In these weeks of Easter, our first readings center on the book of Acts of the Apostles. Today’s readings focus on the first deacons of the early Church. It is fascinating that not a single priest is mentioned by name in the New Testament, but we have the names of the first seven deacons: Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch. Like our own deacons Ed, Jim, and Horatio, theirs is a ministry not always understood but always crucial to our common faith life.
A deacon in the Catholic Church is one of the 3 levels of ordained ministry (bishops, priests, and deacons). From the earliest times, there grew a need to assist the elders (pastors). Deacons were called forth to handle the logistical needs of charity so that the pastors could focus on the ministry of the Word and the community’s prayer life (Acts 6:4).
Scripture gives us a glimpse of the expectations of a deacon in the First letter of Timothy. In chapter 3, St Paul states a deacon must not be an addict (v. 3,), not greedy for dishonest gain (v. 3), blameless (v. 2), the husband of one wife (v. 2), an able manager of his children and household (vv. 4–5). Furthermore, a deacon must be mature and above reproach (v. 6). St Paul later affirms in chapter 8 they must also be: dignified (v. 8), not double-tongued (v. 8), not addicted to too, much wine (v. 8), not greedy for dishonest gain (v. 8) , sound in faith and life (v. 9,11).
The diaconate grew rapidly over the next few centuries. During the 5th through the 8th centuries deacons shifted from the administrators of goods for the poor to becoming the bishop’s right-hand man. This is possibly reflected today in the practice that deacons read the Gospel even when a bishop leads the Mass. It is fascinating to note that in these 3 centuries, over 30 deacons became popes.
This growth was short lived, and the office of the deacon fell out of fashion until the Second Vatican Council. The Council restored ordination to the diaconate which promoted the role of the deacon as in persona Cristi servi (in the person of Christ the servant). This is the heart of the deacon’s vocation, service to the community. This service includes being ministers of the Word, ministers of certain sacraments (baptism and marriage), chaplains in hospitals, outreach directors, marriage counselors, and for us at Sacred Heart, Directors of Religious Education (DRE’s).
What most people realize about permanent deacons is that they can be married We may not have married priests, but deacons are able to be married and ordained members in our Church. Their wives, such as our Annie Farrar and “Coco” Quiles, are not just married to the deacon but often serve in critical parish ministries with them. Easter is a wonderful time to thank our deacons and their wives for all they do to bring God’s Word to life for us.
With a heart for Mission,