the Holy Spirit" and others. Then there are the deacon martyrs, including Stephen and Lawrence and so many others. Their act of sacrificial love continues to inspire the whole church as a perpetual homily!
In 1996, on the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (Corpus Christi), I was ordained to the Order of Deacon in the Catholic Church. When I lay prostrate on the floor that day in preparation for the imposition of the hands of my Bishop and the reception of the Book of the Gospels, I knew my life would never be the same.
My ordination did indeed create a "mark" on my soul as our theology teaches. I now serve as a member of the Catholic clergy in everything I do: evangelization, apologetics, pro-life work, religious freedom efforts and ecumenism, as well as in my professional life in the world.
The diaconate has a rich history. 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 given to candidates on their way to priestly ordination. In the Eastern Church, the diaconate remained a part of the permanent rank of sacred orders without interruption from the time of the Apostles until now.
The Council of Trent (1545-63) called for the restoration of the permanent diaconate for the entire Church. But it was not until the Second Vatican Council, four centuries later, that this direction was implemented. The Council Fathers explicitly stated their purpose 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.
According to "The Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons," issued jointly by the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Congregation for the Clergy, the deacon is "a sacred minister and member of the hierarchy." He is ordained to the first rank of sacred orders, not to the priesthood or the episcopacy. He is no longer a layman, but a member of the clergy.
Like other clerics, the deacon participates in the threefold ministry of Jesus Christ; the "diaconia of the liturgy, the word, and of charity." He represents "Christ the Servant" in his vocation. 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, distributes the Eucharist as an ordinary minister, 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.
Because they receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders, deacons are sent by Christ to serve God's people. They are called to do so out of the depths of an interior life centered in the Eucharist, and fueled by a life of prayer, which proceeds into action. Like other clerics, they recite the Divine Office and cultivate the habit of penance.
They are called 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 are called to demonstrate the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage and the holiness of a consecrated family life. They are called to "give clear witness to the sanctity of marriage and family."
It is important to note that although what we call the permanent diaconate has been opened to married men of mature age; it is also open to and encouraged as a permanent rank of orders for celibate men. The decision for marriage or celibacy is to be made before ordination to the order of deacon.
Sadly, some Catholics who see themselves as traditionalists have a problem with those of us ordained to serve as Deacons. I have only one thing to say, adjust. Either the Church made a mistake, or you have. Most of us have much in common with you. We are older men, committed to the Magisterium of the Church and sacrifically serving the Lord and the mission of His Church in an age desperately in need of her message and her mission.
On this Feast of St Stephen, the Deacon and Martyr of the Church, let us continue our clebration of the Octave of Christmas by reflecting on this soldier of Jesus Christ whose life was so conformed to the Lord that he imitated him in his death.
Let us also pray for our deacons, that they can continue bearing witness to the truths of the ancient faith, following in the footsteps of Deacon Stephen. May Deacons take their place in the New Evangelization of the Church. May they serve as soldiers of love in a new evangelization of the Church and, through her, a new missionary age.
- - -
Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Deacons, St Stephen Feast of St Stephen, Rev. Mr., Tradition, Octave of Christmas, Deacon Keith Fournier
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