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History Isn't Always Clear

Women Deacons and Priests
Lectionary Liberties
From Where Did the Rosary Come?
What Does the Bishop's Ring Mean?
Women Deacons and Priests

A friend and I were recently discussing the permanent diaconate. He feels that a woman should be allowed to be ordained a deacon since she can't be ordained a priest.

He pointed out Romans 16:1-2, "I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is [also] a minister of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the holy ones, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a benefactor to many and to me as well."

In the translation I have, the New American Bible, the footnotes say: "Minister: in Greek, diakonos."

With this in mind, why can't a woman be a deacon, since Phoebe was one? Further, why can't a woman be a priest?

I do not think it has been definitively settled whether, historically, women have or can be ordained deacons. The text in Romans 16:1-2 does use the word diakonos in Greek. The New Oxford Annotated Bible: Revised Standard Version reads, "I recommend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the Church at Cenchreae." Yet the footnote tells the reader that deaconess may mean simply "helper."

The Good News Bible: The Bible in Today's English Version speaks of Phoebe "who serves the Church at Cenchreae." It does not translate diakonos as deaconess. The New American Bible translates the verse to read, "I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is [also] a minister of the church at Cenchreae." Nelson's A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, edited by Reginald Fuller, tells us that the exact meaning of this title is disputed, although the corresponding masculine noun indicates an official title.

John McKenzie in his Dictionary of the Bible also notes that the title does not indicate a hierarchical office and can refer to services rendered by Phoebe to the community of Cenchreae. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary states that diakonos may designate a member of a special group in the Church of Cenchreae or may be only a generic designation--for example, servant or assistant. The commentary states there is no way of being sure that the term already designated a special order of ministers.

Father Norbert Brockman, S.M., author of Ordained to Service, a book on the theology of the permanent diaconate, is reported to have said in 1978 that the appeal to tradition for admitting women to the ordained diaconate is on shaky ground--evidence is lacking that a female deaconess was a female deacon. And, said Brockman, ordaining women to orders was not even considered in the writings of the Fathers of the Church.

I found an undated column in my files by Msgr. Donald Hamilton from The Long Island Catholic. He wrote there that at least one Eastern Orthodox Church continues to have a few deaconesses but the ordination by which they are set apart is not viewed as a conferral of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

When it speaks of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and who may receive the sacrament, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not distinguish between the order of diaconate and priesthood. It says simply, "Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination.'" It goes on to say, "The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them....The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible" (#1577).

Some theologians argue that, cultically, only a male can adequately represent Christ in the eucharistic liturgy. Bishop Eldon F. Curtiss compared the central figure in the celebration of the Eucharist to an actor playing Shakespeare's Hamlet. Curtiss wrote that only a male actor can properly be cast to represent Hamletˇa male. He writes, "The eucharistic sacrifice makes present to us the reality of the crucifixion of Jesus as it touches our lives. It is precisely in this re-presentation of the suffering and death of Jesus as a man that the ordained priest must be able to portray him in his total human dimension." Curtiss later says, "Because Jesus is a male in his human existence, his life and death are re-presented by a male priest."

I believe that the strongest argument against the ordination of women to Holy Orders is tradition and the appeal to authority. I think the 1994 apostolic letter of John Paul II to all bishops in the Catholic Church, Priestly Ordination Reserved to Men Alone (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis) is basically an appeal to tradition and the consistent understanding of the Church. In that apostolic letter Pope John Paul II referred to the response of Pope Paul VI to the debate among Anglicans concerning the ordination of women. Paul VI had said that it was inadmissible to ordain women because of the example of Christ in the Scriptures--he chose apostles from among men only. Paul VI appealed to the constant practice of the Church and said the teaching authority of the Church has consistently held the exclusion of women from the priesthood to be in accordance with God's plan for his Church.

Pope John Paul II concluded his apostolic letter by writing, "In virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (see Luke 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

In other words, Pope John Paul II believes that it was determined by Christ himself that only males be ordained to the priesthood and that he, John Paul, has no power to deviate from what Jesus has determined.

From Where Did the Rosary Come?

Can you tell me something about the history of the rosary and how this prayer came to be?

The following very short history of the rosary, written by the editor of St. Anthony Messenger, appeared in the preface of Joanne Turpin's book, The Healing Mysteries of the Rosary:

"Pious tradition has it that the mother of Jesus, Mary herself, gave the rosary to St. Dominic Guzman and told him to preach this prayer. More likely, the rosary developed out of the 12th-century chaplets of Pater's or Ave's recited by the Catholics of that time.

"These chaplets were a kind of poor person's Breviary made up of 150 Our Fathers (Pater Noster's) or Hail Marys (Ave's) corresponding to the 150 psalms of the Psalter. Like the Psalter, they were sometimes divided into sets of three 50's and counted on strings of beads called 'paternosters.' Each of the prayers was associated with a mystery in the lives of Jesus and Mary pronounced and meditated on at each bead or prayer of the chaplet.

"In time the 'psalters' of Our Fathers and Hail Marys came to be joined and merged. The Our Fathers and Hail Marys were prayed alternately, each Our Father followed by a Hail Mary. The 50 mysteries came to be reduced to five--one for each decade. Finally the rosary took its present form."

The Enchiridion of Indulgences tells us, "The rosary is a certain formula of prayer, which is made up of 15 decades of Hail Marys with an Our Father before each decade, and in which the recitation of each decade is accompanied by pious meditation on a particular mystery of our redemption." Commonly these are the traditional joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries listed in the appendix of the Enchiridion and our prayer books. The Enchiridion does not say, however, that we must meditate on these particular mysteries in Jesus' and Mary's lives.

Another short history can be found in reprints of The Rosary: A Gospel Prayer by Thomas A. Thomas, S.M., and Jack Wintz, O.F.M., available from Catholic Update (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1615 Republic St., Cincinnati, OH 45210). Besides a very short history of the rosary, this Update contains an explanation of how to pray the rosary and its mysteries. For a single copy you can send 50 cents and a self-addressed, stamped business-size envelope.

Lectionary Liberties

Many of our lectors change the wording of the readings. Sometimes it's just one word; for example, man is changed into people. Many times the whole reading is changed. I thought we were supposed to read only what is in an approved Lectionary. Who decided what to change? And when? Is there Vatican approval to use different lectionaries, or for allowing lectors to change readings?

There are three English Bible translations approved for liturgical use by the Holy See and the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops. They are The New American Bible; The Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition and The Jerusalem Bible. I know of no other English translations authorized for use in the United States.

No, we are not supposed to make up our own translations of the readings of the Lectionary. There is, however, some looseness in adapting or translating the readings for use in children's Masses. And, apart from the readings, there are places in the liturgical rites where the celebrant or minister is given a choice of prayers, told to invite, introduce or use other suitable words, without any specific formula being given.

It is not always wrong to insert a ceremony or the use of customary symbols into a liturgical ceremony. After all, you do not find the Sunday collection in the rubrics of the Mass! And I think everyone would permit words by a family member after Communion at a funeral Mass.

Concerning the problem you raise about readers changing words, R. Kevin Seasoltz says in New Liturgy, New Laws (The Liturgical Press): "If observance of a law occasions the rejection of the liturgy or the Church by a large segment of the community, surely the traditional teaching of epikeia justifies the non-observance of the law. This affirmation is in keeping with the medieval axiom that sacraments are for people; people do not exist for the Church. For example, in communities that are aware of and committed to efforts to assure justice for women and minorities in the Church, the use of sexist language in the liturgy is often both irritating and alienating: In some instances it arouses deep hostility.

"Sometimes the bias against women is built into the vernacular translation but not into the original Latin text. There is no reason why the words 'pro multis' in the text of [eucharistic] institution within the anaphora need to be translated 'for all men.' To avoid harm and insult to the community, ministers have rightly changed the text and avoided sexist language."

Seasoltz was writing before the words were officially changed to "for all." I know of no better explanation for what is done than his.

What Does the Bishop's Ring Mean?

What is the significance of the ring that bishops and cardinals wear?

According to The Church Visible, by James-Charles Noonan, Jr. (Viking), the bishop's ring is a sign of authority. In the earlier Code of Canon Law clerics who were not bishops were forbidden to wear rings.

As a symbol of episcopal authority the ring first appeared in the third century. By 637 A.D. St. Isidore of Seville would write, "To the bishop at his consecration is given a staff; a ring likewise is given him to signify pontifical honor or as a seal for secrets."

According to Noonan, the bishop's ring would later also take on the symbolic meaning that he was wedded to the Church.

The cardinal's ring is given by the Holy Father at a Mass following his being named a cardinal.

The Wise Man welcomes your questions. If you have a question, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Wise Man, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.
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