Wait! Before you jump on me and tell me its heresy, let me explain.
I know of the claim that deaconesses were just to help women be baptized, and I accept that women can never be priests.
I accept, fully, as a faithful Catholic, that women can never recieve SACERDOTAL orders. That is, they can never be priests, niether presbyters nor bishops.
But though I consider it highly unprobable, because of the unity of the Sacrament of Orders, Rome has not made a definitive pronouncement on diaconal orders for women like it has made for priests.
I am not arguing for women deacons, I am undecided on the issue until a definitive pronouncement is made, but I can see several arguments for women deacons, truly ordained, that could be used:
Priests act in persona christi…they must be male. But deacons do not act in persona christi, so they need not be.
Only Christ on the Cross was the sacraficing High Priest of Calvary, so priests must be male like Christ. But the symbolic “deacons” on Calvary, by which I mean those who assisted with the sacrafice, include men and women (John, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimethea), therefore, deacons can be both.
Christ’s maleness is important because masculinity represents the Active force, and Christ is the active force in our salvation…whereas the Church is the feminine, or Passive, which recieves salvation. God is portrayed as a male because he is the Active force in creation, whereas creation is the feminine passive. Priests must be male because they represent the actively sacraficing and saving Bridegroom, whereas the congregation of the Church is the passive Bride awaiting her salvation. Men were the hunters, and were the ones who killed animals; the Sacrafice of the Mass is the fullfillment of the animal sacrafices of the Old Law and only men can symbolically kill animals, because men were the hunters, and the strong, and the active. Deacons, however, do not need to fullfill this symbolism, as they cannot actually celebrate mass or act as an image of Christ.
Ordination as a sacrament has two effects: it imprints an indelible character into the soul, and (in the priestly grades) gives sacramental and judicial powers. It could be argued that while the powers can only be given to men (because they represent the masculine active force), the character conforming one to Christ, and the graces, can be given to women as well. It could be argued that a deacon recieves the indelible character, and the priest recieves no more character but the second grade of the sacrament simply adds powers to the character, and the third grade of the sacrament adds powers and judicial authority…but with no addition to the character.
Deacons themselves have no sacramental power, so even if women could not truly be ordained, it would not put in danger the validity of any sacraments.
The wife of a priest is traditionally called “priestess” when priests can marry, it does not mean a “woman priest” because there CANNOT be women priests. The wife of a presbyter is “presbytera” and the wife of a bishop is “bishopess”. But deacons wives are not called “deaconesses” because that was regarded as a seperate and individual title and office, not simply someone’s spouse.
The bible does mention deaconesses, even though it doesn’t specify whether they were ordained.
Historically, unlike women priests, the ordination of women deacons is rather ambiguous.
Women, though they cannot symbolically take on masculine sacramental powers or judicial authority, are just as spiritually capable of taking on the graces and the character of ordination. So they could be deacons (who don’t have sacramental powers) but not priests.
It can be said that though the sacramental character, given in ordination, resides in the soul forever…the powers are dependent on the body…because the body is required for manipulation of matter and priests, once they are dead, can no longer provide sacraments. So it can be argued that the Character of ordination is given once and for all at the diaconate, and that the other grades of ordination do not imprint any further character…they simply give additional powers to the male, and the episcopate contains the fullness of every power which the sacrament can give. This would help to better explain why it is said that the three grades are one sacrament, and not three seperate sacraments.
Although it is easy to concieve of Mary not having Sacramental Powers because she was a woman…it is less easy to imagine that her soul (and souls are genderless remember) would not have had every possible perfection and character. If we admit women can become deacons and get the sacramental character, but not priests and so cannot get the power, this difficulty is solved.