We may deduce the ordination of women deacons as it must have been written in that – now lost – sacramentary. Pope Gregory I (590-604), also known as Gregory the Great, is credited with having assembled a semi-official sacramentary which included ordination prayers. This sacramentary is known as the ‘Urgregorianum’, the Proto Gregorian.
Women deacons in Rome?
It does not seem there were women serving in Rome as deacons at the time. Traditional Roman prejudice against the leadership of women, no doubt, played its part here. Also, there may have been less need of women deacons in Latin speaking parishes as there was in the Eastern part of the Church.
The British monk Pelagius (345-418), who spent time both in Rome and North Africa, seems to imply that women deacons are unknown in the West. In a commentary on 1 Timothy 3,11 he says: “Paul orders that women should be chosen on the same terms as deacons. From this we may conclude that he speaks of those women who are still called deaconesses in the East” (Migne, PL 30, 880).
Some Popes were not in favour of women in any ministry. The North-African Pope Gelasius wrote in 494 to the bishops of southern Italy: “We have heard with impatience that disrespect for sacred things have come to this level [among you] that even women are tolerated to administer at the sacred altars and that a sex which is not competent deals with all the matters which have been entrusted only to the service of men.” This probably referred to the presence in some regions of women serving as priests.
However, it would be a mistake to think that women were excluded from the diaconate by Church laws. The contrary was the case. The universal Council of Chalcedon (451), which was presided over by the papal legate Bishop Paschasinus of Lilybaeum, clearly presumed the legitimacy of ordaining women deacons when it decreed:
“A woman shall not receive the laying on of hands as a deacon under forty years of age, and then only after searching examination.” Canon 15.
This decree was still in force at the time of Gregory the Great. It would be repeated by the Council of Trullo in 692. Also the church legislation under Emperor Justinian I (529-564) which contained many rules concerning women deacons covered Italy as well.
There were many Greek speaking Catholics, it should be remembered, in the diocese of Rome and in other dioceses of Italy for whom the ordination of women deacons was a fact of life. The ancient Barberini 336 manuscript was written in Italy.
Pope Gregory the Great’s successor, Pope Boniface VIII (607), was of Greek extraction. He had been one of Gregory’s trusted advisors who had represented the Pope at the imperial court in Constantinople (603-606). Omitting the diaconate of women from papal sacramentaries would have been unthinkable.
Inferring the original text
It is possible that the Proto Gregorian still had the full ordination rite for women deacons which we can infer for the ancient Roman sacramentaries. But the Hadrianum which is claimed to derive faithfully from the Proto Gregorian, offers a shorter version.
It is more likely that already the Proto Gregorian featured the shorter version only.
Prayer for women deacon’s ordination in the Proto Gregorian Sacramentary
Remember that the ordination rite does not contain rubrics. But we know from the Synods that ordaining women as deacons required ‘imposing hands’ on them. Other documents mention the laying on of the diaconate stole.
During the earliest years, ordinations were usually performed on Ember Days.
Ordination of a woman deacon
as inferred from the Hadrianum
To make a woman deacon
“Hear, o Lord, our petition and send down on this your maidservant the Spirit of your ordination so that, since you have conferred on her your heavenly office, she may obtain favour with your majesty and may present to others the example of a good life. Through. . .”
Ordination of a male deacon
as found in ancient Sacramentaries & Pontificals
here printed by way of comparison
To make a (male) deacon
“Hear, o Lord, our petition and send down on this your servant the Spirit of your ordination so that, since you have conferred on him your heavenly office, he may obtain favour with your majesty and may present to others the example of a good life. Through. . .”