The CCE (no. 1554) quotes Saint Ignatius of Antioch: "Let everyone revere the deacons as Jesus Christ, the bishop as the image of the Father, and the presbyters as the senate of God and the assembly of the Apostles. For without them one cannot speak of the Church."336
With regard to the ordination of women to the diaconate, it should be noted that two important indications emerge from what has been said up to this point:
1. The deaconesses mentioned in the tradition of the ancient Church - as evidenced by the rite of institution and the functions they exercised - were not purely and simply equivalent to the deacons;
2. The unity of the sacrament of Holy Orders, in the clear distinction between the ministries of the bishop and the priests on the one hand and the diaconal ministry on the other, is strongly underlined by ecclesial tradition, especially in the teaching of the Magisterium.
I suspect most of our readers have already seen elsewhere that the Holy See has announced the formation of a commission to study the question of women deacons. A member of Fr Zuhlsdorf’s commentariat has very cleverly pointed out a statement by the Holy Father himself to the effect that the surest way to make sure a question remains unresolved is to appoint a commission.
The role of deaconess was akin to one of the minor orders (acolyte, lector). In Holy Scripture, Saint Paul referred to Phoebe, a female, as deacon (Romans 6:1-2). The term deacon means servant and the original Greek term diákonos (διάκονος) was used to describe distinct and different offices in the Church.
It may be helpful to recall the usage among eastern brethren of the national orthodox churches: "Those who are placed into the minor orders are done so by cheirothesia, which also means 'laying on of hands', but has come to be a technically distinct term from cheirotonia, which is used only for the major orders. According to the DEC (Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity), cheirothesia is not regarded as part of the Holy Mystery of ordination."—OrthodoxWiki
- H/T Saint Bede Studio http://saintbedestudio.blogspot.ca/2016/05/deaconesses-not-again.html; Deaconesses: An Historical Study by Aimé Georges Martimort (1982). Translated by K.D. Whitehead (1986).
- H/T Peter Lamb (combox at Vox Cantoris): Pope Benedict XIV had something to say about the issue of women even so much as serving at the altar: "Pope Gelasius in his ninth letter (chap. 26) to the bishops of Lucania condemned the evil practice which had been introduced of women serving the priest at the celebration of Mass. Since this abuse had spread to the Greeks, Innocent IV strictly forbade it in his letter to the bishop of Tusculum: “Women should not dare to serve at the altar; they should be altogether refused this ministry.” We too have forbidden this practice in the same words in Our oft-repeated constitution Etsi Pastoralis, sect. 6, no. 21." Pope Benedict XIV, Encyclical Allatae Sunt, n. 29 Italian translation -http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedictus-xiv/it/documents/enciclica--i-allatae-sunt--i---26-luglio-1755--in-questa-encicli.html
- International Theological Commission (2002) http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_pro_05072004_diaconate_en.html
- Women & The Priesthood. Pope Saint John Paul II, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1994/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_19940522_ordinatio-sacerdotalis.html
- Catechism of the Catholic Church http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c3a6.htm
- Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1976) Inter Insigniores http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19761015_inter-insigniores_en.html