The Ordination Rite for Women Deacons in the West

Stages of its development

by John Wijngaards

 1. The Apostles laid hands on the first seven deacons (Acts 6,1-7). Then they ordained deacons in many early communities, among them women deacons (Romans 16,1).From existing sources we can infer the form of the oldest ordination prayer – a pattern, a model, a framework – that was substantially identical for men and women deacons.

30 – 300 AD
Oldest ordination prayer

Exaudi, Domine, preces nostras et super hanc famulam tuam N. Spiritum tuae benedictionis emitte, ut coelesti munere ditata, et tuae gratiam possit maiestatis acquirere, et bene vivendi aliis exemplum praebere. Per. . .

 2. From evidence in Italy, North Africa, Germany, Britain and Gaul [= France], we know that the ordination of women deacons existed at this time in spite of traditional Roman opposition to women’s leadership.
From later sources we can deduce the main components of the ordination rite for women deacons that now developed.

313-600 AD

Ancient Roman sacramentaries

title
opening prayer
ordination prayer
consecration

Germany

Pope Gregory I

Gaul

We know from later German Pontificals (see Mainz below) that a sacramentary existed in German lands that contained the full prayers for the diaconate for women deacons.
This is the text persons like St Boniface, archbishop of Mainz, must have used.
500-750 AD
The ‘German’
Sacramentary

title
opening prayer
ordination prayer
consecration

 Pope Gregory I (590-604), also known as Gregory the Great, is credited with having assembled a first semi-official sacramentary which included ordination prayers for bishops, priests and deacons.
There is evidence to show that it contained a shortened version of prayers for women’s ordination that were contained in it.

 ca 600 AD
Proto
Gregorian
Sacramentary

title
ordination prayer

 The liturgical situation in Gaul (present-day France) was confused. So, in 786 AD, Pope Adrian I sent to Charlemagne, at his request, a model sacramentary which bishops should follow. Adrian claimed it derived its ultimate authority from Pope Gregory the Great.
From five manuscripts copied from this ‘Hadrianum’ we know quite well what prayer it contained concerning the ordination of women deacons.

 786 AD
Hadrianum Sacramentary

title
ordination prayer

 6. Meanwhile, in Germany, a pontifical was produced based on the Roman/German sacramentary. It must have contained both the basic ordination prayer (as in the Hadrianum) and the Mass to Consecrate a Woman Deacon that included – more or less – the traditional elements of a real ordination, even though its main focus was now on the deaconess vowing sexual abstinence.

 ca 850 AD
Mainz Original Pontifical

title
rubric about stole
ordination prayer
MASS
ordination prayer
imposition of stole
[consecration]
blessing

7. Five existing manuscripts which we know follow the ‘Mainz Original’ sacramentary almost to the letter.

 ca 900 AD
Mainz A Pontifical

title
rubric about stole
MASS
ordination prayer
imposition of stole
[consecration]
blessing

8. Other manuscripts show that the Mass for ordaining women deacons was considerably modified in some places.
Almost all elements of true ‘ordination’ have now been removed from the Mass. But the traditional introductory rubric and ordination prayer were retained.

 ca 950 AD
Mainz B Pontifical
title
rubric about stole
ordination prayer
MASS
[consecration]
blessing