Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sacraments and Shopping: Here's an interesting idea. . .

I came across the following item earlier today and thought I'd share it:

New Sunday Deal: Sacraments and Shopping

CATANZARO, Italy, SEPT. 22, 2010 ( Shoppers at the Le Fontane shopping center in Catanzaro are now finding it easier than ever to attend Mass on Sunday: a new church in the area gives both consumers and employees an effortless way to find a Sunday Mass.
Archbishop Antonio Ciliberti of Catanzaro-Squillace presided this month over the solemn dedication of the new parish complex, named after St. Maximillian Maria Kolbe.
"People for whom it has become a habit -- and, unfortunately, they are increasingly numerous in the context of our consumerist pseudo-civilization -- to spend Sunday afternoon in these shopping centers, now find the opportune possibility of being able to enjoy the wealth of spiritual values," Archbishop Ciliberti noted on Vatican Radio.
Every day some 10,000 people visit this 20-hectare (49-acre) shopping center.
However, the prelate pointed out that St. Maximillian Kolbe is not just for these consumers, but above all stands to benefit the near 1,800 residents of the region, who did not previously have a parish.
"Our task is to go beyond the boundaries of ordinary pastoral care," the 75-year-old archbishop said, adding that his intent is a ministry program that is "radically innovative."

Two Masses will be offered at the church on Sundays and one on weekdays.
Not only is the idea itself interesting.  I found the Archbishop's talk of going "beyond the boundaries of ordinary pastoral care" and that he intends a ministry that is "radically innovative" to be rather exciting.  In one of my first posts on this blog, I mentioned that deacons serve in a "servant Church": a Church that, as Pope Paul VI put it, was to be "servant to humanity."
What do you all think?  Is this a good example of the kind of outreach ministry that might be attempted elsewhere?
God bless,


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Deacons and Politics

For people interested in the intricacies of church life, canon law is a most interesting study.  Since canon law, at its best, is to reflect and embody an ecclesiology (or ecclesiologies?), the law is a kind of "applied theology."  I am not a canon lawyer, nor -- as the old commercial had it -- do I play one on TV!  But here's an interesting canonical tidbit.

Many of us who write on the diaconate make the point that "deacons are not priests" while at the same time, "deacons are clerics"; in other words, being a "cleric" is not reduceable to the priesthood.  Canon Law also makes that point repeatedly.  One good example is "the deacon and politics."  Here's how it goes.

Canon 285, subsection 3, says that "clerics [which of course includes deacons] are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power."  Now, in its broadest sense, this would include political offices, but also other offices as well.  For example, as a career Navy officer, I exercised civil authority.  And I did so, even after I was ordained a deacon.

Here's why that can happen.  Canon 288 is a kind of "permanent deacons' canon."  It says, "Permanent deacons are not bound by the prescriptions of cc. 284, 285 (#3 and #4), 286, 287 (#2), unless particular law determines otherwise."  So, while canon 285 forbids all clerics from this function, canon 288 releases PERMANENT deacons (deacons who are seminarians studying for the presybterate would not be released by this canon) from its provisions.  Bottom line: permanent deacons may service in "public offices" unless another legitimate legislator (such as the USCCB or the diocesan bishop) issues his own law on the matter.

Interesting point: Many of our deacons do, in fact, serve in public offices.  Perhaps many, many more SHOULD!  Deacon-judges, deacon-mayors, deacon-governors, deacon-congressmen, maybe even deacon-Pres. . ., no that's going too far!  LOL!

What do you think?  Should deacons get even more involved in the political sphere?

Deacons Today: Dalmatics and Beyond: Questions, questions

Deacons Today: Dalmatics and Beyond: Questions, questions:   I posted this shortly after starting the blog, but thought that I would repeat it.   Questions, anyone?

"So, let's change things up a bit. I can keep posting things about the diaconate, but I'd like to try something: This is a great place t..."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pope: "Have a care also for your deacons. . . ."

With a tip of the hat to my good friend Deacon Greg Kandra over at The Deacon's Bench, we have the following from the pope's homily in Scotland:

"Just as the Eucharist makes the Church, so the priesthood is central to the life of the Church.  Engage yourselves personally in forming your priests as a body of men who inspire others to dedicate themselves completely to the service of Almighty God.  Have a care also for your deacons, whose ministry of service is associated in a particular way with that of the order of bishops.  Be a father and a guide to holiness for them, encouraging them to grow in knowledge and wisdom in carrying out the mission of herald to which they have been called."
-- Pope Benedict XVI, September 16, 2010
You may read more about this at:

What difference does the Mass make?

Nick Wagner, over at "Today's Parish", has compiled a checklist on "The Roman Missal and Liturgical Renewal" which is quite good.  Check out the whole checklist here.  I was particularly struck by the sixth item on the list, which I'm copying here:

"Life in the parish, the neighborhood, and the city is better because we celebrate Mass every Sunday. The ultimate evaluation of the liturgy is how well the values of the gospel are promoted in the world after the liturgy ends. If your community still suffers from homelessness, unemployment, drug or sexual abuse, or other chronic social ills, more must be done to bring the heavenly banquet from the altar to the streets.
  • Preach on the social teaching of the church.
  • Create awareness campaigns on particularly difficult issues surrounding the parish.
  • Practice seeing Jesus in everyone. Start with those who you worship with but do not know. Gradually move toward recognizing Christ in those most different, most frightening, most repulsive to us."
Many have written on this connection between our celebration of the Eucharist and our responsibilities for ministries of charity and justice in the wider community, and it is wonderful to see it included on the checklist.  St. Paul wrote that  is "unworthy" for a Christian community to partake of the Lord's Supper amid division and indifference to the poor (1 Cor 11:17-22, 27-32).  The Catechism summarizes that "to receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren" (#1397).

The Apostle Paul says that it is “unworthy” of a Christian community to partake of the Lord’s Supper amid division and indifference towards the poor (1 Cor 11:17-22, 27-34). Our Catechism (1397) tells us: “To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren”.  John Paul II wrote in 2004 that "the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged will be our mutual love and in particular our concern for those in need" (Mane Nobiscum, Domine).
So, thanks, Nick, for including this wonderful insight for us all to consider.  And for those of us who are deacons, this can be a particularly appropriate opportunity and challenge since deacons can -- and should -- take the lead in making this connection clear to all.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Servants in a Servant Church

One of my personal heroes has always been the great pope John XXIII.  He was the pope when I was in grade school and when I entered the seminary, and his humor and wisdom were legendary even then.  Always a curial outsider, it was rather ironic that one of his closest friends over the years was the ultimate Vatican insider, Giovanni Battista Montini, who would succeed John as pope Paul VI.

John is known for his famous opening speech at the Second Vatican Council where he encouraged the world's bishops to be true shepherds in finding ways to meet the needs of people in the modern world.  The speech that is less known, however, is the concluding speech to the Council delivered by Paul VI the day before the Council's solemn closing.  John had died after the first session of the Council (October through December 1962), and Paul had led the church during the last three sessions (September through December, 1963, 1964, and 1965).  On 7 December 1965, Paul VI addressed the bishops of the world with these words:
We stress that the teaching of the Council is channeled in one direction, the service of humankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need.  The Church has declared herself a servant of humanity at the very time when her teaching role and her pastoral government have, by reason of this Church solemnity, assumed greater splendor and vigor.  However, the idea of service has been central.
Following the Council, and after he implemented a renewed permanent diaconate in 1967, Paul VI continually spoke of deacons as the "animators" of the church's own servant-hood.  John Paul II echoed this famous quote and then observed that deacons were "the church's service sacramentalized."
So, what does a "servant-Church" look like?  How does a "servant-Church" act in the world?  Long before we consider deacons as an order of ministry in the church, we need first to examine the nature of the church itself.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Be Not Afraid. . . Still, being worried might be appropriate

Forgive me for not posting in a couple of days.  I've been "on the road" teaching in our graduate program.

As you can see in the brief autobiography on the right, I served for twenty-two years in the United States Navy, and I'm very proud of that service.  Today I received an e-mail from a man I knew in the Navy, although I haven't seen him in many years.  His e-mail was troubling, to say the least.

See, the subject of his e-mail was "Can Muslems Be Good Americans?"  I would normally consign such trash to the cyber-dumpster without reading it.  Still, I went ahead and waded through it.  What was going through my mind was the Kennedy-Nixon campaign when I was ten years old.  "Can a Catholic be President" was the question back then, although the only reason that it had traction at all was because some people still asked the even more fundamental question: "Can Catholics Be Good Americans?"  Those who would answer that question negatively proposed some of the same kind of nonsense that I read in today's e-mail.

The question is: How best to deal with this kind of ignorant, mis-informed and hateful attitude?  The teacher as well as the deacon in me wants to explain the errors in this e-mail (which I realize has been around ever since the LAST Presidential campaign), but that might give it more attention than it warrants, and only serve to perpetuate it further.

I realize that this is not a posting directly related to the diaconate, but in another sense it certainly is.  The perpetuation of this kind of religious intolerance needs to be addressed, and addressed with honesty and truth.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Deacons: Ordained to. . . WHAT?

The deacon's ordination has been the subject of ecclesiastical reflection nearly from the beginning.  One of the classic texts is that attributed to Hippolytus of Rome around 215 AD: "When the deacon is ordained, this is the reason why the bishop alone shall lay his hands upon him: he is not ordained to the priesthood but to serve the bishop (Latin: "non ad sacerdotium sed in ministerio episcopi").  About 250 years later, the "Statuta Ecclesiae Antiquae" changed this to read: "the deacon is not ordained to the priesthood but to service: (Latin: “non ad sacerdotium sed ad ministerium”).  The problem is, just what is meant by this "service"?

Service is a tough word to pin down.  We get "service" in restaurants or from mechanics or at a retail store.  We have religious "services" and many of us have had military "service".  What constitutes diaconal "service"?  The word "deacon" itself means servant, but that doesn't help much, either.

When I was going through formation for ordination, our director of formation asked us all to identify some areas of ministry which we had never performed before.  His only stipulation was that it had to be "diaconal" ministry.  Well, I thought, deacons are ordained to share in the triple office of Word, Sacrament and Charity, so I suggested the development of a parish adult formation program.  The director informed me that this was not "service" in the diaconal sense and that I should find something else.  I did.  However, it got me thinking.  Just what is "diaconal service"?

Others also questioned this almost exclusive association of the deacon with what Anthony Gooley has referred to as "the servant myth."  Basing his work on that of John Collins' monumental word study of the diakon- words in the New Testament, Gooley agrees with Collins that "service" means considerably more than menial service.  I could not agree more!  On the other hand, I believe firmly that diaconal service INCLUDES menial service; it's just not restricted to it.  Serving those most in need -- whatever that need happens to be -- is an ancient function of the church and of her ministers.

Vatican II, in describing the ministry of the bishop, refers to the triple function of teaching, sanctifying and governing as diakonia.  The whole thing is diakonia.  Teaching is diakonia, sanctifying is diakonia, servant-leadership is diakonia.  In the early days of the renewal of the diaconate, it was not unusual to hear the triple function of the deacon described as "word, sacrament and service", but I contend that this only adds to the confusion.  Much better, in mind opinion, is "word, sacrament and charity," with "service" applying to all three.

To lose sight of this balanced, integrated approach can cause real distortion and confusion.  For example, in one diocese, the liturgical and sacramental role of the deacon was so minimized that married candidates for ordination were told that the normal place for them during Mass was in the pews with their families.  If the pastor asked a deacon to preach, then he could assist at that Mass; but liturgical assistance was seen as an almost extraordinary function!  However, given our Eucharistic theology, such a position is truly stunning.

Here in the United States, ever since the first guidelines on the diaconate were issued by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1971, the bishops have always held that there is an "intrinsic unity" within the triple office in which the deacon participates.  In fact, the bishops write that no one is to be ordained who is not willing to undertake all three in some way.  I like to think of deacons as "ministers of connect-the-dots" in which we sacramentalize the balanced approach to discipleship -- a discipleship of Word, Worship and Charity -- to which we are all called through sacramental initiation.

This post is certainly no attempt at a full-blown scholarly analysis of all of this; this is, after all, "just a blog"!  But it does, I hope, highlight some of the concerns which surround the issue.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dachau and Deacons

Steve wrote asking about the connection between World War II and the diaconate, especially in Europe. This is extremely important for understanding the contemporary order of deacons, so thanks, Steve, for a chance to sketch out some things.

In Germany and France during the 1800's, there was considerable discussion about reconnecting "the church" with the people. There was a growing concern that a rising individualism had become prevalent, with a kind of "me-and-Jesus" spirituality developing, even in public worship. So, for example, the Benedictine monks in Solesmes, France, around 1840, began a program of liturgical renewal with the goal of increasing lay participation at the Mass. About the same time in Germany, discussions took place about how to help connect the Gospel with everyday life, and some people even suggested that having deacons, who would have a mission from their bishop and who would still be living among the people they served (and not, for example, in a rectory), would be a big help. There was also a growing appreciation that the Church's identity involved the care and service of others and this also became associated with the desire for a renewed diaconate, since this had been a major responsibility of the deacons in the ancient church as well.

These discussions continued into the 20th century. Then in January of 1933, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. He began to nationalize various aspects of German life (banking, for example) and there was concern that he would try to nationalize the charitable agencies already being run by both Protestant and Catholic groups. Second, Hitler opened the first concentration camp at Dachau, just outside of Munich. Into Dachau went many of those who opposed his policies, including, over time, several thousand German (and later, Polish) priests.

At first, religious leaders (rabbis, sisters, priests, bishops, ministers) were ordered to live within the general prison population, with no special treatment accorded them because of their religious role. Therefore, many of the cell blocks had spiritual leaders present among their fellow prisoners, able to minister to them. Eventually, the Nazis realized that this was giving people strength to continue to oppose them, so they emptied out a cell block (eventually several blocks) and placed the clergy there in an attempt to isolate them; it didn't work, and the clergy would still sneak into other areas and minister as they could. The Nazi guards referred to Cell Block 26 as "The Priest Block." This new arrangement also gave the priest-prisoners mutual support as well as the chance to talk and to dream.

Over time, these religious leaders began to ask themselves why their efforts to prevent war and violence and destruction had been so ineffective in the first decades of the 20th Century. Imagine if you were a 45-year old German priest in 1945 at the liberation of Dachau. You would be thinking about things like the First World War when you were a teenager; the rise of the various totalitarian regimes; the worldwide economic collapse, and on and on. And now, you have the experience of being in a concentration camp and experience the hell of the Shoah. What could the Church do to be a more effective witness of Christ to this world? That's the question for the future. It is no coincidence, that many of the leaders for reform at the Second Vatican Council were bishops from places so profoundly affected by the Second World War: Germany, France, Belgium and so forth.

Among the variety of things that these priest-prisoners began to discuss (and they talked of MANY things!) was the possibility of a renewed and permanent diaconate which would work in concert with priests, with deacons serving as icons of Christ the Servant who gave himself totally in service to others. This was an important lesson that these people learned in the camp: that it was the care of others that perhaps could provide the most powerful sign of Christ's presence. This would be the responsibility of a new cadre of deacons.

After the war, two of these priest-survivors (both German Jesuit priests) eventually began writing about these conversations at Dachau, and their writing drew the attention of a variety of laity, priests and bishops, especially in Germany and France. Diaconal groups were formed to study and to plan for a renewed diaconate, and all of this activity drew the attention of theologians, especially Karl Rahner, who became a real proponent of the idea. Throughout the late 1940s and into the 1950s, many scholars and groups began to discuss the diaconate so intently that in 1957, Pope Pius XII spoke about the possibility. Even though he felt that "the time is not yet ripe" [in 1957] to take this step, he indicated that he was in favor of the idea. Karl Rahner, just before the Second Vatican Council began, wrote a 536-page book on the diaconate that has never been completely published in English. However, he made the German edition available to the bishops of the world.

Eventually, there would be more than 100 recommendations for a renewed diaconate received BEFORE the Council began, representing more than 200 bishops from around the world. About 60% of these recommendations came from Western and Eastern Europe.

That's a quick sketch, Steve. Hope that helps a bit!

God bless,


The Deacon and the Chalice

Nick asked about a statement in one of my books on the diaconate in which I refer to the ancient association of the deacon with the chalice (cup) used at Mass to hold the offering of wine which will become the Blood of Christ. We can still see evidence of this at several times during the Mass: it is the deacon who pours wine into the chalice and then adds a few drops of water to it and hands it to the priest; the deacon elevates the chalice while the priest elevates the Host at the Concluding Doxology; the deacon often (but not exclusively) ministers the chalice to the people at communion; and the deacon purifies the chalice after communion.

The evidence of this close association goes back almost to the beginning of Christian writing, but I'm not aware of any particular rationale for it, other than the role of the deacon at Mass was -- and is -- one of assistance to the bishop/priest. If the priest was busy with the host and paten, the deacon took charge of the chalice. The legend of St. Lawrence, the deacon of Rome who died in the 3rd century, contains a reference to the deacon's responsibility for the chalice, and most liturgical books of the middle ages continue this. (The image to left even shows Lawrence with the Book of the Gospels (also a prime responsibility of the deacon, and a chalice.)

In some medieval liturgical documents, the priest steps to the altar and offers the bread, and then the deacon steps forward and offers the wine; eventually, however, the deacon began offering the chalice "in the name of the priest", and finally, the priest offered both the host and the chalice, with the deacon holding the chalice as he did so. In the revised liturgy after the Second Vatican Council, the deacon again elevates the chalice, as I mentioned above.

Again, I know of no good solid THEOLOGICAL reason for this association; certainly I can find nothing in the patristic and medieval literature. Perhaps some of our fellow bloggers and visitors here can help us out with references.

I know this may strike some as a lot of attention to something rather minor in the scheme of things! However, Christians (especially Catholic Christians) have always held that "the way we pray is the way we believe" so liturgical actions are much more than simply "putting on a show"! At the same time, we never want to get so caught up in the details that we forget the primary purpose of Christian worship in the first place: to proclaim the Good News and to celebrate that good news in the worship of God by joining ourselves to the sacrifice of Christ and offering ourselves to God in love and service.

Hope this helps, Nick!

God bless,


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Questions, questions

So, let's change things up a bit. I can keep posting things about the diaconate, but I'd like to try something: This is a great place to ask any questions that you might have about deacons and the diaconate in the Catholic Church.

I don't have all the answers, but it would be fun to explore the questions, concerns, and curiosities that folks may have. When I was approached by Paulist Press to write 101 Questions and Answers on Deacons as part of their 101 Questions and Answers series of books, I asked if we could change the pattern to at least 202 questions, or even better, 303! Everyone has questions, so please share them here. We have a growing group of participants and visitors who can provide a wealth of answers.
So, class, ask away!

God bless,
Deacon Bill

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bishops and Deacons: Foundations

There are, of course, many references in scripture and in early Christian writings to the relationship of bishops and deacons. The first letter to Timothy, for example, links the qualifications of the two.

The link between bishops and deacons is a profound one, and even when the Second Vatican Council took its own steps to renew a permanent diaconate in the Latin church, its discussions on the diaconate took place right in the middle of the discussions on the nature and role of bishops. In all of the literature since the Council, this relationship has been stressed.

Of all the ancient references, one of my favorites comes from Syria in the early 3rd Century, the Didascalia Apostolorum. This text offers practical directions for early church life in the area. Look at what it has to say about bishops and deacons:

Let the bishops and the deacons, then, be of one mind, and shepherd the
people diligently with one accord. For you ought both to be one body, father and
son, for you are in the likeness of the Lordship. . . . Let the deacon be the
hearing of the bishop, and his mouth and his heart and his soul; for when you
are both of one mind, through your agreement there will be peace in the Church.
. . . And be you both [bishop and deacon] of one counsel and of one purpose, and
one soul dwelling in two bodies.

Most deacons today would say that their own relationship with their bishops is not quite at this level yet! But it certainly gives a wonderful vision of how ordained ministry might be lived out in service of others. We often read and hear about the sacramental relationship that exists between presbyters (priests) and bishops, but we don't hear nearly enough about the analogous sacramental relationship that should likewise exist between bishops and deacons.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A little housekeeping. . . .

Dear Friends,

I invite your questions and comments at any time! I'll do my best to answer these questions if I can, or find out the answers. If all else fails, I'll make something up!

Enjoy, and God bless,


Komonchak: "Shortage of Deacons"

My dissertation director, Fr. Joseph A. Komonchak, used to remark that "Vatican II didn't renew the diaconate because of a shortage of priests but because of a shortage of deacons."

This remains a wonderful insight! One of the great misunderstandings of the diaconate is that somehow, we exist because of the priest shortage, when in fact, that makes no sense at all. Deacons are not priests, nor are we intended to be "mini-priests" or "super-laity". I once had a wonderful person tell me that, while she loved the ministry the deacons in her diocese were contributing to the church, she couldn't wait for the priest shortage to be over. Then, she said, we wouldn't need "deacons and lay people doing all these things in church." The shortage of priests was not the primary reason the bishops at Vatican II renewed the diaconate.

Many people still think that the whole thing was an idea from the so-called "Third World" and mission territories, again because they lacked sufficient priests. Again, while some bishops thought like this, it is not the primary reason for the renewal. If the church needs more priests, DEACONS are not the answer! It also means that being a deacon is somehow a lesser grade of the priesthood. Theologian Dr. Richard Gaillardetz once described this approach as "priest, junior grade." The truth is, the majority of recommendations for a renewed diaconate came from the bishops of Europe, especially in the aftermath of World War II. We should talk about that in more detail in later posts, if people would like!

But what does it mean to say, with Komonchak, that there was (and is?) a shortage of deacons? Surely, all kinds of people were doing diaconal (servant) things. Monks, nuns, brothers, sisters, priests and countless lay persons over the centuries were caring for the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised. . . so why the need for a renewed order of deacons, if all of this service was already being done?

The answer is: GRACE. Several of the bishops at Vatican II, including the great Cardinal Suenens of Belgium, remarked that the Church was entitled to all of the graces given by the Holy Spirit, and that the diaconate itself is one of those gifts. Furthermore, he said that those people who were already doing diaconal things should be strengthened by the grace of the sacrament as well. That's why Vatican II's "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church" (Lumen gentium, #29) teaches that the deacon is "strengthened by sacramental grace."

We still have a shortage of deacons!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Getting Started

My hope for this blog is that it can serve as a place to talk about the order of Deacons which, in the Catholic church, was renewed at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and by Pope Paul VI.

Deacons were mentioned in the New Testament and in the earliest writings of the Church. The proto-martyr of the New Testament, in fact, is often associated with the diaconate: St. Stephen (even though he is never referred to as a deacon in scripture). In the first centuries of the Christian Church, deacons are described as extending the ministry of Christ Himself, especially to those most in need.

Then, for a variety of reasons, the diaconate was absorbed into an increasingly rigidized clerical structure adapted from the late Roman empire, eventually becoming little more than a stage on the way to ordination as a presbyter. For more than a millennium this became the norm.

Vatican II changed all that, and for the first time in centuries, it was possible to ordain someone to a major order of ministry that was not destined for the priesthood. The history of that development is fascinating in its own right, involving developments in European Protestantism, post-Enlightenment philosophy and, later, the horrors of world war. In particular, a major impetus behind the renewal of the diaconate was at Dachau Concentration Camp. All of this, and more, means that trying to understand the diaconate in the contemporary church is a complex thing, involving moving beyond language that has developed to talk about the priesthood and which may or may not apply to diaconate, the relationships of laity and deacons, and so much more.

That's where I hope this blog can help. This can be a place for conversation, REASONED debate and discussion. Since ordained ministry only makes sense within a broader understanding of the Church herself, we will have occasion to discuss issues of ministers and ministry.

Ground rules: Passion about these topics is great, as long as it is respectful of the passion of others!

God bless,

Deacon Bill Ditewig