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Father Muench Says...

The establishment of the diaconate

May 6, 2020

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

During this time when our churches are closed, there is no public Mass on Sunday, no public Mass each day. Several priests here in our diocese and others throughout the country stream the Mass – that is they are able to make a video of the Mass and put it up on YouTube, their websites or social media. Each day, Pope Francis’ Mass is streamed and can be found on this YouTube. It is a very special opportunity to join with the Holy Father. There is a special holiness and peace to be able to pray the Mass with Pope Francis. There is a real sense of unity that can be noticed. No matter where the Mass comes from, the prayers are the same as those of Pope Francis, and the Scripture readings are the same also. I offered Mass this morning with the Sisters of St. Joseph, and I recognized that the prayers I offered were the same as those of Pope Francis. This is rather special. There is closeness, unity as I celebrate Mass with the same words and message as the Holy Father.

During this Easter Season, the first reading at each Mass is from the Acts of the Apostles.

As you remember, the Acts of the Apostles is a New Testament Book written by St. Luke, the same Luke who wrote the third Gospel. The Acts of the Apostles tells the stories of the early Christians during the time after the Resurrection of Jesus. We are told how the apostles joined the early Christians into a strong community, especially after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

Today, the reading from Acts tells the story of Stephen. We know that in the life of the Christian communities, the apostles taught about Jesus and worked to gather and distribute food the needy of the community. As the community grew larger, the apostles decided to ask the community to choose seven men to help serve them. We are told that this was to give the apostles the opportunity to devote to prayer and to ministry of the word. The seven chosen were Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicholas of Antioch. We are told that the apostles prayed over them and laid hands on them. These seven are considered the first deacons of the Church.

Deacons have always been a part of the Catholic Church. In the early Church, the deacons continued as the first seven to do works of charity and help the needy. Stephen was also a teacher, however, the leaders of the Hebrew community could not accept his message about Jesus, and he became the first Christian martyr.

For many centuries, the order of deacon was no longer a separate state in the Church. A deacon was ordained to a temporary state on the way to the ordination for priesthood. The Second Vatican Council restored the order of the permanent diaconate. In this case, men could accept the vocation of being a deacon. The one big change that came about through the council was that married men could receive ordination to the diaconate. Permanent deacons today are integral parts of parish life. Parishioners are well aware of the tremendous contributions deacons make to the parishes of our diocese. Deacons can celebrate the sacraments of baptism and marriage, deacons can preach at Mass. However, deacons do not celebrate Mass or the sacrament of penance. Deacons can celebrate the ritual for funerals, however, without Mass.

As you know, at the present time, the permanent diaconate is open only to men. There has been a call by many to allow women to become deacons. Pope Francis has responded to this concern by developing a commission to investigate the possibility of women deacons. I suspect that this may be an important development for our Church.

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