St James Cathedral - Seattle, WA

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Deacons and the Priesthood

A co-worker said to me recently: "You're studying to be a deacon, and a deacon is closer to the priesthood."  Her statement made sense to me at first, but after some thought I realized that depending on what she meant by priesthood, that's actually not true at all.

Allow me to explain- this topic is actually one of the first things I had to wrap my head around when I entered the deacon formation program.  (This might get a little more theological than usual.)

For those who may not be familiar, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that there are two participations in the priesthood of Jesus Christ- the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood (paragraphs 1546-1547).

Through priestly ordination, bishops and priests belong to the ministerial priesthood.  Deacons are also ordained, but "not unto the priesthood but unto a ministry of service" (Lumen Gentium 29).  Because of this distinction, deacons belong to the common priesthood along with the laity and vowed religious sisters and brothers.  All of us became a part of the common priesthood (also called the royal priesthood in 1 Peter and Revelation) through baptism.  In light of my co-worker's comment, there's no distinction among the folks within the royal priesthood who is closer to the ministerial priesthood.

Putting the ministerial priesthood distinction aside, certainly deacons enjoy a special relationship with priests.  A good deacon compliments a priest well.  It's also important to point out that all priests were once deacons as part of their formation to priesthoodLike priests, deacons take a leading role in the liturgy and in the pastoral life of the parish, although rightfully to a much lesser degree.  Sometimes it can be hard for people to distinguish between a priest and a deacon during Mass.  Both wear liturgical vestments including a stole to signify their clerical office- priests wear the stole over both shoulders with it hanging down the front; deacons were the stole over the left shoulder and have it fastened at the right hip.  Despite their similarities, the priest will always celebrate the Mass; the deacon's role is always to serve or assist.

The first deacons in Acts 6:1-6
So if they're not a part of the ministerial priesthood and they can't do as much as priests can do, what's the point being a deacon?

Well it's not about how much a deacon can do, but rather what his focus is.  Unlike priests who are configured to Jesus the Priest, through ordination deacons are configured to Jesus as Servant.

Deacons are clergy that live among the laity and thus identify closely with them.  Many deacons have families and maintain employment in the secular worldBecause of this, they can take the Gospel message in the name of the Church to the margins where it is not easy for priests and bishops to go.  As servants, deacons also give a special focus to the poor and others who need the Church's attention (which was the initial task of the first deacons in Acts of the Apostles). 

Archbishop Gregory of Atlanta wrote something that caught my attention in the November 2015 edition of Deacon Digest that highlights one of the most important things that deacons do:
"When these deacons do don the liturgical vestments of their office, they distinguish themselves not only in attire but also in sacramental focus so that the poor and neglected will know that they have an advocate who stands at the altar and who will frequently remind the entire community of their presence and dignity within the heart of the Church."
That's a pretty good reason have deacons, right?

If you would, please say a prayer for me and my fellow deacon aspirants.  It's become clear to me that the Church needs good deaconsI'm glad Thanksgiving break gave me some time to catch up on the blog!

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