“We’ve had Facebook messages saying ‘we are atheists but we love what you are doing”
It 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.”
From 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!
(This beautiful sonnet can also be heard: click on the title).
This bread is light, dissolving, almost air,
A little visitation on my tongue,
A wafer-thin sensation, hardly there.
This taste of wine is brief in flavour, flung
A moment to the palate’s roof and fled,
Even its aftertaste a memory.
Yet this is how He comes. Through wine and bread
Love chooses to be emptied into me.
He does not come in unimagined light
Too bright to be denied, too absolute
For consciousness, too strong for sight,
Leaving the seer blind, the poet mute;
Chooses instead to seep into each sense,
To dye himself into experience.
Malcolm Guite (from Sounding the Seasons, Canterbury Press)
(image by Margot Krebs Neale)
Since 2000, more than thirty thousand migrants and refugees have lost their lives on their way to Europe, often drowning at sea or suffocating in containers on trucks and ships. Churches throughout Europe have responded through intensive solidarity and humanitarian efforts at Europe’s borders and by advocating for safe and legal passage.
The Christian response has also included widespread prayer for and remembrance of those who have died. In 2013, the General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches renewed a call for an annual day of prayer on the Sunday closest to 20 June, International Refugee Day, to commemorate those who have lost their lives on their journey to find a dignified life in Europe. Together, the Conference of European Churches and the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe encourage their membership and supporters to join in this day of prayer on Sunday, 18 June 2017. Resources to help congregations, parishes, and other communities prepare are accessible on the CCME website.
In an appeal to the CEC and CCME constituencies, CEC General Secretary Fr Heikki Huttunen remarked, “We cannot escape the facts that reveal Europe’s guilt for this unending ordeal. As churches and Christians our divine calling is to be witnesses and servants of the resurrection and new life in justice and peace for all, regardless of their ethnicity, nationality, or religion.”
CCME General Secretary Doris Peschke added, “To date, 1,808 persons have been reported missing or dead in 2017 in the Mediterranean region. Commemorating these persons challenges us, too, to step up humanitarian responses, search and rescue operations, and to provide for safe passage.”
It’s 30 years since women were first ordained as deacons in the Church of England!
Archbishop Robert Runcie ordains the first women deacons in April 1987
Surely an occasion to celebrate. Some images of deacons around the world to add to our rejoicing.
Deacons in Ovamboland
Armenian deacons – pioneers indeed
Newly-ordained women deacons of the Orthodox Church of Alexandria
Episcopalian deacons, south-west Florida
And Phoebe, of course!
Deacon Jess Foster muses on the potential of respecting Ramadan for building better community relationships.
Five minutes ago I walked into the house. Its ten to ten at night and my youngest son shouts from his bedroom – there are samosas on the table. And there are. Crispy vegetarian samosas – one for each member of the family – and they are still hot.
These samosas, along with all sorts of other delicious meals and snacks, have been arriving in Ramadan most days for the last 10 years or so. They are cooked by my neighbour who began her fast today. In the last few years we have shared much more than food over the fence – we talk about prayer, parenting, how faith affects our daily life and weather, washing and children.
As an interfaith worker, I am invited to join my friends as they break their fast in mosques and restaurants, in community centres and banqueting suites. I go as often as I can and I have learnt from this hospitality to invite my friends to come with me to church at Christmas or Easter.
Last year, at St Peter’s Hall Green, where I am a curate, we decided to offer hospitality in our church building and we were delighted that about 80 people came together to break the fast – sharing an Iftaar meal. This year we are accepting the hospitality of a local community centre and working with them to offer hospitality to some of the people living in Birmingham who are refugees from Syria and to women who do not come from Muslim families, but have converted (reverted) to Islam and often break the fast alone.
As a church we are learning about the dimensions of both offering and receiving as we explore hospitality together and learn how to build bridges with our neighbours from different faith communities.
For me, the hospitality of being both a guest and host is at the heart of the Gospel. Jesus knew how to be a good guest – I would have loved him to be at my wedding when the wine ran out – and a great host, washing the feet of his tired and dusty guests. The hospitality of God offers us fullness of life on earth and the promise of eternal life. The Holy Spirit built community at Pentecost that broke through cultural and ethnic divides and continues to draw people together both inside and outside the church.
Hospitality turns the stranger into a friend; it opens the door to reconciliation and urges us to see the world through the eyes of another. It might start with a samosa but it could end by opening our hearts, minds and spirits to love our neighbour as our self.
This blog was written on Monday (6th JUne) for the Church Of England blog http://cofecomms.tumblr.com/
Lord, we give thanks for the privileges and responsibilities of
living in a democratic society.
Give us wisdom to play our part at election time,
that, through the exercise of each vote,
your Kingdom may come closer.
Protect us from the sins of despair and cynicism,
guard us against the idols of false utopias
and strengthen us to make politics a noble calling
that serves the common good of all.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord.
The Bishops’ Advisory Panel is meeting this week. Please pray for all those who are offering for diaconal ministry. Pray too for more openness in advisors and selectors to the vocation of the diaconate.