Some revolutionaries, who want the Church to attempt to confer the Sacrament of Holy Orders on women, point to this verse from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deaconess of the church which is at Cenchrea.” (Rom. 16:1)
The Greek word they translate as “deaconess” is diakonos, which meant “servant.” It is from this Greek word that we get today’s “deacon.”
These revolutionaries present other arguments for disobeying Jesus’s Command about His priesthood and for rejecting almost two millennia of Church doctrine and tradition. Christ gave us this sacrament at the Last Supper on the first Holy Thursday with no one other than His Apostles present. No female has ever received the sacrament of Holy Orders. Why cannot the Church change this, in the same way that it can change the personnel rule about priestly celibacy or the meatless Friday rule?
The Command Of The Lord
None of the attempted ostensible conferrals of Holy Orders on a woman, even by a validly ordained bishop, have ever resulted in her ordination. Why are all such attempts futile, ineffective, sacrilegious, and blasphemous?
The answer is incredibly simple. It is the same answer that has been given, magisterially and infallibly, for almost two thousand years. In creating His sacrament of Holy Orders, Christ did not give His Church power to ordain women. This gift of Holy Orders preceded His Church. Christ’s Church was born about a month after that first Holy Thursday when He instituted the Sacrament. He gave power to ordain men in Holy Orders; He gave no power to ordain women. Over the centuries, His “rules” for this Sacrament have been described, correctly, as the “Command Of The Lord” about His priesthood. Among other instances in Holy Scripture, God had those inspired by Him write this about Jesus’s Command:
“Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored” (1 Cor 14:36-38).
One of the best in-depth discussions of this Command is Fr. Manfred Hauke’s “Women In The Priesthood?” published in 1986. Hauke exhibits voluminous citations to back up his conclusions; e.g., he refers to an early work called the Apostolic Constitutions: “A deaconess does not bless and performs none of the duties carried out by a priest or deacon, she is only a doorkeeper and assists the priests in administering baptism for the sake of decency.” Other sources include
Eamon Keane’s The Ordained Priesthood, at https://www.ewtn.com/library/PRIESTS/ORDAINED.TXT.; and
Mark Lowery, The Male Priesthood the Argument From Tradition, https://www.ewtn.com/library/DOCTRINE/MALEPRIE.TXT.
Arguments For Priestesses Fail
There are those who want Jesus’s Holy Catholic Church to change, jettison, ignore, deny, alter, or disobey Christ’s Command. Certain protesting denominations claim Jesus gave this Command, but it has simply outlived its time. Others put forth arguments based on the following: female/male equality, the functionality of priestly duties, some notion of “divine justice,” the biblical mention of “deaconesses” or the historical existence of deaconesses in the Church and their alleged “ordination.” All these arguments fail.
The Church has no power to do what these revolutionaries want it to do. Pope Pius XII, echoing the Council of Trent, stated, “The Church has no power over the substance of the sacraments, that is to say, over what Christ the Lord, as the sources of Revelation bear witness, determined should be maintained in the sacramental sign.” (Sacramentum Ordinis, No. 5).
But, Women Deacons & Priestesses Could Do Anything A Man Can Do
This has the ring of truth: “Anything a man can do as an ordained priest, a priestess could do. For example, say the words, “This is My body;” absolve someone who has confessed their sins; officiate at the exchange of matrimonial vows; read the Gospel at Mass; and preach to the faithful. Women can do all these things.
This attempt at logic, the “functionality argument,” however, goes too far. A robot can say words and raise its hand in a blessing. A computer programmed to produce sounds of the English language could scan the printed page and say the Gospel message at Mass. It is also possible for a non-ordained person, male or female, to do all those actions and say all those words. Is that all there is to the Sacrament Of Holy Orders and the sacramental priestly power it confers? There are several denominations for whom everyone is a priest, of equal rank, of equal office, and of equal ecclesial ability and power. The Catholic Church is not, will never be one of those. There must be something more to being an ordained priest than performing these functions.
Only validly ordained priests act in persona Christi as Head of the Mystical Body – and the “Person” of Jesus is not simply spirit or soul. A person is an embodied soul, an ensouled body. Those who would say that females can do all that Jesus does ignore the fact that they cannot be all that He is. He is, at this moment, a man. True, He is the God/man, but He is a man. Those who clamor for priestesses simply ignore the fact that they are not, cannot choose to be, and cannot be male – and being a male is part of the sacramental reality of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
The functionality argument also either ignores the Command Of The Lord or urges disobedience of it.
One very interesting discussion of the limited non-sacramental role of women servants – “deaconesses” – in the early Church is found in Seven Ecumenical Councils, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, ed. Schaff et al at pp. 41-42, in the section by a Protestant scholar entitled “Excursus on the Deaconess of the Early Church.” Here is an excerpt from this work:
This whole matter is treated clearly by St. Epiphanius who, while indeed speaking of deaconesses as an order (tagma), asserts that “they were only women-elders, not priestesses in any sense, that their mission was not to interfere in any way with Sacerdotal functions, but simply to perform certain offices in the care of women” (Haer. lxxix., cap. iij). It is erroneous to equate “the laying on of hands” which the deaconesses received to that by which persons were ordained to the diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate at that period of the church’s history. It was merely a solemn dedication and blessing and was not looked upon as “an outward sign of an inward grace given.” For further proof of this, I must refer to Morinus, who has treated the matter most admirably. (De Ordinationibus, Exercitatio X.)
Father Hauke’s book states that:
. . Rather there was always a clear line of separation drawn between the male and the female diaconates; in particular, deaconesses were always kept away from preaching, distributing Communion and serving at the altar. The reason for this probably lies in the fact that the just- mentioned male diaconal tasks are oriented toward priestly office, but those of a deaconess are not . . . (Hauke, p. 443; references omitted).
In the future, if someone claiming recent enlightenment by the Holy Spirit, even someone in cardinal scarlet or papal white, were to declare that baboons and rocks can be baptized, or that two men who love each other can be “married,” they would be told that none of this is within the power that Jesus gave His Church in instituting the Sacraments. No proclamation nor attempt at magisterial “development,” by anyone with an office in the Church can change this reality of the sacrament of Holy Orders.
Someone in the hierarchy of the Church merely saying Hell is not everlasting does not, and cannot, change the reality of Hell, and the words of Our Lord that Hell is everlasting. The same is true concerning the Sacrament of Holy Orders. No one can change the Command of The Lord that only males may validly receive this Sacrament.