A bishop writes about the role of deacons

His Excellency Most. Rev. Alex Sample, Bishop of Marquette – a fine man and priest I have known for many years – issued a letter about deacons.

There is some CNA coverage:

Marquette, Mich., Jun 21, 2011 / 05:54 am (CNA).- Permanent deacons should not preach at Mass often. Rather, they should preach at other services and serve the Church in the course of their daily witness to Christ, Bishop Alexander Sample of Marquette, Mich. has said in a new pastoral letter on the deacon’s role in the Catholic Church.

Bishop Sample’s 19-page letter, titled “The Deacon: Icon of Jesus Christ the Servant,” cited the principle that the one who presides at a liturgical service or who is the principal celebrant at Mass should also give the homily.

“This should be the ordinary practice,” he said. [There, of course, could be good reasons for occasional exceptions.]

Deacons should preach the homily at Mass “for some identifiable advantage for the faithful in the congregation, but not on a regular basis,” the bishop wrote.

He said deacons have the opportunity to preach in other contexts, such as at wake services, funeral and wedding liturgies outside of Mass, baptisms, liturgies of the Word, during the Liturgy of the Hours and during Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest.

Bishop Sample noted that a deacon also “preaches” through “the witness of his life, especially in his marriage and family life,” as well as in his secular work and his role as a teacher.

The deacon’s ministry in the liturgy is not the “heart” of his service. Rather, he is called especially to serve the bishop by caring for the many works of charity “especially suited” to him, most often under the direction of his local pastor. [This is an interesting point.  If I am not mistaken, there is a stream of thought about deacons that their primary service is liturgical.  Did we not have a discussion about that on this blog once upon a time?  Readers may remember.]

Although the deacon is ordained to teach and preach the Word of God, “the most effective preaching he does is through the witness of his life in loving service to the most needy among us,” Bishop Sample wrote in a column summarizing the pastoral letter.

The Bishop of Marquette had stopped accepting new deacon candidates until a study of their role had been completed[That makes a lot of sense to me, actually.  It is good to know why we want permanent deacons before they are ordained.  Such a review makes sense, since in the grand arc of the Church's history this is a ministry that was revived.]

In his letter, he announced that a man will not be ordained simply to “be the deacon” at a particular parish or mission. Instead, there must be “a specifically identified need in the community” recognized by the bishop in consultation with the local pastor. This follows the scriptural example of the early Church, where the Apostles chose deacons to minister to the needs of widows so that the Apostles would be free to pray and preach the Word of God. [In the ancient Church there were many different "orders" in which people were enrolled and sometimes, in the case of deacons, ordained.  For example, there was an order of consecrated virgins.  There was an order of grave diggers.  There was an order of widows.  They would even have their own places in church.  Some thought has been given to reviving the order of widows in the same way that consecrated virginity has been revived.  People in these consecrated roles were especially engaged in corporal works of mercy.]

In the Diocese of Marquette the prospective deacon will now need to have “a particular service ministry” for which he will be ordained, such as service as a catechist or in care for the poor, the sick, the elderly or the imprisoned.

This change will reflect the fact that a deacon’s primary ministry is “not in the sanctuary but in the service of charity.

“I express my deep gratitude to my deacon brothers for their selfless service to God’s people in the image of Christ the Servant,” Bishop Sample said. “Let us pray for them and support them as they care for the special children of God among us.”

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54 Responses to A bishop writes about the role of deacons

  1. Pachomius says:

    Fr.,

    I don’t know about this blog, but the Liturgical Notes blog ran a series on the diaconate, starting here: http://liturgicalnotes.blogspot.com/2011/01/diaconia-1.html

    Am I mistaken in thinking that the deacon should, ordinarily, read the Gospel?

  2. TravelerWithChrist says:

    This is good; deacons were supposed to help lighten the load of priests, not take away from his primary work. In our diocese, deacons give the homily 1-2x a month on weekends. The homily is very superficial; the point to the last one is that Jesus is good and we should love Him. The priests have spent years in seminary, and more time after. To me, it would be as if a doctor performed surgery and then the nurse explains the procedure to the family…

    Thank you for the work you do, Father Z.

  3. RichardT says:

    Of course if any trendies did want a greater liturgical role for deacons, they just need to ask for Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

  4. Ioannes Andreades says:

    Am not so sure about much of what is in the piece. If a deacon is a good preacher, why hide the light under the basket? Now that most of us are in parishes with one priest, we hear the same priest every week, and so there is a limitation of perspectives and talents. Fifty years ago, parishes had numerous priests and could hear various ideas.

    I also think that it is not a wise idea to look to Acts of the Apostles for the historic foundation of deacons. It’s interesting to note that deacons in that book, though instituted to help with food ditribution, immediately seem to have other tasks. The idea that deacons were instituted “to serve at table” may have been a literary etiology, though perhaps not factual. Here is the note from the NAB: “To serve at table: some commentators think that it is not the serving of food that is described here but rather the keeping of the accounts that recorded the distribution of food to the needy members of the community. In any case, after Stephen and the others are chosen, they are never presented carrying out the task for which they were appointed (Acts 6:2-3). Rather, two of their number, Stephen and Philip, are presented as preachers of the Christian message. They, the Hellenist counterpart of the Twelve, are active in the ministry of the word.”

  5. At a quick scan of Bishop Sample’s letter, I saw no reference to the extensive studies of canonist Edward Peters — Edmund Cdl. Szoka professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and Referendarius of the Apostolic Signatura — of the possibility that all clerics in the West, even those married, are canonically obligated to observe perfect and perpetual continence.

    http://www.canonlaw.info/a_deacons.htm
    http://www.canonlaw.info/a_deacons5.htm

  6. Papabile says:

    While a Deacon’s service may or may not primarilly be liturgical, there are very practical problems with not having more Deacons…. specifically liturgical.

    If we want to reinvigorate the role of the liturgy in forming the people, it also must be done by solemnizing the Ordinary Form. [I agree.] Because of the restriction on Priests serving as a Deacon in the Ordinary Form, to actually get to he ideal of a Deacon of the Word and a Deacon of the Altar would seem to require more Deacons (both transitional and permanent) rather than fewer.

    Personally, I would prefer if Rome just eliminated the ridiculous prohibition on Priests serving in the role of Deacon. I never have beena fan of how the permanent Diaconate has been implemented.

    [Priests don't stop being deacons with ordination to the priesthood.]

  7. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    Personally, I’ve had little to no contact with deacons. They seem to be an afterthought in the archdoicese of Toronto. However, after reading the Deacon’s Bench blog and the letter snipits above I say that: 1) A rotation of at least once a month, at most twice a month, if the quality of the sermons are like the Deacon’s Bench are acceptable, and 2) That yes if deacons were at the parish to do a ministry such as PROPER, non-watered down catechesis then they should be in the Church/parishes.

  8. Sixupman says:

    In my own humble view: (lay) deacons are a swipe at the Ordained Priesthood [where the sacrifice] and a Vatican II back-door tactic to married clergy and lay equivalence to the priesthood. The priesthood has been undermined by the (lay) diaconate. Just look around to see the truth.

    As a child I could well understand the position and need for (lay) deacons in the mission fields, where a single priest carried responsibility for a flock spreadover hundreds of square miles. There is no excuse in the Diocesan Church.

    Pedants, please refrain from harranguing me over the us of the term “(lay)” relative to the particular element of the diaconate. [No... I think I will "harangue" you. "Lay" deacon is simply wrong. Lose that label, please, if you are going to comment about the diaconate.]

  9. Tim Ferguson says:

    I would not say that the deacon should ordinarily read the Gospel – he should ordinarily sing the Gospel. :)

    The revival of a number of “orders” might be fruitful for the Church… at some point. My thoughts are that now, it would tend to solidify the whole notion of the clericalization of the laity. Since, in recent centuries, the only “orders” of that sort that existed were clearly steps to the priesthood, it would be a simple deduction for most folks to make that someone commissioned to an order of gravediggers would be, somehow, a mini-priest.

    I think the development of the theology of the deaconate -and ultimate other orders – is well-served by Bishop Sample’s insightful statements here. Let the deaconate be understood and respected for what it is – and order of service. Not to diminish the liturgical role of deacons, but that should not be their primary function. I’d personally like to see more deacons in administration as well – serving the Church by freeing priests up from the burdens of administering the physical plant of the parish and school, and working in administrative posts of the diocese, serving the bishop.

  10. “Because of the restriction on Priests serving as a Deacon in the Ordinary Form”

    I wonder how this (alleged?) restriction is consistent with the cardinals observed serving as deacons at some of Pope Benedict’s recent Masses.

    Also, one occasionally sees a priest serving as an altar boy when an actual “boy” is unavailable for this role. (Curiously, I myself have only see notably holy priests serving Mass in this way.) Is this also prohibited?

  11. Henry: There is a an Ordinary Form prohibition of priests vesting as deacons.

    1995 CAEREMONIALE EPISCOPORUM: “22. Presbyteri, qui celebrationes episcopales participant, id solum quod ad presbyteros spectat agant; (SC n. 28) absentibus vero diaconis, aliqua diaconorum ministeria suppeant, numquam tamen vestibus diaconalibus induti.” … “Presbyters (priests), who participate in celebrations with a bishop, are to do only what belongs to presbyters; but in the absence of deacons they may fill in some ministries of deacons, never, however, wear vested in diaconal vestments.”

    I think it was because of that prohibition that the former Papal Marini MC (Piero) eliminated Cardinal Deacons for cappella papale Masses. We see that the present Papal Marini MC (Guido) has, with Benedict, revived the laudable practice. And not just any Cardinals take those roles. If I am not mistaken, they are filled only by Cardinal Deacons, that is, Cardinals who within the College are of diaconal titles.

    There is, happily, no such prohibition for the Extraordinary Form, of course.

  12. priests wife says:

    sixmanup- words have meaning- all deacons are clergy. I believe by writing “lay” deacon, you mean “married” or permanent (in Roman rite) deacon– which makes my Byzantine Catholic husband a “permanent” priest as he will never be bishop.

    The role of deacons is the point of the post

  13. Fr. Basil says:

    \\Such a review makes sense, since in the grand arc of the Church’s history this is a ministry that was revived.\\

    Perhaps in the arc of the LATIN Church’s history, but permanent Deacons have ALWAYS been part of the life and history of the Eastern Churches. In fact, it was this example that led to its restoration in the West.

    Please remember, Fr. Z, that the Latin Church is not the totality of the Church. [I think I make that clear pretty often. I don't think I have to make that clear in every single post, this being my blog, and I being a member of the Latin Church writing usually - and quite obviously - about matters pertaining to the Latin Church. The experience of the Eastern Churches can be illuminating. But the traditions of the Eastern Church will understandably not be in the forefront of my mind in every single entry.]

    Sixupman, there is no such thing as a “(lay) deacon,” as deacons are within the clerical state.

    Henry Edwards, married deacons and priests are simply NOT require to observe continence, and that’s all there is to it. [That's all there is too it in YOUR EASTERN tradition. Let's keep that clear. Okay? The question has been raised by Dr. Peter's about the Code for the LATIN CATHOLIC CHURCH. It hasn't yet been adequately answered.]

  14. Joe Magarac says:

    Here in Pittsburgh, Bishop Zubik just ordained over 40 permanent deacons, and he will be ordaining another 20 or so in a couple years. All of them have a liturgical assignment (at a parish) and also a service assignment (at a prison, or a homeless shelter, or at some other organization that performs works of mercy).

    One of my colleagues is among the newly-ordained, and he tells me that the diocese has taken the approach that Bishop Sample recommends in this article: i.e., the deacon’s primary ministry is understood to be his service assignment. Apparently the diocese asked local Catholic organizations to submit requests if they thought a permanent deacon would help their ministry, and more than 350 requests were received. So there are lots of places in which permanent deacons can minister. Time will tell, but the expectation here is that having an ordained deacon working at social service organizations will be a powerful way for the Church to make Christ present in the world beyond the liturgy.

    The same colleague has mentioned that the priest at his parish wants him to preach regularly. That may not be consistent with Bishop Sample’s approach. But I can see where a parish priest – especially if he is the only priest or if he does not think he is a gifted preacher – might want to get some preaching help from his deacon.

  15. Fr. Basil: Henry Edwards, married deacons and priests are simply NOT require to observe continence, and that’s all there is to it.

    With respect, I assume you are not familiar with the canon law of the Latin rite.

    I myself have no opinion to express on this particular matter, it being a matter of law and not opinion, while I am no canon lawyer.

    However, Dr. Peters is recognized as a very eminent canon lawyer, and is an advisor to the Vatican’s highest court, and has expressed his legal view at some length.

  16. jasoncpetty says:

    This change will reflect the fact that a deacon’s primary ministry is “not in the sanctuary but in the service of charity.”

    I don’t know about the dichotomy that’s being set up. Why can’t it be both? The best permanent deacons I know do both, and do so very well. The OF Masses I’m referring to, with deacon and subdeacon, are quite fancy (and, of course, utterly the exception . . . sigh . . . your mileage definitely varies). I think because the de facto awfulness of most OFs means that permanent deacons have no reason to be in the sanctuary that is not completely superfluous. Thus, decisions like Marquette.

    It could be that the permanent deacons in Marquette are just terrible and His Excellency’s dealing with a local issue (i.e., he inherited a crop of ‘glorified ushers’). So this dichotomy would be a good solution to that local problem. ‘If Deacon Bubba spends more time filling out immigration paperwork at Catholic Charities, he won’t be imposing his 14 weeks of theology on the parishioners.’

  17. TravelerWithChrist says:

    What if we get the deacons to help in the distribution of communion, and eliminate all ‘lay’ “extraordinary ministers of the eucharist”!!!!!!!

  18. It’s not like there’s a conflict here. If an ancient deacon was out doing service all week scouring the Roman streets for the poor and sick, or a modern deacon is doing corporal works of mercy all week, I would assume that would vastly enrich his ability to read the Gospel, preach, and help out at Mass in a fruitful way. It’s like putting fuel in the deacon’s spiritual gas tank. It also shows respect for the reality of his role — instead of making him work all week in a normal job like he wasn’t clergy at all, while the seminarian deacons do clergy stuff all day and night. Less mental whiplash for the deacon, too.

  19. It also reduces the temptation for pastors and priests to think that deacons are their employees — instead of them all being under the bishop all together, even if the pastor is boss.

  20. shane says:

    @Fr. Basil — your comments always come across as extremely chippy.

    As for deacons, I think it’s good that they should be required to observe continence. Otherwise it risks becoming seen as ‘easy’ version of the priesthood.

    I would also like to see the minor orders restored and made permanent.

  21. smad0142 says:

    RE: Clerical Continence in the West

    Didn’t Dr. Peters say that he was exploring an interesting interpretation of the Canons, but in reality he came to the conclusion that married Clerics in the West are not bound be perpetual continence? Something to do with a right of the wife that does not disappear even though the man becomes a cleric.

  22. Iowander says:

    I didn’t know that it was ever the case that priests could serve as deacons. That’s very interesting. Although, I think that if priests regularly served as deacons in the ordinary form, then many of us might have even less of a clear understanding of the distinctions between deacons and priests (maybe even some deacons and priests themselves), and I worry where that could lead.

  23. Marcin says:

    To me, it would be as if a doctor performed surgery and then the nurse explains the procedure to the family…

    Not a right analogy. Surgery is actually relatively simple conceptually. It’s more like carpentry or plumbing, save the risk to life and limb. Now, the very performing a surgery is an entirely different ballgame – as an experimental biologist, I did my share of microsurgeries and other invasive procedures, so have a pretty good idea what surgery involves. A nurse with a graduate degree (for a more advance knowledge of functional anatomy) may actually be better in explaining a surgery due to more experience with conscious patients. I would rather fear a nurse doing surgery with a doctor explaining why it went wrong…

  24. Chatto says:

    @ Shane – I often wonder about the minor orders. I think that it’s taken us this long to even start working out the proper role of (permanent) Deacons, some 60 years after VII revived them, and so it may take another 60 for us to get round to working out the proper role of lectors and acolytes, as retained by VII. I too would like to see a Bishop take this in hand and start instituting lectors and acolytes after a proper formation – up to him to decide what that would be of course. I know some bishops have, but only a small number.

    I guess you were talking about a revival of the minor orders pre-VII, though?

  25. Centristian says:

    “The Bishop of Marquette had stopped accepting new deacon candidates until a study of their role had been completed.”

    I’m not sure I understand the need for the bishop of Marquette to revisit the role of the permanent diaconate within his own diocese. Has not the Church universal already studied the role and deemed it worthy of restoration? Also, while the bishop of Marquette identifies the diaconate as primarily a ministry of Charity, the USCCB describes it this way:

    “All ordained ministers in the Church are called to functions of Word, Sacrament, and Charity, but bishops, presbyters and deacons exercise these functions in various ways. As ministers of Word, deacons proclaim the Gospel, preach, and teach in the name of the Church. As ministers of Sacrament, deacons baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services As ministers of Charity, deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others, then marshalling the Church’s resources to meet those needs.”

    This is from the bishops’ webpage dedicated to the diaconate. It seems to suggest that the deacon’s ministry of Charity is tertiary to his role as minister of the Word and minister of Sacrament. Or if not tertiary, co-equal to Word and Sacrament.

    The article cited by Father Z goes on to say, “Although the deacon is ordained to teach and preach the Word of God, ‘the most effective preaching he does is through the witness of his life in loving service to the most needy among us,’ Bishop Sample wrote in a column summarizing the pastoral letter.”

    Fine, but that ought to be true of all clergy and, indeed, all Christians. The routine practice of Charity, alone, does not a deacon make, of course. A deacon is actually ordained, and ordination is not required for service in Charity (just ask the nuns). It seems to me that if a man has hands laid upon him and receives Holy Orders, it is for a unique and special purpose apart from simple Christian charity (to which we are all called and by which we are all obligated). It seems to me that he is brought into the sanctuary, as it were, to join the clergy in the regular performance of the Church’s sacred rites of public worship. To my feeble way of understanding things, then, the deacon’s role seems primarily liturgical.

    My own impression of permanent deacons is that they are a valuable asset to the Church, in general, and to parish communities, in particular. It also seems to me that they are typically undervalued by priests and prelates. They are often mocked, and seldom encouraged (from what I have seen). I often wonder why any man should ever aspire to be a permanent deacon, given the often thankless aspect of the office.

    I suppose, however, they do it because they genuinely love the Church and have responded generously to an invitation to become more profoundly immersed in Her life and ministry. It does concern me, therefore, that individual bishops should feel compelled to re-examine a deacon’s very worth and purpose when the Church has already done that. In my opinion, they ought to be encouraged and embraced more fully by their priestly brothers in the clergy and the episcopacy, not called into question.

  26. smad0412,

    Dr. Peters conclusion seems to be the opposite of what you suggest. From his more recent summary in the second reference I linked above:

    1. The thesis of my Studia article (namely, that all clerics in the West, even those married, are canonically obligated to observe perfect and perpetual continence) has, for obvious reasons, provoked commentary, . . . . . But I will say this much: I believe that my interpretation of the clerical obligation of continence as set out chiefly in Canon 277 § 1 is persuasive; nothing I have seen over the last five years has caused me to think otherwise.

    2. In the Studia article I expressed no position in regard to the impact of Canon 277 on married priests in the Roman Church (see fn. 1 thereof). I will say now, however, that I think (and frankly, have always thought) that the arguments on clerical continence offered regarding deacons apply a fortiori to priests in the West.

  27. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Centristian: As a priest who has pastored various parishes, and worked with permanent deacons in most of them, I want to say how much I agree with your post above. It hits the nail on the head. Unfortunately, enough Catholics have had a run-in with a permanent deacon, who let Holy Orders get to his head, that now a negative attitude has formed.

    They are seen as getting in the way of the really important people–the priests, or even detracting from the priestly vocation. My own experience is that the permanent deacon is insufficiently appreciated, and insufficiently thanked, but he is ever willing to go out and do for Father the errands which Father needs done and can’t get help with. In my diocese, some of the most generous and outstanding men of faith are our permanent deacons.

  28. Joseph-Mary says:

    The role of a deacon can fill a void in many parishes. If they will serve as catechists and conduct marriages and baptisms, it does free up the priest for his great sacramental role. The deacon has years of formation too.

  29. A few observations:

    1) If priests were able to serve as deacons in a parish Mass, we might not have the incentive (at least in liturgical life) for a permanent diaconate. I’m not saying they should or they shouldn’t be allowed, but it’s an effect worthy of note in advance. In the Eastern churches, for example, this is simply not an issue.

    2) The practice of perpetual continence between clerics and their wives dates to Apostolic times (and is rarely mentioned by advocates of a married priesthood). Canon law, even if it did not mandate the practice, might well acknowledge its place in the tradition of the Church. That said, the interpretation proposed by Dr Peters does not appear to be conclusive. I do not believe it will prevail, as it would be impossible to maintain on a practical level. Wives would have to separate from their husbands and go into contemplative life, or an order of deaconesses. That is what happened in the early centuries. I could foresee conflicts in the present which do not necessarily favor the good of the Church.

    3) Formation of permanent deacons in the early years (the 1970s mainly) was rather poor in most places. Many dioceses did not ordain permanent deacons for years, due to having so many problems with them (along the lines of Fr Sotelo’s reference). My own experience is mixed, but tends to be in favor of a permanent diaconate. And while this discussion mainly concerns the practice in the West, we could afford to learn something from the Eastern churches.

  30. o.h. says:

    We can’t be the only parish in the country that has a lopsided mis-match between the number of priests fluent in Spanish and the number of Spanish Masses. If it weren’t for deacons giving the homily, there would be a lot of Spanish Masses with no preaching at all.

  31. MWBH: Wives would have to separate from their husbands and go into contemplative life, or an order of deaconesses.

    Why? While not advocating this myself, I assume it could be a matter of simple promise that no one would propose to enforce by means of weekly blood tests (or whatever), no more than adherence to priestly vows of continence is enforced in any such manner.

  32. robtbrown says:

    The deacon’s ministry in the liturgy is not the “heart” of his service. Rather, he is called especially to serve the bishop by caring for the many works of charity “especially suited” to him, most often under the direction of his local pastor. [This is an interesting point. If I am not mistaken, there is a stream of thought about deacons that their primary service is liturgical. Did we not have a discussion about that on this blog once upon a time? Readers may remember.]

    I have mentioned here that acc to Scripture deacons exist for service. Despite that, since Vat II the role of PD’s has been primarily liturgical.

  33. Gail F says:

    I have heard two interesting critiques from and about deacons lately. We have as many permanent deacons in our Archdicoese as we do priests, and I think there are problems in some areas and that they work very well in other areas. One critique I heard was that the Church needs to ordain a lot more permanent deacons and expect them and the laity to do a lot more of the Church’s work and stop pushing so much for new priests. I think you can see that this view would surprise many people. Another critique I heard is that “many” permanent deacons (I have no idea how many) just want to do things at mass and don’t want to have anything to do with charity. I am sure that if I asked around I would hear other complaints I have not yet imagined. It seems to me that with decades of different formation, we have men with many different ideas of what they are supposed to do, not to mention priests who have varying ideas about the same thing. My take on it is that the permanent deaconate is still new and it will take a long time to sort out what role it will eventually take in the life of the Church.

  34. BLB Oregon says:

    I’ve seen places where the deacon’s preaching is almost as frequent as the priest’s, but that has been in places where the priest barely has the legs to stay in the harness. (I mean that literally. We have some heroes out here.) They are also heavily used when the need for their mother tongue exceeds the number of priests fluent enough to preach in it. Other than that, the word from the archbishop is always that the deacons are here to do the charitable work of the Church. We are blessed to have a deacon in our parish who takes that very much to heart. His work and his leadership as a member of the clergy has made a tremendous difference in our area.

  35. Centristian says:

    Fr. Sotelo: “In my diocese, some of the most generous and outstanding men of faith are our permanent deacons.”

    That has been my observation, as well.

    It seems to me that in a Church in which the extraodinary form of Mass is described as such, and in which it perhaps begins to resurge, and in which the ordinary form of Mass is (hopefully) heading toward a reform that favors greater solemnity, the permanent diaconate can actually discover for itself a greater role, liturgically speaking.

    In the case of solemn Masses celebrated in the extraordinary form, there is always the need for deacons and subdeacons, of course. As many permanent deacons as there are, it would seem a worthwhile initiative for a diocese to encourage them to be trained to serve as deacons and subdeacons for Masses in the extraordinary form. This would, of course, ease the burden placed upon the small number of priests in any given diocese who are available to participate in such Masses. It would also make less frequent the need for lay “straw” subdeacons (something I, personally, find unseemly). Moreover, it would put permanent deacons to excellent use and remind them of the dignity of their liturgical ministry (which, again, I believe is without question).

    Deacons participating in solemn celebrations in the ordinary form (which one hopes will one day become normal, rather than exceptional) would obviously have plenty of opportunities to enhance the liturgy by their presence, in a Church that, evidently, dissuades priests from acting, liturgically, as deacons (I was not aware of that before today).

    I think in a liturgically reformed Church, the value of the permanent deacon and his liturgical office–particularly in an age which sees an alarming priest shortage–will become more evident.

  36. Henry Edwards:

    “Why?”

    The answer is in the same paragraph. Here it is again.

    2) The practice of perpetual continence between clerics and their wives dates to Apostolic times (and is rarely mentioned by advocates of a married priesthood). Canon law, even if it did not mandate the practice, might well acknowledge its place in the tradition of the Church. That said, the interpretation proposed by Dr Peters does not appear to be conclusive. I do not believe it will prevail, as it would be impossible to maintain on a practical level. Wives would have to separate from their husbands and go into contemplative life, or an order of deaconesses. That is what happened in the early centuries. I could foresee conflicts in the present which do not necessarily favor the good of the Church.

    The very idea of a “weekly blood test” is simply implausible, and violates the dignity of marriage. Why not do the same to enforce the avoidance of contraception while you’re at it? The imposition is the same.

  37. MWBH,

    Seriously, I think that–whatever may have happened in ancient times–the idea of forced separation would be just as implausible at the present time as the idea of weekly blood test. Any suggestion of either would be considered absurd, and would be.

    However, not that I advocate this one, but do you yourself really want to take the position that a moral imperative ought not be stated (and adherence perhaps either requested or promised) unless there is an ironclad way of enforcing it or monitoring compliance? Where would this leave the ten commandments, or the seven precepts of the Church?

  38. Johnny Domer says:

    I always thought of the liturgical functions of the deacon as, in a way, showing what his role is in the life of the Church was. He chants the Gospel during the Mass–as a result, preaching the Good News is one of his tasks. He helps distribute Holy Communion at Mass, feeding and comforting the sheep with the very bread from heaven–as a result, he helps bring the Eucharist to the sick and homebound, and comforts them. He assists the priest in offering the sacrifice–he assists the Church by serving her any way he can (think of St. Lawrence, who was both a deacon and the treasurer of the Church in Rome). So…yeah, I think I would really disagree with the notion that the heart of diaconal service isn’t liturgical. The deacon is only “special” or different from a layman because, through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, he has received a certain liturgical ministry, and his liturgical ministry demonstrates what his extra-liturgical ministry should be.

    Furthermore, as long as we still feel this need to have extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, I think having permanent deacons is a good idea. A lot of understaffed parishes today only have one or two priests and a zillion parishioners, so they turn to extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to help ease the burden. It makes much more sense, I think, to have one or two permanent deacons and no extraordinary ministers, than vice versa. This is particularly true if priests are using extraordinary ministers to help bring the Eucharist to the sick–this was a role that deacons in the very early Church fulfilled, and it is much more fitting that a deacon/ordinary minister of Holy Communion fulfill this role than a layman.

    The one setting where I think permanent deacons might not be necessary, and where we should maybe put their ordination on hold, would be in dioceses that are overflowing with priestly vocations. If you’ve got three or four priests in a parish, you probably don’t need a deacon. Although given that the GIRM annoyingly prohibits (or at least really discourages) having priests take on the role of deacon during the Novus Ordo, I think you could argue there is a liturgical justification for having permanent deacons, so that one can actually offer a Solemn Mass in the Ordinary Form with a deacon–at least in major parishes and cathedrals.

  39. MichaelJ says:

    man with black hat,
    You are very close to saying that “we should abandon a practice dating back to Apostolic Times because clerics are incapable of keeping their vows”

  40. Deacon Nathan Allen says:

    Our liturgical tradition in the Roman Rite has always seen the deacon as a servant at the altar. So important is the deacon’s liturgical role that it survived even when the diaconate, as a permanent order in the Latin Church, did not. The deacon is ordained to service, but his liturgical role has always been seen as integral to that service. The Council Fathers at Vatican II said as much: “Where episcopal conferences deem it opportune, the order of the diaconate should be restored as a permanent state of life according to the norms of the Constitution ‘De Ecclesia.’ For there are men who actually carry out the functions of the deacon’s office, either preaching the word of God as catechists, or presiding over scattered Christian communities in the name of the pastor and the bishop, or practicing charity in social or relief work. It is only right to strengthen them by the imposition of hands which has come down from the Apostles, and to bind them more closely to the altar [et altari arctius coniungi], that they may carry out their ministry more effectively because of the sacramental grace of the diaconate.” Ad Gentes 16.

    The cited passage of Lumen Gentium reads: “At a lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, upon whom hands are imposed ‘not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service.’ For strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests they serve in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity to the people of God.” (LG 29) Lumen Gentium then goes on to list examples of the deacon’s service, every single one of which is connected to the liturgical life of the Church: “It is the duty of the deacon, according as it shall have been assigned to him by competent authority, to administer baptism solemnly, to be custodian and dispenser of the Eucharist, to assist at and bless marriages in the name of the Church, to bring Viaticum to the dying, to read the Sacred Scripture to the faithful, to instruct and exhort the people, to preside over the worship and prayer of the faithful, to administer sacramentals, to officiate at funeral and burial services.” Deacons are also “earnestly invited” to participate in the daily offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice (canon 276 §2 2º). There’s no conflict here, folks.

  41. It might be worth taking a look at the motu proprio that restored the diaconate in 1967.

    Of the 11 functions of a deacon that Pope Paul VI listed, the first eight are focused entirely on the liturgy. The 9th speaks of carrying out “duties of charity.” The last two speak of “promoting Christian communities” and sustaining the “apostolic activities of laymen.”

  42. Fr. Basil says:

    \\Fr. Basil: Henry Edwards, married deacons and priests are simply NOT require to observe continence, and that’s all there is to it.

    With respect, I assume you are not familiar with the canon law of the Latin rite.\\

    Canons and canonical practice both change in all churches.

  43. A reader sent this by email:

    [From Anglican Theological Review 74 (1992), 108-10]

    Diakonia: Re-interpreting the Ancient Sources. By John N. Collins. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990, xv + 368 pp. $45 (cloth).

    Although originally a doctoral dissertation that is still written in rather technical but also verbose language and is not entirely reader-friendly, this hefty volume marks a challenge to the commonly received opinion that words such as diakonein, diakonia, and diakonos should be translated and explained exclusively by such words as “serve,” “service” and “servant” with their related connotations of “assistance,” “humility,” “inferiority,” and “selflessness.”

    Rather, based on his extensive word-studies in early pagan, Jewish, and Christian sources, it seems that Collins would prefer such words and concepts as “messenger,” “runner,” “courier,” “go-between,” “mouthpiece,” “herald,” “agent,” “officiant,” “medium,” “emissary,” “interpreter,” and “administrator,” all being equally applicable to positions of authority and dignity. The Christian meanings, he adds, must be elucidated by the non-Christian contexts if we are properly to understand “what the Greek word said to the Greek mind.”

    But why have all these wider meanings been missed before? Collins lays it to the definitions and assumptions of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and especially to the attempts of German Lutherans in that period to recover and construct a rationale for a ministry of deacons and deaconesses as servants of the poor and workers of mercy. The technical word-studies that supported these concepts, he says (citing Brandt and Beyer, the latter in Kittel), were rarely undertaken on any basis other than that of the New Testament alone, and even then the anomalies were merely discarded.

    From these origins, then, Collins traces the influences of this (mistaken?) interpretation of diakonia as “servant ministry” down to the literature of the World Council of Churches (even to BEM), to the servant-ecclesiology of Vatican II and the subsequent establishment of the permanent diaconate in the modern Roman Catholic Church, to the restoration of diaconal ministry in Anglican and other churches, to the increased blurring of distinction between the ordained ministry and the calling of the whole people of God, and even to the Christology of Jesus as “the man for others.”

    This is an expanded 1976 King’s College, London, New Testament doctoral thesis by one who is now “a teacher of religious education at John Paul College in Melbourne, Australia, ” and it remains to be seen to what extent classical Greek scholars and New Testament experts of the 1990s will agree with his studies. If Collins is right, the whole concept of diakonia will have to be expanded and adjusted upwards. His book thus emerges as a challenge to the diaconal movement of today as well as to those who define “ministry” or even “ordained ministry” as “lowly service” or “waiting at tables” with no remainder, to expand their ideologies of servant-ministry in the light of his research. He does not say how all this is to be done in particular cases, and indeed he is better at raising questions than at furnishing answers, but it is clear that much re-formulation will be needed if the thrust of his research is eventually sustained. Those who would still write popular paperbacks on such best-selling themes as “the servant church” or “mutual ministry” will also have to struggle with his findings.

    J. ROBERT WRIGHT

    General Theological Seminary New York, New York

  44. Dr. Eric says:

    After the death of our long time parish priest and a few others who were shuffled in and out of my mother’s parish, the parish was scheduled to be closed. The bishop sent in a Deacon to live at the church and run it. If it weren’t for him the people of the parish would have to drive 8 miles south, 6 miles north, and 15 miles east spiritual sustenance. There is a list of OMI priests who come and administer to the parish for Holy Mass and confessions but for all intents and purposes the Deacon is the pastor. He also preaches at least once per weekend.

  45. Joe in Canada says:

    From my experience with the Byzantine Catholic Church, it would be useful for deacons to consider what Deacon Nathan Allen brings to our attention, and particularly “to be custodian and dispenser of the Eucharist, … to instruct and exhort the people, to preside over the worship and prayer of the faithful.” I was in a parish once where the priest communicated the people by name, as is the tradition, and the Deacon was there to tell me everybody’s name. He told a few younger people to ask for a blessing, which they did. In the Eastern Church the Deacon is responsible for the good order of what goes on in the nave, and we sorely need that, at least in Canada.

  46. robtbrown says:

    Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    It might be worth taking a look at the motu proprio that restored the diaconate in 1967.

    Of the 11 functions of a deacon that Pope Paul VI listed, the first eight are focused entirely on the liturgy. The 9th speaks of carrying out “duties of charity.” The last two speak of “promoting Christian communities” and sustaining the “apostolic activities of laymen.”

    Only the first can be said to refer to mass.

  47. Charivari Rob says:

    “In his letter, he announced that a man will not be ordained simply to “be the deacon” at a particular parish or mission. Instead, there must be “a specifically identified need in the community” recognized by the bishop in consultation with the local pastor.”

    Circumstances and needs change in a parish over very short intervals of time. How long might a formation program for the permanent diaconate take? Two years? Three? Four? What happens if he approves a candidate to meet a “specifically identified need” that is no longer present by the time of ordination?

    I wonder if the Bishop has expressed the same expectations (regarding the Mass/preaching and charitable service) for his transitional deacons. After all, “A deacon is a deacon.”

  48. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    Regarding the Bishop’s Pastoral Letter:

    http://www.dioceseofmarquette.org/images/DiaconatePastoralLetter2011FullText.pdf

    I think that there is much here that is commendable. I believe that he truly values the diaconate and wants to ensure that it continues to be fostered within his diocese.

    I have just a few observations to make by way of critique.

    1. First, he mentions twice at the beginning that there are certain misinterpretations, misunderstandings and confusions regarding the ministry of deacon. However, after reading this document, I do not see these anywhere outlined. To my mind, it would be very helpful to understand the nature of the problem as he sees it and tries to address with his pastoral letter. Perhaps others who read this can locate the issues.

    2. Secondly, respectfully I think Bishop Sample goes too far in the document by asserting that the deacon’s role in the liturgy is not “his essential identity and role,” when in fact the objective should be not to subjugate any dimension of his office to another (Word, Worship and Charity),” but rather to see how all three interrelate and are mutually enriching and interdependent. A deacon should be wary of all reductionism as it pertains to his ministry. It is multidimensional, although I do believe that both dimensions of Word and Charity converge within and flow from the Liturgical dimension. A deacon’s ministry in the Mass or Divine Liturgy should reflect his service in the common life of the parish community (gathering and offering petitions, edifying and animating the faithful to exercise their charisms and attentively participate in the liturgy and the common life and apostolate of the Church, advocating for the needs of the laity as well as assisting the pastoral leadership of the bishop and priest, preaching the Gospel, serving humbly as Christ serves, etc etc). I think Bishop Staple attempts to make this connection in speaking about the deacon’s role with the poor as it relates to liturgy, but this still does not overcome a certain imbalance in his initial presentation indicated above. I also believe that the Latin Church has, in certain sectors out of zeal for lay involvement in the liturgy, usurped the proper role of the deacon in the Mass. Might not such a de-emphasizing of the liturgical nature of the deacon’s ministry simply feed into this practice of the laity and priests disrespecting the deacon’s proper sacramental ministry in the Mass?

    3. I think the use of an assigned apostolate/ministry within the parish or diocese is actually quite beneficial so long as it does not become overly rigid in its application. In our missions, we assign one of four dimensions (Word, Worship, Charity and Administration) to a deacon or subdeacon as his primary focus and accountability so that, while he is not responsible to do everything related to that particular dimension and should be actively involving the laity who are interested in serving and using their charisms in that particular area, he is ultimately accountable to the pastor for activities in the parish that pertain to that domain. But again Bishop Staples attempts to connect the new requirement for diaconal assignments to his view of the deacon’s primary role as “not in the sanctuary but in the service of charity” and quite frankly I do not think this is representative of the full charism and rich history of diaconal service. It is not a question of “either/or,” or of one being primary and the other secondary or tertiary, but rather “both/and.” He could simply have asserted the need to re-emphasize the pastoral and charitable aspects of diaconate, but instead with the overemphasis on Charity I believe he risks doing damage to the unity of the three principle dimensions of diaconate – Word, Worship and Charity – which the recent teachings of the Church have tried to faithfully preserve.

    4. Finally, regarding preaching, it is certainly the prerogative of Bishop Sample to enforce certain norms regarding the ordinary practice of having the celebrant preach the homily during Masses in his diocese. I for one am grateful, however, that we have a cycle of preaching in our parish and that I am given the opportunity at least once a month to preach.

  49. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    I inadvertently referred to Bishop Sample as “Bishop Staple” and “Bishop Staples”…blame it on the lateness of the hour, but my apologies to Fr. Z and the good bishop for the error!

  50. Henry:

    My point is that it simply may not be necessary, but should it be determined that it is, the tradition of the Church is the starting point for making that determination, as it is for nearly everything else.

    Michael:

    You cannot abandon something of which you are not in possession. The present discipline does not require perpetual continence. History — specifically, the tradition of the Church, must be examined to make a case for re-instituting it. This includes ALL of the history, which entails how the practice evolved to the present.

  51. robtbrown says:

    Charivari Rob says:

    “In his letter, he announced that a man will not be ordained simply to “be the deacon” at a particular parish or mission. Instead, there must be “a specifically identified need in the community” recognized by the bishop in consultation with the local pastor.”

    Circumstances and needs change in a parish over very short intervals of time. How long might a formation program for the permanent diaconate take? Two years? Three? Four? What happens if he approves a candidate to meet a “specifically identified need” that is no longer present by the time of ordination?

    I wonder if the Bishop has expressed the same expectations (regarding the Mass/preaching and charitable service) for his transitional deacons. After all, “A deacon is a deacon.”

    I think the bishop is trying to curtail the part time permanent diaconate. For several years permanent deacons, many very good men, were often ordained as an expression of pastoral success. A diocese might have lots of annulled marriages, little interest in the Sacrament of Confession, few vocations to the priesthood . . . BUT 25 new permanent deacons ordained this year–even though their professions, while honorable, had little to do directly with the mission of the Church

    I am totally in favor of a permanent diaconate, but I think a few principles should be followed, governed by the general principle that the diaconate, like the priesthood, is a complete commitment to the clerical life. IMHO, PD’s should:

    1. Wear clerical clothes.

    2. Be obligated to the complete Divine Office.

    3. Have a profession that is directly connected to the mission of the Church. For example, a professor or Church history, theology, philosophy, or canon law, a parish or diocesan religious education director.

  52. Be obligated to the complete Divine Office.

    Excellent. If some question the contributions of deacons, surely a deacon could make a real contribution in almost every parish by leading daily Lauds and Vespers (a great lacuna in typical parish liturgy), since most priests really don’t have sufficient time to do this justice.

    Hmm …. Wonder how extensive is the coverage of the GILOH (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours)–or practice in chanting (preferably) or leading public recitation of the hours–in the typical deacon preparation program.

  53. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    I’ll go one further – obligate all parishes to institute the daily celebration of Morning and Evening Prayer, presided over by a priest or a deacon. That would be a true liturgical renewal worthy of an Ecumenical Council!

  54. Again, no article posted in WTPRS about deacons can dispense of the reference to “the extensive studies of canonist Edward Peters — Edmund Cdl. Szoka professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and Referendarius of the Apostolic Signatura — of the possibility that all clerics in the West, even those married, are canonically obligated to observe perfect and perpetual continence.”

    Father Z even says it hasn’t been “adequately answered”. Does every article in a (Canadian) scholarly publication have to be “answered”? Dr. Peters is the minority opinion on this issue. A minority of one. There is no other prominent canonist who holds his view, and especially no one in the Roman Curia, nor at the Pontifical Faculties in Rome. The opinion of lone authors do not have to be “answered” by Church authorities. The fact is, the 1983 Code was not the best written thing on earth. C. 277 was written speaking of continence, but the Code later (1031) allows married men to be ordained (in light of Paul VI’s 1967 motu proprio restoring the office in the West.) You would think the Code (and subsequent legislation) would make clear if these married men were not to partake of the marital act. Yet all subsequent vatican documents, papal discourses, etc. do no such thing. Could it be C. 277 contained an oversight by the authors, and the intention of the legislator is made clear in the canons which, you know, deal with married permanent deacons? Keep in mind Canon 277 does not say “even if the cleric is married” (in fact, Peters entire argument is on the word “continence” since it has traditionally meant no sex, even in marriage, but ignores the fact the sentence reads that clerics are bound to continence, and therefore called to celibacy, which has traditionally meant unmarried, meaning a married clergyman in itself seems to violate that canon, but obviously cannot) nor does Canon 1031, say “but married deacons are still obliged to not have sex.”

    If this is such an important issue (there are tens of thousands of married deacons who would be in an objective state of sin) it seems that the Church would have to do more than hope people read Dr. Peter’s article in Studia Canonica!

    Peters seems to treat the Code of Canon Law like a fundamentalist treats scripture, taking bits and pieces, adding them up, and coming to a conclusion – ignoring common sense, what the text clearly says in another location, and, most importantly when dealing with Church law, the “mind of the legislator”.

    He even gives not credence to documents from Congregations of the Holy See which refer to the “certain kind of continence” to be observed by Permanent Deacons, which does not include refraining from sexual relations.

    Moreover, married clerics in the West do not make the promise of celibacy. They are not required to renounce their right (and it is a right) to conjugal relations, nor are the wives (who also have the right). Therefore, married clerics cannot be required to not partake of what is their marital right (which they have not renounced).

    Even more moreover, when married men in the past were allowed into the priesthood, yet expected to keep purely continent (in the old meaning of the word), they (and their spouses) had to legally renounce their conjugal rights. This happened on occasion in the past (including a case in 19th Century America, where the husband became a priest, and the wife a nun – he later defected and sued the convent to return his wife).

    Please, I have spoken to several canonists about this (including some holding Important Positions in Rome – oooooh) , and the reason Peter’s hasn’t been answered is because no other canonist takes his arguments seriously. It is only talked about on conservative blogs, who see Peters as the chief canonists in St. Blogs – but many good and pious deacons read those blogs, and many are having a crisis of conscience about the issue, and needlessly so.