YOUR QUESTIONS

Sr. Louise Zdunich

April 23, 2012

QuestionRegarding your recent columns on blessings (WCR, Feb. 6, March 12), you might want to provide further clarification. You should emphasize that a deacon, and not only a priest, "blesses as the official representative of the Church and so blesses in the name of the church and not in his own name" and uses the Church's official ritual.

As a permanent deacon in the Calgary Diocese, I am often asked to bless religious and other objects. With 40+ permanent deacons in Calgary, several in Edmonton (20+) and several more in St. Paul, it is increasingly important that the laity understand that deacons hold many – but certainly, not all – of the official faculties of priests.

 


AnswerAnother writer suggested the column was biased against the diaconate because it made no mention of deacons. In that case, the same would apply to bishops since they were not mentioned either. The original question related to the difference in blessings by priests and laity.

It's true, the deacons' role is not well known. The Western Church lost the permanent diaconate in the first millennium while the Eastern Church didn't. In 1967, Pope Paul VI issued an official letter to the Church restoring the permanent diaconate while retaining the transitional diaconate before the priesthood.

So what is a deacon? The Acts of the Apostles, the source of the first reading at Sunday Mass from Easter until Pentecost recounts the spreading of the Gospel in the early Church.

Chapter 6 tells of the selection of seven deacons, among them, Stephen, to serve the ordinary tasks of charity and the laying on of hands which gave them ministerial powers. Chapter 7 tells us about Stephen's great wisdom and testimony and martyrdom.

The word "deacon" comes from the Greek diakonos meaning servant. Deacons serve as ministers of the Word, the liturgy and charity. Their liturgical vestment, the stole is worn over the left shoulder only, symbolically leaving the right arm free for service.

A deacon blesses a dog in the Netherlands, just one example of the many roles deacons can play.

CNS PHOTO | JERRY LAMPEN, REUTERS

A deacon blesses a dog in the Netherlands, just one example of the many roles deacons can play.

Deacons are ordained clergy. They serve by assisting the priest. At Mass, they read the Gospel and preach. While laity are extraordinary ministers, deacons are ordinary ministers of Communion and are proper ministers of the cup. They read the intercessory prayers, purify the vessels, etc.

ORDINARY MINISTER OF BAPTISM

Laity can administer the simple form of Baptism but deacons and priests are ordinary ministers of the full official rites of Baptism. Deacons preside at funerals and weddings.

They lead services such as Benediction, liturgies of the Word, Morning and Evening Prayer. And yes, deacons give blessings in the name of the Church. Deacons can serve as parish administrators or in other diocesan positions.

Deacons exercise the service of charity according to needs and their own gifts and time. Their first duty remains to their family and employment.

Deacons minister to the needy and sick, to the elderly and shut-ins, to mentally or physically disabled, in homes, hospitals, prisons and streets. They may initiate and train parishioners for charitable ministries.

In 1 Timothy 3.8-13, we see the qualities required of deacons and their households. Therefore, deacons take several part-time years of formation and instruction in Scripture, theology, preaching, evangelization, counselling and pastoral care. Deacons' wives often participate in the training.

Appointed to parishes by the bishop, deacons are under the pastor's supervision. Their proper title of address is "Deacon," not "Father." Deacons can be married or single. As they normally continue their employment, they are not always compensated monetarily by the Church.

Deacons cannot celebrate Mass, hear Confession, give absolution nor anoint the sick which often includes confession and absolution. However, they are obliged to recite the Divine Office.

SERVANT CHARACTER

Pope Paul VI described deacons as "the animators of the Church's servant-character." This servant ideal was given by Jesus at the Last Supper: "So, if I, your Lord and teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you" (John 13.14-15).

Paul's Philippians hymn told us Jesus "emptied himself taking the form of a slave" (2.6-7). Following Jesus' example, we are to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13.14).

So, Paul introduced his household rules by telling Christians they are to "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5.21). How empowering it is for deacons to be called "animators of the Church's servant-character" and to be servant-leaders!

(Other questions? Email: zdunich@telus.net)