14 May 2016



With Pope Francis' interest in the question of women deacons or deaconesses in the Roman Catholic Church, I am reposting the following article of mine from 2012 on the subject of Deaconesses in the Anglican Patrimony and Tradition.  My desire is to add to the discussion in a positive way as one who was nourished and raised in the Anglican Church before being welcomed home to the Communion of the Church of Rome.  

The question of ordaining women to the Diaconate in Christ is a separate question from that of the witness and ministry of the Deaconess.  The ordination question is being considered by some in the Orthodox Churches in light of the ministries of St. Olympia and certainly St. Phoebe (who is noted by the Apostle Paul in the Letter to the Romans).  

Now the question is being considered by the Church of Rome where there is already an existing tradition among Carthusian Nuns receiving the diaconal stole and a form of diaconal consecration (but one would note not diaconal ordination).  There is a great ancient richness to the Carthusians, and any consideration by Pope Francis and his commission on the question should begin within the Latin Church and the heritage and sacred tradition of the Carthusian Nuns. Regarding the Carthusian nuns and the question of female deacons I suggest a very interesting essay by Dr Fáinche Ryan of The Loyola Institute, Trinity College, Dublin which may be found on Page 13 of a PDF that can be found at this link. After the text of the essay is presented in English, it is then presented in Lithuanian translation. 

And now onward to the repost of my article from 2012:
The Sainted Missionary Deaconess Harriet Bedell
O LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy handmaidens who call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Elizabeth Catherine Ferard

Many Episcopalians and Anglicans, present and former, still recall with great affection the Deaconesses in their lives.  We recall some of them in their distinctive cap or distinctive cross.  Some of us recall a Deaconess dressed like a nun in a voluminous black, navy, or grey habit.  Today some will know them in a distinctive blue cassock with blue cincture.  When the Episcopalian Church in the USA decided to ordain women to the diaconate, the Deaconesses all but disappeared.  Since 2002 the Order of Deaconesses has been established canonically among the Reformed Episcopalians where the Deaconesses provide many forms of help including performing baptisms when no deacon or priest is available.  Deaconesses continue to serve in other parts of the Anglican Communion.  The duties of the Deaconess in the various Anglican Churches did indeed vary, but behind all interpretations was a desire for the Deaconess to be in the local church as St. Phoebe was in Sacred Scripture, an idea at the heart of the setting apart of Deaconess Elizabeth Catherine Ferard in the Church of England as the first Deaconess of that Church.  Deaconess Isabella Gilmore in the Diocese of Rochester, England explored a different model for the life of the Deaconess that was very influential.  And among the many Deaconesses, the first African-American Deaconess in the state of Georgia in the USA is venerated as one of sainted memory:  Deaconess Anna E.B. Alexander.  

Deaconess Isabella Gilmore
This very special Anglican form of religious life for women was a genuine gift for the whole universal Church.  It is not an ordained ministry but is a form of religious life.  Is it possible that the many ways the Anglican faithful sought to create forms of religious life could have a life in the Catholic Church?  Obviously, there is room for traditional orders like the wonderful All Saints Sisters of the Poor and Mother Angelica's Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration at Our Lady of the Atonement Anglican Use Parish in San Antonio.  But can those particular forms for consecrated Virgins and Widows be a part of that Anglican heritage and identity now welcome in the Church?  May we again offer to women the calling of Deaconess as one way of living the religious life?  (Bear in mind that I am speaking of a form of religious life not a form of ordained ministry.)

Deaconess Anna E.B. Alexander

Below is the old Office for the Setting Apart of Deaconesses from The Book of Offices 1949 of the Protestant Episcopal Church (USA).  Perhaps you have never seen this liturgical form or heard of this manner of life.  I commend it for your consideration as a gift the Catholic Church could make available to our daughters and the women of our communities.  

Perhaps even now there are women in the new Ordinariate groups and the Anglican Use parishes who are called to this manner of active religious life which developed among the Anglicans some time ago.

The Form for the Setting Apart of Deaconesses
¶ All things being in readiness, a Priest shall present to the Bishop, sitting in his chair near the Holy Table, such as are to be set apart as Deaconesses, saying,

REVEREND Father in God, I present unto you these women, to be set apart to the office and work of Deaconess.

¶ Then shall the Bishop say,
DECLARE, we pray you, unto those who are here gathered what the office and work of a Deaconess are.

¶ Then shall the Priest, addressing the People, say,
DEARLY beloved, that it is agreeable to the mind of Christ that women should do him service by offices of loving-kindness, we gather from Saint Paul, who saith to the Philippians, Help those women which laboured with me in the Gospel, and who also commendeth unto the Romans one Phoebe, a Deaconess of the Church which was at Cenchrea.

    Touching the duty of women set apart to this office and ministry, the Canons of the Church affirm that it is to assist the Ministry in the care of the poor and sick, in the religious training of the young and others, and in the work of moral reformation. That they may be duly appointed to such service, have these women come hither.

¶ Then shall the Bishop say,
BELOVED, we have good confidence that they who are now presented to be set apart to the office of Deaconess are competent thereto, for it hath been so certified unto us, as the Canons require, by them whose word we trust. Nevertheless, if there be any who can allege aught on account of which it is inexpedient that these persons be so set apart, let protest be now made openly and before all men.

¶ If no good reason be alleged by any why any should not be set apart, the following Lesson shall be read.
Romans 12.

¶ Then shall be said or sung Psalm 100, or the Magnificat.
Psalm 100. Jubilate Deo.
O BE joyful in the Lord, all ye lands: * serve the Lord with gladness, and come before his presence with a song.
    Be ye sure that the Lord he is God; it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; * we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
    O go your way into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise; * be thankful unto him, and speak good of his Name.
    For the Lord is gracious, his mercy is everlasting; * and his truth endureth from generation to generation.
    Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, * and to the Holy Ghost;
    As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, * world without end. Amen.

¶ Then, all kneeling, the Bishop shall say,
    Unto thee lift we up our eyes;
    O thou that dwellest in the heavens.
    As the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters;
    And as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress;
    Even so our eyes wait upon thee, O Lord;
    Until thou have mercy upon us.
    O Lord, have mercy upon us.
    Have mercy upon us.
    O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us;
    As our trust is in thee.

¶ The Bishop shall then say,
O ETERNAL God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hast in all times accepted and blessed the services of holy women; Look mercifully, we beseech thee, upon these thy servants, about to be set apart to the office and work of Deaconess. Protect them in the way wherein they go, and grant that in singleness of purpose and with a willing mind they may worthily accomplish the task committed to them, to thy glory and to the praise of thy Christ, to whom with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, be glory and worship for ever and ever. Amen.

¶ Then shall the Bishop ask of them the following questions, to which each Candidate shall answer for herself.
DEARLY beloved in the Lord, who are minded to take upon you this service in the Church of God, have you duly considered how weighty an undertaking this is, and are you prepared with a willing mind to take upon you this office of ministering to the suffering and needy, and in all humility and godly submission to help the Ministers of God’s Word and Sacraments?
    Answer. I have so considered it, and will do so, by the help of God.

    Bishop. Will you be obedient to those who are over you in the Lord, cheerfully and faithfully performing the service that shall be appointed to you?
    Answer. I will, by the help of God.

    Bishop. Inasmuch as this office is not to be lightly undertaken, is it your desire to give yourself to the work of the Lord as a Deaconess in singleness of heart?
    Answer. I desire to do so, by the help of God.

¶ Then shall the Candidate kneel, and the Bishop shall say,
ALMIGHTY God, who hath called you to serve him in this holy life, give you the power to fulfil this your service acceptably; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

¶ Then shall the Bishop lay his hand upon the head of the person to be made Deaconess, saying,
GOD the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve, and sanctify you; and so endow you with all faith, wisdom, and humility, that you may serve before him to the glory of his great Name, and to the benefit of his Church and people; and make you faithful unto death, and give you the crown of everlasting life. Amen.

N. I admit thee to the office of Deaconess, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Let us pray.
GOD, who didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant unto this thy servant by the same Spirit to perceive and know what things she ought to do, and to have grace and strength evermore to do the same; direct herin all times of doubt and perplexity; strengthen her to bear the trial of her faith and patience; comfort her in times of sorrow; cheer her when faint and weary in the way. May thy love, abounding towards her more and more, stir up her heart to greater deeds of love to thee, and to all who need her service. And upon all those called to the office of Deaconess in thy Church bestow thy grace and heavenly benediction; enable them to bear each other’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. Make them to know and feel their oneness in the mystical Body of thy dear Son, so that their fellowship here in works of love may prove to them a blessed discipline, and thus prepare them at last for the society of thy redeemed in heaven; through Jesus Christ our most blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen.

O GOD, who in thy holy Word dost commend above all goodly apparel the ornament of a quiet spirit; Adorn, we beseech thee, these thy servants with the meekness and the gentleness of Christ, that in all humility and singleness of heart they may run the way of thy Commandments; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

THE God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

¶ It is desirable that the Service of Holy Communion should follow, the newly set apart Deaconesses communicating.

At the Communion
The Collect
O GOD, who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man’s understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Epistle. Romans 15:1-6. 
The Gospel. St. Luke 12:35-39. 
+Exulta filia Sion.