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Deacon-structing WYD: The Beginning


Last week I shared a bit of my WYD experience and how this event can (and does) change so many people’s lives. But many are not familiar with the history of World Youth Days nor with the reasons behind it.

During the pontificate of Paul VI, the Church was trying to figure out how to make this whole youth thing make sense. Someone suggested inviting youth to Rome for an “encounter” but nothing ever came of it. There is also a rumour that John Paul II, after being elected Pope, was on retreat near Assisi during a youth gathering called “Giovanni Verso Assisi,” “Youth Towards Assisi”. I was in Assisi for this same gathering in 2001 – there were some 3000 young people from all over Italy. It was like a mini-WYD. They say that this original gathering gave JPII an idea.

As it turns out, in 1984, the Holy Year of Redemption, JPII invited youth from around the world to come to Rome, to St. Peter’s Square, for Palm Sunday. Skeptics predicted that perhaps some 30 kids would show up and publicly proclaim their faith. On the contrary, some 300,000 came! On this occasion, John Paul II gave the youth of the world a simple wooden cross – the cross that has become the symbol, the Olympic torch, for World Youth Days. If we are to deacon-struct WYD, we have to start with the Cross.

For one year before each WYD, this Cross travels around the host country visiting schools, jails, malls, old-age homes, nightclubs… those places which most need the Cross.

Here in Canada, the Cross went from east coast to west coast, to north coast, travelling by car, truck, bus, plane, boat, sailboat, canoe, snowmobile and helicopter, and went into the most remote communities in the country – even those places where there are no roads. The WYD Cross brought the country together in ways that nothing else had before. For the last 40 days of the Cross’ journey, it was brought on foot, from Montrèal to Toronto. While it traveled through towns and villages, groups of young people, adults and children would join on the pilgrimage – they would take turns carrying it – praying with it. The Cross is one of the reasons for WYD. But not so much the Cross that reminds us of the suffering and passion. Instead, the Cross without which there is no redemption, no salvation and no resurrection!

1985 was declared the International Year of Youth by the United Nations. John Paul II thought that it would be appropriate to, once again invite the youth back to Rome. This time many more came. Why? What did that old man have that attracted the youth so much? John Paul II was the only living person who could gather so many people in one place – no rock star has been able to gather so many people at one time. In Toronto 800,000 came to celebrate the Closing Mass with the Holy Father. That day, Downsview Park became the 7th largest city in Canada. For WYD 2000 in Rome, during the Year of the Jubilee, 2 million people attended the Closing Mass. In the Philippines in 1995, 5 million people were with JPII for the WYD Final Mass! Popes Benedict and Francis definitely continued with this ability to gather youth: 1.5 million were with Pope Benedict at the Final Mass in Madrid and 3 million gathered in Copacabana Beach for the Final Mass with Pope Francis for Rio 2013. 2.5 million are expected at the Final Mass in Krakow.

Nowadays with Pope Francis we normally here the cheers of “Viva el Papa”. Many of us can remember the shouts of “Benedetto” but do you remember the young crowds cheering, “John Paul II, we love you”? Often he would respond, “John Paul II, he loves you.” John Paul II used to say that he loved young people. I think it was much more. JPII understood that the youth are not the Church of tomorrow: They are the Church of today. When he met them, he encountered the Church of today. At the same time, the youth, when meeting with the Pope, with any Pope, meet with the hierarchical Church and can connect with the tradition and structure of the Church. That’s another reason why young people come to WYD: to meet with the Pope and with the Church. The motto of World Youth Days since its beginning has been The Pope and Young People Together. So at WYDs we have a meeting of the Lay Church with the Hierarchical Church, under the Cross.

Next week, let’s look at the pilgrimage aspect of WYD.

Photo Credit: Young people from Brazil, left, pass on the World Youth Day cross to youths from Poland, right, at the conclusion of Pope Francis’ celebration of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 13. (Photo: Paul Haring/CNS)


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Deacon-structing WYD: The Kingdom of God

Often, when I speak to young people, I’ll start by asking where they are from: Is there anyone here from Ottawa or Quebec? How about anyone from the States? This usually gets the groups cheering as I call out their home town. But when I ask, “who is from the Kingdom of Heaven?” not everyone puts up their hand. And that’s exactly my point: Not all of us think we are worthy to belong to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let me explain: If we are all sons and daughters of God, made in the image of God, then, by definition, we are members of the family of God. And if we are members of the family of God, then we belong in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of Heaven. Get it?

And who lives in the Kingdom of Heaven? The Saints, right? So, if we belong to the Kingdom of Heaven, then, by logical deduction, we are saints. All of us!

It’s true. You may not like the idea that you are being created to be a saint, but you are. The calling is not to be something that we are not; the calling is to say “yes” to that for which we are created. Saint John Paul II already told us: “Do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium.”

Me too. I’m just an ordinary Catholic, from an ordinary Panamanian family. I belonged to a youth group and Church choir. Even when I left home at age 16, I continued to go to Mass on Sundays. I never really strayed from the Church. I can’t say that I understood Church teachings, but I never really doubted the Faith. Still, like many other “ordinary” Catholics, although I’d always been in the Church and I always “followed” Jesus Christ, I had never had a real close personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Well, I’d had them, I just hadn’t recognised them.

Why? Because having a personal encounter with Christ almost always leads to a calling. Yes, I’d had encounters, but none had really led to a calling, until I came to work at the National Office for the World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto.

I was the Artistic Director for WYD 2002, in charge of all artistic programming for the event: all music, dance and dramatic expression. For the Youth Festival we coordinated the participation of almost 200 groups, from 35 different countries, in eight different languages, with a total of some 400 performances. I also coordinated the production of the official WYD 2002 Souvenir CD album and all the dance and music for all the main events with Pope John Paul II. It was an unforgettable experience filled with many blessings. I’ve never been so busy nor have I slept so little! But, at the same time, I never felt super stressed, nor that the whole world was caving in. I never lost hope. I always knew that this was God’s work and that He was in charge. And it was in that small detail, that something inside of me changed.

I worked 20 months for the WYD 2002 Office – for me that was a time of many challenges and frustrations, yet at the same time, of incredible peace and joy. My experience with WYD was one of the Beatitudes: Blessed are the frustrated, those who have no money, those who don’t have enough time in the day and too much work to do… Blessed are those who are hungry. Blessed are those who got lost and never made it to their Catechesis sessions – those who didn’t eat because the food ran out, those who were dirty, wet, sleepy, cold or too hot, suffering from sun stroke – Blessed are those who were dehydrated… Those who had to raise thousands of dollars to buy a plane ticket only to have their visa applications denied… Blessed are they, for the Kingdom of God is theirs.

In just about a month, hundreds of thousands of young people will be traveling to Krakow, Poland for the 30th WYD. But why? Why spend so much money and travel so far? Why go through the discomfort of crowds, only to end up so far away from the stage or a screen and not see anything – why get soaked in the rain and be hungry? Why all this suffering? Why were we called to “make the streets resound with the joy and love of Christ”? Can’t we be salt and light right here at home without going to World Youth Day?

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing with you why World Youth Day came about and why it is so important for our Church, so keep coming back. Next week, “The Beginning.”

Photo Credit: Mexican pilgrims march down Atlantic Avenue along Copacabana beach for the the opening Mass of World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro July 23, 2013. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Deacon-structing the diaconate, part 3: Women

Last time we looked at a little bit of the tradition of deacons in the Catholic Church. Deacons go way back and there is a consistent presence of deacons and the diaconate in many Church documents and writings up until the 3rd century. We also saw that the diaconate as a permanent order was brought back with the Second Vatican Council.

It is also true that there are many documents that refer to women deacons or deaconesses. Let’s look at those, beginning with the most obvious one from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae…” (Rom 16:1) Note that she is referred to as a “deacon” (male form) and not a “deaconess”. In some translations you may find her described as a “servant” and in others as a “minister”. (I only found one translation that referred to her as a deaconess.) Was Phoebe an ordained deacon? Was she a servant (remember that the word servant in Greek is diaconos)? In Greek, Paul calls her a diákonon. Does Paul mean “servant”; does he mean “Ordained deacon”? No one knows.

A less obvious passage that is sometimes recognized as referring to women deacons is 1 Timothy 3:8-11:

“Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.”

The argument is that in verse 11 Paul writes about women. Why would that instruction to women follow the instruction to deacons if it’s not referring to women deacons? (St. John Chrysosthom, Clement of Alexandria and Pelagius are among those who argued this point.)

It’s not as convincing an argument considering the verse that follows is: “Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.” If the previous verses were referring to all deacons, men and women, why then, doesn’t Paul clarify that “deacons must be husbands (or wives) of one spouse”? Were women deacons not married? Or is Paul not referring to women deacons? Or does it mean that women deacons were the wives of men deacons? Again, no one knows.

There are dozens of references to women deacons (or at least that title) in the Eastern Church. Among the most notable ones are four letters John Chrysosthom wrote to the “woman deacon Amproukla in Constaninople.” Also, Severus, Bishop of Antioch wrote at least four letters to the “woman deacon Anastasia”; and Theodoret of Cyrrhus wrote to the “woman deacon Celerina in Constaninople.” All these letters exist to this day.

There are also substantial records to indicate that a woman by the name of Olympias was ordained a deacon by Bishop Nectarius in Constantinople, in 385. Her husband had died and she had decided to never remarry.

These are just a few. There are many more texts from the Eastern Church that point to the fact that there were women referred to as “deacons”. By the 11th century, however, women deacons were no longer ordained in the Eastern Church (except in the Armenian Church, which still today has women deacons. They are very similar to women religious or consecrated women in the Latin Church. They are part of what is referred to as “women monastics”. I’ve even seen them described as “nun-deaconesses”).

References to women deacons in the Western Church have more to do with suppressing them than recording they existed. The First Council of Orange in 441 noted, “Women deacons are by no means to be ordained. If there are any who have already been ordained, let them submit their heads to the benediction that is granted to the people.” Was the council referring to women deacons in the West or women deacons from the Eastern Church? Were they saying “we should no longer ordain them” or “we shouldn’t do what the Church of the East is doing”? The Council of Nimes in 394 seemed concerned about deacons and priests coming from the “far eastern parts”.

There is another theory that argues that women in the West who played the role of deacons were called “widows”. Widows were an order of women in the early Church who had their own distinctive vestments, vows and role in the liturgy. As far as I can tell, all references to these women (or really any women orders in the early Church) required that they be single (or widowed) and celibate. It sounds like they were consecrated virgins or something similar.

Proponents of the female diaconate say that perhaps the most famous “woman deacon” in the Western Church was St. Radegund, wife of King Clothar I (511-58). Though married, she seemed to have lived a celibate life and served the poor. One night she left her husband and demanded to be consecrated by St. Medard, the bishop. The bishop did. However, it’s hard not to read the description/poem of that event by bishop Venantius Fortunatus without concluding that she was being consecrated into a monastery. At the end of paragraph 12 it says that Medard laid his hands on her and consecrated her as a deaconess, but all throughout, she is referred to as a “monacha”, which is a nun. And she is given a monastic garb.

There are other references, such as three letters by Pope Gregory II who wrote to “women deacons of St. Eustachius” and also to “Matrona, a religious woman deacon, and her sons and nephews.” There is also Sergius, Archbishop of Ravenna, who in 753 “consecrated his wife Euphemia, a “diaconissa” and other references forbidding the marriage of women deacons by Pope Leo VII (c.937) and during the Council of Rome (826).

There are references to the Rites of Ordination for women deacons in the Eastern Church. There are also references in the Western Church, dating as far back as the 8th century. The 9th century Gregorian sacramentary includes a prayer for the making of a female deacon and in the 10th century Romano-Germanic Pontifical there is a complete liturgy for both the ordination of a woman deacon and a male deacon. It refers to the women as “deaconess.” An almost identical liturgy appears in the 12th century Roman Pontifical, but without instructions so it’s not clear if it was used to ordain women. By the 13th century this rite had completely disappeared.

Where does this leave us? History records both women called “deacons” and women called “deaconesses”. Some women called “deaconess” were married to men deacons. Some were called “deaconess” merely as a description of the work they were doing. There is a tradition in both the Eastern and Western Church of bishops formally appointing women to perform a type of diaconal (service/charity) ministry. Is it possible that “deaconesses” became what today are women religious and nuns?

It’s clear that in the early Church women were required to serve certain functions that men could not serve – as in baptizing other women (remember people were baptized naked or with little clothing). Even entering the house of a woman may have not been proper for a man. Anyone instructing women in the faith had to have been a woman. We see this even up until almost the end of the 1st millennia: Ninth century canonical commentaries describe women deacons as “ordained by the imposition of hands by the bishop… in order to instruct all Christian women in the faith and law of God as they did in the old Law.”

This is likely what the function of these women was. But, were these women involved in the governance of the Church? Were they allowed to preach in Liturgy? Did they even have a liturgical function at all? See how no one really knows.

Let’s not end without pointing out that bringing this up was not just a Pope Francis thing. As the hierarchy considered the restoration of the permanent diaconate, it was Paul VI that asked about women deacons. Pope Benedict XVI also brought up the question. John Paul II also spoke about it. When Pope John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) said that ordination to the priesthood is reserved to men alone and made  no reference to women deacons, is that because he meant that only ordination to the priesthood is reserved to men, or simply because he (like so many) was just not thinking about the diaconate? (I am always amazed when we see prayers for vocations to the priesthood instead of vocations to the ordained life – this is not because we are only praying for priests and not deacons; it’s because no one is thinking about deacons!)

It is fair to ask whether we can separate the question of ordination of women to the diaconate from the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood? Even the idea that priests and bishops are ordained to the ministerial priesthood, but deacons to the priesthood of service, does not adequately address the question of the difference of those two. Why are all three major orders? I have yet to find an adequate and clear  explanation of this distinction.  The truth is that the theology of the diaconate is still under-developed.

This has been a little scattered, but I hope that it gives you an idea of why many will say when we speak of women deacons or deaconesses in the tradition of the Church, we just don’t know. They existed, yes. But what were they? Were “women deacons” the same as “deaconesses” (a minor order separate from the order of deacons)? Were women deacons merely wives to deacons? Were women deacons widows or consecrated singles? Could they be married or only married if married to a deacon? Sure there were women in the Church that were appointed to the work of caring for the sick and the poor (which is very much diaconal service). That sounds like women religious to me.There were women deacons, but were they ordained in the sense that we understand “ordination” today?

I have to say that, while I find difficulties with this conversation (mainly because of the issue of ordination), in the last weeks that I’ve been researching this, I have grown more and more open to the idea that there is a bigger distinction between a deacon and a priest that I thought. Perhaps some of you brother deacons can help me with this.

What I’ve always known however, is that the Church can have diaconal-type ministers that are installed to do certain things, preach even (we call them Lectors, actually), or lead certain type liturgies (which again, already exists – lots of women lead para-liturgies every day) and do those things that women in the Church already do, like take Communion to the sick.

But I do not think that the real problem would be addressed by ordaining women to the diaconate. The question has to do with giving women leadership roles in the Church. And so, can the Vicar or Chancellor of a Diocese be a woman? Can the head of a Marriage Tribunal be a woman? Can the Rector of a Seminary be a woman? Can the president of a pontifical council be a woman? Can a parish administrator be a woman? To all of the above, absolutely yes.

Maybe what we need is less clericalism.

Next week let’s begin deacon-structing World Youth Day.

Photo Credit: St Radegund Led before Clothair I. Miniature from the Life of St Radegund. 11th century. Bibliotheque Municipale, Poitiers, France



Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Me Before You


That’s the title of a new film that just opened last weekend to mixed reviews. It stars Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin in a romance with a bit of a twist. Clarke plays Louisa “Lou” Clark, who takes a job as the caregiver to Will Traynor (Claflin), a former daredevil who is now a quadriplegic who has decided to end his life. The mixed reviews are not because it’s a bad film, badly written, performed or directed. It’s because of the underlying “right-to-die” message.

I have not watched the film but am eager to watch it. I will not spoil the ending, but I think the title says it all. “Me before you” is exactly the opposite of what any loving relationship, especially marriage is all about. Marriage is all about “you before me”! And it’s not surprising that this is probably the message underlying a lot of these end-of-life issues.

We’ve spoken before about autonomy; “I can do whatever I want with my own body.” Well, you can’t really. I suppose I could cut off my arm if I wanted to. I would have a hard time finding a doctor to assist me in doing that. I would probably be sent to the mental hospital if I did. And no matter what I do to my own body, it affects all those who love me. In the case of medically assisted dying, it affects not just your loved ones, but your doctor and the whole medical system and the legal system too. No act is really ever a completely autonomous act because we are not completely autonomous. We are relational.

Mark Pickup said it very well during our conversation for Catholic Focus a few weeks ago. People who want to end their life because the pain is unbearable or because their life is not what it used to be or they have no quality of life, or because they don’t want to be a burden to others need to stop putting ‘me’ before ‘you.’ In the film Will tells Lou that he has decided that he will live 6 more months and then he will seek assisted dying. He already decided that before he met her. Lou responds, “but that was before me.” Once we find meaning, love and relationship; once we know we’re not alone, usually we want to live.

That’s the message of tonight’s last interview in the Catholic Focus mini-series on end-of-life issues. I spoke with Chuck and Jeri Marple who are the parents of Mary, a young woman with Cerebral Palsy. Some would say that Mary’s life has no quality and it’s not worth living. Others would disagree.

I hope you can watch Catholic Focus: End of life Issues – Quality of Life, tonight at 7:05pm ET (repeats at 9:05pm MT).

I encourage you to go watch Me Before You. Watch it and talk about it. It’s a great opportunity to speak out about these issues. It’s very serendipitous that the film came out exactly at the time when Canada has de-criminalized medically assisted dying. The Canadian Senate is right now reviewing Bill C-14, which will likely be sent back to the House of Commons for some amending. I don’t think MAD should be legal, but I do think that a law with as many safeguards as possible is better than no law. We’ve had no abortion law in Canada now since 1988. Let’s not do the same with Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide.

More importantly, I encourage you to learn as much as you can about these issues. We need to be informed. We need to know the law and we need to know what the Church teaches.

That is why we at S+L have been putting together many programs and providing many resources to help you stay on top of these issues. I’ve tried to compile many of the ones that I’ve worked on in this blog post. Just scroll a little bit and you’ll see how much there is to read and watch.

Perhaps most important of all, I encourage you to be Catholic. This was Archbishop Smith’s advice at the end of the Every Life Matters series. According to the Census, 44% of Canadians report that they are Catholic. If 44% of Canadians were truly Catholic, living their Catholic Faith with knowledge and passion, we would not have these issues in Canada.

Be Catholic. Defend and protect life from conception to natural death.

Learn more:

Turning the Tide:(a documentary on dignity, compassion and euthanasia)

Catholic Focus interviews:
End Of Life Issues: The Law
End Of Life Issues: Human Life Matters (with Mark Pickup)
End of Life Issues: What Does the Church Say? (with Archbishop Richard Smith)
End of Life Issues Ending the Pain
End of Life Issues: Quality of Life

Perspectives: The Weekly Edition:
End of Life: Jeremy Tyrell

Every Life Matters Series

From our Blog:
Deacon-structing End of Life: Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Deacon-structing End of Life Issues:
The Law
Palliative Care
Life, Liberty and Security

From Fr. Rosica
There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted – A reflection on Euthanasia

Photo Credit: Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin in the 2016 MGM film Me Before You. Image courtesy of mebeforeyoumovie.com/

Deacon-structing the Diaconate, part 2

In the last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at the diaconate, first by addressing the event that brought about this whole conversation and then in two parts (part 1 and part 2), briefly, the meaning of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, for I don’t think you can separate the conversation about Church hierarchy outside of the conversation about Ordination.

This leads us back to talk about the diaconate, in particular, the Permanent Diaconate.

I believe most of you are familiar with Acts 6:1-6, traditionally referred to as the ordination of the first deacons. It’s the story of the seven men that were “ordained” by the Apostles to help with the service to the Greek-speaking Jewish widows. The Apostles chose seven men, among them Stephen and Philip for this task. The word in Greek that is used to describe their ministry is diakonia. [*It’s important to note than in most places in the Gospels where the words “serve”, “servant” or “service” (Mt 20:26-28; Mt 23:11; Mk 9:35; Mk 10:43-45; Lk 22:24-27; Jn 12:26; ) is used (even “waiting” on them or “providing” for them, as in Lk 12:37 and Lk 8:1-3, and even “ministering” as in Mt 4:11 and in Mt 25:44-45), the word in Greek is a form of the word diakonos.]

We also see the use of this word in many of Paul’s Letters: Rm 11:13 “I glory in my ministry (diakonian)”; 1 Cor 12:4-5, “there are different forms of service (diakonión)”; 2 Cor 9:12-13 “through the evidence of this service (diakonias) you are glorifying God.” In other Pauline Letters the English translation may say “minister” or “ministry” but the Greek word used is a form of diakonia (see 2 Cor 3:2-9; Phil 1:1; Eph 3:7 and 4:11-13; Col 1:7; 1:23 and 4:17 for examples).

When Paul writes Timothy he is referring to a specific office and uses the words diakónous, diákonoi and diakonéisthosan (Tim 3:8-13). In English these are all translated as “deacons.” When he refers to Phoebe in his letter to the Romans he calls her a “diákonon (translated as minister or servant) of the Church in Cenchrae” (Rom 16:1). Clearly there is something about the diaconate that has to do with ministry and service and it was a common term used at the time of the Apostles and the early Church.

There are also dozens of references in the writings of the Fathers of the early Church. In the first century Clement of Rome (ca. 96) writes to the Corinthians about the “Apostolic Institution of the Bishops and Deacons.” Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 70-107) writes in his letter to the Ephesians about a “fellow-servant Burrhus, your deacon in regard to God…” He also mentions deacons in his letter to the Christians of Magnesia, his letter to the Trallians, his letter to the Philadelphians, his letter to the Smyrnaeans and his letter to Polycarp. Polycarp (ca. 69-155), in turn, writes about the “Duties of Deacons, Young Men and Virgins” in his letter to the Philippians and Hermas (ca. 140) in his famous work “The Shepherd” also mentions deacons. Justin and Iranaeus who also lived in the second century, wrote about deacons too.

If we were to continue this exercise, you would see that many Church Fathers, including Clement of Alexandria (True Presbyters and True Deacons), Origen (Unworthy Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons), Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom (Gifts that a Candidate to the Diaconate Must Posses), Gregory Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil, Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine – pretty much all of them, wrote about deacons and the diaconate.

If we were to go to other canonical literature, like the Didache, which dates to the first century – probably the first teaching document of the Church – the diaconate is mentioned. Another of these documents, the Didascalia of the Apostles (3rd century document of Eastern Syrian Christianity) has a whole sections on the Dignity of Deacons and Bishops, Exhortation to Unity Among Bishops and Deacons, and The Role of Deacons and the Spirituality of Deacons. This document is also one of the ones that refers to the ministry of “deaconesses” or “women deacons”.

References to the “Ordination of a Deacon” appears as early as the Apostolic Tradition, attributed to Hyppolytus of Rome ca. 215.

At the expense of making this an exhausting (not just exhaustive) exercise, let me lead you to Council documents: Council of Elvira, Council of Arles, Council of Nicaea and the Council of Trent all mention deacons or the diaconate. We also know that during the Second Vatican Council there were many conversations and debates about the diaconate, which resulted in the re-establishing of the Permanent Diaconate as it existed in the early Church.

It is with the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church,  where I would like to end today. This is perhaps the most solemn document of the whole Council. In Chapter III it looks to the Hierarchy of the Church: the Episcopate, the Presbyterate and the Diaconate. This document is where the Church established that local bishops can restore the diaconate as a permanent Order, conferring this Order on married men.

It’s very interesting that this whole chapter dedicates the first 9 sections, 18-27 to the Episcopate and only one chapter each, 28 and 29, to the Presbyterate and the Diaconate. This, perhaps, is because there are three levels to the hierarchy and the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred with Episcopal Consecration. [LG 21]

Lumen Gentium Chapter III begins by establishing the role of the Bishop, to “preach the Kingdom of God” (that’s why Jesus appointed the Apostles) [LG 19] and then says that,

Bishops, therefore, with their helpers, the priests and deacons, have taken up the service of the community, (11*) presiding in place of God over the flock,(12*) whose shepherds they are, as teachers for doctrine, priests for sacred worship, and ministers for governing. [LG 20]

More interesting, however is that Lumen Gentium asserts the true diaconal character of the Church and of the role of all bishops, priests and deacons:

Bishops, as successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord, to whom was given all power in heaven and on earth, the mission to teach all nations and to preach the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain to salvation by faith, baptism and the fulfilment of the commandments. To fulfill this mission, Christ the Lord promised the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and on Pentecost day sent the Spirit from heaven, by whose power they would be witnesses to Him before the nations and peoples and kings even to the ends of the earth. And that duty, which the Lord committed to the shepherds of His people, is a true service, which in sacred literature is significantly called “diakonia” or ministry. [LG 24]

The chapter concludes with section 29:

At a lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, upon whom hands are imposed “not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service.” For strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests they serve in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity to the people of God. It is the duty of the deacon, according as it shall have been assigned to him by competent authority, to administer baptism solemnly, to be custodian and dispenser of the Eucharist, to assist at and bless marriages in the name of the Church, to bring Viaticum to the dying, to read the Sacred Scripture to the faithful, to instruct and exhort the people, to preside over the worship and prayer of the faithful, to administer sacramentals, to officiate at funeral and burial services. Dedicated to duties of charity and of administration, let deacons be mindful of the admonition of Blessed Polycarp: “Be merciful, diligent, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who became the servant of all.”

Since these duties, so very necessary to the life of the Church, can be fulfilled only with difficulty in many regions in accordance with the discipline of the Latin Church as it exists today, the diaconate can in the future be restored as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy. It pertains to the competent territorial bodies of bishops, of one kind or another, with the approval of the Supreme Pontiff, to decide whether and where it is opportune for such deacons to be established for the care of souls. With the consent of the Roman Pontiff, this diaconate can, in the future, be conferred upon men of more mature age, even upon those living in the married state. It may also be conferred upon suitable young men, for whom the law of celibacy must remain intact. [LG 29]

Let’s leave it at this. You may also be interested in reading Pope Francis’ homily during the Jubilee of Deacons last week.

Next week let’s look at the history of the diaconate and where women deacons or deaconesses have been part of the Tradition.

Photo Credit:Deacons process to their seats near the altar as they arrive for Pope Francis’ celebration of a Mass for the Jubilee of Deacons in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican May 29, 2016. The Mass was a celebration of the Holy Year of Mercy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Indigenous and Catholic: Sr. Priscilla Solomon on Perspectives Weekly

In 2007, almost 60 years after the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration recognizes Indigenous people’s basic human rights, as well as rights to self-determination, language, equality and land, among others. There were four votes against: Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. A few weeks ago, Canada officially removed its objector status and agreed to begin working to implement the declaration. To tell us more about Indigenous rights, Truth and Reconciliation and how one can be Indigenous and Catholic at the same time, I spoke with Sr. Priscilla Solomon, CSJ, an Ojibway and member of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Hope you can  join us tomorrow, Friday, June 3 and Sunday, June 5 at 7pm and 11pm ET / 8pm PT.

Learn more about these issues:

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Catholic responses to Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action 48 and questions regarding the “Doctrine of Discovery”

Development and Peace supports the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action 48 and questions regarding the “Doctrine of Discovery”

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

More Resources:

What is Reconciliation? 

What Is Reconciliation from TRC – CVR on Vimeo.

Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples from Melanie Nielsen Emonet on Vimeo.

Catholic Focus – End-of-Life Issues: Ending the Pain


Lisa Daniels lives with extreme, debilitating, chronic pain. She suffers greatly. Her suffering is irremediable. There is no cure. Many people who support the idea of medically assisted dying do so on the basis that some people, like Lisa, live with unbearable, intolerable pain. Can all pain be managed? How are we to respond to the question of pain? Recently, while in Edmonton, I had a chance to speak with Lisa and her doctor, Robert Hauptman.

Watch our conversation below:

Learn more about Lisa’s story and the #CommitLife Campaign by watching this video.

Deacon-structing Ordination, part 2

blog_1464472724 Deacon Pedro is ordained by Bishop Vincent Nguyen on May 26, 2012.

Last week we looked, very briefly, at the basics of the Sacrament of Ordination.

One of the common challenges to the idea of Sacraments as “a visible sign of an invisible Grace, instituted by Christ” is the “instituted by Christ” part. With Ordination, there are many places in Scripture that could be used to show Christ instituting the priesthood: The sending out of the 70 when He sent them two-by-two (Luke 10:1-20). There’s also Pentecost (Acts 2), which is definitely the birthday of the Church, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles like tongues of fire. There is also Matthew 16:17-19 when Jesus gives Peter the keys of the Kingdom. However, most scholars will agree that the passage that best describes the institution of the priesthood is the washing of the feet:

“After he had washed their feet, he said to them, ‘do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example that you should also do as I have done to you.’” (John 13:12-15)

Last week I said that the priest’s main job was to bring us the Sacraments, but a priest is first a servant, a foot-washer, and his job is to serve the Church.

Another challenge to the Sacrament of Holy Orders and to the priesthood in general is to the discipline of celibacy. While it’s important to note that there are many reasons why it would not be practical for a bishop or a priest to be married, priestly celibacy is not Dogma. It is an important part of our tradition and a discipline that many priests were living in the early church, because they saw how it helped their priesthood, but it is not Dogma. It could be changed.

The married priesthood is also part of our tradition. We know that some of the Apostles were married, (Peter was married at some point because Jesus healed his mother-in-law. Mark 1:29-31) and in the early centuries many priests (those original elders and overseers) were married. St. Paul writes to Timothy that a bishop should be “married but once.” (Timothy 3:2)

Also, Jewish Priests in the Old Testament were married, but forbidden from having sexual relations for one day before offering sacrifice (Interesting considering that in the Catholic Church, the priest offers sacrifice every day). In fact, all Eastern Rites Churches (that are in Communion with Rome) have a married priesthood and in fact, in our own Latin Rite, there are married priests. This is something that, at least among the diocesan priesthood, could change. Still, I am not trying to knock celibacy. This is a good thing.

If we look to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, we can see that celibacy is more than a discipline. It is a gift, and a call to love in an extraordinary way. It’s a beautiful concept: Just as sex is a means to love or a part of love, so is celibacy. A celibate priest (and all consecrated singles) is fulfilling his nature to love. This is probably why Thomas Merton said that if a man was afraid of love, he should not be a priest. Remember that a priest is first a servant so he has to be able to love. In fact, he has to be in love: with Christ and the Church!

Another challenge is this idea of that the Priesthood has to be male. Over the centuries many have asked why women don’t have the right or aren’t qualified to be priests.

It’s a very difficult question and may be one that cannot be fully understood, but it can be understood in part.

First, it’s not really about qualifications: No one is really qualified to be a priest and no one really has a right to be a priest either. So it’s not about rights, or equality. Nowadays people think equality means same-ness, but saying that men and women are equal, doesn’t mean that they are the same. Men will never be able to be pregnant; that doesn’t make them inferior to women; just different, called to different roles.

Second, there is also the fact that there is no history in the Jewish tradition (from where our tradition of priesthood comes) of women priests. For the Jews, there was something very male about the priesthood. We can conclude that this is because the people of Israel were a patriarchal society, or we can conclude that God is greater than that and if there was something about the priesthood that was female, the patriarchal-ness of Israel would not have made a difference.

Then there is the age-old argument that Jesus only selected men as his Apostles. There is also the age-old response to that argument that times have changed.

This is true but Jesus didn’t really follow the norms of his time. He broke every rule. Don’t you think that had it been appropriate to select women as apostles, he would have? In fact, the Apostle to the Apostles is a woman: Mary Magdalene, but she was not chosen as one of the twelve.

And the number one disciple, Mary, his mother, would have been the best apostle. She would’ve been the best priest! She would’ve been able to say, ‘this is my body’ and really mean it, but Jesus did not choose her to be one of the twelve.

The Church teaches that there is something male about the Priesthood and that this is instituted by God; the Church has no authority to ordain women.

Perhaps another way to understand part of it is through Theology of the Body. Remember how the Eucharist is like a Marriage? That means that Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride. It means that there is something male about the priesthood and something female about the Church.

It’s not that the Church doesn’t want to ordain women; the church doesn’t have the authority to change the designs that Christ instituted anymore than the Church has the authority to re-define Marriage.

When the question of the ordination of women arose in the Anglican Church, Pope Paul VI reminded Anglicans of this position of the Catholic Church. He said:

“She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the sacred scriptures of Christ choosing his apostles only from among men; and “the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his Church.”

In 1994, Pope John Paul II declared,

“At the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force. Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren, I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful”

These are hard questions and I know I didn’t address them in full, but it is my hope that this will spark in you a desire to know more. As I’ve said before, we must trust that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, despite of our human sinfulness. Let’s continue learning about and praying for the priesthood (and episcopate and diaconate) and pray that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church.

More importantly, perhaps we need to be supportive of bishops, priests (and deacons). We tend to have such high expectations of them, but they are human. I know I’ve been critical of priests but there are so many great priests, bishops and deacons. (I know at least one!) These are men who are truly the face of Christ on earth.

On this Feast of Corpus Christi, when we will hear about the first priest Melchizedek (first reading and Psalm) and reflect on the Memorial of Christ’s Sacrifice (second reading), Let’s pray for bishops, priests and deacons. Lets also pray for vocations to the Ordained Life.

We may not understand all there is to understand, but that’s what faith is, no?

Next week, let’s begin looking at the history of the diaconate.


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Medically Assisted Dying: What does the Church Say?

the-joy-of-love-960x540 For the last couple of weeks we’ve been paying a little more attention to issues of death, dying and suffering. These will touch all of us at some point in our lives and the Church has been journeying with people through these times for millennia.

As Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide become legal in Canada, I took the opportunity while in Edmonton, to speak with Archbishop Richard Smith and asked him to explain what the Church teaches, why and what’s wrong with these practices.

This conversation will air on Catholic Focus tonight, Wednesday, May 25th, 2016 at 7:05pm ET / 4:05pm PT and will repeat at 11:05pm ET / 8:05pm PT.

Hope you can join us!

Deacon-structing Ordination | Part 1

In light of the fact that last week everyone became aware that the early Church had women in the role of deacons or deaconesses (or both, we’re not sure what exactly these roles were), I have begun to deaconstructing the diaconate. But before, let’s take a little detour and look at Ordination.

It seems appropriate that as we are delving into this topic of Holy Orders, it’s the time of the year when many men are being ordained to the diaconate and the priesthood. Perhaps we should begin by keeping them in our prayers.

Today I’d like to focus on some of the basics (very basic, so I apologize if it seems simplistic) of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and it’s good to be reminded at first, that we are not just talking about priests. There are three Orders: bishops, priests and deacons. This goes back to the Acts of the Apostles.

When Jesus sent his 12 apostles to go to the ends of the earth and make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:16-20), they took him seriously (we wouldn’t be in the Church today if it wasn’t for that): They went and made disciples everywhere. As groups of people became Christian, churches were created and elders were put in place (often with the laying on of hands) to shepherd these churches since the Apostles couldn’t be everywhere. As these churches grew in size and in region, the apostles began appointing a supervisor of the elders. This person was usually appointed by one of the apostles (again with the laying on of hands) when they visited the various churches. The supervisor was called the Episkopos which means overseer, in Greek. (We know that St. Paul writes to Timothy and Titus. They were both “overseers”.)

The episkopoi, or overseers, became what today we call bishops. As the churches continued to grow the overseers also couldn’t be everywhere and they had priests representing them in various churches (in fact, some historians will say that these original Episcopal representatives were deacons).

The word priest comes from the Greek word Presbyteroi, which was the word used for elder. (The word in Latin is sacerdos.)

There were also other ordained ministers known as diakonoi. They existed even before there were elders.

The word diakonoi literally means server (as in the ones who served the food). The appointment (ordination) of the first deacons appears in Acts 6:1-6. These seven men were ordained to beg for food for the Greek-speaking Jewish widows, who in those days, they were the most marginalised group, because the Apostles didn’t have time to do that work. Two famous Acts of the Apostles deacons are Philip and Stephen.

Deacons originally had a very specific function in the Church, which was separate from the priesthood, serving the most marginalised. As things evolved, slowly the diaconate disappeared as a separate ministry and became merely a step toward the priesthood (which is why today, all priests are first ordained to the transitional diaconate. This is very, very basic, but we will look at the history of the diaconate later in this series.) The permanent diaconate as it existed in the first couple of centuries was renewed by the Second Vatican Council and so now many dioceses have married men (like me) who are ordained as Permanent Deacons. (Note: the diaconate was renewed not because there was shortage of priests, but because there was a shortage of deacons. The Church needs both priests and deacons!)

In the first centuries, in addition to bishops, presbyters and deacons (major orders), there were also other ministers in the Church who were not ordained. We call them “minor orders”.

These included:
• Subdeacons, who helped the deacons with their duties
• Exorcists, who assisted at rituals of initiation and repentance
• Lectors, who read the scriptures during worship
• Porters, who had janitorial and guard duties and
• Acolytes, who accompanied the bishops and acted as secretaries and messengers.
(Many of these still exist in the Eastern Churches.)

As priests began to perform many of these functions, these orders also began to disappear as separate from the priesthood. Most have still not been renewed. Although, still today, before ordination to the diaconate, all candidates are installed as Lectors and Acolytes. And we know that all priests are first ordained as deacons (and all bishops are first priests).

This is probably not the best way to approach the subject, because Holy Orders is not about function, but sometimes it’s easier to understand something when we look at the function. (I do hope, as we get deeper into this that you understand Holy Orders not merely as something functional but something theological.)

The reason why the Apostles ordained deacons was so they (the Apostles) could “devote themselves to prayer and to serving the Word.” (Acts 6:4) The deacons then dedicated themselves to the work of charity. In a way, today that is still the case. The priest’s primary function is to administer the Sacraments.

I had a priest once tell me that his job was to bring God to the people and bring the people to God. This is a perfect way to look at it since that is what the Sacraments do. If we go way back to look at where our whole tradition of priesthood originates from, the Old Testament, we’ll see that this is also what the Jewish priests did. They didn’t have Sacraments, but they were mediators between God and the people.

God’s chosen people, the people of Israel was considered a “Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation”, but within the people of Israel God chose one of the twelve tribes, the Tribe of Levi (which was the tribe Moses and Aaron belonged to), and set it apart for liturgical service. God said to Moses: “Consecrate your brother Aaron and his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazer and Ithamar, to be priests, to minister to me.” (See Exodus 28:1 and 30:30. For the first ever consecration or ordination of priests, look at Exodus 29)
Part of their job was to take care of the Tabernacle, the Holy place where they kept the Arc of the Covenant, which contained the Tablets of the 10 Commandments. The Tabernacle is where the Holy of Holies was. That is where God was present. The priest’s job was to act on behalf of the people in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. When Jesus came, He became the ultimate Priest, who offered the ultimate Sacrifice. So, we see Aaron’s priesthood as the priesthood of the Old Covenant and Jesus is the Priest and only Priest of the New Covenant. All priests today (and for the last 2000 years) participate in this one Priesthood of Jesus Christ.

But as we said earlier, we’re not just talking about priests: There are three Orders: The bishop represents the fullness of Christ for the Church. The priest shares in the bishop’s office; these two constitute the ministerial priesthood. The deacon is ordained to the ministry of service, not to the priesthood of Christ.

In the past when I’ve deacon-structed Sacraments (and we did this in our show In Your Faith. To understand Sacraments better, check out all our episodes in Season 2 on the seven Sacraments.), I’ve looked at what I call the “metaphysical occurrence” that takes place. With every Sacrament something that is more than physical takes place – every Sacrament effects a change and this change is not just spiritual but also physical; it is metaphysical. For example, with the Eucharist, the bread and wine become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ; with Marriage, the couple becomes one flesh; in Reconciliation, our sins are wiped clean.

With Holy Orders there is also a metaphysical occurrence that takes place. In simple terms, the ordained person becomes the person of Christ (Persona Christi Capitis), when he administers the Sacraments. But every also Sacrament mirrors how Christ is a Sacrament of God to the Church. In Holy Orders, Christ is ministering to our religious needs. That’s what priests, deacons and bishops do – just as Christ did. And the Sacrament of Holy Orders represents Christ the Servant, and Christ the Sacrifice and Priest.

And if you remember your catechism, a Sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible Grace so every Sacrament confers Grace. In Holy Orders, the ordained minister receives the grace to be a servant, to offer sacrifice and the grace of being the person of Christ.

Next week we’ll go a bit deeper into the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Photo Credit: Pope Francis ordains one of 19 new priests during ordination Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican on April 27, 2015. CNS/Paul Haring


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org