What about the deaconate?

Dear Pope Francis,

On Sunday, Lauren wrote about how she wants to find her place in the church, and how a lot of people don’t feel that women have one because we can’t be ordained as priests.

My problem is not that we can’t be ordained as priests. Given that the most important part of the mass is the Eucharistic prayer which is a re-enactment of the last supper, it makes sense to me that the person responsible for it be a man. (Not because I think men are inherently more capable, but because I subscribe to the “Jesus was a dude” theory.)

Women are able to participate in the liturgy of the word as lectors and choir members. We are included in children’s ministry and able to teach catechism classes. Where I take issue is in our exclusion from being able to preach during the time for the homily.

St. Paul was fairly explicit about our exclusion from preaching in his first letter to Timothy:

“Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.” (1 Timothy 2:12-15)

But in the same letter when he writes about the qualifications of deacons, he doesn’t seem to be excluding women from the role.

“Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them first be tested; then, if they prove themselves blameless, let them serve as deacons. Women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be married only once, and let them manage their children and their households well; for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and a great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 3:8-13)

In my experience growing up in the Catholic Church, it is not unusual for a deacon to preach at mass. It makes sense to me to exclude someone from preaching who does not have the education and training in scriptural interpretation to do so correctly. But women are able to be educated now. We can read and write, and are certainly intelligent. We have experiences with the Christian life that are unique to our gender, which are probably not going to be considered by men. You’ve said you want the church to be opened further to women’s presence. Why not welcome us in to the deaconate?

What is so different between teaching children about Christian life in catechism class and speaking to the whole parish about Christian life as learned from the scriptures at mass?

The creation story St. Paul refers to where Adam was made first and then Eve is only one account of creation. In the first account, it says:

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply …’” (Genesis 1:27-28)

If we were made at the same time, both in God’s image, then neither gender is higher than the other and the reason St. Paul gives for why we must be silent is incorrect.

Beyond that, St. Paul’s justification for our exclusion is mostly based on original sin. If we as a church do not believe in punishing children for the sins of their parents, why are we continuing to punish women for Eve’s choice? Didn’t God take care of the necessary retribution for that stunt when he made childbirth painful?

I don’t want to be a priest. I’ve spoken to quite a few nuns, and been on discernment retreats figuring it out, and I’m pretty sure that God doesn’t want me to be a nun either. But I really don’t think it makes sense for my only valued role to be a mother.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to be a mom one day. I want to get married in the Catholic Church and have a mess of kids with my husband, and I hope that eventually we’ll be foster parents too. Both parents are incredibly important to family life.

The Catholic Church is like a huge family. We talk about our holy mother church. Not to be rude, but how can the church be a mother when all the people doing the talking through her at mass are men?

Let’s pray for each other.

Meredith

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2 thoughts on “What about the deaconate?

  1. Dennis

    The Deaconate is the first of the same set of Holy Orders.
    The Homily/Sermon is a function of the celebration of the Mass, reserved to those who are under said Orders.
    To see the changes you ask for, the fundamental theology of the Mass and the Deaconate would have to be changed. (Which is impossible)

    Also, Deacon’s preaching should be rare. It should be the exception, not the rule. A Deacon is Minister of the Word and the Cup, not a preacher.

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/1994/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_19940522_ordinatio-sacerdotalis_en.html

    • Meredith Gillis

      Nothing is impossible. Lots of things are impractical or incredibly difficult to do, but I do not believe anything is truly impossible.

      I have some suggestions for how to change things while continuing to respect the existing traditions which will be detailed in an upcoming post. Thanks for the link to that letter, it was very useful.

      In the churches I’ve been to the priest is definitely still the person giving the homily most of the time, but our deacon would preach once every month or so.

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