Thursday, June 18, 2009

Anniversary of a diaconal milestone

Deacon Greg Kandra, writing over at The Bench, and giving props to Dr. McNamara, reminds us that it was 42 years ago today that His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, promulgated the Apostolic Letter, given motu proprio, Sacrem Diaconatus Ordinem. This was one of Pope Paul's responses to Lumen Gentium, in which the council fathers, among many things, called for the re-establishment of the diaconate as a permanent order of ministry in the church:

"the diaconate can in the future be restored as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy. It pertains to the competent territorial bodies of bishops, of one kind or another, with the approval of the Supreme Pontiff, to decide whether and where it is opportune for such deacons to be established for the care of souls. With the consent of the Roman Pontiff, this diaconate can, in the future, be conferred upon men of more mature age, even upon those living in the married state. It may also be conferred upon suitable young men, for whom the law of celibacy must remain intact" (par. 29).
It is also in Sacrem Diaconatus Ordinem that Pope Paul permits married men to be ordained permanent deacons: "Older men, whether single or married, can be called to the diaconate. The latter, however, are not to be admitted unless there is certainty not only about the wife's consent, but also about her blameless Christian life and those qualities which will neither impede nor bring dishonor on the husband's ministry." When the revision of the Code of Canon Law was promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1983, the minimum age for a married man to be ordained a permanent deacon was set at 35 years (canon 1031, par 2). The average age of permanent deacons in the U.S. is around 62. In other parts of the world where the diaconate is established, the average age 20 years younger. I was ordained in 2004 at 38.

Nine and-a-half years after this motu, Bishop Joseph Lennox Federal, bishop of Salt Lake City, on 26 December 1976, the Feast of St. Stephen (my patron saint and the patron of this blog), ordained the first deacons for my diocese. These men were true trail-blazers and set a high mark for those of who are still following their lead.

Now, to answer Deacon Greg's question: I was eighteen months old and probably ambulating around our house and yard in South Weber, Utah. So, to honor this day, ask a deacon to get you a cup of coffee, or to serve you in a suitable manner, especially if you are on the staff of Currents.

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