[Archbishop John Nienstedt] One of the great achievements of the Second Vatican Council was the restoration in the Latin rite of the order of deacon “as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy” (“Lumen Gentium,” 58).
The origin of the diaconate is found in the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. There we see that the concrete needs of the Greek members of the faith community gave rise to the selection of seven men over whom the apostles prayed and then “laid hands on them,” consecrating them for the church’s service.
Again, as we read in “Lumen Gentium,” 29, this imposition of hands is “not unto the priesthood, but unto the ministry.” Through the sacrament of holy orders, the deacon shares in the mission of Christ and receives a permanent character configuring him to Christ, who made himself the servant of all.
Servant in many waysThe deacon assists the bishop and priests “in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all in the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1570).
Thus, it can be said that the deacon serves the church as servant of the Word, servant of the Eucharist and servant of charity and justice.
As a sacramental sign of Christ the Servant, the deacon brings God’s presence to his marriage (if he be married), to his family, to his work, in outreach, in the parish or in the public forum. Across the nation, about a third of the deacons work full time in secular work, about a third are retired from secular work and about a third work full or part time for the church.
For four decades, this archdiocesan church has been blessed with the presence of permanent deacons as well as the expanded services of transitional deacons. They continue today to be an important and, I would say, essential part of the clergy in this local church.
In 2003, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved a National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States. It was then sent to the Holy See for its approval and was subsequently published in 2005.
Coincidentally, our own Bishop Frederick Campbell, now bishop of the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, was chairman of the bishops’ Committee on the Diaconate when the document was printed. This national directory gives a focused sense of direction for the church throughout this country on the education, formation and ongoing development of deacons and their ministry of service.
As you know, the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute was initiated a year ago at the St. Paul Seminary. This institute has already proven itself to be a rich resource for helping the adult Catholic gain a deeper insight into the truths of our faith.
These two important developments prompted Archbishop Flynn, at my request, to call for a re-evaluation of our own program of preparation for, and ongoing assistance to, our archdiocesan deacons. For that reason, we have suspended the admission of new candidates to the program until that evaluation is done.
Personally, I believe there are many fine aspects to our program which will not have to be changed. But I do believe that we will gain a better perspective on what we are doing in light of the two new resources mentioned above. Catholic Spirit