Saturday, July 18, 2009

One month into Year of the Priest and I'm thinking "deacons."

If I didn't know any better, I'd credit Pope Benedict XVI with an exquisite sense of irony. But after watching this pontiff stumble through one public relations gaffe after another, I'm thinking the Year of the Priest was declared without much regard for timing. What's that? How was B16 supposed to know back in March that Ireland's version of everyone else's child abuse scandal would explode in May? My WAG at an answer: that investigation had been going on for nine years.

And what's up with calling Roman Catholics to pray for "spiritual perfection in priests"? Rather ambitious, don't you think?

I think we should start with more modest goals. Praying for priests' willingness to work well with lay leadership comes to my mind. Let's pray this for six months and then review our progress. Finding evidence of willingness, we could then devote the remaining six months to praying for their ability to work well with lay leadership -- or with deacons.

Deacons! Why didn't I think of them two paragraphs ago? (Make my own point.)

Why don't we spend what's left of the year praying that priests treat deacons with more gratitude and respect. This should certainly be easier to accomplish than "spiritual perfection."

While it's true deacons may resemble lay leadership, in that some have private sector experience, deacons are ordained. And, they're men. (We could work on the gratitude and respect thing for religious and lay women later. The Roman Catholic church has been ambling along like this for over 2,000 years, so what's the rush?)

Speaking of irony, I must note that I'm writing this within hours of suggesting (via Twitter) that everyone in Christendom read the editorial, "Community of Disciples" in America magazine. In that fine piece, we are called to stop all rhetoric that is "harsh and often lacking in respect or courtesy."

LordJesusChristHaveMercyonMeaSinnerAmenHailMaryFullofGrace... That ought to do it.


  1. "Spiritual perfection"!? I can't begin to understand what amount of prayer would that require :)

    Liturgy of the Hours

  2. Ok, Ok, but...
    we're ALL called to spiritual perfection. Maybe not the best choice of words, but I'm sure he is going for the call to holiness.

    Still, most people get there through small steps, which you ably advise. ;)

  3. Deacons, for our part, have a huge role to play in facilitating lay leadership in the church. This requires competence. As the diaconate grows, we are better formed.

    Perhaps it is an anomaly where I am, but I'd like to see more priests put in the time. After all, isn't being available one of the pragmatic arguments for celibacy?

  4. I don't think you're seeing an anomaly, Dcn. Scott. Having had a diocesan-wide view at one point, I couldn't help but notice that deacons are generally more involved with faith formation than priests.

    Not complaining! In my experience deacons seem to be more currently informed and educated about the spiritual needs of laity.

  5. Thanks for this thoughtful, thought-provoking post.

    I would be interested in your thoughts that many suggest that the re-introduction of the permanent diaconate in the RC church is clericalising ministry - it is removing ministry opportunities which are being taken up by lay persons elsewhere. Particularly on this feast of St Mary Magdalene, apostle to the apostles, deacons currently only able to be male in the RC church, are taking ministry and leadership opportunities from women?

    Of course, with the RC creation myth as you suggest going back "over 2,000 years" women deacons are well within that period :-)

    I'm also intrigued about deacons being seen as an option to side-step celibacy, when that option is only available prior to ordination. And anyway - there are married RC priests...

    Interested in your & other people's thoughts.

  6. Those "married RC priests" generally didn't start out RC, and there's the rub. Strange that the RC church would accept married men from other traditions, but it's somehow not acceptable for RC-born men to be married and priests.

  7. You make a good point, Shannon, about the strange situation within the Latin (Western) Rite where there are married priests originating in other denominations.

    But don't forget, the Catholic Church is composed of something like 23 rites. In the majority of those rites priests have always been married.

  8. Jumping back into this conversation to note that the move to expanding the male (for now) diaconate does look like yet another way to take ministry and leadership positions away from women.

    And then there's reality, which is that women are so actively and deeply involved that the RCC -- in the U.S.A., anyway -- would probably collapse if every woman ceased her work for the church and the people of God. Sometimes I cheer myself up with the thought of this happening. As if.

  9. "
    And then there's reality, which is that women are so actively and deeply involved that the RCC -- in the U.S.A., anyway -- would probably collapse if every woman ceased her work for the church and the people of God. Sometimes I cheer myself up with the thought of this happening. As if."

    Oh Meredith, all I can do is sigh deeply and keep praying. And working. I cheer myself up this way too.

    Thank you for this wise and thoughtful post.


  10. Nonsense.
    We have 5 permanent deacons at our parish! Yet they add up probably to one or one and a half deacon(s). They have little concept of service. It's what serves them the best.

    This is the YEAR OF THE PRIEST. Why do we need to be so inclusive? I am tired of having to include the sisters, deacons, lay, etc. This one year out of 2009 has been dedicated for a renewal of priestly virtue in the line of the patron saint of parish priests, St. John Mary Vianney and Benedict XVI made a PR gaffe?!?

    I understand there are priests out there that need to work on their skills with working with the laity; however, priests, deacons, and laity have to understand they each have a unique role to play which complements each other.

    I pray that during this YEAR OF THE PRIEST, the Church will grow stronger!

  11. Well, dear readers, here you have it -- in this comments section -- a fine illustration of what James Joyce meant when he said of the Catholic Church, "here comes every body." May God bless us all, despite our passionate differences of opinion.

  12. I'm with Deacon Scott here. The anomalistic notion of a brief "transitional diaconate," especially one that lasts all of 6 months to a year, needs to be dropped altogether. It is simply to function briefly in a lower ordo until the "real work" of ministry can begin, that is, the presbyterate. It is no wonder that so many priests do not value the diaconate. For them, it was a transitional state...a stepping stone on the path to the priesthood. (Esp. Latin) Sacerdotalist attitudes could be easily cured by a 5 year requirement to serve the Church as a deacon. Most young men on the path to the priesthood go from the cocoon of college/minor seminary to major seminary to the rectory. What if these guys had to serve as deacons for five years and get a job in the marketplace to support themselves? They could still live in the rectory, but would be required to work and earn a living. What a difference such experience serving as a deacon and in the workplace could make!

    Here is another thought: don't take away the deacon's proper role in the liturgical assembly: Proclaiming the Gospel, offering the Prayers of the Faithful, and (dare I say it) Incensing. I have seen priests who proclaim the Gospel while the deacon stands off in the corner. I see the lay faithful get up and offer the Prayers of the Faithful, when this is proper to the deacon's service: to gather up the petitions from their service in the community and present them in the liturgical assembly. Finally, incensing: No, using incense regularly does not mean that we are bringing back the Index of Forbidden Books. It is an ancient liturgical action, proper to the Christian Levite. The deacon is concerned for the holiness of the assembly, the temple of "living stones" as well as the physical temple of each Church. Give the deacon back his censer and let him use it.

    As to leba's comments, the root of the issue with the 5 deacons could be any number of things, including poor formation. But 5 deacons? Praise God! I think every Church should have many deacons - even a diaconal fraternity (the apostles started with 7) serving together. One deacon could serve as the protos or first, helping to coordinate diaconal efforts. At present, both my father and I serve our communities as deacons. We hope to have several more join us.

    I'm all for praying for our priests. As a deacon I stand between the two priesthoods and serve them both - the sacerdotal and the common priesthood (in which even the ordained share, of course) of the lay ordo. Some priests are not comfortable with deacons serving in this mediating role. I am grateful for my priest (married, Eastern Catholic, 5 kids) who is very supportive, and served for several years as a deacon. He understands the deacons proper role, and is very careful not to "step on my ordo."

    Great topic, Meredith. Think we might actually get a "Year of the Deacon"?

  13. Fr. Deacon Daniel presses this discussion further into why ordain priests for a nominal period as deacons when they are called to the presbyterate and clearly not to the diaconate? Why not ordain people directly to the order to which God calls them "per saltum" as in much of the Early Church?


  14. Year of the Deacon? Probably only in our hearts and minds A laity can dream, though.

    As for returning to practices of the early church, how far back were you thinking of going? Me? I'd prefer to make it before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.-- except for the sanitation issues and with the addition of the Internet, of course.

  15. Why don't we spend what's left of the year praying that priests treat deacons with more gratitude and respect. This should certainly be easier to accomplish than "spiritual perfection."

    It is a curious thing to suggest watering the garden without first turning on the hose.

    But, then again, that has been a widespread error in the garden of the Church in recent years.


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