11 August 2006: Friday of the 18th Year in Ordinary Time
St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr
St. Lawrence is one of the most famous Roman martyrs, was a deacon. Killed four days after Pope Sixtus, Lawrence became famous because of his youth, evangelical love for the poor, courage before his torturers, and sense of humor while dying. Tradition holds it that he was roasted to death on a grid iron. A beautiful basilica in honor of St. Lawrence stands in Rome.
In the feast of St. Lawrence, and in the presence of our deacon, Rev. William Garcia, I find it appropriate to talk about the diaconate. What is a deacon? Is he the first runner up of the priest? Almost thirty-seven years ago Pope Paul VI set in motion the restoration of the permanent diaconate with his apostolic letter of June 18, 1967, Sacram Diaconatus Ordinem, and shortly after, the US Bishops began restoring the permanent diaconate in the country. However, even with this promulgation, there is much misinterpretation and confusion concerning this ordained ministry. Case in point: In occasions when Rev. William gives communion beside me, many would rather line up in my line rather than his. There is a superstitious belief in an intellectual community in UP, that those who receive communion from a priest, will receive more blessings from the Lord. Hopefully no one believes that salvation is assured when they come to me.
Most Catholics are familiar with hearing about what sounds as two different kinds of deacons: the transitional deacons, who are ordained deacons as an interim step towards the priesthood like Rev. William, and the permanent deacons, who are single or married, well-known in the community for their exemplary lives and are active in their parishes. Vatican II, initiated the restoration of the order of deacons, and should be seen as a full, permanent, and stable order in its own right. There is only one order of deacons, as the praenotanda to the Rite of Ordination of Deacons makes clear. It is one of the ranks within the three-fold ministry of holy orders: episcopacy (bishops), presbyterate (priests), and diaconate (deacons). Vatican II recovered the ancient notion of the church as servant to the world, the Body of Christ that ministers to the world in order to help bring about its sanctification and redemption. This is the sacramental identity of the deacon, ordained to diakonia, or service.
Historically, a deacon was admitted to service at the Eucharistic table because he served at the table of the poor. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he addresses his letter to all the bishops and deacons at Philippi (Phil 1, 1); the services of deacons in (Rom. 12, 7). That is why, the deacon is one to announce petitions of the prayers of the faithful (General Intercessions). As one who worked directly with the sick, the poor, and the needy in the community, the deacon intimately knew their needs and brought these needs to the attention of the praying community as a whole. Thus the General Intercession of the Roman Missal sees the deacon, as holding “first place among those who minister in the Eucharistic celebration” (94). The deacon is thus called to bring the ministry of the church — its mission of charity and justice — to the workplace, to the community, to the neighborhood, and to all the places in which he lives and interacts with others daily.
The functions specifically assigned to the deacon in liturgy, at mass, are proclaiming the Gospel, preaching God’s word (homily), announcing the intentions of the Prayers of the Faithful, preparing the altar, serving the celebration of the Sacrifice, distributing the Eucharist to the faithful, especially the Precious Blood, and sometimes giving directions to the people for their proper gestures and posture.
One of the qualities being asked of candidates for those who will be ordained to be deacons is their love for the church. Many of them are sent where they are most needed. Love for the church means getting to know the Church and its servants better. And with a correct understanding of different services and servants, we may accord the same respect as we would of each other.