The year 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the great successes of the Second Vatican Council: the renewal of the diaconate as a permanent ministry of the Church. From zero permanent deacons in 1968, there are over 18,500 men today who have been ordained for non-stipend service to our bishops and the Church. Deacon Al Kopp and I are among that number as we serve the people of St. Mary and Resurrection parishes along with the people of our community.
The role of deacon goes back to the earliest days of the Christian faith. While deacons are mentioned in Acts (chapter 6) amid discussion about serving the Greek widows, they did a lot more than menial tasks. St. Stephen, who was a deacon and the first martyr, wasn’t killed because he was a lousy waiter. He was killed for teaching and preaching about Jesus as the Son of God who died and rose from the dead.
Up until the time of the middle ages, deacons performed a variety of ministries that included teaching, care of the poor, and being responsible for the goods of the Church. Under the influence of clericalism and politics, the diaconate was diminished to being just a stepping-stone on the pathway to the priesthood. The Council of Trent (1545 - 1563) discussed restoring the diaconate but did not follow through. Almost 500 years later the Second Vatican Council (1962 - 1965) recommended that the diaconate be restored as a necessary part of Holy Orders in the three-fold ministries of Liturgy, Word and Charity. In 1968 Pope Pius VI gave permission to the American bishops to begin forming men as deacons.
I tell you all this because deacons from across the country will gather in New Orleans during the last week of July this year to celebrate this 50-year anniversary. My daytime job as executive director of the National Association of Diaconate Directors includes organizing this national effort on behalf of the USCCB. So please pray for deacons and the support of their wives and families not only as we gather for the 2018 National Diaconate Congress, but for the good of this ministry.
Dcn. Tom Dubois