By Deacon Keith A. Fournier
“Christ, if he is truly accepted, is inseparable from the Church, which is his Mystical Body. There is no Christ without the Incarnation; there is no Christ without the Church. The Incarnation of the Son of God in a human body is prolonged, in accordance with His will, in the community of human beings that he constituted, guaranteeing his constant presence among them: "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Mt 28:20). Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity.)
It is a privilege to serve Saint Benedict Parish as your Deacon and an honor to serve at the side of your pastor, my friend, Father James Kauffmann. As we serve the Lord and His holy Church together, we witness to the fullness of truth that is the Catholic Faith. With my arrival, we are now committed to building a model of Priest/ Deacon partnership within a dynamically orthodox Catholic parish that is committed to the New Evangelization. I have been warmly welcomed in the first two weeks. However, I know that many in the parish have never experienced the service of a Deacon. That is why I have written this article. It considers the history of the Deacon, the teachings of the Magisterium that have given it direction, the service of a Deacon and the role of the Deacon at the Liturgy.
The Deacon in History:
The order of Deacon has a long history in the Christian tradition. During the Church's first five centuries, this ministry flourished everywhere. But for various reasons, the order declined in the West as a distinct rank of clerical service, and eventually disappeared. It was relegated to a "transitional" order conferred upon candidates on their way to ordination to the order of priest. Given that history in the West, we now distinguish between “transitional” and "permanent" deacons. However, this distinction does not create two ranks of deacons, but rather clarifies that the "transitional" deacon is on his way to priestly ordination. In the Eastern Church the diaconate has remained a distinct rank of clergy and a part of the experience of the faithful from the time of the Apostles.
There are three orders of Clergy: Bishop, Priest and Deacon. The Council of Trent (1545-63) called for the restoration of a permanent order of Deacons. However, it was not until the Second Vatican Council, four centuries later, that this direction was implemented. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council stated their purpose for reinstituting the Diaconate as threefold: to enhance the Church, to strengthen with sacred orders those men already engaged in diaconal functions, and to provide assistance to areas suffering clerical shortages. Included among those who called for the restoration of the Diaconate at the Council were survivors of "The Deacons Circle", priests who suffered at the dreadful Dachau death camp during World War II. They prayed intensely for the Church, offering their suffering. They believed that the Holy Spirit was calling for a re-institution of a permanent order of deacons. Those who survived presented this discernment to the Holy Father and the leaders of the Second Vatican Council.
On 18 June 1967, Pope Paul VI implemented the Council's decision to re-institute a permanent diaconate for the universal Church with the apostolic letter Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem. He also established revised norms for the ordination of all clergy, including deacons, priests and bishops. These norms passed into the Code of Canon Law. In October 1968, the Holy See approved the organization of the Diaconate as a permanent rank of orders in America.
In 1998, the Vatican released two important documents, "The Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons" and "The Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons," to guide deacons in their service. These two documents have given direction to the restored Diaconate in the West. They were intentionally released on the Feast of the Chair of Peter, February 22, 1998. This feast has been used since the first century to emphasize the importance of clerical service and to honor all of the Church's clergy. It was a fitting occasion to issue these directions concerning the formation and the work of permanent deacons, who, as members of the clergy, participate with Bishops and priests in service to the Church. These documents were ordered and approved by the Servant of God, John Paul II.
The “Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons” refers to the deacon as "a sacred minister and member of the hierarchy." The Deacon is ordained to the first rank of Holy Orders. Upon the conferral of the Sacrament he becomes a cleric, no longer a layman. In June of 2003, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a “National Directory for the Life and Ministry of Permanent ...
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