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 Deacons in the United States". The effective dates of its promulgation and implementation were also specially chosen. The effective date of its Promulgation was December 26, 2004, the Feast of the first Deacon and Martyr of the Church, St. Stephen. Its' implementation occurred on another Diaconal Feast, August 10, 2005, the Feast of St. Lawrence of Rome, Deacon and Martyr.
The Deacon and His Service
The deacon teaches the Word of God, sanctifies through the sacraments, and helps lead the community in its religious life. He assists at the altar, and distributes the Eucharist as an ordinary minister. Lay ministers of the Eucharist are properly referred to as "Extraordinary Ministers." They are to be used only in the absence of a sufficient number of clergy. They assist the Priest or Deacon, who are ordinary ministers of the Eucharist, in distributing communion to the faithful.
The deacon blesses marriages, presides over funerals, proclaims the Gospel and preaches, administers viaticum to the sick, and leads Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest. The Deacon is authorized to preside over Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and conduct "Holy Hours" for the faithful. In his liturgical role: "The deacon does not celebrate the mystery; rather, he effectively represents on the one hand, the people of God, and specifically, helps them to unite their lives to the offering of Christ; while on the other, in the name of Christ himself, he helps the church to participate in the fruits of that sacrifice."
Through the conferral of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, Deacons are sent by Christ to serve God's people and continue His redemptive mission. They are to do this from the depths of an interior life, centered in the Eucharist, fueled by prayer and dedicated to apostolic action. Like all other clerics, they are obligated to recite the Divine Office and cultivate the habit of regular penance. They are to link their love for the Lord and His Church to a love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, who in her "Fiat" represents the full surrender of love to the invitation of God.
Since most Deacons are married and have children, they also demonstrate the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage and the holiness of consecrated Christian family life, giving "...clear witness to the sanctity of marriage and family". In age when Marriage and family are under assault, the married Deacon is called to live out the full teaching of the Catholic Church on the family as a "domestic church." He is challenged to live a life of faith, fidelity and example within the married state - as a member of the Clergy. His example of clerical service in the married state does not detract from the prophetic and wonderful witness of consecrated celibacy; it is complementary to it.
The wives of permanent deacons are called to support the ordained ministry of their husbands. As "The Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons" states: "The more they [deacon and wife] grow in mutual love, the greater their dedication to their children and the more significant their example for the Christian community" The married Deacon and his wife are to "...show how the obligations of family life, work and ministry can be harmonized in the Church's mission". Deacons, their wives and their children, are called to be "....a great encouragement to others who are working to promote family life," according to the Vatican documents.
Though the "permanent" Diaconate is open to married men of mature age; it is also encouraged as a permanent rank of holy orders for celibate men. The decision for marriage or celibacy is to be made before ordination to the order of Deacon. If a married Deacon subsequently loses his wife, he pledges to remain celibate. He could consider a further call to priesthood, but such an action would first be submitted for discernment to the Bishop. In addition to all of this, the deacon is also unique in his witness if he is continuing in a secular vocation after ordination, as most do. Often engaged in works of social justice or charity, he is a clergyman, called as a prophetic sign in the secular world. He goes from the altar and the ambo into that world.
The Deacon: Dress and Address
The Deacon's liturgical role is distinct from both priest and lay minister. Proper liturgical dress for a deacon is an alb, a diaconal stole and a dalmatic. He is authorized to wear a cope at Baptisms, Weddings or while presiding over the Exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament, of which he is an ordinary minister. Since the Deacon usually pursues secular work, he is not "obliged" to wear clerical garb at all times. The practice of wearing the clerical collar derives from the fact that the Deacon is a member of the Clergy.
Titles also help to distinguish the Deacon and preserve the order of service within the Body of Christ. Just as we call a priest "Father," and should not presume to call him by his first name, a permanent Deacon, just like a transitional deacon, should be called "Deacon." In formal writing, according to local custom, a deacon can also use the title "Reverend Mr.", a title which reflects in a unique way both his clerical and "secular" role.
The Deacon at the Liturgy
The General Instructions of the Roman Missal (G.I.R.M.) set forth the specific duties of those in Holy Orders, Bishops, Priests and Deacons. When a deacon is present "...he assists the priest and remains at his side; ministers at the altar, with the chalice as well as the book; Proclaims the Gospel and, at the direction of the priest celebrant, may preach the homily; Guides the faithful by appropriate introductions and explanations and announces the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful; assists the priest celebrant in distributing communion, purifies and arranges the sacred vessels; and, as needed, fulfills the duties of other ministers himself if none of them is present." In the preparation for ordination, the Deacon was installed in what use to be referred to as the "minor" orders.
When a deacon is present at Mass he always carries the Book of the Gospel (Evangelary) which was entrusted to him at his ordination. If incense is used, he assists the priest in placing it in the thurible and in incensing. He is always seated at the side of the priest. The Deacon reads the Gospel whenever he is present. He prepares the altar and cares for the sacred vessels, with the assistance of the acolyte. He assists the priest in receiving the gifts, or receives them alone. He hands the priest the bread to be consecrated, pours the wine into the chalice, followed by the water, at which he says "By the mystery of this water and wine..." and hands the chalice to the priest. From the epiclesis until the priest shows the chalice, he remains kneeling. At the final doxology of the Eucharistic prayer he stands next to the priest and elevates the chalice while the priest elevates the paten with the consecrated host until the people respond with the great Amen.
The Deacon invites the faithful to exchange the sign of peace. After the priests' communion, he receives Communion under both species from the priest. The deacon, as an ordinary minister, distributes communion to the people. After such distribution, he returns to the altar with the priest. He reverently consumes, at the altar, all of the Blood of Christ that remains, assisted if necessary by other Deacons and Priests. He assists the priest in collecting the fragments and then returns the sacred vessels to a credence table (if used) where he purifies them. Once the Prayer after communion is said, the Deacon makes the brief announcements to the people, unless the priest prefers to do so. If a prayer over the people or a solemn formula for the blessing is to be used, the Deacon says "Bow your heads and pray for God's Blessing." After the Priests blessing, the Deacon dismisses the faithful saying "the Mass is ended, go in Peace."
It is a true source of joy for me to serve as your Deacon. Let us continue to pray for one another and strive for holiness of life and fruitfulness in our continued mission together.
Deacon Keith Fournier is a Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia where he was recently assigned to Saint Benedict Parish. This article appeared in the parish bulletin to assist members in understanding the role and ministry of a Deacon upon his arrival.Deacon Fournier was a pro-life lawyer for twenty seven years. He is currently pursuing a PHD in Theology at Catholic University and holds his Masters Degree from the John Paul II Institute.
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