Diaconate ‘an essential dimension’ of Church

| April 23, 2015

NienstedtBlI have the distinct pleasure of welcoming the National Association of Diaconate Directors (NAAD) to the Archdiocese for their annual convention from Tuesday, April 21, through Friday, April 24. On their agenda for this gathering are preparations for their 2018 Congress, which will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the re-establishment of the permanent diaconate here in the United States of America.

In the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles (read at Mass last Saturday), we find the early Church confronted with a disparity in the community that fell along cultural, linguistic and possibly theological lines. The Greek-speaking Hellenist widows, as opposed to the Aramaic-speaking Hebrew members, were being neglected “in the daily distribution of food.” (v.1)

The apostles gathered the community together and decided that they would select seven men from among their number who were “deeply spiritual and prudent” (v. 3) over whom the apostles first prayed and then imposed hands on them (v. 6), thus setting them apart for special service.

Later in Acts, they are found teaching (6:10), preaching and working miracles (8:5-6), and baptizing (8:36-38). In St. Justin’s liturgy, deacons serve the holy Eucharist to those in attendance as well as taking holy Communion to those who are absent.

St. Paul in his address to the Philippians explicitly lists deacons among the hierarchy of that local Church. Tradition confirms their triple office as service to the altar, service to the Word and service in charitable works.

Historically, the Eastern Churches preserved the diaconate as a permanent and separate rank, among parish clergy and even in monasteries, while in the Latin Churches, the diaconate was eventually limited to only those men who were going on to the priesthood and thus required to observe the celibate state.

The Council of Trent actually discussed a restoration of the permanent diaconate and called for such a restoration “according to the practice of the ancient Church,” but it was never implemented until the Second Vatican Council took up the matter again.

In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (par. 29), the Council Fathers reaffirmed the role of the deacon as serving the people of God in union with the bishop and his priests, with the three-fold munera mentioned above. The Council also expanded the liturgical roles of the Deacon to assisting at and blessing marriages, presiding over worship and the prayer of the faithful, administering sacramentals and conducting funeral rites.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, during the ordination of a deacon, it is only the bishop who lays hands on the candidate, “signifying the deacon’s special attachment to the bishop in the tasks of his ‘diaconia.’” By ordination, the deacon receives a special sacramental character or mark on his soul, configuring him to Christ, “who came to serve, rather than be served.” (Mk 10:45).

The laying on of hands can be conferred on married or celibate candidates, thus enriching the mission of the Church with various backgrounds and experiences. With reference to a married deacon, his spouse and children become a special source of support and assistance to him.

Finally, the presence of deacons in the Church should remind all of us that diaconia is not just one of many dimensions of the Church, but rather its essential dimension. The Church does not exist for her own sake, but for others and for the world. At her core, the Church is a servant Church.

This local Church has been greatly blessed with the presence and ministry of our permanent deacons. We welcome them, their brothers from across the nation as well as their spouses and family members, to the Twin Cities this week.

May their national gathering be a time of renewal and reinvigoration for them as well as an occasion to deepen the appreciation of the whole Church for the important role they serve.

God bless you!


Ministerio del diaconado, una dimensión especial de la iglesia

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Category: Only Jesus

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