Friday, September 10, 2010
Deacons: Ordained to. . . WHAT?
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.
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.
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.