Monday, August 10, 2015

St Lawrence, deacon and martyr

Today we observe the feast of St Lawrence, deacon and martyr. Lawrence was a deacon of the Church of Rome who lived during the third century (ca. 225-258). Like Pope Sixtus II, his bishop, Lawrence was martyred in the persecution of the Church conducted by the Roman Emperor Valerian in AD 258. It is believed that Lawrence was a Spaniard. He met Pope Sixtus II in Zaragoza, Spain, where Sixtus, who was Greek, was a renowned teacher. At that time Zaragoza was an important academic center. Upon becoming the Bishop of Rome, Sixtus ordained Lawrence a deacon. And so he became one of the seven deacons of Rome. Despite his young age, Pope Sixtus made him first among the Roman deacons, or, something of an archdeacon. In that role Lawrence had charge of the Church's treasury and the distribution of it.

In August 258, Valerian issued an edict that all bishops, priests, and deacons should immediately be put to death. On 6 August, Pope Sixtus was captured and summarily executed while celebrating the liturgy. Lawrence later turned himself in after being summoned by the Roman Prefect to appear and turn over all the Church's treasury. He did not appear until three days after the summons. In the meantime, he worked diligently to give all of the Church's wealth away to the poor. Upon his appearance and after making some defiant replies to the Prefect, he was seized and put to death. There are many traditions surrounding the death of St Lawrence. Some of them quite dubious and even humorous. What we know is that he was a servant of the Lord and a servant of the poor who was put to death for his steadfast faith in Christ Jesus made manifest by his service to the poor.

On the Vatican website Fr Francesco Moaglia, a professor of dogmatic theology, has a wonderful article on St Lawrence, "St Lawrence: Proto-Deacon of the Roman Church." At the end of this article is a nice summary of the diaconate, of which he holds up St Lawrence as a model, he discusses the uniqueness of the diaconate in three points-

St Lawrence, by Francisco de Zurbaran, 1636
1. It is necessary to look critically on those positions- which in reality have been superseded - which interpret or present the diaconate as a ministry leading to the clericalisation of the laity and to the laicization of the clergy, thereby weakening the identity of both.

2. The Deacon, who is distinguished from Bishops and Priests in that he is not ordained "ad sacerdotium sed ad ministerium" [not to to priesthood but to service], is constituted in an authentic grade of the hierarchy and cannot be regarded merely as an accessory to the priesthood.

3. The Deacon is destined for the service of charity in close dependence on the Eucharist and to the privileged service of the poor. He is destined both to the service of the table (corporal works of mercy) and to the service of the word (spiritual works of mercy). He also remains open to that service of a greater love or charity which is martyrdom.
Sanctus Laurentius, ora pro nobis.

Incidentally, the first bishop of my diocese, the Diocese of Salt Lake City, was Lawrence Scanlan.

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