Just let women be priests: The Priestly virtue of Deacons

To foreword this post in two respects: (1) It was only after submitting my last entry that I saw newsfeed of Abp Durocher’s call for women deacons, which kind of sealed the deal on doing the follow-up I had mentioned. (2) My next post will be something somewhat artsy in an accidental way: I had written the first line of my first draft and eventually I finished the poem… (?)

Confirmation always seems to be the unfortunate Sacrament: the number of times it is said to be without a theology or something of the sort, it’s almost a trend. Then, perhaps, small wonder that, by and large, Confirmation is graduation, given how the Sacrament is regulated and the rite conducted.

If you infer that I presume to understand it, however, then by comparison what I find confusing is the Diaconate. Apples and oranges, yes, but the question that cannot be asked in the analogy is: how did the orange become an apple? How did we move from the institution of the Seven to the ordination of Deacons?

This is the only context in which we can place the call, recently sounded by the Archbishop of Gatineau, for women deacons. Mind you, on the part of proponents this is seen as compromise instead (or in favour) of becoming Priests, but from the start it still falls under women’s ordination, which is included in said inability. So ordination as a general practice, vis-à-vis the rites, also needs to be examined here.

But let us get to the obvious first question: what is a Deacon? A member of the (currently) lowest of the (currently) three sacred, or Holy, Orders, the origin of which is generally accepted to be the aforementioned institution of the Seven (cf. Acts 6). All men, they were “presented…to the Apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them” (v. 6) in order to “hand over [the] duty” of giving out food (vv. 2-3).

Almost immediately thereafter Stephen is arrested and tried in the same way as Christ (vv. 8-15), the last line – “his face appeared to them like the face of an angel” – hinting at what will happen next. Stephen surely out-spoke Gabriel (ch. 7), proving that “when the time comes…it will be the Holy Spirit” speaking (Mark 13: 11-12; cf. Acts 6: 55).

To draw a parallel with Scripture: in the post-conciliar Mass the Deacon proclaims the Gospel, may preach the Homily, and is an ordinary minister of Holy Communion (when in a sense this was distinguished from the institution of the Sacrament). In the pre-conciliar (High) Mass, he could only proclaim the Gospel, but in either form he must also attend to other ceremonies.

All of this has to have evolved from the “breaking of bread” (Acts 2: 42) as commanded by Christ to be done “as a memorial of [him]” (Luke 22: 19). So, to iterate the fact that salvation history “is the basis of Ordinatio sacerdotalis”: women cannot be ordained to the Diaconate, at least unless we are willing to undo two millennia of the sacred order’s development.

Some, however, will still press what they will have taken to be obvious: that it was priesthood St John Paul barred from ‘the discussion’; that he couldn’t bar the Diaconate because “in the church’s tradition [it] has been defined as not being ordered toward priesthood but toward ministry.” This warrants a definition of priesthood (and hopefully you’ve seen my attempts to avoid ‘the priesthood’).

Unlike in another post or in general, etymology can’t really help: priest is the only word English has for what Latin calls the sacerdos, the one who offers sacrifice. In fact sacerdos and sacrifice share the same root in the Latin adjective sacer, meaning holy or sacred (also related), whence the adjective for such Orders.

But strictly, the priest has nothing to do with this, being the Germanic descendent of Latin (from Greek) presbyter, meaning ‘elder’. This is similar, some would say, to what others see (instead) as the origin: the Latin præpositus, referring among a given group of persons to the one ‘placed at the front’, the leader.) It’s in this sense that one can speak of the priesthood, elder status.

Of course, both ceremonial roles existed in the Old Testament, but Christ, who came to complete the law (Matthew 5: 17), literally did so in his Victimhood: not only was he pure, being God, but he offered his own self. That makes him not just sacerdos, but summus sacerdos (the high priest), and personalises this priesthood.

Now, whereas we have said that among the Sacraments “hierarchy has [no] place”, an obsession of those who promote women’s ordination, yet in the ‘priesthoods’ that of sacrifice is superior to that of elders – the hierarchy of order – unless divine and human are synonyms.

Which returns us finally to the question of women as Deacons: an unfeasible proposition. The Diaconate was instituted (1) by the Apostles (2) for carrying out a duty of the Apostles (3) that is proper to the Apostles as Priests. Their ministry is distinct, liturgical, (I dare say) priestly. In the end I am no longer confused.

Do women want to be priests? Let them be elders: you don’t have to be a nun to run schools, hospitals, or to build these…and even churches! Last I checked, none of these are outdated; in fact, they make for some really good places, which perhaps such women can then govern. There’s productivity for yah! (And nothing is wrong with being a nun or religious sister, but you probably can’t do that last part.)

One more etymology tidbit: we are in the middle of a Synod. A Synod on the family. (A Synod that, evidently, some people are misinterpreting. Reread the last line of no. 30, Archbishop!) The family is not solely in a Church crisis (?), but the world has its problems (!).

Spouses! Testify that marriage is the root of the family; for Catholics, the Sacrament of Matrimony, of motherhood (Latin matris + munium). Just as without ‘Fathers’ there would be no saving Eucharist, so without mothers there would be no humanity (or, but for the grace of God, no Saviour).

Even now we endanger our race and our salvation by going actively against (or staying passively from) ending contraception, abortion…everything that says you, reader, and I are nothing. Not just nothing compared to someone… Nothing.

NOTE: In my region the Church mainly uses the Jerusalem Bible, so you would please understand why there are no Scriptural links.

The comment box is there: I will hold off on posting my poem until tomorrow morning, so that it can be foreworded or afterworded accordingly.


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