Mass of Thanksgiving on the Occassion of Deacon Kurt’s Deaconate Ordination

     Yesterday morning, Msgr. Breier and I gathered with a packed cathedral for the ordination of 25 new deacons including our own Deacon Kurt Loeffler. The Mass begins as usual. After the Gospel, the candidates are called forward by name and the Archbishop asks them if they are willing to accept the office of deacon and be faithful to the life of prayer and service which make up the life of a deacon. Next each candidate kneels before the bishop and promises respect and obedience to him and his successors. Then the candidates lay prostrate on the floor while the congregation prays, asking the saints, to pray for the deacon candidates. When the litany is over each of the candidates comes forward to the Archbishop who lays hands on their heads before praying the prayer of ordination over all of them. The now new deacons are vested in stole and dalmatic before coming before the Archbishop who offers them the book of the Gospels saying “receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”[1]

     Gathering this morning to celebrate Deacon Kurt’s first Mass as a deacon affords us the privilege of pausing to reflect on the unique role of the deacon. We are blessed to have 3 very active deacons, but few of us know what the ministry of a deacon is. Sadly, this ignorance leads people to confuse the order of deacons with the order of priests or to regulate them to the 5th degree of the Knights of Columbus, which is a shame because the deacon has a unique role in the Church that truly builds up the body of Christ when it is properly exercised. Unlike a bishop or priest, a deacon does not receive any power at his ordination. Rather he is given a simple share in the mission of Christ and is sent out into the world as a servant of the Gospel. So, while functionally there is nothing a deacon can do that others can’t, it is precisely in this powerlessness that the deacon finds his identity. For as a powerless servant, the deacon is entrusted with the ministry of Christ who made Himself the servant of all.

     While most of us are familiar with the role of the deacon from Mass, the deacon is not principally a liturgical minister, but rather serves in the sanctuary as an extension of his service to the community. In other words, the deacon’s responsibilities at the liturgy are an expression of his call to bridge the Church with the world. So yes, deacons assist at the liturgy, but they are called primarily to service of the table referred to in the Acts of the Apostles; the table of those in need.[2] The deacon has a special responsibility to identify to the Church those who are in need and particularly those who are without power, on the margins of society and to bring the Church to them. Through the ministry of her deacons, the Church makes herself present to the world in need. While our deacons cannot solve every problem or address every need, they can accompany the poor and vulnerable with the transforming love of Christ which flows from the altar and reminding us of the message of the Gospel, while teaching us that it is there amongst the needy and the marginalized lies the treasure of the Church. So, you see, it is the deacon’s role as the bridge to those most in need that makes him the appropriate minister to call us to repentance, proclaim the Gospel and universal prayers, gather the gifts, distribute Holy Communion and send us forth.

     In the coming years, as our diocese begins to really feel the effects of the priest shortage, deacons will be asked to pick up more responsibilities. As the responsibilities mount, it will be essential for our deacons to remember their roots. From the moment the first 7 deacons were ordained by the apostles their role has been to bring Christ to the margins of society. While the permanent deaconate quickly died away in the 5th century, 15 hundred years later a group of Catholic men, imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau began discussing how a restoration of the permanent deaconate could help address issues of justice through service and stewardship. Only 19 years later the permanent deaconate was restored at the Second Vatican Council. Our tradition shows that the deacon is not called to be a substitute for the priest nor a glorified altar server as often happens in practice. No, our deacons are ordained to a unique role in the Church to be “merciful, diligent and walking in accordance with the truth of the Lord who became the servant of all.”[3]  A deacon is called to be a herald of the Gospel by imitating Christ who became the servant of all. When deacons live out this radical service, their lives become a living homily.

     In truly living out their ministry, deacons remind us that “to follow Christ means to become one who loves as God has loved.”[4] Just as the deacon connects those on the margins of society to the Church, we are called to gather here at this Eucharist to receive the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. We are called to gather here to hear God’s word and partake of His body, blood, soul, and divinity which is offered for us this altar to receive our nourishment and then take Jesus back out into the world in imitation of Christ who made Himself the servant of all.  So today we gather at this Eucharist to give thanks to God for calling deacon Kurt to the deaconate and we lend our prayers that by God’s grace Deacon Kurt and all Deacons will continue to be effective heralds of the Gospel through their radical service to those most in need and we recommit ourselves to bringing Christ from the altar into the world.

[1] The Roman Pontifical. Rite of Ordination of Several Deacons. Vatican City: Vox Clara. 2012. Pg 121.

[2] Acts 6:1-7

[3] Second Vatican Council.  Lumen Gentium.  21 Nov. 1964.  Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils Vol II ed. Norman Tanner. Par 29, pg

[4] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pg. 129.

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