helper.” It does not denote a laying on of hands and formal ordination to the clerical state as a member of the hierarchy.
- Deaconesses in the early Church served in specific non-ordained capacities as laypersons, such as assisting in the baptizing of women for modesty purposes or serving women in their homes.
The Canons of the Council of Nicaea state in reference to women who have been granted a certain status of service: “We refer to deaconesses who have been granted this status, for they do not receive any imposition of hands, so that they are in all respects to be numbered among the laity” (No. 19). Deacons are clergy, not laity. If deaconesses were laity, they were not ordained.
The ITC cited the Constitutiones, which states that deaconesses have no liturgical function and must devote themselves to the “service of women” (CA 3, 16, 1), they are to “do nothing without the deacon” (CA 2, 26, 6), with their functions summed up this way: “The deaconess does not bless, and she does not fulfill 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).
What would happen if some bishops began individually, on their own, to attempt to ordain female deacons? There is little doubt that it would cause a schism in the Church. It would be extremely harmful and disruptive in the lives of the faithful and the liturgical life of the Church. The mass exodus from the Church we’ve experienced in the wake of Vatican II would increase. The face of the Church would look more Protestant than Catholic.
There you have it. Seven reasons why women cannot be ordained to the diaconate. Although much more can be said, all that’s needed to say “no” to women’s ordination is one irrefutable reason. The Virgin Mary offers us that reason. She is raised above all the angels and saints, not by virtue of her ordination, but by virtue of her divine maternity as the Mother of God. She did not serve as an apostle or bishop or priest or deacon, although Christ certainly could have ordained her in any one of those positions. Instead, she served as God predestined her to serve according to the will of her son: as a woman; as the humble, sinless, loving Virgin Mother who brought salvation into the world.
Photo Attribution: Matthias Ulrich. The original uploader was Matteo3000 at German Wikipedia. / CC BY-SA 2.0 DE (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.