Tuesday, November 28, 2017

When Ministers are Lacking

The Council of Orange 411 CE called for a cease to the practice of ordaining women to the diaconate, but there is evidence on many funerary inscriptions and later discussion in canon law that the practice continued both in the West and in the Eastern Orthodox churches.  The reason the Council called for a cessation of the ordination of women deacons is not clear.  It has been speculated that somehow scandal was caused by the practice.  Whether this was a result of prejudice against them or improprieties in the women's behavior in unknown.  Scholars have speculated on both sides of the debate, but there is insufficient evidence to prove either claim.

The Council of Orange also decided, “When the necessity of the Church warrants it and when ministers are lacking, lay persons, even if they are not lectors or acolytes, can also supply for certain of their offices, namely, to exercise the ministry of the word, to preside over liturgical prayers, to confer baptism, and to distribute Holy Communion in accord with the prescriptions of law.”  Therefore, although Canon 1024 emphasizes the fact that “Only a baptized male validly receives sacred ordination,” women and other members of the laity could minister in many ways that might have been reserved to the clergy when ministers were lacking.

In the United States due to the shortage of priests to support the many Catholics in hospitals requiring anointing of the sick and last rites, exceptions are regularly being made to provide for the faithful what priests cannot.  The question arises now as to whether there might be a return to ordaining suitable women to the diaconate in order to provide the sacrament of the sick for those about to undergo surgery or suffering from a debilitating illness.  Ordination to provide sacraments of reconciliation, communion and anointing at the end of life might also be considered.  Last year Pope Francis convened a commission to study and discuss the question of ordaining women to the diaconate.  The committee holds diverse views and no official conclusion has been announced.