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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: ? ele?mosyn? (alms), via the popular Latin almosinarius.
Christians have historically been encouraged to donate one-tenth of their income as a tithe to the Lord and additional offerings as needed for the 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. Popes, Bishops and Christian monarchs and organizations have since employed their own officers to organize 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.
The Papal almoner, formally titled the "Almoner of His Holiness", is a member of the papal household with responsibility for performing works of mercy 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.
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 organizing the ceremony of the Queen's annual distribution of Maundy money. Associated with the Almoner's office is the Grand Almoner, a hereditary title in the hands of the Marquess of Exeter.
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. Lady almoners existed in the UK from 1895 to the termination of the private medical system in 1948; their task was to determine the patient's ability to contribute towards their own medical care.