Last week I was listening to a call-in program on Sacred Heart Radio. The caller was a young man who had left the Catholic Church to join one that “taught the Bible.” He asked some challenging questions, particularly about the priesthood, which according to him had no basis in the New Testament. Quite a lively discussion ensued. The host of Catholic Answers Life, with perfect calm, began to point out passages in the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul and Peter which referred first to the priesthood of Christ, then to the ordained priesthood, as well as the priesthood of all believers. He showed some of the Old Testament background and how this led to the establishment of the three-fold orders of bishop, priest and deacon. The caller continued to cling to some minor points of disagreement, but it became clear that the Catholic teaching on Holy Orders has a definite New Testament basis.
I mention this discussion of the biblical basis for the Holy Orders because this Sunday at Holy Family we will witness them in a beautiful way. Armando Perez, a young man who has been part of our parish the past five years, will be ordained to the transitional diaconate. Archbishop Brunett will preside since ordination requires the presence of a bishop. In fact, unlike priesthood ordination, it is only the bishop who imposes hands on the deacon candidate. The Catechism gives this explanation:
"At an ordination to the diaconate only the bishop lays hands on the candidate, thus signifying the Deacon’s special attachment to the bishop in the tasks of his 'diakonia.'[Cf. St. Hippolytus, Trad. ap. 8: SCh 11, 58-62.]" (#1569)
Like a priest, the deacon receives his ordination directly from the bishop. Here at Holy Family we have had the good fortune of having permanent deacons, like Ted Wiese and Joe Dunne, who have served (and continue to serve) the parish in a variety of ways. Armando will be ordained a transitional deacon, that is, next year, God willing; he will be ordained to the priesthood. During his year of diaconate, Armando’s sacred duties will be the same as any other deacon. The Catechism gives this brief summary:
"Deacons share in Christ's mission and grace in a special way.[Cf. LG 41; AA 16.] The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint ('character') which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the 'DEACON' or servant of all. [Cf. Mk 10:45; Lk 22:27; St. Polycarp, Ad Phil. 5, 2: SCh 10, 182.] Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all 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. [Cf. LG 29; SC 35 # 4; AG 16." (#1570)
Deacons have been part of the church hierarchy from the earliest times. In the Acts of the Apostles we read about complaint about some widows were being neglected in the distribution of food. (Acts 6:1) Because these widows spoke only Greek they were not being well served by those whose first language was Aramaic. So the Twelve Apostles instructed the Greek speakers to select “seven men who were acknowledged to be deeply spiritual and prudent.” (v. 3) Among them was Stephen who would become the first martyr of the early Church (7:54ff.) and Philip, an early missionary to Samaria, who also baptized a court official from Ethiopia. (Acts 8)
A notable deacon from the Patristic period is St. Lawrence. As the one in charge of the temporal administration of the Roman church, the Emperor Valerian tried to force him to turn over the church’s treasures. According to an early tradition, he assembled the blind, the lame, the sick whom he presented them to the Emperor, “Here,” he said, “are the treasures of the Church.” He suffered martyrdom in 258 by being placed on a burning grill.
The most famous deacon in church history is Francis of Assisi. In 1208, when he had assembled twelve followers, he went to Rome to ask Pope Innocent permission to found his new order based on perfect Gospel poverty. Although the papal advisors regarded the proposal to be impractical and unsafe, a dream convinced the pope to sanction the new rule. The twelve men were given the tonsure (shaving of the center part of the head) and Francis himself was ordained a deacon.
As Armando Perez takes the step of becoming a deacon, we desire to support him with our prayers – and of course our affection, which Armando has won by his outgoing personality. We also pray for the two other young men of our Archdiocese who this summer are ordained to the transitional diaconate. And while we are at it, we pray for our permanent deacons and those in the new formation program, especially Abel Magaña of Holy Family Parish.
A good opportunity to pray for vocations and for those in Holy Orders is our parish novena for priests, which begins this July 27 and concludes August 4, the feast of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests.