Liturgy Corner #8
This month Deacon Dan writes on the diaconate, so that we can all grow in our appreciation of this important ministry.
Deacon: Minister of the Liturgy, Word & Service
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the restoration of the diaconate as a full and separate ordained ministry in the Church. While most Catholics in the U.S. have encountered the ministry of deacons, there still remains confusion as to exactly what is the deacon and how does his ministry relate to that of priests and to the role of the laity.
The deacon's liturgical ministry is the focus of this short article, but a little background may help put that aspect of his ministry in proper context. The restoration of the diaconate was a direct result of the teachings of the Vatican Council's principal document - The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. It states: "For, strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests, they serve the People of God in the service of the Liturgy, of the Word, and of charity." (#29)
The deacon, then, has a three-fold ministry conveyed by the bishop's laying on of hands in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. His liturgical ministry is meant to have an intimate connection with his ministry of the word and, most importantly, with his ministry of charity away from the altar. He is not, then, either a mini-priest or a maxi-altar boy. He is a clergyman who directly represents the bishop and his ministry on the altar. His liturgical role includes:
-accompanying the presider even if there are other concelebrants.
He might precede the priests if he is solemnly carrying the Book
of the Gospels. He kisses the altar with the priests and sits to
the right of the celebrant.
-leading the Penitential Rite, depending on which Form is used.
-proclaiming the Gospel. Bishops and priests should only proclaim
the Gospel in the absence of a deacon. He may preach the homily.
-assisting in the reception of the gifts and preparing the altar
for the Holy Sacrifice and then assisting the Presider.
-inviting the congregation to share the sign of peace.
-elevating the chalice at the Doxology.
-serving as an ordinary minister of the Eucharist.
-dismissing the people.
The deacon is also authorized to officiate at baptisms, marriages, wakes, and burials. He also has the power to bestow many of the blessings of the Church. The permanent deacon's role is still unfolding and even deacons have much to learn about the Holy Spirit's full plan for its restoration. What is clear is that the restoration of the diaconate is one of the specific actions of the Risen Lord in the renewal of His Bride, the Church.