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


  1. I'm currently in deacon formation for the Diocese of Spokane, WA, and I'm very grateful for your willingness to share via this blog. In your book The Deacon at Mass, you mention that "traditionally the deacon has been associated with the chalice." Do you know why this might be, and whether it might have a practical or theological origin? Thanks again.

    Nick Senger
    Catholic School Chronicle

  2. You mentioned in your first post a passing reference to the history of the renewal of the diaconate:
    "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!"

    Would you explain the aftermath of WWII connection to the renewal?


  3. Let me jump in here. There is a lot of information out there about how/why the diaconate got started via the input from Bishops who were inmates at Dachau/ Auschwitz/ Treblinka/ Sobibor. And that is accurate enough. BUT the idea of permanently ordaining married men to the diaconate actually had been swirling around obscure theological journals printed in Latin and published with very small circulations since shortly after the end of World War I. The reason why most American bishops who attended Vatican II were clueless about this -- and a lot of other Vatican II agenda items -- was that they were not privy to those discussions and journals (intercontinental communications being as primitive as they were then). Besides, European prelates in those inter-war years were rather insular and really did not respect their colleagues on this side of the Atlantic.

    Deacon Norb Wethington

  4. Dear Norb,

    True enough. Actually, the continental literature goes back well before the First World War. The way I like to characterize it is that the experiences of WWII gave a particular focus and urgency to the question and moved it from the rather theoretical to the eminently practical.

    And the journals in question were not all that obscure, nor were they all written in Latin. Many of them were in German and French, but for most US bishops, they would have been nearly as inaccessible.

    You are also so correct about the fact that the US bishops went to the Council with nary a clue about the concerns on the minds and hearts of so many of the bishops from other parts of the world. This is evidenced, for example, in the fact that the US Bishops didn't create any study/research groups for themselves on conciliar issues until AFTER the Council convened and they realized the scope of the project.

    Most of the US bishops, by the way, were either against the notion of a renewed diaconate or were neutral to the idea. Several wrote later that they voted FOR the diaconate, not because they were going to use deacons, but they thought it would useful for OTHER bishops, and those other bishops needed deacons, they should be able to have them.

    One bishop who was there told me that most of the US bishops figured that they would go to Rome, "re-enact the Catechism" (as he put it), and come home. They thought they'd be in Rome a couple of weeks and then get back to their normal ministries.

    God bless,


  5. I would really like to see the blog take on the controversy over the diaconate as a ministry of service, particularly service to the marginalized. From Lumen Gentium on, our official documents have described it that way, but there seems to be another trend in the theology of the diaconate today, one found in articles like "Deacons and the Servant Myth". Is this a rebellion against what some see as the lowliness of the deacon's ministry in the church?

  6. There is a lot in Deacon Anthony's article which challenges. I'll leave it to Deacon Bill to sort out some of its more complex insights.

    My secular field goes by the bizarre name of "philology." I am a language-scholar and my dissertation covered some really obscure and extremely early translations of the New Testament into English. As such, I can tell you that Kione Greek (the language of the New Testament) is a language with a fairly limited vocabulary. In comparison, Modern American (and certainly Modern Australian -- Deacon Anthony's dialect) English has six to ten times more words than Kione Greek does. As a result, any one Kione Greek word can have six-ten Modern English equivalents depending upon the precise insight offered by the translator.

    Just consider that issue raised by Deacon Greg in his blog entitled "A Deacon Named Phoebe." Was she a "deacon," a "deaconess," a "minister," a "helper," a "servant" . . the list can go on depending upon he modern twist the translator wants to convey.

    Back to Deacon Anthony's article. His citations from several Modern English translations of the New Testament in English -- while accurate enough -- utterly dismisses the insight that in the mind of the apostolic generation, there needed to be empowered ministers to serve what we would call a "disenfranchised minority."

    Let me suggest that it is the Modern Western Church -- particularly in English Speaking Countries -- that has lowered the value placed on servant ministries. There is a reason for this but it is more cultural than scriptural.

    The U.S., as I often have told my own audiences, has the highest per-capita educational attainment among Roman Catholics of any other nation in the world. More of our Roman Catholic folks are better educated than anywhere else. Australia cannot be far behind us.

    That may well help to explain why -- consistently -- almost 50% of all Roman Catholic Permanently Ordained deacons worldwide live in the US. We are an incredibly talented pool of energy and if we did direct it toward the call of the servant exclusively, a great deal of work important to the Kingdom of God could be accomplished.

    Instead, the modern English Speaking churches have tapped the secular talents of their diaconate
    pool in ways no one in the first century church ever anticipated. More and more deacons are (or are becoming) diocesan chancellors, finance officers (almgivers of old?), pastoral leaders, college professors on top of their traditional roles inspired by the servant ministry model.

    This is way too long!

    Only the very best of blessings!

    Deacon Norb Wethington
    Diocese of Toledo

  7. I am a second year aspirant,(5 year program in our diocese), and am exploring as much as possible to help with my discernment. I have found this blog to be very helpful and interesting. I hope to be able to share my thoughts as time goes by. Thank you.