An almoner is a chaplain or church officer who originally was in charge of distributing money to the deserving poor. The first deacons mentioned in Acts 6:1–4 dealt with the distribution of the charity of the early Christian churches to needy members. The title almoner has 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 (see Eleemosynary), via the Vulgar Latin almosinarius.
Historically, almoners were Christian religious functionaries whose duty was to distribute alms to the poor. Monasteries were required to spend one tenth of their income in charity to the poor (a tithe). Bishops kept their own almoners and almoners were attached to the courts of the Kings of France. Charles VIII of France had a Grand Almoner in his employ.
In the United Kingdom, the Marquess of Exeter also holds the title of hereditary Grand Almoner. Today, however, one of the most prominent such offices is that of the Lord High Almoner in the Church of England. The holder of that office, as of 2015 John Inge, Bishop of Worcester, is responsible for organising the Queen's annual distribution of Maundy money.
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 is now usually filled by medical social workers.
The Almoner remains an active and important office in the Livery Companies of the City of London and Masonic Lodges in England, Ireland and other Masonic Constitutions. His 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 "Almoner of His Holiness," the Pope's official almoner, continues in office even after the pope dies. He "continues to carry out works of charity in accordance with the criteria employed during the pope's lifetime". Since late 2013, the holder of the title is Archbishop Konrad Krajewski.
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