The following materials are from the “Kicking Up Dust” Life Teen Life Night guide.
Who Wants to Be Support Staff?
When was the last time you remember a nurse was praised for a successful heart transplant, or an administrative assistant being commended for record profits at a company? In all likelihood, you may have never heard those kinds of statements about those kinds of positions. They are humble positions of service that often seem overlooked, yet without them, a lot of things wouldn’t run smoothly. It is often the CEOs and surgeons who get a lot of credit for the work they do. But, it is those in supporting and serving roles that make it possible for the CEOs and surgeons to perform their jobs well. The service type jobs might not win people awards or recognition, but their role is tremendously vital.
We talked earlier this semester about the vocation of Holy Orders. There are three levels to this vocation: the episcopate (bishops), the presbyterate (priests), and the diaconate (deacons). We talked about the first two, and these are the figures most often associated with ministry within the Church hierarchy. But the third level, the diaconate, serves a tremendously vital role in the Church.
There is a lot to do in a parish, and just as priests serve as co-workers to the bishop, deacons serve as assistants to priests. A man becomes a deacon through ordination, the same way that a man is ordained a priest. The responsibilities of a deacon are different than that of a priest or bishop, however. While a priest has the focus of spreading the Gospel and connecting us to the sacraments, a deacon focuses on charitable service – in other words, helping the community they serve within.
The Church describes the role of the deacon as one who “assists in the celebration of the Divine mysteries…and dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity.” This call to celebrate the Divine mysteries and serve others in charity (love) is lived out in several ways:
The first way is by assisting with and administering the Sacrament of Baptism. You might have seen a family getting their child baptized. Many times in parish life, a deacon will administer the Sacrament of Baptism because a priest may be busy with other responsibilities. Since baptism is the gateway to all the other sacraments, the deacon provides an important ministry in being able to baptize.
The deacon also assists at Mass with the celebration of Eucharist. Although deacons cannot consecrate the bread and wine, they do have particular assisting roles in the Mass. You may have noticed them asking us to share the sign of peace or holding up the Body and Blood of Christ along with the priest. They also serve as Eucharistic Ministers. They are called Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, because they (along with priests and bishops) are the first in line to distribute Communion. That is why you will always see deacons helping at Communion – it is in their job description. Deacons can also distribute the Eucharist at ‘communion services’ when it is not possible to have Mass.
That’s not all a deacon does at Mass, though. Deacons can also proclaim the Gospel and preach homilies – they are the only ones who aren’t priests that can do that. So, you will often see the deacon walk over to the priest, who prays over him, and then walk to the ambo to proclaim the Gospel.
Deacons can also preside at funerals that are not Masses. They can witness the Sacrament of Matrimony.
We know that Jesus Christ instituted the priesthood that we know today at the Last Supper with the disciples, so when and where did the diaconate come from? The Church began with the twelve Apostles; they were the original bishops and oversaw the administration of the sacraments in the early Church, teaching the faith, and serving the poor. As the Church grew, they realized that they were being stretched thin, finding themselves choosing between administering the Word and sacraments or serving the poor. Deciding that it would not be right for them to abandon their preaching, they appointed “helpers” to serve other functions in the Church. One of these assistants was St. Stephen, who became the first martyr of the Church.
From then on the role of the deacon (which comes from a Greek word diakonos that means “servant”) was to assist the priests and serve in their community. In the Church today, you will find two kinds of deacons. There are “transitional deacons” and “permanent deacons.”
Transitional deacons are seminarians – men who are studying for the priesthood. In the last year of their study, those men are ordained into the ‘transitional’ diaconate. They will spend their time as deacons helping with Mass and other sacraments, and getting even more familiar with what the life of a priest is like. Don’t think of this like an internship or student teaching job for the priesthood. The transitional deacon makes promises to celibacy and obedience, and they are permanent promises. After a year of serving as a transitional deacon and with the permission of the bishop, he may be ordained a priest.
A permanent deacon is a man who feels called to the vocation of Holy Orders, but not as a priest. He will go to school part-time studying theology and learning how to serve as a minister before he is ordained a deacon. During that time, he grows in the same four areas that a seminarian would: intellectually, spiritually, pastorally, and as a man of God. Permanent deacons can also be married (but once ordained cannot get married or remarried if their spouse dies); if that is the case, their wives also go to these formation classes with them and grow spiritually as well.
Once they are ordained, a permanent deacon can fulfill a variety of roles in a parish. They assist at Masses, administer the Sacrament of Baptism, preside at funeral services, and witness marriages. A deacon may be employed full time for a parish, or simply volunteer there and work another full-time job outside of the parish. Permanent deacons may work in counseling or other ministries to help spread the Gospel to people of their parishes or perform important areas of ministry within a parish as religious educators, advocates of social justice, and as leaders of RCIA programs.
Above all else, a deacon lives a life in humble service to the Church. They are obedient to the priest that they serve under, and they are called to preach the Gospel with their words and with their actions.
A Life of Service – A Model For Us
If you want to be ordained a permanent deacon, you must be a male who is at least 35 years old. So, if any of you young men feel a tug towards the permanent diaconate now, know that the discernment period will be a while. Regardless of whether this particular vocation lies in our future, we can all imitate the calling of this vocation in our own lives, since it ties into our universal calling as well: the call to serve.
The word “deacon” comes from the Greek word “diakonos” which is translated “servant,” but literally means “through dust.” Deacons were seen as people so ambitious to serve that they would “kick up dust” as they ran to assist others. How joyfully do we serve? Do we “run” to the nearest occasion to serve, even if we won’t be recognized?
There won’t always be an “awards show” to recognize you for the good that you do. We are called to serve joyfully, anyway. A deacon may often be overlooked within the Church hierarchy, but without his assistance in a parish there would be a lot left undone. Every day there are hundreds of opportunities for you to love and serve others, but if you don’t act they won’t happen. Your school, home, and job would be a much different place if your attitude changed from “somebody else will do it,” to “how can I serve today?”
At its core, that is what the diaconate is all about–service. It is a lesson that we can all learn..
Having the attitude of “how I can serve,” rather than “ how can I be served” will help you prepare for whatever vocation you are called to, whether it be marriage, Holy Orders, consecrated or single life as well. May we all be like the deacons and “kick up the dust” around us.
- What did you learn about the role of deacons in the Church?
- How have you seen the deacon at our parish serve in these ways?
- What are some ways that you can model that servanthood at home? At school? At church?