Role be­com­ing more im­por­tant

Dea­cons are per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of sa­cred within sec­u­lar

Cape Breton Post - - Religion/advice/games - Robert F. Cole­man is an or­dained per­ma­nent dea­con serv­ing with the Ro­man Catholic Dio­cese of Antigo­nish. He lives in Syd­ney with his wife and daugh­ter and works full-time as a ca­reer de­vel­op­ment prac­ti­tioner.

For the first few hun­dred years of Chris­tian­ity the di­a­conate flour­ished within com­mu­ni­ties.

The min­istry and of­fice of the dea­con was closely con­nected with that of the bishop. The dea­con was charged with re­spond­ing to the spir­i­tual and ma­te­rial needs iden­ti­fied by the bishop as be­ing ur­gent within his Chris­tian com­mu­nity. Thus dea­cons pro­vided care to the most vul­ner­a­ble and marginal­ized, and were also en­trusted with the fi­nan­cial re­sources and ad­min­is­tra­tive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to meet those needs. Un­for­tu­nately, and for rea­sons too com­plex to ar­tic­u­late here, the di­a­conate even­tu­ally be­came solely a step­ping stone to the priest­hood.

The prac­tice of the di­a­conate as be­ing ‘per­ma­nent’ in char­ac­ter and ex­pres­sion dis­ap­peared en­tirely within the Ro­man Catholic Church by the Mid­dle Ages.

With great wis­dom and in­sight the Sec­ond Vatican Coun­cil de­clared in its ‘Dog­matic Con­sti­tu­tion on the Church’ that the “di­a­conate can in the fu­ture be re­stored as a proper and per­ma­nent rank of the hi­er­ar­chy.” In 1967 Pope Paul VI is­sued an apos­tolic let­ter pro­mul­gat­ing the general norms for restor­ing the per­ma­nent di­a­conate.

On June 18, 2017, the Church will mark the 50th an­niver­sary of that restora­tion. Over those years there has been steady growth.

There are to­day over 45,000 per­ma­nent dea­cons glob­ally and their num­bers are pro­jected to con­tinue to in­crease by more than a thou­sand per year. The Dio­cese of Antigo­nish or­dained its first per­ma­nent dea­cons in 2011 with an­other group or­dained the fol­low­ing year. There are cur­rently sev­eral men in for­ma­tion.

But what is a per­ma­nent dea­con? How is he dis­tinct from a priest, or is he merely a mini priest? It is far too sim­plis­tic to dis­tin­guish one from the other by means of func­tion alone. A dea­con re­ceives the sacra­ment of Holy Or­ders as does a priest or bishop. The di­a­conate, how­ever, does not share in the pri­estly or­ders.

Bish­ops and priests are con­sti­tuted in mis­sion and ca­pac­ity to act in the per­son of Christ the Head. Not so with a dea­con. He is con­sti­tuted in mis­sion and ca­pac­ity to act in the per­son of Christ the Ser­vant. This is his rai­son d’être.

Catholics are most fa­mil­iar with the dea­con at litur­gi­cal cel­e­bra­tions where he as­sists the priest or bishop. How­ever, the litur­gi­cal func­tions of the dea­con, while nec­es­sary and ap­pro­pri­ate, are sec­ondary. The dea­con must first and fore­most be of Chris­tian ser­vice in the wider so­ci­ety through his fam­ily life, sec­u­lar oc­cu­pa­tion, and a spe­cific out­reach min­istry on be­half of the bishop and Church.

In our dio­cese you will find dea­cons min­is­ter­ing in hospi­tals, long-term care fa­cil­i­ties, and to the home­less and im­pris­oned; es­sen­tially wher­ever you find peo­ple on the pe­riph­ery of so­ci­ety.

The dea­con be­comes the in­ser­tion point of the Church into the world be­yond the church doors. His pur­pose at the al­tar is to bring the needs of the ex­cluded and for­got­ten to the faith com­mu­nity gath­ered at wor­ship. The dea­con’s task is not to present re­li­gion as an ide­ol­ogy op­posed to all things worldly; rather he is to be the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of the sa­cred within the sec­u­lar as an agent of evan­ge­liza­tion, in­clu­sion, and en­gage­ment.

His­tor­i­cally, the roots of the di­a­conate are to be found in the first cen­tury with the choos­ing, by the apos­tles and the Chris­tian com­mu­nity in Jerusalem, of seven men to ad­dress a prob­lem.

Wid­ows of a cer­tain so­cio­cul­tural back­ground were be­ing ex­cluded in the daily dis­tri­bu­tion of food. Those seven men en­sured that fair­ness was re­stored. They are con­sid­ered the first dea­cons. Ev­ery dea­con to­day stands on their shoul­ders as an icon of Christ the Ser­vant made vis­i­ble in Church, cul­ture and so­ci­ety. With a growth rate far ex­ceed­ing that of the priest­hood, the fu­ture ef­fi­cacy of the Church’s mis­sion and min­istry may well de­pend on this an­cient and es­teemed or­der.

Robert Cole­man Dioce­san Voices

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