What did women ordained to the diaconate do during the celebration of Eucharist? What were they forbidden to do? Why? This article reviews papal edicts as well as local episcopal, synodal/conciliar, and canonical restrictions against women’s participation in the liturgy, the liturgical responsibilities of Western deacons, and concludes, noting contemporaneous discussion regarding women’s altar service. The analysis demonstrates that the liturgical tasks of women ordained as deacons were eventually forbidden all women, whose “impure” state required that they be kept distant from the sacred.
In 2002 the International Theological Commission wrote that “it pertains to the ministry of discernment which the Lord has established in his Church to pronounce authoritatively” on the question of women deacons. This study discusses the ways by which ancient and contemporary ceremonies for women demonstrate the tradition of the ordination of women as deacons.