Deacon-structing the Diaconate | Part 3

Deacon Pedro

July 9, 2017
Last time we saw how far back the diaconate goes in our Catholic tradition. Deacons are there from the time of the Apostles and all throughout the early Church. We saw a lot of proof.
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 go 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.

Lumen Gentium

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 fulfillment 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 year.
Next week let’s look at the history of the diaconate and where women deacons or deaconesses have been part of the Tradition.
In case you've just stumbled upon this article you may want to backup and start where we started a couple of weeks ago: We began 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.

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: [email protected]