Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Eary Church Father, Doctor of the Church is Thursday Saint of the Day


St. Ambrose

Feastday: December 7
Patron: of Beekeepers, beggars, learners, Milan
Birth: 340
Death: 397

Saint Ambrose, also known as Aurelius Ambrosius, is one of the four original doctors of the Church. He was the Bishop of Milan and became one of the most important theological figure of the 4th century.

Ambrose was born around 340 AD to a Roman Christian family. He grew up with his siblings, Satyrus and Marcellina, in Trier, Belgic Gaul (present-day Germany). It is believed by many that when Ambrose was just an infant, a swarm of bees landed on his face and left behind a drop of honey. To his father, this was a sign that Ambrose would become someone great with a wonderful sense for speaking.

After Ambrose's father passed away, he was educated in Rome, where he studied law, literature and rhetoric. Ambrose received a place on the council, like his father, and was made consular prefect, or the Governor, of Liguria and Emilia around 372. Ambrose?s headquarters were in Milan, the then second capital of Italy.

Ambrose remained Governor until 374 when he became the Bishop of Milan. After the former Bishop of Milan died, Ambrose attended the election to prevent any uproars between the Nicene Church and the Arians. While giving an address, the assembly began calling for him to become the next bishop.

Ambrose was known for his Nicene beliefs, but Arians also favored him because he had previously shown charity in theological matters. However, being neither baptized or trained in theology, Ambrose refused to become the next bishop.

He ran and attempted to hide, but his colleague gave him up. Within a week's time, Ambrose was baptized, ordained and duly consecrated bishop of Milan on December 7, 374.

As bishop, he donated all of his land and gave his money to the poor. This made him widely popular and often times more politically powerful than even the emperor.

He studied theology with Simplician, a presbyter of Rome. Using his new education, along with his knowledge of Greek, he took the time to study the Old Testament and Greek authors. He used all of this while preaching; his abilities impressed Augustine of Hippo, who previously thought poorly of Christian preachers.

After meeting Ambrose, Augustine reevaluated himself and was forever changed. In 387, Ambrose baptized Augustine, who he had a great influence on. St. Monica, Augustine's mother, loved Ambrose "as an angel of God who uprooted her son from his former ways and led him to his convictions of Christ."

According to legend, Ambrose tried to put an end to Arianism in Milan. He often attempted to theologically dispute their propositions. The Arians appealed to many high position leaders, but Ambrose was able to stay one step ahead. The Arians increasing strength proved troublesome for Ambrose. Around 386, the Emperor Valentinian II and his mother, Justine, along with many other people, including clergy, laypersons, and military, professed Arianism.

They demanded some of the churches in Milan be dedicated to them, one in the city and one in the suburbs. Ambrose refused and was ordered to appear in front of the council, where he then spoke eloquently in defense of the Church. He is quoted with stating: If you demand my person, I am ready to submit: carry me to prison or to death, I will not resist; but I will never betray the church of Christ. I will not call upon the people to succour me; I will die at the foot of the altar rather than desert it. The tumult of the people I will not encourage: but God alone can appease it.

The imperial court did not like Ambrose's religious principles, but he was sought out to help and speak to Magnus Maximus to prevent him from descending upon Italy. Ambrose was successful.

During a second attempt, the embassy was not successful and Milan was taken. Justine and Valentinian II fled, but Ambrose stayed. He is credited with doing a great service to the sufferers during this time.

In 385, Ambrose once again refused handing over the Portian basilica to Valentinian II, this time to be used by Arian troops. A year later, Ambrose was again ordered to hand over the church for Arian use. Ambrose and his congregation barricaded themselves within the church walls until the imperial order rescinded.

After Theodosius I, emperor of the East, married Justine, Ambrose had him excommunicated for the massacre of 7,000 people. The emperor did several months? worth of public penance.

In his later years, Ambrose retired in Bologna and assisted in the transferring of saints Vitalis and Agricola's relics.

Two years after Theodosius died, after he acquired the possession of the Roman empire, Ambrose passed away on April 4, 397. He was succeeded as bishop of Milan by Simplician.

Ambrose's body remains in the church of St. Ambrogio in Milan, along with the bodies of Saints Gervase and Protase.

St. Ambrose was generous to the poor. He considered them not a group of outsiders, but rather those of the united people. To him, giving to the poor was just a repayment of God's resources, which were intended for everyone equally.

He introduced reforms in the order and manner of public worship. He was known for his "liturgical flexibility that kept in mind that liturgy was a tool to serve people in worshiping God, and ought not to become a rigid entity that is invariable from place to place."

Ambrose is credited with advising Augustine of Hippo to follow local liturgical customs. "When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the church where you are," he stated. This advice remains today, and is translated in English as the saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

Some believe Ambrose was a Christian Universalist, based on interpretations of his writing. The Theological treatises of Ambrose had great influences on Popes Damasus, Siricius and Leo XIII. Ambrose studied largely on the virginity of Mary and her role as Mother of God. He viewed celibacy as superior to marriage and saw Mary as virginity's model.

Ambrose authored many of the Church's important writings and hymns. He is credited with composing the repertory Ambrosian chant, also known as the Antiphonal Chant. He is also credited with composing the hymn "Te Deum," which is believed to have been written when he baptized Augustine of Hippo.

St. Ambrose is the Confessor and Doctor of the Church. He is the patron saint of bee keepers, beggars, learning and Milan, and his feast day is celebrated on December 7.

FBI Director addresses the targeting of Catholics as political extremism


FBI director spars with GOP senators about memo targeting Catholics

Christopher Wray clashed with Republicans over the leaked memo regarding political extremism in certain Catholic groups

FBI Director Christopher Wray sparred with Republicans during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Dec. 5 about a leaked and withdrawn memo from the bureau's Richmond, Virginia, field office about political extremism in some Catholic groups.

During a committee oversight hearing, Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., had tense exchanges with Wray about the memo, alleging the bureau targeted Catholics. Wray denied that allegation, arguing they "do not and will not conduct investigations based on anybody's exercise of their constitutionally protected religious expression."

Hawley asked Wray if Catholic churches are "breeding grounds for domestic terrorism," and if there is "systemic bigotry against Catholics in the FBI?"

Wray rejected both claims.

The FBI faced scrutiny earlier in 2023 after a leaked memo suggested some "radical traditionalist" Catholics pose threats of racially or ethnically motivated violence. The memo was later retracted by the bureau, a spokesperson told OSV News at the time.

In the leaked memo dated Jan. 23, an analyst at the FBI's Richmond Division said "Radical Traditionalist Catholics" are "typically characterized by the rejection of the Second Vatican Council." The memo said the ideology can amount to an "adherence to anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ and white supremacist ideology." The memo also named far-right personality Nick Fuentes, who publicly self-identifies as Catholic, engages in antisemitic and racist rhetoric, and is identified in the memo as having ties to "white Christian nationalism."

However, the memo distinguished "radical traditionalist" Catholics as "separate and distinct" from "traditionalist Catholics," Catholics who "simply prefer the Traditional Latin Mass and pre-Vatican II teachings." The same FBI memo noted that "conversely, deep-seated anti-Catholicism remains a characteristic of many far-right white nationalists."

Some of the groups named in the memo are not canonically recognized by the Catholic Church, including the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary located in Richmond, New Hampshire.

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee alleged Dec. 4 that the FBI interviewed a priest and choir director affiliated with a Catholic community shepherded by the Society of St. Pius X in Richmond, Virginia, for the memorandum. The SSPX is a traditionalist religious order dedicated to providing the liturgical form of the Roman Rite prior to Vatican II; however, it does not have official canonical recognition by the Catholic Church, and (while not in schism) exists in an irregular state of communion with respect to the pope.

Wray, who was nominated to lead the FBI by then-President Donald Trump in 2017 and later kept in the role by President Joe Biden, has previously condemned the memo in testimony before Congress, and repeated in the Dec. 5 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that he was "aghast" at its contents.

The scrutiny of the FBI memo coincides with wider complaints by some Republicans about the "weaponization" of the federal government, sometimes citing other incidents, including criminal charges against Trump. The former president faces charges of mishandling classified materials and illegal conduct in his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden, among other charges.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chair of the committee, objected to those claims in his opening remarks.

"I'm troubled that the FBI is facing baseless claims that you have been weaponized for political purposes and dangerous calls to defund the agency," Durbin told Wray.

Elsewhere in the hearing, Sen. Laphonza Butler, D-Calif., the former president of the abortion advocacy group EMILY's List, asked Wray about threats against abortion clinics since the 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling that overturned court precedents establishing abortion as a constitutional right.

Wray replied that "actually we've seen a huge uptick in violence against pro-life facilities, not just abortion clinics and so forth."

"We've seen violence on both sides of the issue," Wray said. "And the reason I bring that up is because it's important for Americans to understand that I don't care, we don't care, what side of the abortion issue you're on -- you don't get to engage in violence to express your views. That's where that's where we (the FBI) get involved and that's where the line gets crossed."

Wray also asked lawmakers to renew a surveillance law he argued is a key aid to U.S. intelligence efforts. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, expires Dec. 31. The law grants the U.S. government some ability to review certain digital communications of people outside the country. Some Republicans have alleged it has been weaponized against conservatives. Wray argued that steps to ensure the bureau's compliance with the parameters of the law have been implemented.

Wray argued the law is "key to our ability to detect a foreign terrorist organization overseas directing an operative here to carry out an attack in our own backyard."

"Given the critical importance of 702, we're committed to being good stewards of our authorities," he said. "To that end, I've ordered a whole host of changes to address unacceptable compliance incidents."

Pope offers prayers for various victims of war, natural disasters


Israeli bombardment in GazaIsraeli bombardment in Gaza  (AFP or licensors)

Pope prays for war-torn Ukraine, Israel and Palestine

Concluding the catechesis at the General Audience, Pope Francis reiterated his plea for prayers for all those who are suffering due to conflicts across the world.

By Michele Raviart & Linda Bordoni

As he continues to recover from bronchitis that forced him to put off a scheduled journey to Dubai to participate in the UN Climate Conference and that has seen him entrust the words of his catecheses to Vatican officials, speaking personally Pope Francis reaffirmed his closeness to those who are suffering from war in many countries across the globe.

“Let’s not forget to pray for those who suffer the tragedy of war, in particular the peoples of Ukraine, Israel, and Palestine,” he said.

Speaking after the Wednesday General Audience - read, on his behalf by Msgr Filippo Ciampanelli - the Pope reiterated his belief that “War is always a defeat. No one has anything to gain from it, it is a defeat for everyone, except for weapons manufacturers.”

More than 16,200 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and children, have been killed in an Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip unleased on 7 October. The offensive is in retaliation for a rampage by Hamas militants who killed 1,200 Israelis and abducted 240 others. Israel says it is targeting Hamas infrastructure in Gaza and accuses the organization of using civilians as human shields. A seven-day truce saw the release of some 100 hostages. Still, the collapse of the truce over the weekend, and a renewed Israeli offensive has given way to the fiercest fighting in five weeks of military operations against Hamas militants.

Day of Prayer for Church in the East

During his greetings to the Polish pilgrims present for the Audience, the Pope also recalled that next Sunday, the second Sunday of Advent, the Church in Poland will observe the Day of Prayer and Material Help to the Church in the East.

He expressed his thanks to "all those who support the Church in that region with their prayers and offerings, especially martyred Ukraine. “

Fierce fighting continues between Russian forces and Ukraine’s military with increased attacks around Bakhmut and other areas of the east. It is estimated that at least 10,000 civilians, including over 560 children, have been killed in Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by the fighting.

A recent estimate of Russian losses said the Russian military probably suffered losses of about 70,000 soldiers killed since the start of the conflict.

Victims of Hurricane Otis

The Pope‘s attention was also on those affected by a devastating hurricane over a month ago in Mexico.

More than 48 people were confirmed dead and 48 missing after the massive hurricane that struck Acapulco and a nearby village on 25 October. Thousands of families have been affected and rebuilding is expected to take at least 10 years.

Addressing members of the “Fundacion Telethon“ following the General Audience, he invited them to “collaborate for the victims of Acapulco“ hard-hit by Hurricane Otis more than a month ago, “and not to neglect to include all persons with disabilities in Mexico“.

“Let’s defend the dignity of every person,“ he said.

Immaculate Conception

As we approach the feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December, the Holy Father reminded the faithful of how the Virgin Mary “believed in God‘s love and responded with her ‘Yes’.“

"Learn from her how to fully trust in the Lord,“ he concluded, “to give witness to the common good and evangelical love.“

Papal General Audience 12.06.2023


Pope at Audience: Holy Spirit is source of apostolic zeal

Continuing his catechesis on the apostolic zeal of the believer, Pope Francis on Wednesday emphasizes that the proclamation of the Gospel always takes place in the Holy Spirit.

By Christopher Wells

“Without the Holy Spirit, all zeal is vain and falsely apostolic,” Pope Francis said at Wednesday’s General Audience. “It would only be our own, and would not bear fruit.” Due to lingering health issues, the Holy Father’s reflection was once again read by an assistant from the Secretariat of State.

In recent weeks, the Pope has been reflecting on the “essential characteristics” of the proclamation of the Gospel, which is joyful, addressed to everyone, and relevant to our times.

The final characteristic, Pope Francis said, is the need for the proclamation to take place “in the Spirit,” the “protagonist” of evangelization, who is responsible for the spread of the Gospel.

However, “the primacy of the Spirit should not induce us to indolence,” the Pope said, adding, “Confidence [in the Spirit] does not justify disengagement.” Instead, the Holy Spirit inspires the Church’s mission, which should imitate the “style” of the Spirit, marked by creativity and simplicity.

Pastoral creativity

Pope Francis warned that, in an age like our own, it is easy to retreat from pastoral outreach, taking refuge “in safety zones” that are “temptations that disguise themselves as fidelity to tradition” but are often “reactions to personal dissatisfactions.”

Instead, “pastoral creativity, being bold in the Spirit, ardent in His missionary fire, is the proof of fidelity to Him,” the Pope said.

The simplicity of the Spirit

Proclamation in the Spirit is also marked by simplicity, “precisely because the Spirit takes us to the source, the ‘first proclamation’,” the revelation of the Father’s infinite mercy. This ‘first proclamation’ “must be the centre of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal,” the Pope said, quoting his own words in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium.

Pope Francis invited the faithful to allow the Holy Spirit to be the source of all our being and our work. The Holy Spirit “enlivens and rejuvenates the Church,” he said. “With Him we must not fear, because He, who is harmony, always keeps creativity and simplicity together, inspires communion and sends out in mission, opens to diversity and leads back to unity.”

And he concluded his reflection with the prayer, “Come, Holy Spirit!”

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Wednesday Saint: Jolly old St. Nicholas


St. Nicholas

The great veneration with which St. Nicholas has been honored for many ages and the number of altars and churches all over the world that are dedicated in his memory are testimonials to his wonderful holiness and the glory he enjoys with God. As an episcopal see, and his childhood church falling vacant, the holy Nicholas was chosen bishop, and in that station became famous by his extraordinary piety and zeal and by his many astonishing miracles. The Greek histories of his life agree he suffered an imprisonment of the faith and made a glorious confession in the latter part of the persecution raised by Dioletian, and that he was present at the Council of Nicaea and there condemned Arianism. It is said that St. Nicholas died in Myra, and was buried in his cathedral.

St. Nicholas' episcopate at Myra during the fourth century is really all that appears indubitable authentic, according to Alban Butler, an English Roman Catholic priest from the 1700s. This is not for lack of material, beginning with the life attributed to the monk who died in 847 as St. Methodius, Patriarch of Constantinople. Nevertheless, the universal popularity of the saint for so many centuries requires that some account of the legends surrounding his life should be given.

St. Nicholas, also known as "Nikolaos of Myra," was a fourth century saint and Greek bishop of Myra. Nicholas was born in Asia Minor in the Roman Empire as an only child to Christian parents. Nicholas would take nourishment only once on Wednesdays and Fridays, and that in the evening according to the canons. "He was exceedingly well brought up by his parents and trod piously in their footsteps. The child, watched over by the church, enlightened his mind and encouraged his thirst for sincere and true religion." Both of his parents tragically died during an epidemic when he was a young man, leaving him well off, but to be raised by his uncle - the Bishop of Patara. Nicholas was determined to devote his inheritance to works of charity, and his uncle mentored him as a reader and later ordained him as a presbyter (priest).

An opportunity soon arose for St. Nicholas and his inheritance. A citizen of Patara had lost all his money, and needed to support his three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty; so the wretched man was going to give them over to prostitution. Nicholas became informed of this, and thus took a bag of gold and threw it into an open window of the man's house in the night. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl and she was soon duly married. At intervals Nicholas did the same for the second and the third; at the last time the father was on the watch, recognized his benefactor and overwhelmed Nicholas with his gratitude. It would appear that the three purses represented in pictures, came to be mistaken for the heads of three children and so they gave rise to the absurdstory of the children, resuscitated by the saint, who had been killed by an innkeeper and pickled in a brine-tub.

Coming to the city of Myra when the clergy and people of the province were in session to elect a new bishop, St. Nicholas was indicated by God as the man they should choose. This was during the time of persecutions in the beginning of the fourth century and "as he [Nicholas] was the chief priest of the Christians of this town and preached the truths of faith with a holy liberty, the divine Nicholas was seized by the magistrates, tortured, then chained and thrown into prison with many other Christians. But when the great and religious Constatine, chosen by God, assumed the imperial diadem of the Romans, the prisoners were released from their bonds and with them the illustrious Nicholas, who when he was set at liberty returned to Myra."

St. Methodius asserts that "thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as death-dealing poison," but says nothing of his presence at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

According to other traditions St. Nicholas was not only there during the Council of Nicaea in 325, but so far forgot himself as to give the heresiarch Arius a slap in the face. The conciliar fathers deprived him of his episcopal insignia and committed him to prison; but our Lord and His Mother appeared there and restored to him both his liberty and his office.

As against Arianism so against paganism, St. Nicholas was tireless and often took strong measures: among other temples he destroyed was that of Artemis, the principal in the district, and the evil spirits fled howling before him. He was the guardian of his people as well in temporal affairs. The governor Eustathius had taken a bribe to condemn to death three innocent men. At the time fixed for their execution Nicholas came to the place, stayed the hands of the executioner, and released the prisoners. Then he turned to Eustathiujs and did not cease to reproach him until he admitted his crime and expressed his penitence.

St. Nicholas' presence was found in a separate occasion involving three imperial officers simply on their way to duty in Phrygia. When the men were back again in Constantinople, the jealousy of the prefect Ablavius caused them to be imprisoned on false charges and an order for their death was procured from the Emperor Constantine. When the officers heard this they remembered the example they had witnessed of the powerful love of justice of the Bishop of Myra and they prayed to God that through his merits and by his instrumentality they might yet be saved. That night St. Nicholas appeared in a dream to Constatine, and told him with threats to release the three innocent men, and Ablavius experienced the same thing. In the morning the Emporor and the prefect compared notes, and the condemned men were sent for and questioned. When he heard they had called on the name of the Nicholas of Myra who appeared to him, Constatine set them free and sent them to the bishop with a letter asking him not to threaten him any more, but to pray for the peace of the world. For a long time, this has been the most famous miracle of St. Nicholas, and at the time of St. Methodius was the only thing generally known about him.

The accounts are unanimous that St. Nicholas died and was buried in his episcopal city of Myra, and by the time of Justinian, there was a basilica built in his honor at Constantinople.

An anonymous Greek wrote in the tenth century that, "the West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, in the country and the town, in the villages, in the isles, in the furthest parts of the earth, his name is revered and churches are built in his honor. Images of him are set up, panegyrics preached and festivals celebrated. All Christians, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, reverence his memory and call upon his protection. And his favors, which know no limit of time and continue from age to age, are poured out over all the earth; the Scythians know them, as do the Indians and the barbarians, the Africans as well as the Italians." When Myra and its great shrine finally passed into the hands of the Saracens, several Italian cities saw this as an opportunity to acquire the relics of St. Nicholas for themselves. There was great competition for them between Venice and Bari.

Bari won and the relics were carried off under the noses of the lawful Greek custodians and their Mohammedan masters. On May 9, 1087 St. Nicholas' relics safetly landed in Bari, a not inappropriate home seeing that Apulia in those days still had large Greek colonies. A new church was built to shelter the relics and the pope, Bd. Urban II, was present at their enshrining.

Devotion to St. Nicholas has been present in the West long before his relics were brought to Italy, but this happening greatly increased his veneration among the people, and miracles were as freely attributed to his intercession in Europe as they had been in Asia.

At Myra "the venerable body of the bishop, embalmed as it was in the good ointments of virtue exuded a sweet smelling myrrh, which kept it from corruption and proved a health giving remedy against sickness to the glory o f him who had glorified Jesus Christ, our true God." The translation of the relics did not interrupt this phenomenon, and the "manna of St. Nicholas" is said to flow to this day. It was one of the great attractions that drew pilgrims to his tomb from all parts of Europe.

The image of St. Nicholas is, more often than any other, found on Byzantine seals. In the later middle ages nearly four hundred churches were dedicated in his honor in England alone, and he is said to have been represented by Christian artists more frequently than any saint, except our Lady.

St. Nicholas is celebrated as the patron saint of several classes of people, especially, in the East, of sailors and in the West of children. The first of these patronage is most likely due to the legend that during his lifetime, he appeared to storm tossed mariners who invoked his aid off the coast of Lycia and brought them safely to port. Sailors in the Aegean and Ionian seas, following a common Eastern custom, had their "star of St. Nicholas" and wished one another a good voyage in the phrase "May St. Nicholas hold the tiller."

The legend of the "three children" is credited to his patronage of children and various observances, ecclesiastical and secular, connected there with; such were the boy bishop and especially in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, the giving of presents in his name at Christmas time.

This custom in England is not a survival from Catholic times. It was popularized in America by the Dutch Protestants of New Amsterdam who converted the popish saint into a Nordic magician (Santa Claus = Sint Klaes = Saint Nicholas) and was introduced into this country by Bret Harte. It is not the only "good old English custom" which, however good, is not "old English," at any rate in its present form. The deliverance of the three imperial officers naturally caused St. Nicholas to be invoked by and on behalf of prisoners and captives, and many miracles of his intervention are recorded in the middle ages.

Curiously enough, the greatest popularity of St. Nicholas is found neither in the eastern Mediterranean nor north-western Europe, great as that was, but in Russia. With St. Andred the Apostle, he is patron of the nation, and the Russian Orthodox Church even observes the feast of his translation; so many Russian pilgrims came to Bari before the revolution that their government supported a church, hospital and hospice there.

He is also the patron saint of Greece, Apulia, Sicily and Loraine, and of many citiesand dioceses (including Galway) and churches innumerable. At Rome the basilica of St. Nicholas in the Jail of Tully (in Carcere) was founded between the end of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh centuries. He is named in the preparation of the Byzantine Mass. St. Nicholas became recognized as a saint long before the Roman Catholic Church began the regular canonizing procedures in the late 10th century. Therefore, he does not have a specific date of canonization, rather records of him exist in a gradual spread until his stories became widley known and celebrated. St. Nicholas' feast day is December 6.

Women deacons in Church history; actually, no


Were there women deacons in the early Church?


Question: I was speaking to a friend of mine and the subject of women deaconesses came up. He says we never had deaconesses in the Church. I disagree. He is a good friend, but I think he is misinformed.

— Marie Spicuzza, via email

Answer: Some of it comes down to language. Were women in the early Church called “deaconesses?” It would seem so. However, there is no evidence that they were ever ordained, and it is inaccurate to simply equate these deaconesses with the office of deacon. So, linguistically, the term “deacon” can be used in a formal sense to mean an ordained man who is a deacon. But the term “diakonia” can also mean service, servant or ministry. Hence, today we often speak of “altar servers” or the ministry of lector, or of extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, but these are not ordained ministers, as we all know.

The term “deaconess” is found in the Eastern Churches but not generally in the West. Deaconesses existed in numerous roles, primarily to preserve the modesty of women at baptism, which were conducted by immersion and with little clothing. They may also have assisted women in the liturgy, especially in those areas where men and women sat separately (usually on different sides of the nave). It also seems they assisted women in the Church community in those matters that propriety suggested were better done by women (such as visitation of the sick). In the early Church, the term may also have been used to refer to the wife of a deacon, and there might have been some association of deaconesses with the early forms of religious life as “enrolled widows” (cf. 1 Tm 5:9Ti 2:3). But again, there is no evidence that the term “deaconess,” used explicitly or implicitly in reference to these women, was understood as an ordained clerical function. On the other hand, the male deacons are spoken of as having an office and had hands laid on them, a sign of ordination (cf. Acts 6:6).

While there are ongoing calls to further study the possibility of women deacons, such studies have already and recently been done. In 2002, the Vatican’s International Theological Commission (ITC) studied the matter and issued a document, “From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles.” In it, the ITC held that the deaconesses of early Church history “were not purely or simply equivalent to the deacons.” In effect, there is no substantial evidence of ordained women deacons in the early Church. 

Are there high-ranking church officials in the Freemasons


Are there Freemasons in the Catholic Church?

Question: I read with interest recent articles on the Church reemphasizing its prohibition against membership in the Masonic Orders. I certainly understand the rationale for the prohibition. What is confusing is that there continues to be reports of high-ranking members of the curia being Masons. How is this allowed? 

— Richard Bucci, Binghamton, New York

Answer: It is not formally allowed. If clergy of any rank are clearly determined to be a Freemason, they can be suspended. What we are often dealing with in terms of “high-ranking” members of the curia being Masons is a matter of accusation or rumor, not clear facts. Hearsay is not usually an actionable basis for removal or other punitive measures. Since Freemasonry is a kind of secret society, such rumors are hard to verify. One is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. 

Many Americans are puzzled at the restrictions on membership in the Masons. Most see it as a harmless men’s group. But historically the Freemasons are strong opponents of the Catholic Church and have a quasi-religious doctrine at odds with the Catholic faith. Purportedly, some of their internal documents speak to a plan to weaken the Catholic Church through infiltration and the proposal of an alternative “religion” that replaces doctrinal and moral principles with a kind of “brotherhood of man.” It is a kind of syncretistic blend of many religious outlooks with an emphasis on merely natural virtues. The Church also prohibits membership in Freemasonry because Masonic principles and rituals are irreconcilable with Catholic doctrines. These views undermine Catholic faith, the authority of the Church and the unique claims of Jesus Christ and the Church he founded. 

Clearly no member of the Catholic hierarchy can be a member of the Freemasons. But as you state, “reports of high-ranking members of the curia” being members are often hard to prove. Hence, it is not “allowed” since proof is lacking. We can only hope such allegations are not true.