(Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of columns which will help understand the role of the permanent deacon in the Diocese of Buffalo.)
The Permanent Diaconate has been restored in the Church for nearly 50 years, and there is still some confusion as to what a deacon can do.
It is not uncommon to be addressed as "Father" when standing at the back of church as people are leaving after Mass. It may be that they do not know what to call us, or perhaps they think we are semi-priests. Calling us "Deacon" is most appropriate.
We dress for liturgies in an alb and stole over our left shoulder, and sometimes with an over garment called a dalmatic. We are not semi-priests, as we have a different role than priesthood. Some background information will help.
The catalyst for the restoration of the diaconate was the experience of priests at the Dachau Concentration Camp during World War II. The priests asked what they could possibly do in the future so something like that didn't happen again. Discussions revealed that we have images of Christ the King and Christ the Priest, but no image of Christ the Servant to bridge the gap between the world and the sacred.
Deacons are ordained in a ceremony very similar to a priest ordination, but with a different emphasis. During ordination, the bishop says to each candidate, "Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach."
The bishop further adds that the deacon will help the bishop and his body of priests as a minister of the word, of the altar, and of charity and that he will make himself a servant of all. Permanent deacons are called to be ministers of charity - to bring Christ out into the world to influence a change in hearts of others by living out the Gospel.
This charity ministry can take on many forms - from the hospital, nursing home, Catholic Charities, prisons, and all forms of outreach to bring Christ's presence into the lives of others. In ministering out of the parish, you may see deacons wearing a Roman collar, with a predominant deacon cross and name tag.
We bring this servant ministry of charity to the liturgical celebration of Mass so the congregation may witness the servanthood of Christ, as well as Christ in the priest. It completes the picture. As a minister of the altar, the deacon will proclaim the Gospel, prepare the sacrifice, and give the Lord's body and blood to the community of believers.
The permanent deacon brings his ministry of charity, as well as his life experiences, to the homily. Preaching is one of his rights granted by the Holy See to bishops, and by ordinaries to the priests and deacons, to enable them to exercise their respective powers for the faithful under their jurisdiction.
The bishop of Buffalo has authorized the following faculties for deacons to perform:
To carry out, with the bishop and priest, all the roles and liturgical rites which the ritual books attribute to the deacon
To function as deacon at the Eucharistic celebration according to the directives given in the Roman Missal and the Norms and Guidelines promulgated within the Diocese of Buffalo
To function as a deacon at the sacrament of reconciliation during Rite II and III, according to the directives given in the Roman Ritual
To lead non-sacramental celebrations, particularly during Advent and Lent, when a priest is not available, according to the directives of the Roman Ritual
To function as a leader of the people in praying the communal Celebration of the Hours, in the absence of a priest
To administer baptism solemnly and to supply the ceremonies that have been omitted at an emergency Baptism in the case of an infant or adult
To distribute Holy Communion at Mass and to conduct the Rite of the Administration of Holy Communion Outside of Mass
To conduct the Rite for the Administration of Viaticum and Holy Communion to the sick in their homes, in hospitals and other health care facilities according to the directives given in the Roman Ritual, and to share in the pastoral obligation of care for the sick
To impart benediction of the Blessed Sacrament to the people. This includes wearing the cope, exposing the Blessed Sacrament and giving the blessing with the monstrance or ciborium.
To witness marriages when delegated by the pastor
To distribute blessed ashes to the congregation on Ash Wednesday
To lead all Rites of Christian Burial, except the Eucharist itself, according to the directives of the Roman Ritual, namely, the Vigil or Wake Service in the home or funeral chapel, the non-Eucharistic rites of the Church (for example, welcome, liturgy of the word, commendation, and the rites at the cemetery).
To proclaim the Gospel of the Lord and to read the Scriptures to the faithful
To preach the homily at Mass or during other Liturgies of the Word
To provide a brief catechetical instruction of explanation of a rite according to liturgical norms on those occasions when the deacon is the celebrating minister of a sacrament or other liturgical rite
To preside over religious worship, prayer and Bible services where there is no priest present, to the degree permitted by the ritual books
To give blessings according to the norms outlined in the Code of Canon Law and the Book of Blessings.
People will see the deacon perform any of these many faculties as deemed appropriate by the pastor or pastoral administrator to serve their people.
Of all the faculties that a deacon can do, I have found that the most moving for me was in the baptism of my granddaughters. To bring them into the life of the Church is the greatest gift I can give them, one that is eternal. What more can a proud grandfather ask?