The 7 Steps of Ordination Part IV: The Diaconate
In the first three parts of this series, we have seen the progression of the cleric through the minor orders up to the first of the major, or “sacred orders,” the sub-diaconate. The diaconate carries with it new graces and privileges in the service of God and Holy Mother Church. The deacon receives the Book of the Gospels during his ordination and thus the power to read or chant the Holy Gospel for “the living and the dead.” Other than the teaching function of the Scriptures, the very act of proclaiming the Gospel is considered an act of worship in the Mass. Whereas a lower cleric can substitute for the sub-deacon and read the prophecies or the epistle, no lower cleric may substitute for the deacon in reading the Gospel. Along with proclaiming the Gospel, the deacon also receives for the first time the right to preach in the Church.
The deacon aids the priest at the altar by preparing the chalice during the offertory. He pours the wine into the chalice, and at the consecration, it is the deacon who covers and uncovers the chalice with the pall. During the Solemn High Mass, the deacon normally stands behind the priest, or when the ministers are together at the altar, he stands at the right while the sub-deacon is to the left of the priest. The three sacred ministers recite together the Gloria, the Credo, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei. After the Agnus Dei, the priest and the deacon kiss the altar (which represents Christ) at the same time and then the priest passes the peace to the deacon, who in turn passes it to the sub-deacon and so on. This rite symbolizes the fact that true peace can only begin with Christ, who extends His peace to the Apostles, and through them, to the world.
Another aspect of the diaconate is the special service of charity to which he is called. Chapter six of the Acts of the Apostles teaches us that the Apostles instituted this ministry in order to assure an equitable distribution of alms to the widows. St Lawrence the Deacon, one of the greatest martyrs of the Roman Church, is considered a particular example of charity. During a severe persecution, he distributed the wealth of the Church to the poor, in part to save it from greedy Imperial authorities. St Lawrence, St Stephen the first martyr, and St Vincent are the deacons most venerated by the Roman liturgy. Another great saint, Francis of Assisi, remained a deacon to the end of his life because of his immense reverence for the priesthood.
Holy Deacons of God, pray for us!