by Michael Podrebarac
Well, the date of ordination for the first class of permanent deacons for the archdiocese has been set.
Within a year, God willing (perhaps in my case, some are thinking, “heaven forbid!”), I and 19 other men (they being among the finest of Christian disciples) will begin our service to the church as deacons.
Besides reminding me that time is running out for me to remove a couple of “X’s” from my cassock-size before ordination, the countdown to next April bids me to reflect more carefully upon the threefold service of the diaconate. Simply put, the deacon is called to teach the faith, to serve the liturgy, and, most importantly, to do works of charity. Pope John Paul II called the diaconate the church’s charity “sacramentalized.”
In a sense, the deacon’s call to teaching and to charity is rooted in the sacred liturgy, that great synthesis of the transcendence and immanence of the Christian life. The deacon serves the liturgy in numerous ways.
The deacon carries in procession the book containing the Gospels — our Lord’s “good news” about who we are and about how we are to live. And it is the deacon who often leads the penitential rite, our trusting examination of how we have failed to heed the good news and our common plea for mercy.
The deacon proclaims the Gospel reading, and, as one who speaks in the church’s name, can preach the homily from time to time, linking faith to action and prayer to service. In the general intercessions, the deacon announces the prayers of the faithful, including those for the poor and the suffering.
Deacons prepare the people’s gifts of bread and wine for the eucharistic sacrifice. They lift the chalice before God during the final doxology of the eucharistic prayer. They bid the congregation to share that simple sign of peace which helps prepare us for holy Communion. And after the sacramental banquet is completed, the deacon, as a good steward of the mysteries of the Lord, cleanses the vessels used at this “supper of the Lamb.”
But of all the roles the deacon has in the liturgy, perhaps this final one is most crucially linked to the service of charity to which clergy and laity are called. The deacon dismisses the people with the words, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” His is the honored task of pronouncing the commission to go and serve, and serve in love. For to love God is to love one another, and to serve God is to serve the least. That is really what “diaconate” means.
And if I can’t learn to master this simple fact, indeed: Heaven forbid that I ever be called a deacon.