Friday, August 10, 2012

St Laurence: thoughts on the diaconate

Everyone knows the story of  St Laurence, the great martyr, the only non biblical saint honoured throughout the Latin Church with a feast.

He is a deacon; I had an Irish lady email to complain about "married deacons" who are being introduced into Ireland, she means permanent deacons of course, they were resisted in her country for a long time.
I have a friend who has just taken over a parish and the local clergy (priests) have been advising him to rid of  the permanent deacon in the parish he is just about to take over, partly because he is a bit disruptive in the parish, hasn't much grasp of theology and isn't that devout, he seems to have been trained on the cheap, without much regard to his spiritual formation, apparently he turns up Sundays and spends the rest of the time gossiping.

Deacons are a bit of problem for us in the West, our theology of Holy Orders doesn't quite have room for them, it is based too much on priests. Some of the VII Fathers, familiar with the Fathers and the theology of the East, wanted to broaden it but that depended on raising the role of the minor orders within the life of the Church, but that was somewhat dashed by the Council deciding to abolish them whilst restoring the permanent diaconate. In practice we end have ended up with a bishop as a priest plus and a deacon as priest minus. In Ireland, as elsewhere, the new openness to the diaconate is obviously the result of the shortage of priests, they can stand in for a priest, and for all the meaningful words, they are simply a substitute, a stand in.

The story of St Laurence tells us that the deacon was there to care for the poor, and to look after the Church's treasure. Historically, he was one who did the pastoral work, who took care of almsgiving and the Church's administration, he might also have been a catechist but everything he did was in communion with the bishop, in the story of St Laurence he shares in both the death of Christ and of his bishop Pope Sixtus. I cannot help thinking today  Diocesan Financial Secretaries, Head Teachers etc. ought to be deacons.

It is entirely praiseworthy that bishops are beginning again to wear the pontifical dalmatic, it should be remembered that Eastern bishops wear the sackos, the dalmatic like garment but not the chasuble, because rather than bishops being priests plus they are both priest and deacon. The deacon shares in the bishop's servant role and hence wears one of his vestments, which signifies his service of the Church.
It is worth considering the seven deacon's of Rome were not the Presbyter's assistants but the servants of the Bishop. In ancient sanctuaries the deacons stood around the bishops cathedra whilst the presbyters sat with him. At a deacons ordination, unlike a priests, the bishop alone lays hands on the new deacon.

One of the stories of St Laurence is that one the treasures he cared for was the Holy Grail which was sent to Valencia, his hometown, there is still an apparently 1st century Palestinian cup in there cathedral treasury there today. Modern theologies of the diaconate seem to want downplay the cultic role of the diaconate, in the Traditional Rite not only does he prepare the chalice but also offers it with bishop or priest, it is his role to  prepare and care for holy things, yet he does not take the place of either bishop or priest. In the Ethiopian he doesn't even read the Gospel, the priest does, assisted by the deacon. In the Byzantine liturgy for a great deal of the time he stands at the head of the people leading the Litanies, in the West, now he is supposed to lead the Prayer of the Faithful.

There are several accounts of newly appointed bishops getting rid of the previous regimes troublesome deacons by ordaining them presbyters, thus taking them away from the coffers and separating them from the poor and from immediate contact with the bishop's ministery.


Trisagion said...

In your neighbouring diocese the Financial Secretary is a deacon: me!

Sixupman said...

As a child I was taught that in the mission fields elders became a sort of deacon, because a priest may be available only sparsely. The elder, e.g., could authorise a marriage, which would be confirmed when the priest next came around. The West has been created into a mission field? I think not. A prelate of my acquaintance has preached in favour of laity led parishes and against the ordained priesthood and, obviously, they are others like-minded.

My view, right or wrong, is that the 'permanent diaconate' is nothing but a Trojan Horse for the married clergy brigade. They also tend to manipulate parishes together with other meddling cohorts and the result is a liturgy of their own choosing. The poor PP bowing to the pressure.

In the Liverpool Archdiocese Permanent Deacons wives are co-listed?

Brian said...

Hello Fr Ray

I am a married man who was ordained to the diaconate last month at Westminster Cathedral. That the ordination to the permanent diaconate is a distinct and irreplaceable ministry, has yet to be acknowledged by priests, but also especially for the laity who, it appears, are under- catechized in respect of the permanent diaconate, often because of a lack of exposure to the ministry of deacons, in view of their limited numbers. Deacons have been a part of the ordained ministerial structure since the early Church, evolving out of the necessary division of labour that the Apostles introduced and confirmed with prayer and the laying on of hands, Acts 6:1-6. Therefore, diakonia is ‘hardwired’ into the hierarchical leadership structure of the Church. Unfortunately, the practice of the Church for almost a millennia was to treat the diaconate as a transitional state on the path to priestly ordination, and consequently the permanent diaconate withered. Therefore, the opportunity the Church had at its disposal, to visibly and permanently witness to diakonia through its ordained ministerial structure in an iconic manner, was undermined. The Council Fathers at Vatican II were divided as to whether a permanent diaconate should be restored. Some saw its restoration as potentially undermining vocations to a celibate priesthood, whereas others saw it as an opportunity for the Council to look for ways in which bishops could be enabled to provide pastoral care other than through priests. Cardinal Suenens, made the contribution at the Council that led to the Council recommending the restoration of the permanent diaconate., Suenens acknowledged the objections of bishops opposed to restoration, specifically the objection that many laymen currently carried out the functions that were historically assigned to deacons in antiquity, and that therefore ordination was not necessary. To counter this functional objection, Suenens articulated a theology to underpin a restored permanent diaconate that emphasised its sacramental nature as being the raison d’etre for its restoration, rather than a restoration for purely pragmatic, resource-driven, or pastoral reasons alone.
You are right that the bishop is both priest and deacon. Clearly he cannot be everywhere to offer the Sacrifice and wash the feet of the poor. Both imperatives are exercised through priests and deacons.
It is not my experience that “modern theologies of the diaconate seem to want downplay the cultic role of the diaconate”, if anything that is often the most visible element of the deacon’s functions and relates back to the grounding of diakonia in the Eucharist. It’s all there in John 13.


Deacon Neil said...

Oh dear, what a negative piece about deacons. When the Church restored the diaconate as a permanent rank in the late sixties the current shortage of priestly vocations was not known. Deacons were simply meant to restore the full three fold ministry and perhaps do some good work. I'm sure there are troublesome deacons without much theology, there are certainly lots of priest's like that. Like modern priests (in southern England) deacons take a degree in theology and are are taught by leading scholars. Not all deacons are married, and we have a substantial number of married priests as well as many for whom, to quote one your posts, live in "comfortable bachelorhood" rather than something more worthwhile. If you doubt the value of the permanent diaconate, you must shed your otherwise unswerving loyalty to the current Pope, who is enthusiastic, read his homilies to the permanent deacons of the diocese of Rome on their website. In Ireland there may well be resistance from some quarters to the married deacons, but lets face it the Irish church has been all but destroyed by some priests and bishops, and so deacons are unlikely to make it worse and might even ease some people back. When permanent deacons were restored after a gap of 1700 years it was suggested this was a back door to married priests and bishops. Half a century later that does not seem to have happened. Welcoming large numbers of ex Anglican clergy is more likely to lead in that direction. I don't profess to know why there is such a shortage of priestly vocations and a glut of diaconal ones. Optional celibacy might be the answer, or might not. Deacons are irrelevant to that discussion, as married or single, they are part-time non stipendiary ministers. Deacons can't absolve sin or consecrate the Eucharist, which are central to the ministry of priests, but they are far from what priest's spend most of their time doing. Deacons can and do a great deal both sacramentally (baptizing and marrying) as well as during the mass (preparing the chalice, proclaiming the gospel and preaching etc) and pastorally. Pastor in Valle seems to have no such qualms, he has a deacon
for whose ministry he is grateful, and D.V. will have another next year (the son of a priest). God Bless Father, I will continue to pray for priestly vocations. Deacon Neil

Fr Ray Blake said...

Brian, Congratulations on your ordination.
You are right exposure will cure many of the problems, eventually. My understanding, is Suenens at least toyed with the idea of the proper restoration of the minor orders, with a corresponding pastoral function, then rejected the idea when it seemed impossible to open these to women.

Some have suggested that Acts 6 deacons are actually presbyters, the term "diakanos" referring to servants, rather than the Order of Deacons, they do appear to fulfil presbyteral functions; preaching celebrating sacraments. The theology of Orders remained in flux for some time.

Deacon Neil,
I am not negative about deacons, I am a bit concerned that they generally seem to to pressed into a priestly mould. As you say their restoration was a restoration of the 3 fold ministry but they seem to be used to fill the shortage of priests.

Supertradmum said...

Permanent deacons have been around a lot longer in the States than in England. Much longer. The problem has been, at least in two dioceses where I have worked, that they have been extremely liberal--believing in women priests, for example and civil marriages. Why this has happened, I do not know. Also, according to the original idea, deacons and their wives were supposed to become complete chaste after ordination and this has not been encouraged. Also, there are too many "clerical" deacons. I have only known one who worked among the poor and was very busy with food banks and the homeless. I think that the entire ministry must be seriously looked diocese at home just ordained yet another very liberal deacon.

If there is a real need where there is a priest shortage, or for pastoral work, good, but unless the choice of man and the training changes, I do not want to see any more leftist deacons and leftist deacon wives. One cannot have wives or deacons contradicting Catholic teaching.

Matt R said...

Fr Blake,
I would argue that the problems your deacon readers see will not go away with exposure to more deacons. I believe the problems stem from the restoration of the permanent diaconate without the necessary developments in both the theology and law behind Holy Orders in the West...until it is resolved, the problems won't go away.

nickbris said...

Somebody like Brother Francis would have made a perfect Deacon if I understand what it all means.

Some of my Presentation or De LaSalle teachers would also have been ideal,dissenters would not have been tolerated.

Fr Ray Blake said...

You are most probably right, we need to develop a little further in the authentic theology of VII.
I think that the real problem is the "The Spirit of Trent" which sees the Eucharist rather than Baptism as the foundational sacrament of the Church - hence we look "in" to serve those in communion with the Church rather than looking beyond to evangelise.

Suenens et al (maybe Pius XII) took the Easter Vigil and baptism as a starting point, rather than Sunday Mass, thus the ministries preparing for baptism, catechesis and evangelisation had greater importance.

Anagnostis said...

Dear Father - I like your observation about the sakkos; unfortunately, it's a misapprehension! The sakkos is not the eastern equivalent of a Latin diaconal vestment, but derived instead from the Imperial tunic. It came in with the Turkish Yoke (along with the double-headed eagle rug, the raissa, the throne in the nave, etc.), when bishops were compelled to function as ethnarchs. Until the fifteenth century, bishops simply wore the phelonion (chasuble) with the omophorion (episcopal stole) on top. The change was one of the "reforms" resisted by the Old Believers who didn't want their bishops dressed like emperors, or their priests like Turkish magistrates.

Similarly (to break down your appealing argument still further!) the Western idea that every lower hierarchical order remains active and fully functional within the higher, is not the understanding of the East: deacons are deacons, presbyters are presbyters and bishops are bishops. You will never see one functioning liturgically as another!

Fr Ray Blake said...

Thank you for correction regarding episcopal vestments in the East.

The idea of a "bishop being a bishop..." isn't unknown in the West! It would be interesting to explore why the West has a strong sense that "lesser" orders are retained and not subsumed by "higher" orders. I am not knowledgeable enough to be able to say when orders in both East and West became hierarchical, in the sense of progressing from one to another, rather than complimentary, that is, of remaining forever, more or less, in one order, eg of priests being ordained priest only, rather than being ordained subdeacon, deacon and progressing up through "stages".

William Tighe said...

"I am not knowledgeable enough to be able to say when orders in both East and West became hierarchical, in the sense of progressing from one to another"

The late Henry Chadwick discusses this question in his final book *East and West* (2005):

and although I forget the details, he dates it much later (8th/9th centuries?) than I expected.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Thank you William, that is late.


Fr Ray,
What we need are more Holy and Celibate Priests; not more Permanent Deacons-they are not much use if you are dying either! These Ordinations to the Permanent Diaconate are just a springboard to force the hands of the Magisterium and Hierarchy for Married Priests! Therefore, I believe it is difficult enough to live a singular vocation never-mind a dual vocation-who comes first Mrs Deacon and Family or the Parishioners? Let redouble our prayers for an increase in vocations to the celibate Priesthood!

God Bless,


Anonymous said...

Deacon Neil is right, it's a very negative piece. The tone is set with the words "Clergy (priests)".

The vast amount of confusion over a deacon's roll comes from the priests who treat the diaconate as a second class order. take for example The Confraternity Of Catholic Clergy in the UK, which only allows associate membership to deacons. They had quoted the US Confraternity on their website, but omitted the phrase 'and deacons', which illustrates where they stand on the matter.

On the whole I think you'll find the experience of most deacons, and parishioners, is that deacons get on with the job, and parishioners are glad that they do.

Occasionally we have to stop and explain when people try to demean us, but hey! MT 5:11, we're used to it.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Deacon Tony,
I use "clergy (priests)" because the clergy in that particular area urging such a course are priests.

I think your theology of diaconate might be a little foreshortened, "... deacons get on with the job, and parishioners are glad that they do." Parishioners might be glad but the role of a deacon isn't or shouldn't be merely standing in for a priest and do the "job" he doesn't or can't do.
Maybe I failed to make myself clear, I am trying to suggest that the diaconate should give us a new vision of Church rather than merely be substitutes for priests.

It is worth re-reading the various positive contributions at VII behind Lumen Gentium 20 and 41. The vision presented in the Acta by some of the Fathers is most certainly not what we have now in most dioceses but one of a much more dynamic Church, the same can be seen in the writings of those who wrote preparing for the restoration of the diaconate from WWII to the Council.

Anonymous said...

Personally I'd never say clergy (priests) or clergy (deacons) or even clergy (bishops) come to that, I'd use the level of orders. Perhaps that's just me, I'd never encountered a clerical qualification in brackets before.

While the theology of orders would be of interest, appropriate and correct for those in orders and those who are interested, for the parishioner on the Clapham omnibus, it does not hold an interest, at any level. An understanding of the practice will suffice.

When deacons are required to stand in for priests it's never a 'merely'. If such a request is made the fault would lie with the priest for asking as much as the deacon for obliging.

Actually, taking into consideration the amount of priests who attempt to denigrate the office of permanent deacon, ie the CCC, perhaps you are correct and there are many who need their understanding of the theology refreshed,

Fr Ray Blake said...

"While the theology of orders would be of interest, appropriate and correct for those in orders and those who are interested, for the parishioner on the Clapham omnibus, it does not hold an interest, at any level. An understanding of the practice will suffice."

...but Deacon Tony,
As Catholics we believe our practice is based our theology and our theology on our prayer, lex orandi lex credendi. Theology is about our lived communion with Christ in his Church, if we do not have right theology then we certainly cannot have right practice. This is why theology can never be just about an academic degree but about is also about prayer and spiritual/liturgical formation too.

As for CCCUK, membership is not open to bishops either, I do not know if that is the same in the USand Australia. Perhaps one theological reason is to do with the theology of collegiality, but I am not sure.

Anonymous said...

I know the laity are called to the practice of the faith in their baptism, are they called to knowledge of the faith in one of the other sacraments? I have not spotted this.

And are bishops not also priests?

Fr Ray Blake said...

"-" a name would be useful, I shan't publish anymore comments, this is just anonymity, it makes it impossible to reply to you as I am sure Deacon Tony might want to do.

Deacon Tony,
Where exactly did you "do" theology?
You really cannot be serious!

"To know me is to know the Father", I think someone said, any idea who?

Can we not assume knowledge, in order to form an intention, at the very least, is necessary for the reception of the sacraments?

Even in the case of infants in the sacraments of initiation, the assumption is that they will grow in knowledge of Christ within the communio of the Church. In the case of infants we expect some knowledge on the part of their parents, "the first and best of teachers".

Anonymous said...

Anonymous posts will be ignored?

I "did" my theology at Wonersh, why the quotation marks.

Perhaps my exoerience of diaconate ministry differs to yours, I'll bow to your superior knowledge.

Enjoy the CCC

Fr Ray Blake said...

A "-" is not exactly anonymous, just irritating.

Quotation marks? because it is colloquialism, which I don't particularly like.

Damask Rose said...

Part I

You know how it is. Some people in the parish 'run' the parish their whole lives. The key players. It can be difficult for a newcomer to contribute to parish life - ostracisation - being the operative word. Some of these long-term key players are really 'holier than thou'. Some key players wives can be bitchy and hurtful. You know, pointing out to people the sins said 'holy' wife thinks they are committing. You know, these wives, they gossip, are hurtful, suck-up to the parish priest. It can get cliquey because said 'holy' wife might just do a bit of Father's housekeeping.

Well, with some parishioners is all about 'who's in' and keeping up with the Jones's.

Then one, day, *BAM*. Her husband gets ordained Permanent Deacon.

It can take a few years worth of working on the forgiveness 'thing' when this one time spiteful couple can now, husband at least, bless, hold the chalice at Consecration, obtains an even bigger role than he apportioned to himself in the parish all those years ago. And the wife's in tow now too... Perhaps she's a reader, Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist.

Anyhow my experience of the parish deacon is the following:

1. Theology/knowledge isn't working. Constant gaffes in the homily. Some of which being:
a) Jesus didn't know he was God(!?).
b) Jesus was formed in the Old Testament (huh?).

2) Grinning through entire Mass while on the Sanctuary even through the Consecration.

3) Forget the 'charity' thing. Really smarmy. (You've got to take it, kind of, because he's a cleric now).

4) Once, when Father was on holiday, and we had absolutely no priest for Sunday Mass. So there was all the prattle when the PD stood behind the altar and said "how he hadn't been trained for this", yada, yada. It was a real shock to see him standing in Father's place. The homily was
awful. The PD indulged in his yearnings for the Roman Catholic Priesthood and in front of the whole congregation, asked if the Holy Spirit could inspire the Church towards a married priesthood. (Why doesn't he just become a Protestant?).

5) Telling a lewd joke infront of a group of ladies.

Damask Rose said...

Part II

Question for you.

In Paul VI's Moto Proprio 'Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem' it says:

13. In the case of married men care must be taken that only those are promoted to the diaconate who while living many years in matrimony have shown that they are ruling well their own household and who have a wife and children leading a truly Christian life and noted for their good reputation.

So, if the PD and his wife's children are not following the faith, do you think they should be ordained?

Finally, I'm with Fr John Boyle and Prof Peters in calling for a perfectly continent permanent diaconate. If they want to be clerics, and if clerics in the Latin Rite are celibate, should they then not embrace perfect continence for the Kingdom of Heaven - a real vocation?

Seems to be a double-dose of sexuality. They can create children biologically, and supernaturally. If the parish priest keeps on passing off his scheduled baptisms to the PD, he could become supernaturally, well, a little sterile (this is just my opinion).

A priest once showed us in Mass how a priest 'conceives' his spiritual child, procreates. Father plunged the Paschal Candle into the Baptismal Font and explained that (hopefully
I've remembered correctly) the Candle represented Christ and by being placed in the Holy Water in the font, how Christ's seed is disseminated, meaning how through baptism, we become children of God. It's supernatural.

Also, if Paul VI elimiated the orders of Sub-Deacon and Transitional Deacon and these were celibate priests, how can the PD, replacing this order, not be perfectly continent then?

But if they're supposed to be perfectly continent, then, why aren't they, and why do some bishops allow a widowed PD to remarry?

Were St Stephen and St Lawrence married?

In all honesty, why is there such a difficulty about PD's and their wives embracing perfect continence (I realise the usual arguement). How many celibate PDs are regularly ordained in dioceses? If not, why not? What is a true vocation? Too many deacons LOVE preaching in Fathers place during Mass. They even say so from the pulpit. It's all about the preaching.

If only Bishops enforced the Church's own rules and deacons were required to remain silent while the priest is on the Sanctuary/kneel during the Consecration/hypothetically (at this moment in time) embrace perfect continence, I wonder how many men would apply for the PD then.

Increasingly Catholic parishioners are out of touch with what the priest is, being alter Christus (I think some priests don't know as well). And with the sex-abuse crisis, many think priests ought to be married to satisfy their sexual frustration (forgetting that these priests are pederasts). As the West has become more sexualised, more priests in mainland Europe are calling to be married, have concubines, basterds etc. Basically an apostasy. Call it an endless merry-go-round of the Church's non-teaching of sexual morality being passed back and forth between priest and parishioner.

I think the Permanent Diaconate is a crack that can lead to a fissure in the Catholic priesthood a la Cranmer and Luther. (But isn't this what it's all nefariously about?)

Final word, why would I want the PD to bless me and my family, when I can ask alter Christus to do it.

Way to go, Fathers; you all rock!

Long live the celibate Catholic priesthood!

Fr Ray Blake said...

I haven't time to answer all your questions.
I am sorry you have had bad experiences of Deacons but honestly people have bad experiences of priests (both married and celibate), it is clay vessels holding a precious gift.

momangelica said...

Whoah! This is a subject that has niggles me over the years and I have to say DM has my sympathies.
While going to my Diocesan Educational Centre I encountered a "priest", or so I thought. He wore black and a white dog collar. He was a Deacon as it turned out. There were a few priests in various parishes who would walk around in grey open necked shirts looking less priest like said deacons. And this is my bug bear, it looks to me as DM mentioned, as a postering towards married priests. I can see it do nothing more than take the faith away from the young (and old),
removing the visible message of the reality of the Sacrificial element of the Holy Mass and the Real Presence. The priesthood is of the highest position and the hierarchy do not do justice to that fact.
It would be a better thing if the uniform was more distinctive for a start, and the disposition of deacons to be of a callibre set higher due to their position. Sorry if present deacons find this offensive but we are talking about the faith of the the future church members. In my opinion, the Catholic Church is coming across so Anglican these days. So many episodes are making me cringe these days, hardly - and

Fr Ray Blake said...

...but Momangelica,
Deacons are clerics it is not their fault priests don't look like priests! The are not to blame.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully Damask Rose appreciates she writes about one deacon, not all of us.

Grinning and Lewd Joke Telling are no more a part of deacon school that sweeping judgements are in Christian teaching

momangelica said...

With all due respect Fr. Ray, If all priests dressed like priests and the Deacons also dressed like priests how do we tell hem apart? Just asking!

Fr Ray Blake said...

There is no distinctively "priestly" dress when not at the altar, only clerical dress. Pope JPII encouraged seminarians to continue to dress properly as clerics, in the same way as priests or deacons, it is the practice of traditional religious orders and always has been.

Sixupman said...


Just so!

At small church I used to attend in North Cumberland, I was met, one Sunday, with a guy in civvies who it turned-out was the new parish priest.He was a trained liturgist and his Masses came out of loose-leaf folders.

At another small church, for my sins was perforce to attend,it was over-endowed with Deacons. These and the Parish Priest were wont to parade up and down the aisle chatting to the congregation. One Deacon was bedecked as a priest and, initially, I thought he was. My Confessor opined that I should accept attendance there as a penance - I kid you not.

momangelica said...

Fr. Ray,
I am not talking about Seminarians, but married older men usually with families who "parade" as ordained priests. The seminarian I met today inspires hope for the church, the other type, forgive me for saying so, do not.

Anonymous said...

"The seminarian I met today inspires hope for the church, the other type, forgive me for saying so, do not"

are not the words "me with" missing there?

Let's look at your use of the word 'parading'? This is not a phenomenon I am familiar with. Do they wear chasubles? I would venture (forgive me being pedantic) that they are parading as unordained priests, let's not lose sight that these men are ordained.

We deacons tend to find if someone in a fleeting moment as they pass by and acknowledge you, calls you Father it’s best not to correct at that time, do it later when there’s time to explain. I am guessing this is what is referred to by parading. But in essence, those of us in diaconal ministry have found a way forward, with help and guidance from our formators, to treat parishioners with appropriate pastoral care.

If, however, you are aware of deacons who deliberately mislead parishioners about their orders then we must do something about this as it could bring the orders into disrepute. Please feel free to email me with details and I will take this forward.

Triumphguy said...

A few thoughts:
Deacons are ordained in
"persona Christi" - as Christ the Servant.
Deacons are not mini-priests, or priests minus....
The Diaconate is one of the 3 ordained ministries.
Deacons are ordained to service, and are the Ordinary Minister of the Word, and also take especial care of the Chalice as they assist the priest during the Eucharist.
Deacons are not "wannabe" priests, nor are they "super-laity."
Deacons have faculties from the Bishop not the parish priest.
Wives participate in the formation process and have to be vetted as rigorously as their husband.
Married Deacons are not called to be celibate.