An almoner is a chaplain or church officer who originally was in charge of distributing money to the deserving poor. The title almoner has to some extent fallen out of use in English, but its equivalents in other languages are often used for many pastoral functions exercised by chaplains or pastors. The word derives from the Ancient Greek: ἐλεημοσύνη eleēmosynē (alms), via the popular Latin almosinarius.
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Christians have historically been encouraged to donate one tenth of their income as charity to the poor and the first deacons mentioned in Acts 6:1–4 dealt with the distribution of the charity of the early Christian churches to needy members. Popes, Bishops, and Christian monarchs and organisations have since employed their own officers to organise their donations to the poor and needy. Such donations were referred to as alms and the officers as almoners and the position was one of considerable status.
Roman Catholic Church
The Papal almoner, formally titled the "Almoner of His Holiness", is a member of the papal household with responsibility for performing works of charity on behalf of the pope. He is one of a small number of Vatican officials who continue in office when a pope dies or resigns. Since late 2013, the holder of the title is Cardinal Konrad Krajewski.
UK Royal Household
Today in the United Kingdom, the office of Lord High Almoner still exists in the Royal Household and the holder of the office is responsible, amongst other things, for organising the ceremony of the Queen's annual distribution of Maundy money. Associated with the Almoner's office is the Grand Almoner, an hereditary title in the hands of the Marquess of Exeter.
French Royal Household
Livery Companies and Masonic Lodges
The almoner also remains an active and important office in the livery companies of the City of London. In Masonic Lodges, the almoner's duty is to oversee the needs of the Brethren within his Lodge. He is the contact for charity and looks after the welfare of the members, including visits to the sick, aged and infirm.
The title almoner was also used for a hospital official who interviews prospective patients to qualify them as indigent. It was later applied to the officials who were responsible for patient welfare and after-care. This position evolved into the modern profession of medical social work.
- Harper, Douglas. "almoner". Online Etymology Dictionary.
- Universi Dominici gregis, 22
- O'Connell, Gerard (6 August 2013). "Pope tells new Almoner: 'Do this work with a lot of imagination'". La Stampa. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
- Cullen, Lynsey T. (October 2013), "The First Lady Almoner: The Appointment, Position, and Findings of Miss Mary Stewart at the Royal Free Hospital, 1895–99", Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 68 (4): 551–582, doi:10.1093/jhmas/jrs020, PMC 3792647
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