A new article in the National Catholic Reporter on the new book by Ally Kateusz. Mary and Early Christian Women: Hidden Leadership (which is available for free online at https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-3-030-11111-3 ) and which virtually ends the argument that women cannot be Catholic priests, though the Church may not accept it.
New research recently unveiled in Rome suggests women had a greater role in the early church’s ministries and liturgies than previously thought and were present at church altars as deacons, priests and even bishops.
Ally Kateusz, research associate at the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, presented her findings July 2 to the International Society of Biblical Literature, drawing on iconography from ancient Christian art.
A specialist in the history of late antiquity, she has taught at both Webster University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She told the conference, which was held at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, that three of the earliest surviving images of Christians worshipping at church altars show women in official liturgical roles.
One of the artifacts she bases her findings on is an ivory reliquary box dating from around A.D. 430 that depicts a man and a woman standing on either side of an altar, each raising a chalice. The altar is that of Old St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The gesture of raising a chalice is recognized as a liturgical act performed by priests.
Two other artifacts also depict women at altars: One is a sixth century ivory pyx of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, and the other is a stone sarcophagus front from the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, which dates from around A.D. 430 and shows a male and a female figure standing on either side of the altar, holding their arms up in the orans pose.
Kateusz believes that the images are significant because they show women and men in parallel roles, their bodies and gestures mirroring one another, and she suggests that this parallelism is indicative of their equality in their liturgical roles.
“If the sculptors had portrayed only men at these church altars, everyone would assume that they had important liturgical roles,” she said.
According to Kateusz, author of Mary and Early Christian Women: Hidden Leadership, the artworks “illustrate that early Christian women routinely performed as clergy in orthodox churches.”
“The art speaks for itself because women are seen at the church altar in three of the most important churches in Christendom,” she told NCR. She believes it is likely that women’s participation in liturgies and the Eucharist in the early church was routine.
Virtually no liturgical manuscripts survived from the first seven centuries of Christianity in relation to ordination, lending to a long gap in the historical record. The oldest manuscript describing ordination in the Roman rite, the Ordo Romano, dates from the ninth century, centuries after these three artifacts.
“Later scribes easily censored texts that would have originally described women’s ordination. But these artifacts survived because they were buried. They were dug up in the 20th century,” explained Kateusz. The artifacts provide “precious windows through which we can see the early Christian liturgy as it was once performed,” she said, pointing out that there is no early Christian art where only men are depicted at the church altar.
But not everyone is convinced that these female figures were priests.
“The woman raising a chalice would be consistent with the deacon’s role at the time of the showing in the Mass, and there is documentation that women deacons participated in the Mass in this manner,” Phyllis Zagano, adjunct professor of religion at Hofstra University in New York and a member of Pope Francis’ commission on women and the diaconate, told NCR. Zagano also highlighted that there are no extant ordination ceremonies for women as priests, but there are many for women as deacons.
Interpreting the depiction of the lifting of the chalice on the fifth century ivory reliquary box as exemplifying priesthood rather than the diaconate is not clear cut, Kateusz acknowledged.
“In most cases we might assume they were two priests or two bishops presiding together at the altar,” she said. “Yet a writing, known as the Didascalia Apostolorum, describes early Christian communities in the East where a pair of male and female deacons supervised the offerings. The male deacon symbolized Christ while the female deacon symbolized Holy Spirit, who was feminine gender everywhere Aramaic was spoken, and this pair ranked above the presbyters, who merely represented the apostles.”
Retrieved July 13, 2019 from https://www.ncronline.org/news/theology/researcher-artifacts-show-early-church-women-served-clergy?