We Deacons are truly blessed, in that we have not one but two patron saints: Saint Stephen (Dec. 26th) and Saint Lawrence (Aug. 10th). So, what is a deacon and why do we have them?
In the Acts of the Apostles is the story of the founding of the order of deacons. Chapter Six tells us that the Apostles were unable to both preach the Gospel and serve at table. Seven men were presented to them from the body of the Church and by the body of the Church. These seven men, including Saint Stephen were given the task of serving the poor and proclaiming the Word of God. These two tasks remain the primary focus of deacons to this day. At every Mass, it is the Deacon who proclaims the Gospel and assists the Priest or the Bishop at the altar. If a permanent deacon or a transitional deacon is not present then the priest (who was ordained to the diaconate) performs these functions. Remember, Father Jim was ordained a deacon before he became a priest, Bishop Callahan, Cardinal Burke and yes, even Pope Francis began their ordained lives as deacons. Once a deacon, always a deacon.
It is also important to remember what the word “deacon” means. Deacon comes from the Greek word, “Diakonia” meaning simply servant. A deacon then, any deacon, is nothing more than a servant: God’s servant to the poor, to the bishop, and to the priest. We have as our symbols: the dalmatic; the outer garment worn at Mass. This garment originated in the Roman Province of Dalmatia and was worn by the servants serving dinner at table. The dalmatic has sleeves so foot washing would be easier. Our stoles are worn from left shoulder to right hip to indicate that we are not priests. The wash bowl, towel and basin remind us that we are servants performing the most menial of tasks.
On August 10th we celebrate the feast of one of our most beloved brothers, St. Lawrence who was blessed with the crown of martyrdom on this day in the year 258, four days after Pope Sixtus II and four other deacons were martyred at the entrance to the catacombs in Rome. Lawrence had been spared execution because he was the treasurer of the Church and was ordered to bring the treasure of the Church to the Roman magistrate. He did so on this date in 258, presenting the poor, the sick, the lame, the widow and the orphans of Rome to the magistrate with the words, “Behold the treasures of the Church.” He was cooked alive on a griddle and is reported to have said, “You may turn me over, I’m done on this side.” Don’t you just love a smart aleck?
On a more serious note, I have been blessed to serve Christ the King and St. John the Baptist parish families for these past nine years. Earlier this year, I turned 70 which means we will be needing a new deacon in the not too distant future. If you know anyone you believe would make a good deacon, please talk to them and to Father Jim about them seeking ordination. It is a five year program and the next class starts in two years, so time is of the essence. Any man who is interested may feel free to talk with me at any time. I can only say that the joy, the awe, the wonder are beyond compare.
Your brother in Christ, Deacon Jeff