Information Bulletin 78

APRIL 2006

{slide=Introduction} Dear Brothers in Ministry
We all know what it means to be torn apart in every direction. After responding daily to our most pressing parish issues—administrivia as well, where do we find time for those precious moments of care for the poor and needy, with a depth of compassion and charity? And yet, the Church is clear: in Pastores dabo vobis (22-23, et alia), pastoral charity is the very essence of priestly ministry; in Christus Dominus (30:2; 13), bishops are reminded that “they should devote themselves with a paternal love to the poor and the sick .…”
Pope Benedict tells us in Deus caritas est (20-25) that when the Apostles were torn in every direction, the diaconate was established as “part of the funda-mental structure of the Church”, as “a truly spiritual office which carried out an essential responsibility of the Church.” It’s not that deacons replace priests in pastoral charity; deacons are ordained to assist the bishop, inter alia, in his essential work of charity.
In January this year, deacons from across Australia met in Adelaide to celebrate their ministry and life. Those who led discussions—priests too, reminded all of us of their unique place in the Church, asking us to give prayerful thought to a more complete understand-ing of the Sacrament of Orders. Our deacons’ under-standing of their place in the wider Australian Church was drawn together in Adelaide—some of their thoughts are included inside.
With personal best wishes

Frank Devoy, Executive Officer
{/slide} {slide=On the Diaconate}

On the Diaconate...

by Deacon Paul Simmons (Broken Bay)

“As an essential part of the Church’s structure, the diaconate fulfils a key role in its ministry. … Yes, it can be argued - and often is - we don’t need deacons, laity can do everything that deacons do. … The diaconate is not about taking away ministries from lay people, rather it is about building up the community. It's about challenging, encouraging, supporting, and training the laity to accept their baptismal responsibilities and become actively involved in the life of the Church, and their parish community ….
“McCaslin and Lawler in Sacrament and Service: A Vision of the Permanent Diaconate Today observe
“that any parish without the sacramental presence of a deacon, to symbolize the call of the local church to diakonia is sacramentally incomplete". … In other words, a Church without its full range of ministries is an incomplete Church. It isn't only missing an important ministry of Christ-like service, but lacks something integral to its very nature.
“This is so because the deacon shares in the bishop's ministry of the proclamation of the Word of God.
And, as an assistant to the bishop, the deacon is called to engage with people, to identify, and serve, those on the margins of society--the 'lepers', the 'widows', the 'orphans' of today, seeking marriage, baptism of infants, viaticum for the dying, rites for the deceased and pastoral care of the grieving ….
“He is called to minister in those areas where the bishop would like to, but is unable to. The deacon is at the service of the bishop and, when appointed to a parish, works in collaboration with his pastor, to assist him in the pastoral care of those entrusted to him.
“The General Instruction of the Roman Missal reminds us that the pre-eminent expression of the Church is that Sunday Eucharist celebrated by the bishop, surrounded by his presbyters, deacons AND lay ministers, and in which the faithful are present, participate fully and actively ….”
{/slide} {slide=What Deacons say energises them}
  • The recognition of the presence of God in our lives. The gratitude we give to God for freely giving us this vocation and calling us to recognize it.
  • The positive responses, support, recognition and thanks from the people we serve.
  • The acceptance and support of the presbyterate, especially those with whom we work in collaboration.
  • Relationship with the Bishop: as the deacon is ordained principally to assist the bishop, his warm support means everything.
  • The affirmation of our vocation by our families, especially the affirmation, love and support of our wives.
  • The support of various religious communities with whom we work and have contact, especially those which conduct retreats and make available their facilities for conferences etc.
  • The joy that comes to us from helping others, especially the poor and disadvantaged, the sick, elderly and lonely.
  • The ability to bring the 'Good News' to people especially the 'hard of heart', particularly at the time of baptisms, weddings and funerals where some of the 'hardness' starts to soften.
  • Appreciation of our ecumenical work, at both parish and diocesan level, is something that continues to give life to the deacon and ecumenism at large.
{/slide} {slide=What our Deacons actually do}
  • Bereavement Counselling; Diocesan Chancellor; Chaplains to: Emergency Services, Hospitals, Maritime, Migrants, Military, Police, Prisons, Secondary Colleges and Schools;
  • Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Ecumenism: diocesan ecumenical commission, members of ministers fraternal;
  • Liturgical Training of: acolytes/senior altar servers, readers, Extraordinary Ministers, visitation teams etc; Liturgy: Deacon at Altar / Proclaim Gospel, Preach Homilies, Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals, Stations of Cross, Holy Hour /Benediction etc;
  • Marriage Tribunal work; Pastoral Care Coordinator to: Coordinate and train people in a wide range of pastoral care, including residents in aged care facilities; Conduct RCIA Process;
  • Sacramental Preparation of: all sacraments, including pre-marriage education courses eg FOCCUS; Secretarial work: Council of Priests, College of Consulters, Bishop; Seniors Ministry; Coordinate Social Justice groups;
  • Spiritual Advisors to: St Vincent DePaul – Parish/Regional; Parish Visitation Teams, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Readers etc; Visitation: general home visitation, visiting sick, elderly, lonely in hospitals/homes; especially care for the poor, the down and out, and those with deprivation of any kind.
{/slide} {slide=What the Deacons say de-energises them}
  • Some clergy and laity do not understand the diaconate as a vocation, a calling from God.
  • Often the diaconate is seen just as another ministry, rather than a vocation--a calling from God for life.
  • The ‘low’ profile given to the diaconate: there’s often no effort to educate the people re the Sacrament; prayers for vocations seldom include diaconate.
  • Opposition to the diaconate devalues the life and ministry of deacons, resulting in frustration and a feeling of worthlessness.
  • Where the diaconate is established and a new Bishop/PP arrives, deacons are at times ‘put on hold’.
  • Having to explain continually what a deacon is.
{/slide} {slide=Pope Benedict on the Diaconate}

Pope Benedict's Deus caritas est on the Permanent Diaconate and Charity

The Apostles, who had been entrusted primarily with “prayer” (the Eucharist and the liturgy) and the “ministry of the word”, felt over-burdened by “serving tables”, so they decided to reserve to themselves
the principal duty and to designate for the other task, also necessary in the Church, a group of seven persons ...

They were to be men “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (cf. Acts 6:1-6). In other words, the social service which they were meant to provide was absolutely concrete, yet at the same time it was a spiritual service; theirs was a truly spiritual office which carried out an essential responsibility of the Church, namely a well-ordered love of neighbour. With the formation of this group of seven, “diaconia” – the  ministry of charity exercised in a communitarian, orderly way – became part of the fundamental structure of the Church.” (no. 21)  … love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to [the Church] as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word. (no. 22)

{/slide} {slide=From the Australian Bishops' Guidelines on the Permanent Diaconate}
“… The diaconate fulfils a key role in the ministry of the Church and is an essential part of its structure. The ministry of deacons is one of liturgy, word and charity. In this they are ordained to assist the bishop and his body of priests. However, they are also to be at the service of all, embodying Christ who came to serve and not to be served.
“The order of deacons is a distinct and permanent grade in the Church’s hierarchy. Through ordination deacons enter into the threefold ministry of worship and service, ministering in communion with the bishop and his presbyterium. The pre-eminent expression of the Church is that Sunday Eucharist celebrated by the bishop, surrounded by his presbyters, deacons and lay ministers, and in which the faithful present participate fully and actively. (GIRM, 112)
“The Second Vatican Council, when decreeing that the diaconate be restored as a proper and permanent rank of the clergy in the Latin Church, stated that it pertained to the office of deacon to administer bap-tism, to be the custodian and distributor 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, and to offici-ate at funeral and burial services (Lumen gentium, 29).
“A local Church without deacons is not only missing an important ministry of Christ-like service, but lacks something integral to its very nature. ….”
(from “Guidelines for the Permanent Diaconate in the Catholic Church in Australia”, 2-5; to be read in the light of the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons, promulgated by the Congregation for Clergy, 22 February, 1998)
  • Created: 01 April 2006
  • Modified: 25 April 2009