A permanent deacon spoke to a group last night and “shared the opinion that one day there will be women deacons,” apparently based on the fact that the Church once had female deacons. Have there ever been female deacons? If not, will the Church ever allow female deacons?
There were women in the early Church who assisted the clergy, such as Phoebe who was called a “deaconess” by Paul and aided the local church in Cenchreae (cf. Rom. 16:1). Such women usually assisted in the baptism of women, made necessary by early use of immersion baptism.
Although there is some historical evidence that deaconesses were specially charged with their ministry in a manner resembling the ordination of deacons, it is certain that there was a fundamental difference in the rites. By their ordination deacons receive the sacrament of holy orders, although in a lesser degree than priests and bishops, a sacrament that women cannot validly receive. If there indeed was a special liturgical rite for deaconesses, it likely resembled the non-sacramental “investiture” ceremonies held in conjunction with a Mass that charge extraordinary ministers of holy Communion with their responsibilities.