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What About Women Deacons? (in the Catholic Church)
Catholic Exchange ^ | November 25, 2005 | Fr. William Saunders

Posted on 11/25/2005 11:46:55 AM PST by NYer

Can women be deacons? Weren’t women deacons in the early Church?

The sacrament of holy orders comprises three degrees: the episcopacy (bishops), the presbyterate (priests) and the diaconate (deacons). The first two degrees — the episcopacy and the presbyterate — participate in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ, and thereby the term sacerdos denotes only bishops and priests. The bishops possess the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders. Priests are their co-workers in the apostolic mission. The diaconate assists and serves them. Nevertheless, all three degrees are conferred by a specific rite of ordination in the sacrament of holy orders (cf. Catechism No. 1554).

In accord with Church tradition since apostolic times, "only a baptized male validly receives sacred ordination" (Code of Canon Law, No. 1024). Since the diaconate is part of the sacrament of holy orders, this regulation applies also to the diaconate.

Rather than stop here with the answer, let’s delve further into "why." In Acts of the Apostles (Chapter 6), we find the apostles in need of assistance. Apparently, some of the "welfare" needs of the church community were being neglected, e.g. the distribution of food among the poor and widows: "The Twelve assembled the community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right for us to neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Look around among your own number, brothers, for seven men acknowledged to be deeply spiritual and prudent, and we shall appoint them to this task. This will permit us to concentrate on prayer and the ministry of the Word.’" Guided by the Holy Spirit, they selected seven men, including St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. The Apostles approved these candidates, prayed over them and imposed hands upon them: they ordained these first deacons. Since that beginning of the diaconate, only men have served as ordained deacons.

However, at first glance, St. Paul seems to confuse the matter. In his Letter to the Romans (16:1), he wrote, "I commend to you our sister, Phoebe, who is a deaconess of the church of Cenchreae." In the original Greek text, Phoebe is identified as a diaconos (meaning "deacon"); however, when St. Jerome translated the New Testament into Latin, producing the Vulgate Bible, he rendered the verse, "Commendo autem vobis Phoeben sororem nostram, quae est in ministerio Ecclesiae, quae est in Cenchris," i.e. "I commend to you Phoebe, our sister, who is in the ministry of the Church, which is in Cenchris." St. Jerome refrained from identifying Phoebe as a deacon and instead simply noted that she served in the ministry of the Church. Such a distinction causes one to explore what that ministry of a "deaconess" was.

The best and most information about deaconesses is found in the Apostolic Constitutions also known as Constitutions of the Holy Apostles. Consisting of eight books, the Apostolic Constitutions is the largest extant collection of liturgical and disciplinary regulations from the early Church. Most scholars agree that the first seven books were written prior to 300AD. The eighth was written about 400AD.

From these writings, the role of the deaconess, like that of the deacon, was to care for the Church’s welfare needs. Their role also involved keeping the necessary propriety between the male clergy and female members of the Church. The bishop is exhorted, "Ordain also a deaconess who is faithful and holy, for the ministrations towards women. For sometimes he cannot send a deacon, who is a man, to the women, on account of unbelievers. You shall therefore send a woman, a deaconess, on account of the imaginations of the bad" (Book II, Section XV). For instance, the Apostolic Constitutions assert the following rules: "Let also the deaconess...not do or say anything without the deacon.... So let not any woman address herself to the deacon or bishop with the deaconess" (Book II, Section XXVI).

This point is particularly highlighted in the administration of the sacrament of baptism. In the early Church, after a person professed his faith, the person was then stripped of his clothing and anointed over his whole body with sacred oil. He was then baptized through the invocation of the Holy Trinity and by the pouring of water or being immersed in water. To keep propriety, the bishop would anoint the forehead of those to be baptized, and then the deaconess would complete the anointing of the women. The deaconess was also involved in the immersion of the women to be baptized: the bishop (or priest) was to "dip them in the water" and "...a deacon receive the man, and a deaconess the woman, that so the conferring of this inviolable seal may take place with a becoming decency" (Book III, Sections XV, XVI).

Besides the ministerial role differing between the deacon and deaconess, so does the "ordination rite" recorded in the Apostolic Constitutions. Referring to the actual rite of "ordination" for a deaconess, the following prayer and gesture were prescribed: "Concerning a deaconess...: ‘Bishop, you shall lay your hands upon her in the presence of the presbytery, and of the deacons and the deaconesses, and shall say: "O Eternal God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of man and of woman, who did replenish with the Spirit Miriam, and Deborah, and Anna, and Huldah; who did not disdain that your only begotten Son should be born of a woman; who also in the tabernacle of the testimony, and in the temple, did ordain women to be keepers of your holy gates, — do you now also look down upon this your servant, who is to be ordained to the office of deaconess, and grant her your Holy Spirit, and cleanse her from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, that she may worthily discharge the work which is committed to her to your glory, and the praise of your Christ, with whom glory and adoration be to you and the Holy Spirit for ever. Amen"’" (Book VIII, Section XIX, XX). This prayer is substantially different from the prayer for the ordination of a deacon, which is found immediately preceding: For a deacon, the reference to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is much stronger: "replenish him with your Holy Spirit, and with power, as you did replenish Stephen, who was your martyr, and follower of the sufferings of your Christ." Second, for the deaconess, no mention is made of St. Stephen per se, nor any reference to the apostolic institution of the diaconate. Third, for the deacon, the bishop prays that the candidate may be "worthy to discharge acceptably the ministration of a deacon, steadily, unblameably, and without reproof, that thereby he may attain an higher degree," an indication that the deacon may advance to the office of priest or bishop (Book VIII, Section XVIII).

Therefore, the office of deaconess served a particular ministry to the needs of women in the Church. However, the office of deaconess was never part of the sacrament of holy orders and was not part of the Church’s apostolic foundation. For these reasons, only men may be candidates for the diaconate.



TOPICS: Activism; Apologetics; Catholic; Current Events; General Discusssion; History; Ministry/Outreach; Theology; Worship
KEYWORDS: deacon; priest; women
Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls and a professor of catechetics and theology at Notre Dame Graduate School in Alexandria. If you enjoy reading Fr. Saunders' work, his new book entitled Straight Answers (400 pages) is available at the Pauline Book and Media Center of Arlington, Virginia (703/549-3806).

1 posted on 11/25/2005 11:46:56 AM PST by NYer
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To: american colleen; Lady In Blue; Salvation; narses; SMEDLEYBUTLER; redhead; Notwithstanding; ...
EWTN is running a series on the Book of John, hosted by Theology professor, Tim Gray. Last night, the discussion focused on the resurrected Christ. He noted that Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Lord but when she went to embrace Him, He told her not to touch him for He had not yet ascended to the Father. Yet a few lines later, He invites Thomas to place his hands into His wounds. Why Thomas but not Mary?

Prof. Gray used this as one more illustration of why the priesthood is strictly male. Recall that when the Apostles were assembled in the Upper Room, Jesus appeared. He breathed on them and said: "Receive the Holy Spirit ..... ". He had made them priests and only priests may touch the Body and Blood of the Risen Christ.

2 posted on 11/25/2005 11:53:19 AM PST by NYer (ôSocialism is the religion people get when they lose their religion")
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To: NYer

That was very informative.


3 posted on 11/25/2005 11:54:16 AM PST by Tax-chick (Advent starts November 27 ... have you dusted yet?)
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To: Tax-chick

Curious about the dusting reference in your tag line....


4 posted on 11/25/2005 11:57:50 AM PST by Bigg Red (Do not trust Democrats with national security!)
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To: Bigg Red

Family tradition ... you have to dust the house for the beginning of Advent. Otherwise it smells unpleasant when you light the Advent wreathe candles.


5 posted on 11/25/2005 11:59:36 AM PST by Tax-chick (Advent starts November 27 ... have you dusted yet?)
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To: Bigg Red

Cleaning up dust, I mean, not scattering, and I meant "wreath" without an -e.


6 posted on 11/25/2005 12:04:58 PM PST by Tax-chick (Advent starts November 27 ... have you dusted yet?)
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To: NYer

Good piece on this subject. It should be noted that Catholic deacons who become deacons before marriage vow not to marry and deacons who become deacons after marriage vow not to marry if their spouse dies. I would assume this would hold the same for women if they became deacons. But, I don't think we'll see this happen in our life time. The Church is in a renewal process of cleansing the sins of the 20th century liberal thinking; I doubt we'll do down this road. We'll see a more conservative church.


7 posted on 11/25/2005 12:09:51 PM PST by Integrityrocks
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To: Tax-chick
Otherwise it smells unpleasant when you light the Advent wreathe candles.

Your dust is so deep it reaches to the wreath? Wow.

8 posted on 11/25/2005 12:16:14 PM PST by nina0113
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To: NYer
I remember my great aunt (who was a mother superior in her order), used to give the sacraments to patients in the nursing home she ran, including communion and last rites.

So even if the "legal case" hasn't been established, for all practical purposes, the office of "deaconess" (I would prefer just the gender-neutral "deacon") for women has always existed in one form or another.

9 posted on 11/25/2005 12:32:34 PM PST by razorgirl
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To: nina0113

It rises in clouds when the Stuff is disturbed :-), so we remove all the Stuff, and we DUST!


10 posted on 11/25/2005 12:48:12 PM PST by Tax-chick (Advent starts November 27 ... have you dusted yet?)
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To: Tax-chick

Yep. Dusting. I did it three weeks ago. Still coughing the dust up...


11 posted on 11/25/2005 12:53:04 PM PST by Knitting A Conundrum (Act Justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly With God Micah 6:8)
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To: Knitting A Conundrum

I use the portable vacuum first, then the duster :-). We wouldn't have so much dust, except that things are always being piled up on the head-high surfaces, away from the younger children, and sometimes they don't get cleared up for a long time. I found several treasures when I got to the far reaches of the top of the TV cabinet, which is where I'll put the Advent wreath tomorrow.

I shudder to think what's out of sight on the 7' bookcases, but I'll find out when Der Prinz decides it's time to paint the schoolroom!


12 posted on 11/25/2005 12:56:54 PM PST by Tax-chick (Advent starts November 27 ... have you dusted yet?)
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To: Integrityrocks

"Good piece on this subject. It should be noted that Catholic deacons who become deacons before marriage vow not to marry and deacons who become deacons after marriage vow not to marry if their spouse dies. I would assume this would hold the same for women if they became deacons."

The Synod of the Church of Greece just reinstituted the Order of Deaconess but it is open only to women who have never married or are widows. I believe the same was true in the early Church in the East. They will fulfill only those roles laid out in the ancient canons which this article articulates.


13 posted on 11/25/2005 1:27:58 PM PST by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: NYer

"However, the office of deaconess was never part of the sacrament of holy orders and was not part of the Church’s apostolic foundation. For these reasons, only men may be candidates for the diaconate."

The order of deaconess was an order known only in the East so far as I know and I can tell you it was never considered anything other than a holy order. I can't understand where this final paragraph of an otherwise well presented article comes from. His recitation of the words of the ordinations of deacons and deaconesses only demonstrate that deaconesses were never meant to become priests.


14 posted on 11/25/2005 1:30:40 PM PST by Kolokotronis (Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!)
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To: razorgirl
I remember my great aunt (who was a mother superior in her order), used to give the sacraments to patients in the nursing home she ran, including communion and last rites.

Were she actually celebrating Mass (handing out Communion is not the same as "giving" the sacraments. I'm sure that she was not able to "give" confession (that is, hear) any more than she was able to conduct "last rites" (wrong term, amiga).

Just because a nun violates church doctrine does not make incorrect actions any less incorrect.

15 posted on 11/25/2005 2:18:39 PM PST by AlaninSA (It's ONE NATION UNDER GOD...brought to you by the Knights of Columbus)
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To: AlaninSA

I think that anyone may validly hear a confession in extremis if no priest is available.


16 posted on 11/25/2005 2:43:31 PM PST by civis ("Paging Hillaire Belloc!")
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To: AlaninSA
Just because a nun violates church doctrine does not make incorrect actions any less incorrect.

She did it under the auspices of her archdiocese. Obedience is one of their vows..

17 posted on 11/25/2005 3:04:56 PM PST by razorgirl
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To: razorgirl
Any one, given the proper authority, can administer Communion if a priest or deacon is not available. If, by the last rites, you mean Viaticum, which is a final form of Communion, this is also true. The Apostolic Absolution, however, is reserved to a priest. If, on the other hand, by the last rites you are referring to the Anointing of the Sick, formally known as Extreme Unction, this too is reserved to a priest. Even a deacon cannot administer either Absolution or the Anointing of the sick. If your great aunt were to simulate either of these they would be invalid and she would incur excommunication for the simulation of the sacraments.
18 posted on 11/25/2005 3:16:45 PM PST by Petrosius
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To: NYer
1Ti 3:12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
19 posted on 11/25/2005 3:25:17 PM PST by DocRock
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To: NYer
ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS
Pope John Paul II
Apostolic Letter On Reserving Priestly Ordination To Men Alone

1. Priestly Ordination, which hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his Apostles of teaching, sanctifying, and governing the faithful, has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone. This tradition has also been faithfully maintained by the Oriental Churches.

When the question of the ordination of women arose in the Anglican Communion, Pope Paul VI, out of fidelity to his office of safeguarding the Apostolic Tradition, and also with a view to removing a new obstacle placed in the way of Christian unity, reminded Anglicans of the position of the Catholic Church: "She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church."[1]

But since the question had also become the subject of debate among theologians and in certain Catholic circles, Paul VI directed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to set forth and expound the teaching of the Church on this matter. This was done through the Declaration <Inter Insigniores>, which the Supreme Pontiff approved and ordered to be published.[2]

2. The Declaration recalls and explains the fundamental reasons for this teaching, reasons expounded by Paul VI, and concludes that the Church "does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination."[3] To these fundamental reasons the document adds other theological reasons which illustrate the appropriateness of the divine provision, and it also shows clearly that Christ's way of acting did not proceed from sociological or cultural motives peculiar to his time. As Paul VI later explained: "The real reason is that, in giving the Church her fundamental constitution, her theological anthropology—thereafter always followed by the Church's Tradition—Christ established things in this way."[4]

In the Apostolic Letter <Mulieris Dignitatem>, I myself wrote in this regard: "In calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behaviour, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time."[5]

In fact, the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles attest that this call was made in accordance with God's eternal plan: Christ chose those whom he willed (cf. <Mk> 3:13-14; <Jn> 6:70), and he did so in union with the Father, "through the Holy Spirit" (<Acts> 1:2), after having spent the night in prayer (cf. <Lk> 6:12). Therefore, in granting admission to the ministerial priesthood,[6] the Church has always acknowledged as a perennial norm her Lord's way of acting in choosing twelve men whom he made the foundation of his Church (cf. <Rev> 21:14). These men did not in fact receive only a function which could thereafter be exercised by any member of the Church; rather they were specifically and intimately associated in the mission of the Incarnate Word himself (cf. <Mt> 10:1, 7-8; 28:16-20; <Mk> 3:13- 16; 16:14-15). The Apostles did the same when they chose fellow workers[7] who would succeed them in their ministry.[8] Also included in this choice were those who, throughout the time of the Church, would carry on the Apostles' mission of representing Christ the Lord and Redeemer.[9]

3. Furthermore, the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them. Rather, it is to be seen as the faithful observance of a plan to be ascribed to the wisdom of the Lord of the universe.

The presence and the role of women in the life and mission of the Church, although not linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary and irreplaceable. As the Declaration <Inter Insigniores> points out, "the Church desires that Christian women should become fully aware of the greatness of their mission; today their role is of capital importance both for the renewal and humanization of society and for the rediscovery by believers of the true face of the Church".[10]

The New Testament and the whole history of the Church give ample evidence of the presence in the Church of women, true disciples, witnesses to Christ in the family and in society, as well as to total consecration to the service of God and of the Gospel. "By defending the dignity of women and their vocation, the Church has shown honour and gratitude for those women who—faithful to the Gospel—have shared in every age in the apostolic mission of the whole People of God. They are the holy martyrs, virgins, and the mothers of families, who bravely bore witness to their faith and passed on the Church's faith and tradition by bringing up their children in the spirit of the Gospel".[11]

Moreover, it is to the holiness of the faithful that the hierarchical structure of the Church is totally ordered. For this reason, the Declaration <Inter Insigniores> recalls: "the only better gift, which can and must be desired, is love (cf. <1 Cor> 12 and 13). The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are not the ministers but the saints".[12]

4. Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. <Lk> 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

Invoking an abundance of divine assistance upon you, venerable Brothers, and upon all the faithful, I impart my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, on 22 May, the Solemnity of Pentecost, in the year 1994, the sixteenth of my Pontificate.

NOTES

1. Paul VI, <Response to the Letter of His Grace the Most Reverend Dr. F. D. Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury, concerning the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood> (30 November 1975): <AAS> 68 (1976), 599.

2. Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration <Inter Insigniores> on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood (15 October 1976): <AAS> 69 (1977), 98-116.

3. <Ibid.>, 100.

4. Paul VI, <Address on the Role of Women in the Plan of Salvation (30 January 1977): <Insegnamenti>, XV (1977), 111. Cf. also John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation <Christifideles Laici> (30 December 1988), 31: <AAS> 81 (1989), 393-521; <Catechism of the Catholic Church>, No. 1577.

5. Apostolic Letter <Mulieris Dignitatem> (15 August 1988), 26; <AAS> 80 (1988), 1715.

6. Cf. Dogmatic Constitution <Lumen Gentium>, 28; Decree <Presbyterorum Ordinis>, 2b.

7 Cf. <1 Tim> 3:1-13; <2 Tim> 1:6; <Tit> 1:5-9.

8 Cf. <Catechism of the Catholic Church>, No. 1577.

9 Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church <Lumen Gentium>, 20, 21.

10 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration <Inter Insigniores>, 6: <AAS> 69 (1977), 115-116.

11 Apostolic Letter <Mulieris Dignitatem>, 27: <AAS> 80 (1988), 1719.

12 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration <Inter Insigniores>, 6: <AAS> 69 (1977), 115.


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20 posted on 11/25/2005 8:16:59 PM PST by A.A. Cunningham
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To: civis
No one but a priest can absolve sins (cf. Council of Trent, Decree on the Sacrament of Penance). One could confess to a deacon or a layman, but he could not absolve, so it would be rather pointless.
21 posted on 11/25/2005 8:42:12 PM PST by gbcdoj (Let us ask the Lord with tears, that according to his will so he would shew his mercy to us Jud 8:17)
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To: civis
I think that anyone may validly hear a confession in extremis if no priest is available.

Well I suppose anyone can hear a confession at any time, but if by that you're implying that anyone can also administer absolution you are incorrect. That is reserved for priests and bishops only. No matter what the circumstances.

22 posted on 11/26/2005 12:20:26 PM PST by pgkdan
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To: NYer

Tim is wrong. Jesus first revealed Himself to Mary, His Mother


23 posted on 11/26/2005 2:35:56 PM PST by bornacatholic
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To: NYer
Catholic Encyc

Mary and Our Lord's Resurrection

The inspired record of the incidents connected with Christ's Resurrection do not mention Mary; but neither do they pretend to give a complete account of all that Jesus did or said. The Fathers too are silent as to Mary's share in the joys of her Son's triumph over death. Still, St. Ambrose [95] states expressly: "Mary therefore saw the Resurrection of the Lord; she was the first who saw it and believed. Mary Magdalen too saw it, though she still wavered". George of Nicomedia [96] infers from Mary's share in Our Lord's sufferings that before all others and more than all she must have shared in the triumph of her Son. In the twelfth century, an apparition of the risen Saviour to His Blessed Mother is admitted by Rupert of Deutz [97], and also by Eadmer [98] St. Bernardin of Siena [99], St. Ignatius of Loyola [100], Suarez [101], Maldonado [102], etc. [103] That the risen Christ should have appeared first to His Blessed Mother, agrees at least with our pious expectations.

Though the Gospels do not expressly tell us so, we may suppose that Mary was present when Jesus showed himself to a number of disciples in Galilee and at the time of His Ascension (cf. Matthew 28:7, 10, 16; Mark 16:7). Moreover, it is not improbable that Jesus visited His Blessed Mother repeatedly during the forty days after His Resurrection.

24 posted on 11/26/2005 2:43:48 PM PST by bornacatholic
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To: razorgirl
So you're saying that she actually "obeyed" an instruction to say Mass? Where exactly is this? California?

I would assume that you're either (a) not really sure about what she did or did not do -- or (b) just stretching the truth a bit to attempt to prove a point.

25 posted on 11/26/2005 3:31:27 PM PST by AlaninSA (It's ONE NATION UNDER GOD...brought to you by the Knights of Columbus)
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To: AlaninSA
So you're saying that she actually "obeyed" an instruction to say Mass? Where exactly is this? California?

She didn't say Mass, she gave communion, and gave last rites.

Hey, your argument isn't with me, it's with the Archdiocese of Cinncinati circa mid-70s.

26 posted on 11/26/2005 5:02:03 PM PST by razorgirl
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