Going Golden: Fifty Years of Renewed Diaconate

PopePaulVIIt was just fifty years ago today that the Order of Deacons was renewed as a ministry to be exercised permanently in the Catholic Church.  Fifty years ago today, 18 June 1967, Blessed Pope Paul VI acted on the 1964 recommendation of the world’s bishops at the Second Vatican Council.  He promulgated motu proprio Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, which you can read in full here.

Following the conclusions of the Second Vatican Council (cf. Lumen gentium, #29), the Holy Father directed the appropriate changes to canon law which would permit the diaconate to be renewed as a “particular and permanent” order, and opened the diaconate to be conferred on married as well as celibate men.  The introductory paragraphs offer significant insights into the vision behind the renewal:

Beginning already in the early days of the Apostles, the Catholic Church has held in great veneration the sacred order of the diaconate, as the Apostle of the Gentiles himself bears witness. He expressly sends his greeting to the deacons together with the bishops and instructs Timothy which virtues and qualities are to be sought in them in order that they may be regarded as worthy of their ministry.

Furthermore, the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, following this very ancient tradition, made honorable mention of the diaconate in the Constitution which begins with the words “Lumen Gentium,” where, after concerning itself with the bishops and the priests, it praised also the third rank of sacred orders, explaining its dignity and enumerating its functions.

Indeed while clearly recognizing on the one hand that “these functions very necessary to the life of the Church could in the present discipline of the Latin Church be carried out in many regions with difficulty,” and while on the other hand wishing to make more suitable provision in a matter of such importance wisely decreed that the “diaconate in the future could be restored as a particular and permanent rank of the hierarchy.”

Although some functions of the deacons, especially in missionary countries, are in fact accustomed to be entrusted to lay men it is nevertheless “beneficial that those who perform a truly diaconal ministry be strengthened by the imposition of hands, a tradition going back to the Apostles, and be more closely joined to the altar so that they may more effectively carry out their ministry through the sacramental grace of the diaconate.” Certainly in this way the special nature of this order will be shown most clearly. It is not to be considered as a mere step towards the priesthood, but it is so adorned with its own indelible character and its own special grace so that those who are called to it “can permanently serve the mysteries of Christ and the Church.”

deaconsFrom the beginning, then, the renewal of the diaconate as a “particular and permanent” order of ministry has been about sacramental grace.  The diaconate must never be reduced simply to the sum of its various “functions” which might easily be performed by others without ordination.  However, the Council and the Pope recognized that those performing those functions in the person of Christ and in the name of the Church should be strengthened by the sacramental grace of ordination.

This is a very special day for the Church and her deacons.  We remember with great respect and humility the giants of the renewal of the order of deacons: the bishops, theologians, and most especially those pioneering early deacons who set out into the unknown, charting a course for the rest of us to follow.

Deacons of the Church: Happy Golden Anniversary!

50th-Anniversary

Terrorism, Dachau and Diaconate: Perspectives and PBS

INTRODUCTION

12172xlAs I write this, reports are coming in from Baton Rouge about yet another attack with multiple casualties.  The world is reeling from the endless chain of violence and death of recent months.  On Friday, the PBS series Religion and Ethics Newsweekly ran a program on the Order of Deacons in the Catholic Church.  Given the state of the world, one might think this an odd or even irrelevant topic.   Upon reflection, however, I believe that there are some important dots to connect.  It is precisely because of the current state of violent death, destruction and havoc that the diaconate — properly understood — might offer a glimmer of hope.  After all, it was precisely because of the “abyss of violence, destruction and death unlike anything previously known” (John Paul II, referring to World Word II) that the Order of Deacons was renewed in the first place; we’re here to help do something about it. So we shall review the PBS story against that critical backdrop.

47e73934-588c-4a95-985f-3ddac791ede4.png.resize.298x135THE PBS PROGRAM: Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

First, watch the program or read the transcript for yourself; you may find both of them here.  The diaconate is not often covered in the media, so this could have been a wonderful opportunity to spread the word about a remarkable ministry.  Unfortunately, despite very obvious good intentions, the program was full of errors ranging from simple errors of fact to more serious, even egregious, errors of history and theology.  Furthermore, a wonderful opportunity was missed to connect the “concrete consequences” which the diaconate might offer a hurting world.

The Mistakes

Why focus on some of the errors made in the program?  First, simply to get them identified and out of the way.  Second and more important, it is crucial to dispel such errors because they can distort the meaning of the diaconate and distract the audience from its proper potential.

  1. “He’s a married layman.” This simple error of fact is made twice at the very beginning of the report.  Of course this is simply not true.  Deacons are clergy and not laymen.  For those of us who live and teach about the diaconate, this is usually the first red flag that the rest of the discussion is not going to go well.  Why is this distinction important?  Back to that in a moment.
  2. “Celebrating Mass is a function reserved only for priests who are considered heirs to the original apostles.” In Catholic theology, of course, the “heirs” or “successors” of the apostles are bishops, not priests.
  3. “[The deacon] did have to step in recently to speak the words of consecration at communion – for Catholics the most sacred part of the Mass. That’s because his pastor is on leave, and the priest filling in doesn’t speak English.” This is terribly wrong on several levels.  First, the deacon can be seen and heard praying part of the Eucharistic Prayer, which is absolutely reserved to priests alone.  The priest in question should have just said the prayer in his native language, whatever it is.  For years, Catholics of the Latin Rite celebrated Mass in Latin: no one stood next to the priest to translate the Latin for us.  Not only did the deacon not “have to step in” to do such a thing, church law expressly forbids it.  Canon 907 states: “In the eucharistic celebration deacons and lay persons are not permitted to offer prayers, especially the eucharistic prayer, or to perform actions which are proper to the celebrating priest.” My guess is that every deacon who saw that part of the segment is still cringing!  (The other cringe-worthy tidbit was seeing the deacon improperly vested, wearing his stole on the outside of his dalmatic. How cringe-worthy ?  Think wearing underclothing over your pants).
  4. VaticanII“In the Middle Ages the role of deacons began to fade as the power of priests and bishops grew. In the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council restored the role of deacons – but only for men.” The evolving role of deacons throughout history is far more complicated than that, and overlooks the fact that the diaconate never completely disappeared, but became primarily a stepping stone to the priesthood.  I fully acknowledge that the history of the diaconate in all of its complexity goes far beyond what can be covered in such a brief program, but still: the broad brush strokes of the history could have been recognized and acknowledged.  This is also when the program shifts to the question of the possibility of ordaining women as deacons.  I will deal with that question below.
  5. “Until recently, the wives of deacons were required to take the same classes over four years as their husbands did to prepare for the diaconate.” Here the reporter falls victim to a common danger when discussing the diaconate: extrapolation.  There are nearly 200 Catholic dioceses in the United States, and the procedures and processes of formation vary greatly from place to place.  National standards established by the US Bishops do not mandate such a requirement, although wives are definitely encouraged to participate to the extent possible so that the couple grows together throughout the formation process.  Even the “until recently” is confusing: perhaps in that particular diocese something has changed, but not in all.  Not every wife of every deacon candidate is required to write papers or attend classes. Like many things in the renewed diaconate, it varies by location and bishop. But even more important — and completely left out of the piece — is the question of vocation.  Preparing for ordination is far more than taking classes, writing papers, and giving practice homilies.  At the heart of formation is the crucible of discerning God’s will: is God calling a person to ordained ministry?  Becoming a deacon is not simply “signing up”, taking a few courses, and putting on the vestments.  This is a life-altering process which at the moment is only engaged in by men.  Whether that changes in the future remains to be seen.  And, if it does, and women enter formation, they too will then go through that crucible of formation — as well as the papers, the courses and the homilies.
  6. “After increasing for several decades, the number of men entering the permanent diaconate has begun to decline, despite a growing need.”  It is worth noting that the diaconate is the only vocation that is growing in the United States—outpacing the priesthood, sisters and religious life. In my own research on the diaconate, I would question again the extrapolation going on: perhaps in some areas or in some dioceses, the number of deacons is going down, but that is simply not the case throughout the country and the rest of the world.  The diaconate has been growing steadily for decades and continues to do so.  The diaconate worldwide has the potential to be one of the great success stories of the Second Vatican Council.

13-2-600x450Now, on the PLUS side:

One exceptionally brief section of the program was a bright spot, and captured the characteristic identity of the deacon.  Several deacons were shown installing a laundry room in a home for women emerging from crisis.  The reporter describes this group as “a ministry that responds to crises. . . .”  One of the deacons involved points out that “besides doing liturgical functions, we’re also called to serve the poor and serve the people of God.”  There it is: the role of the deacon is to respond to crises, to serve those most in need.  The identity of the deacon is expressed in many ways, but most characteristic is this focus on the needs of others: while we are called to exercise our ministries of Word, Sacrament, and Charity in a balanced way, all of it finds its most significant expression in the servant-leadership of the community in service.  If the program had focused on these dimensions — on the very heart of the diaconate itself — it might have avoided the problematic areas which they got largely wrong.

POPE WAVES AS HE ARRIVES FOR GENERAL AUDIENCE AT VATICAN

Diaconate and Diakonia: An Essential Element of the Church

The entire Church is called to be a servant-church, a diaconal church.  Pope Paul VI repeatedly taught that deacons are to be “the animators of the Church’s service,” and St. John Paul II carried it a step further when he referred to the diaconate as “the Church’s service sacramentalized.”  These popes were echoing the teaching and the decisions of the the bishops of the Second Vatican Council when they determined that the Church’s diakonia should be a permanent part of the sacramental life of the Church.  Being a deacon is not simply some activity which a person takes on themselves, at their own initiative; rather, it is believed to be a call from God as discerned through the help of the broader Church.

Pope Benedict wrote in Deus Caritas Est, citing St. Luke:

20. “All who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-5). . . .  As the Church grew, this radical form of material communion could not in fact be preserved. But its essential core remained: within the community of believers there can never be room for a poverty that denies anyone what is needed for a dignified life.

21. A decisive step in the difficult search for ways of putting this fundamental ecclesial principle into practice is illustrated in the choice of the seven, which marked the origin of the diaconal office (cf. Acts 6:5-6). . . .  Nor was this group to carry out a purely mechanical work of distribution: they were to be men “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (cf. Acts 6:1-6). In other words, the social service which they were meant to provide was absolutely concrete, yet at the same time it was also a spiritual service; theirs was a truly spiritual office which carried out an essential responsibility of the Church, namely a well-ordered love of neighbor. With the formation of this group of seven, “diaconia”—the ministry of charity exercised in a communitarian, orderly way—became part of the fundamental structure of the Church.

It is time now to bring all of this together: in the light of Baton Rouge, Nice, Dallas, “Black Lives Matter,” terrorist acts and wounded communities all around the world: why should we care about an order of ministry within the Church?

THE DIACONATE IN CONTEMPORARY CONTEXT: WHY?

DachauBunkBedsSo, what is the connection?  How can the diaconate be understood against that much larger and violent backdrop?  The most important question of all is perhaps, why do we have deacons in the first place?

  1. We have deacons because the church and the world needed ministers to link the needs of people with the providence, mercy and love of God.  This is why deacons have always been described as being associated with the ministry of the bishop and with having the skills to administer “the goods of the Church” for the good of people.
  2. Deacons have historically not been exclusively associated with parish ministry.  For the bulk of church history, deacons served as the principle assistants to their bishops, often representing them in councils and as legates, in catechesis (consider Deacon Deogratias of Carthage), in homiletics (Deacon Quodvultdeus, also of Carthage) and by extending the reach of their bishops, such as Deacon Lawrence of Rome.  Over time, deacons became subordinate to presbyters as well as bishops, and increasingly involved in what we would recognize as parish ministry.  To this very day, deacons are ordained solely by their bishop, for service to him and under his authority: where the bishop is, so should be his deacon.
  3. dachau_collIn our time, as I’ve written about extensively, the Second Vatican Council decided overwhelmingly that the diaconate should be renewed as a permanent ministry in the church once again, even to the extent of opening ordination to married as well as celibate men.  The bishops in Council did this largely because of the insights gleaned from the priest-survivors of Dachau Concentration Camp.  Following the war, these survivors wrote of how the Church would have to adapt itself to better meet the needs of the contemporary world if the horrors of the first half of the 20th Century were to be avoided in the future.  Deacons were seen as a critical component of that strategy of ecclesial renewal.  Why?  Because deacons were understood as being grounded in their communities in practical and substantial ways, while priests and bishops had gradually become perceived as being too distant and remote from the people they were there to serve.

    In short, the diaconate was renewed in order to deal more effectively with the horrors of the contemporary world, not simply to function as parish ministers.

    As I frequently challenge myself and other deacons: is the energy I’m expending as a deacon helping to create the conditions in the world in which another “Dachau” could not exist?  Or am I involving myself in things that are superficial, contingent, and relatively inconsequential?

  4. light_christThe diaconate today, fifty years after the Council, has matured greatly.  Those who would talk intelligently about the diaconate need to keep that in mind.  Over the past fifty years, formation standards have evolved to better equip deacons for our myriad responsibilities, for example.  The diaconate has, at least in those dioceses which have had deacons for several generations, become part of the ecclesial imagination.  In some dioceses we have brothers who are deacons, fathers-in-law and sons-in-law who are deacons, fathers and sons who are deacons.  In one archdiocese, an auxiliary bishop is the son of that archdiocese’s long-time director of the diaconate.  As I mentioned above, the diaconate looks and feels different from one diocese to another and while it is tempting to generalize whenever possible, it is particularly dangerous.
  5. Let me briefly address the question of women and the diaconate.  This is a question demanding serious conversation, just as the Holy Father has indicated.  He is not alone, nor is he the first pope to think so.  Pope Paul VI, St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict (both before his ascension to the papacy and after), and now Pope Francis have all been interested in the question.  The 2002 study document of the International Theological Commission (ITC), convened by the authority of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, concluded that it remained for the Church’s “ministry of discernment” to work toward a resolution of the question.  But the main thing at this point is to have the conversation.  And that conversation will need to take place within the broader context of the lived diaconate, the diaconate whose pastoral praxis and theological reflection has deepened over the past fifty years.  Many who opine about women and the diaconate do so from a dated or inadequate understanding of the order.  If this conversation is going to be done, it must be done well.  In short, to understand the possibilities of women in diakonia, one must first understand the diaconate itself.

violenceHere is my point: If we deacons were restored in response to Dachau and similar world shattering violence, translate “Dachau” to Baton Rouge.  “Dachau” to Nice.  “Dachau” to “Black Lives Matter”.  “Dachau” to 9/11.  “Dachau” to every act of senseless terror and random  violence.  What are we doing to confront these tragedies?  What are we doing to work toward a world in which THEY can no longer exist?  This is so much more than who gets to exercise “governance” (a technical canonical term) in the Church, or who gets to proclaim the Gospel in the midst of the community of disciples.  Like the bishops of the Second Vatican Council, we must ask ourselves how we must evolve and adapt to the new violent conditions of our own age.  How can they best be addressed in the interest of the millions of suffering people — here at home and abroad — whose needs we are called to serve?  We deacons must, like our “founders” at Vatican II, look beyond the normal categories of parish and issues of “insider baseball.”

Paul-VII hope that there will be more media programs on the diaconate.  I hope that not only will they be done accurately, but that they will also be done with a sense of the vision and potential of the diaconate.

As Pope Paul VI said of us, we are to be “the animators” of the Church’s service: May we give our lives to change the world.

 

 

Connecting the Dots: Mary, Vatican II and the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy

Pope_Francis_before_the_Holy_Door_of_St_Peters_Basilica_during_the_convocation_of_the_Jubilee_of_Mercy_April_11_2015_Credit_LOsservatore_Romano-255x255The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis today in Rome, actually began fifty years ago with the solemn closing of the Second Vatican Council on 8 December 1965.  When dealing with the Catholic Church it is always good to step back and take a long view on what is going on, and today’s events in Rome are no exception.  Let’s connect some dots.

MARY AND THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION

The first dot is Mary, under her title of the Immaculate Conception.  Celebrated in one form or another from the 7th Century, this Feast was established for the entire Church in 1708 by Pope Clement XI.  Fifty years ago, this date was deliberately chosen for the solemn closing of the Second Vatican Council.  6a00d834516bb169e201b8d0bcba63970c-250wiThe Church’s teaching about Mary was originally crafted as a separate document by the curia before the Council began.  However, the world’s bishops rejected this arrangement, rightly including Mary at the heart and climax of its dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium.  Mary, our sister and our mother, the first disciple of the Christ, is held up to all as the model of Christian discipleship.   Fifty years ago, therefore, standing on the same spot where Pope Francis stood earlier this morning, Pope Paul VI ended his homily with the following observation:

While we close the ecumenical council we are honoring Mary Most Holy, the mother of Christ and consequently. . . the mother of God and our spiritual mother. . . . She is the woman, the true woman who is both ideal and real, the creature in whom the image of God is reflected with absolute clarity. . . .

Is it not perhaps in directing our gaze on this woman who is our humble sister and at the same time our heavenly mother and queen, the spotless and sacred mirror of infinite beauty, that we can terminate the spiritual ascent of the council and our final greeting?  Is it not here that our post-conciliar work can begin?  Does not the beauty of Mary Immaculate become for us an inspiring model, a comforting hope?  Oh, brothers, sons and all who are listening to us, we think it is so for and for you.  And this is our most exalted and, God willing, our most valuable greeting.

VATICAN II

1115_p12b500Vatican II is a gift that keeps on giving.  The great historian of the Church, Hubert Jedin, once observed that it takes at least a century to implement the teachings and decisions of a general Council.  If he is correct, and I believe he is, we have only now just reached the fifty yard line as we say in American football.  For all the progress made, much more remains to be done.  Let’s take a closer look at those closing ceremonies to the Council, because there are some significant elements there that point the way to what happened earlier today.

THE SERVANT CHURCH

First, on 7 December 1965, Pope Paul celebrated Mass with the Council Fathers.  This was the last general assembly of the Council and the day before the Solemn Closing.  In his speech to the Fathers, Paul summarized the four year work of the Council:

deacon-feetAnother point we must stress is this: all this rich teaching is channeled in one direction, the service of mankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need. The Church has, so to say, declared herself the servant of humanity, at the very time when her teaching role and her pastoral government have, by reason of the council’s solemnity, assumed greater splendor and vigor: the idea of service has been central.

Later, Pope Paul referred to this service in a particular way when he spoke of the service of the Good Samaritan as the role of the Church in the modern world.  But I’m getting ahead of myself!  More about the Samaritan a little later.  For now, this identification of the Church as servant can serve as a valuable hermeneutic when studying the work of the Council as well as the efforts of our leaders ever since.  In particular, this can be a profound insight into the way in which Pope Francis exercising the Petrine ministry — and in a most special way — his declaration of an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

UNIVERSALITY

In his homily fifty years ago, Paul VI begins by proclaiming that his greeting, his message, and indeed the message of the entire Council is universal.  He refers to his brother bishops, to the representatives of nations who were in attendance, to the entire People of God, “and it is extended and broadened to the entire world.  How could it be otherwise if this council was said to be and is ecumenical, that is to say, universal?”

Paul-VIPope Paul digs deeper, using the image of a bell:

Just as the sound of the bell goes out through the skies. . . so at this moment does our greeting go out to each and every one of you.  To those who receive it and to those who do not, it resounds pleadingly in the ear of every person. . . . No one, in principle, is unreachable; in principle, all can and must be reached.  For the Catholic Church, no one is a stranger, no one is excluded, no one is far away. . . .  This is the language of the heart of one who loves.

After greeting specific groups of people, especially those who are ill and imprisoned and suffering, he continues:

Lastly, our universal greeting goes out to you who do not know us, who do not understand us, who do not regard us as useful, necessary or friendly.  This greeting goes also to you who, while perhaps thinking they are doing good, are opposed to us. . . . Ours is a greeting, not of farewell which separates, but of friendship which remains and which, if so demanded, wishes to be born. . . .  May it rise as a new spark of divine charity in our hearts, a spark which may enkindle the principles, doctrine and proposals which the council has organized and which, thus inflamed by charity, may really produce in the Church and in the world that renewal of thoughts, activities, conduct, moral force and hope and joy which was the very scope of the council.

people-out-perspFinally, at the end of the Mass closing the Council, a remarkable thing happened.  Most people today are unaware that it even took place, and that is a real tragedy, for it sheds a light on the whole proceedings, and points the way to our contemporary Jubilee.  A series of messages from the Council Fathers was read to the world.  The bishops of the Council prepared these messages because they wanted the world to realize that the Council had not been simply an exercise of ecclesiastical navel-gazing; rather, the work of the Council was focused outward, to the very real needs of the people and the world.  In the introduction to the messages, the bishops write:

We seem to hear from every corner of the world an immense and confused voice, the questions of all those who look toward the council and ask us anxiously: “Have you not a word for us?”  For us rulers?  For us intellectuals, workers, artists?  And for us women?  For us of the younger generation, for us the sick and the poor?

These pleading voices will not remain unheeded.  It is for all of these categories of people that the council has been working for four years.  It is for them that there has been prepared this Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which we promulgated yesterday amidst the enthusiastic applause of your assembly. . . .

Before departing, the council wishes to fulfill this prophetic function and to translate into brief messages and in a language accessible to all, the “good news” which it has for the world. . . .

Then, dramatically, a number of the bishops stood up, and in a variety of languages, read out the messages.  To each group, support and encouragement was offered, as well as the challenges within each area to benefit the entire human race.  The seven messages were addressed:

  1. To the Rulers of the World: Those Who Hold Temporal Power
  2. To People of Thought and Science
  3. To Artists
  4. To Women
  5. To the Poor, the Sick and the Suffering
  6. To Workers
  7. To Youth

It is important to recognize that in every Holy Year celebrated since the Council, there have been particular celebrations during the Year for various groups of persons, which extends this pastoral outreach first demonstrated here at the end of the Council.  This is true of the Extraordinary Jubilee just begun.

MERCY

And so we connect the final dot.

Again we find ourselves assembled in honor of Mary, and Pope Francis reminds us that the “fullness of grace” such as that we recognize in Mary, “can transform the human heart and enable it to do something so great as to change the course of human history.”  In Mary we see the love of God, along with a realization that “the beginning of the history of sin in the Garden of Eden yields to a plan of saving love.”

Yet the history of sin can only be understood in the light of God’s love and forgiveness.  Sin can only be understood in this light.  Were sin the only thing that mattered, we would be the most desperate of creatures.  But the promised triumph of Christ’s love enfolds everything in the Father’s mercy.

In speaking of the Council, Pope Francis recalls and connects the dots for us:

Pope_Francis_prays_after_opening_the_Holy_Door_in_St_Peters_Basilica_Dec_8_2015_launching_the_extraordinary_jubilee_of_mercy_Credit_LOsservatore_Romano_CNAToday, here in Rome and in all the dioceses of the world, as we pass through the Holy Door, we also want to remember another door, which fifty years ago the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council opened to the world.  This anniversary cannot be remembered only for the legacy of the Council’s documents, which testify to a great advance in faith.  Before all else the Council was an encounter.  A genuine encounter between the Church and the men and women of our time.  An encounter marked by the power of the Spirit, who impelled the Church to emerge from the shoals which for years had kept her self-enclosed so as to set out once again, with enthusiasm, on her missionary journey. . . Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel, ,and the mercy and forgiveness of God.  After these decades, we again take up this missionary drive with the same power and enthusiasm.  The Jubilee challenges us to this openness, and demands that we not neglect the spirit which emerged from Vatican II, the spirit of the Samaritan, as Blessed Paul VI expressed it at the conclusion of the Council.  May our passing through the Holy Door today commit us to making our own the mercy of the Good Samaritan.

May this Jubilee be a celebration of this spirit of the Samaritan in each and every one of our own relationships and encounters.kindness2

Happy 47th Anniversary to All Deacons!

At Salvatorian Seminary, 196618 June 1967.  I had just graduated from high school seminary at Salvatorian Seminary, St. Nazianz, Wisconsin.  I would soon be leaving to start college seminary.  So, I have to admit, I wasn’t paying much attention to what was coming out of the Holy See on 18 June, 1967.

paulvi-colourBut Pope Paul VI did something that day which was to change the lives of so many of us!  He issued, as the result of a decision reached three years earlier by the bishops assembled at the Second Vatican Council, Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem (“The Sacred Order of the Diaconate”): read it here.  He restored a diaconate which was to be permanently exercised to the Latin Church.

Consider it this way.  On that June day in 1967 there were no “permanent” deacons in the Latin Church: all Latin deacons were destined for eventual ordination as presbyters (priests).  Shortly after the Pope’s action, deacons would be ordained in Germany and Africa, with more men in formation in Europe and other parts of the world.  Today there are more than 40,000 deacons around the world, with thousands more candidates in formation.

The Council of Trent in the 16th Century had stated a desire to have a kind of “permanent” diaconate again, but no pope ever acted upon that desire.  Without Pope Paul VI, we wouldn’t be here today, so thank you, Your Holiness!

Happy anniversary to ALL deacons, East and West!  Ad multos annos!  May God grant us all many years in his service.

deacon logo

The Canonization Chronicles: Notes from Friday, 25 April

It was a busy day today, and these scattered thoughts reflect some of the craziness that’s building around here.

Queue for St. Peter'sIt was still another gorgeous Roman day.  As I entered the Piazza San Pietro, it was obvious that the crowds are building in both numbers and intensity.  There were long lines yesterday to get into the Basilica, but nothing like today!  The queue wrapped around the piazza and into the Via della Conciliazione.  The crowds today were often celebrating in parish, organization, or even national groups.  One sizable group had brought in a large wooden cross, secured it in a stand, and serenaded passersby with a variety of songs and hymns for at least an hour.  Other groups were singing around the Square as well.  I would estimate — very unofficially — that the crowd in the Square today was at least triple what was there yesterday — and tonight, a deacon friend from Rome told me that they are now estimating as many as five million people to be “attending” the canonization ceremonies at venues all over town.  One group today was practicing their “John Paul II, we love you” chant, although I didn’t hear a similar chant for Pope John.  The press scaffolding next to the Vatican Communications Office seemed quite crowded today, much more so than yesterday.

double_popesPerhaps the most visible change of all today, however, was the hanging of the tapestries with the portraits of the two new saints from the front of the Basilica.  They’re not hanging together like this; that’s just a camera trick. St. John is on the right side of the Basilica and St. John Paul is on the left side of the Basilica.  The tapestries seem smaller than what I would have expected when you see them against the full size of the Basilica, but maybe that will change for Sunday!

John in LifeBefore going on, I’d like to add a bit about Pope John.  Personally, I am sorry that so many people have forgotten just how popular, inspiring and influential  Pope John was in his day.  When he died on Pentecost, 1963, a proposal to proclaim him a saint immediately, “Santo Subito”, was chanted by the people and circulated among the world’s bishops who were preparing to return to Rome for the second session of the Council.  It was proposed that the Council itself, when back in session, make the proclamation of sainthood (under the leadership of Pope John’s good friend and successor, Pope Paul VI).  Although Pope John was extraordinarily popular and beloved for his simplicity, humor and pastoral concern, the bishops decided that to proclaim him a saint immediately would be unseemly; there also seemed to be a sense that it would be better to wait until “Pope John’s Council” was successfully concluded as his legacy before proceeding further.  Obviously, these are two very different men, and this is not a popularity contest!  Still, I hope that younger people who have really only known St. John Paul II and his recent successors might be inspired by this canonization to study and learn about St. John XXIII and Pope Paul VI.  To understand where we are today on many levels in the Church, a person really needs to understand those two popes of the Council and the first years of its implementation.

 

As I wandered around the Square talking with people, and later in conversations with friends, there was a general enthusiasm about the leadership of Pope Francis, his genius at linking these two new pope-saints, and his own unique stamp on exercising the Petrine ministry.  The only concern raised was that he has made himself so open and vulnerable that he may be attacked!  The numbers at his Wednesday audiences are stunning, and he has begun the audiences much earlier, arriving in his popemobile sometimes as early as 9:30 AM so he has more time to meander through the crowds before taking his position on the platform for the formal portion of the audience.

St. John LateranFinally, a brief word about the instructions we’ve received for Sunday.  I must leave the monastery in which I’m staying at 3:30 AM for the trip to St. John Lateran.  I have included a picture of St. John Lateran in bright sunshine which I took yesterday; that’s not a view I’ll have at 5:00 AM on Sunday morning!

At some time between 4:30 and 5:00 AM, a special bus will take us priests and deacons who are distributing communion from the Lateran to the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina at the other end of the Via della Conciliazione from St. Peter’s (a week ago, we were told the bus would leave at 5:30; that’s been changed.  Maybe by Sunday, it will change even further.  I intend to be there in plenty of time!).  At Santa Maria we will vest in alb and white stole and wait for the Mass of Canonization to begin at 10:00 AM, when we will make our way out the front doors of the church into the Via della Conciliazione.  Eventually, we will distribute Communion to those communicants in the area.  We have been told to distribute communion only on the tongue (actually, the instructions say “data in bocca” (given into the mouth), in order to prevent someone from taking the Host in the crowd and giving it to another.

I’m going to St. Peter’s tomorrow morning; it will be interesting to see what happens next as the numbers build along with the excitement!

Santa Maria in Traspontina

Santa Maria in Traspontina on the Via della Conciliazione

Preaching Like the Pope in Nine Easy Lessons

Francis preaching 3Within the context of a universal call to proclaim the Gospel by all the baptized, the Pope now turns his attention to the liturgical homily.  He refers to the homily as “the touchstone” for judging a minister’s (he specifies “pastor” but given what he is about to say, it would apply as well to all bishops, deacons and presbyters) “closeness and ability to communicate to his people.”  And so he begins his short course on homiletics.

Lesson #1:  The Homily as Experience, Encounter, and Source of Renewal

Youth-PossibilityPope Francis reminds all homilists of the potential of the homily.  Rather than something to be dreaded by all concerned, the homily should be “an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth.”  The initiative is all on God’s part: God wishes to communicate with God’s People, using the preacher as His instrument.  The homily is, therefore first and foremost, God’s loving outreach to His People.  Once the preacher thinks he is preaching his own message, the homily is doomed.  This is a great comfort to preachers!  A homily is not just another speech we might devise; it is an attempt to find God’s will and God’s words.  Our focus is on God and on the People: we’re just a go-between trying to help the connection between the two.

Lesson #2:  The Liturgical Context

Francis preaching 2The homily occurs during a liturgical celebration, and this further assists the homilist.  Pope Francis quotes Pope John Paul II: “the liturgical proclamation of the word of God, especially in the Eucharistic assembly, is not so much a time for meditation and catechesis as a dialogue between God and his people, a dialogue in which the great deeds of salvation are proclaimed and the demands of the covenant are continually restated.”  But Pope Francis goes further: “The homily has special importance due to its Eucharistic context: it surpasses all forms of catechesis as the supreme moment in the dialogue between God and his people which leads up to sacramental communion.”  We are told in the liturgical books that when the scriptures are read in Church, it is Christ who proclaims: in the homily during the Eucharist, Christ continues that conversation.  Furthermore, the homily for us is not the only action of Christ during the liturgy!  The pope reminds us that, even though the human skill of the preacher might permit him to drone on and on (well, OK, so the Pope doesn’t say “drone”; but he does say that the homily “should be brief” because if it goes on too long it will affect “the balance and the rhythm” of the liturgy.  Since the homily is itself liturgical, it should “guide the assembly, and the preacher, to a life-changing communion with Christ in the Eucharist.”

Lesson #3: Talk With Your Mother

mother and childIn a lovely passage (##139-141) the Pope reminds us that the Church is a mother, and so “she preaches in the same way that a mother speaks to her child, knowing that the child trusts that what she is teaching is for his or her benefit, for children know that they are loved.”  But he also points out that the good mother listens to the concerns of her children and learns from them.  The preacher is “to hear the faith of God’s people. . . . The language is a kind of music which inspires encouragement, strength and enthusiasm.”  All of this should be found through “the closeness of the preacher, the warmth of his tone of voice, the unpretentiousness of his manner of speaking, the joy of his gestures.”  Pope Francis speaks of the great dialogue Christ had with the people of his day, a dialogue he wishes to continue.  The secret to Christ’s approach, he says, “lies in the way Jesus looked at people, seeing beyond their weaknesses and failings.”  He is full of the joy of his relationship with his Father.

Lesson #4: Choose Words of the Heart

holding the lightOnce again the pope uses the language of dialogue, which “is so much more than the communication of a truth.  It arises from the enjoyment of speaking and it enriches those who express their love for one another through the medium of words.”  This enjoyment is not simply in “objects” but in the persons participating in the dialogue.  The pope cautions that we are not dealing with “abstract truths or cold syllogisms” but through the beauty of images and wonder, a source of hope from the joyful and practical exercise of the love they have received.  “The challenge of an inculturated preaching consists in proclaiming a synthesis, not ideas or detached values.  Where your synthesis is, there lies your heart” (#143).   Words mediate meaning, but the right words also join two hearts: God and the People.  It falls to the preacher, who should know both God and the People so well, to find the right words to build up this loving covenant of Heart to hearts.

Lesson #5: Reverence for Truth

preachingorgheader1Turning his attention to the actual preparation of the homily, the pope encourages a “prolonged time of study, prayer, reflection and pastoral creativity.”  Almost apologetically, the pope says, “I wish to stop for a moment and offer a method of preparing homilies.”  He knows that most preachers are so busy with pastoral responsibilities that it is often hard to find the time to devote to this proper preparation.

Nonetheless, I presume to ask that each week a sufficient portion of personal and community time be dedicated to this task, even if less time has to be given to other important activities. . . .  A preacher who does not prepare is not ‘spiritual’; his is dishonest and irresponsible with the gifts he has received.

After prayer, our entire attention is to be given to the biblical text, “which needs to be the basis of our preaching.”  In great humility, we are to pause often and seek a greater understanding of the text.  This is what the Pope calls “reverence for the Truth.”  “To interpret a biblical text, we need to be patient, to put aside all other concerns, and to give it our time, interest and undivided attention.”  The pope is clear: if you’re looking for quick results, you are going about it all wrong.  “Preparation for preaching requires love.  We only devote periods of quiet time to the things or the people whom we love; and here we are speaking of the God whom we love, a God who wishes to speak to us. . . . ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening'” (1 Sam 3:9).

Next, we must understand the meaning of the words we read.  However, the pope says, while we do want to use all of our critical tools in analyzing the text, the single most important thing is to find its principal message, “the message which gives structure and unity to the text.”  The preacher should also use the text as it was intended:

If a text was written to console, it should not be used to correct errors; if it was written as an exhortation, it should not be employed to teach doctrine; if it was written to teach something about God, it should not be used to expound various theological opinions; it it was written as a summons to praise or missionary outreach, let us not use it to talk about the latest news.

Lesson #6: Personalize the Word

kneeling_in_prayer1The preacher needs a “great personal familiarity with the word of God.”  We must approach the word “with a docile and prayerful heart so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and about a new outlook. . . .”

It is good for us to renew our fervor each day and every Sunday as we prepare the homily, examining ourselves to see if we have grown in love for the word which we preach. . . .  If we have a lively desire to be the first to hear the word which we must preach, this will surely be communicated to God’s faithful people. . . .”

This wonderful examination of conscience helps us to avoid the anger of Jesus who “was angered by those supposed teachers who demanded much of others, teaching God’s word but without being enlightened by it. . . . The apostle James exhorted: ‘Not many of you should become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness” (Jas 3:1).  The word of God must become incarnate in the daily life of the preacher.

The preacher’s attitude is one of total humility and dependence upon the Holy Spirit: “the Holy Spirit places on his lips the words which he could not find by himself.”

Lesson #7: Spiritual Reading: Lectio Divina

Fully integrated into the search for the scripture passage’s principal message is the prayerful reading of scripture and finding its application in the preacher’s own life.   The pope offers a wonderful series of questions for reflection:

  1. What does this text say to me?
  2. What is it about my life that you want to change by this text?
  3. What troubles me about this text?
  4. Why am I not interested in this?
  5. What do I find pleasant in this text?
  6. What is it about this word that moves me?
  7. What attracts me?
  8. Why does it attract me?

Lesson #8:  An Ear to the People

Pope Francis, as we have seen so many times in the past, always speaks in terms resonating with the ideas of the Second Vatican Council.  Consider the following citations from the beginning of Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes:

1. The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. . . .

4. The Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics. . . .

Now hear Pope Francis (citing Pope Paul VI’s landmark Evangelii Nuntiandi) as he exhorts preachers to have “an ear to the people.”  “A preacher has to contemplate the word, but he also has to contemplate his people.  In this way he learns ‘of the aspirations, of riches and limitations, of ways of praying, of loving, of looking at life and world, which distinguish this or that human gathering,’ while paying attention ‘to actual people, to using their language, their signs and symbols, to answering the questions they ask.’

The pope notes that we need to truly understand what really affects people’s lives: their experience is what matters, and the pope remarks that “we should never respond to questions that nobody asks”!  The homily is more than a simple challenge of current affairs: we are to respond to human experience “in light of the Gospel”: challenging what needs to be challenged, affirming what is to be affirmed.

Lesson #9: Homiletic Resources

Here the pope challenges preachers to attend to the technical aspects of homily preparation and delivery.  While the primary focus is always spiritual, even these technical components have a spiritual foundation.  He first lists “imagery”: how well do we find and use appropriate images in our homilies?  Not merely examples, which appeal to the mind, but images, which appeal to the whole person.  Again citing Paul VI, preaching should be “simple, clear, direct, well-adapted.”  He cautions that many preachers fall into the trap of using the technical and theological words learned through years of formation and education; we must adapt our language accordingly to be understood.  It must be well-organized as well: there should be “thematic unity, clear order and correlation between sentences.”  Finally, the homily must be positive.  We should focus less on what should not be done, but with what we can do better.  “Positive preaching always offers hope, points to the future, does not leave us trapped in negativity.”  Let me recap the resources the pope highlights:

  1. Use of imagery more than examples
  2. Simple language
  3. Clearly presented
  4. Well-Adapted
  5. Thematic Unity
  6. Clear Order and Correlation in Structure
  7. Positive

That’s it!  Preaching Like the Pope in Nine Easy Lessons!

“How good it is when priests, deacons and the laity gather periodically to discover resources which can make preaching more attractive.”

bible.17

“That All May be One”: International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

banners_semana-oracion-unidad1-EN largeThis week (18-25 January) we observe the annual International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  You can read the message from Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Cardinal-President of The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity here.  There are many resources available for our use throughout this week, including these from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This initial reflection on the Week is just that: a starting point.  Much more remains to be developed.  For now, let’s start at the beginning, which is quite simple yet profound: We Christians are already united — in a common baptism!  Before getting into our differences, let’s start at our point of unity.

While some folks seem to get more than a little nervous about things like this, it is important to remember that our concern for unity goes all the way back to Christ himself:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,  I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  (John 17: 20-24)

paul-athenagorasThis year we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s landmark document on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, which gave added impetus to Catholic participation in the effort.  It is also the fiftieth anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras.  Pope John XXIII, from the beginning of his papacy in 1958, had made Christian unity a goal.  On 5 June 1960, during the early preparations for the Council, Pope John established a “Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity” as one of the preparatory commissions for the Council, and appointed Cardinal Augustin Bea as its first President. This was the first time that the Holy See had set up an office to deal uniquely with ecumenical affairs.

 [From the Vatican web site:]  At first, the main function of the Secretariat was to invite the other Churches and World Communions to send observers to the Second Vatican Council. Already, however, from the first session (1962), by a decision of Pope John XXIII, it was placed on the same level as the conciliar commissions. The Secretariat thus prepared and presented to the Council the documents on ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio), on non-Christian religions (Nostra aetate), on religious liberty (Dignitatis humanae) and, together with the doctrinal commission, the dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum).

As a kind of introduction to the week’s prayer, consider some insights from the Council itself.  From Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, we read the following:

baptisms-570x27915. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. . . .  We can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ’s disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. (17*) Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. She exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the earth.

This week we stress that unceasing prayer for unity.  But it also serves to remind us that we believe in the very real power of our common baptism, and that we already are in communion, even if it is not yet a perfect communion, with other baptized Christians.  The Decree on Ecumenism builds on this idea:

AllSaints3. . . .  In subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church-for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church-whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church-do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. . . .  But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.  Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.

Sean and AnnePerhaps, during the coming week, we can begin our prayer by celebrating the common foundation we share. Our communion may be imperfect, but it is no less real. For example, a recent photo of Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley being blessed by Methodist pastor Rev. Anne Robinson during an ecumenical prayer service has created quite a stir around the internet.  Some people have been scandalized; others have questioned the Cardinal’s judgment, and still others have praised it.  Even canonist Edward Peters had to weigh in to clarify concerns and allay some fears.  Read his comments here.  As he points out: “No canon or liturgical law prohibits baptized non-Catholics from making the Sign of the Cross nor from using Holy Water in accord with its character. Thus, one Christian making the Sign of the Cross on another Christian’s forehead (in explicit commemoration of one’s baptism or not) is simply something to be explained to those not used to seeing it performed by a female Protestant minister on a Catholic cardinal. . . .”  In short, then, I think the image of this blessing of one Christian by another has really little to say about whether one is ordained or not; rather, it should be a powerful witness to all Christians of the common character of our shared baptism.

Certainly, many things still divide Christians.  But if we can start from a common foundation, future steps toward full communion seem far more achievable.