Women: Icons of Christ

by Phyllis Zagano

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.Profiles in Catholicism



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Phyllis Zagano is a holy woman of the Church, who is courageous and thoughtful in her understanding of diversity and inclusivity. She wants the voices of women to be heard and included in the narrative. She does not take her relationship with God casually. She realizes that all need to be included in the kingdom of God. She does not argue for women priests. Any vocation must be ratified by the entire Church. But the Catholic Churches most assuredly have ordained women as deacons, and many theologians, historians and liturgists who attest to this fact. Bishops in the past, Eastern and Western, clearly ordained women as deacons with virtually identical ceremonies to those they used for the men they ordained a deacons. To deny sacramental ordination for women as deacons is to deny their full humanity as created in the image and likeness of God.

The book is both process and procedure. In the text she reviews the tasks and duties of women deacons as vehicles of sacramental grace. Women’s roles in baptism, in catechesis, in altar service, in reconciliation and confession, and in anointing of the sick. The history shows them to have been accepted and understood by the Church as sacred ministers. They were ordained deacons and they brought the grace of sacrament to people far and wide, until they did not, until their mandate was removed and the argument that women could not image Christ gained favor in too many circles.


One theory of the etymology of the word diakonia is that it comes from the meaning “through the dust”; the deacon ministers, serves and brings the message, literally, “through the dust” of the world and its afflictions. As icons of Christ, ordained women deacons served in that way. The history of the diaconate, male and female, is clear. The needs of the ancient and medieval Church dictated the ways the diaconal ministry evolved, expanded and contracted. That women deacons existed cannot be denied, nor can their participation in sacramental ministry. That women were ordained at the altar during Mass, in the presence of other deacons and presbyters, by bishops in liturgies that included the epiclesis, during which they self-communicated from the chalice and received a stole and were called deacons by the ordaining bishop, supports the fact that their ordination can be considered sacramental.


There is a deep need for Christian ministry around the world and a deeper need for the Church to recognize its past in preparation for its future. The discussion in this book points to the solution, not only for the needs of the Church, but for the ills of the world. The needs exist and so does the solution. There has never been a formal decree against women being ordained as deacons, nor can there be one, lest the Church deny its own history.

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