Monday, June 15, 2009

Why deacons?

In his remarkable book, Sacramental Theology, German theologian Herbert Vorgrimler writes: "In his person, the deacon makes it clear that the liturgy must have consequences in the world with all its needs, and that work in the world that is done in a spirit of charity has a spiritual dimension" (pg 270). This is a brilliant sentence on the order of deacons. As a deacon, I also find it a bit intimidating, at least until I remember what Vorgrimler goes on to state, namely that "ordination asks for and effects in deacons the grace to perform this service." Indeed, diakonia means service and to be an icon of Christ the servant can only happen by grace.

Deacon Owen Cummings has wisely observed, "the permanent diaconate cannot make sense in the church until the entire church is diaconal in its life." Building on this observation, I wrote recently for another endeavor that "[b]ringing about this transformation is the task of deacons because we are ordained not only to put our own gifts at the service of the church and the world, but also to foster the Spirit’s many gifts poured out on the people of God. Being configured to Christ in a particular way through his ordination to service, the deacon leads by example, showing how service is integral to the baptismal vocation of every Christian." As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, exercising the ministry of diakonia, or charity, "is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others" (par. 25a). Rather, it is "an indispensable expression of" the church's very being (par. 25a).


  1. Vorgrimler is good. Read it for our sacramental theology course during formation.

    Great post, Scott.

  2. When I began my formation for the Permanant Diaconate, I was given the book "The Deacon Reader." It is an interesting book containing information on the history of the diaconate and explaining its various ministries. I was a bit concerned when I noticed that most or all of the writers were PhDs.
    I am educated, but not that educated.. At the time, I was seeing a priest for spiritual direction. He told me that the best homily he ever heard was given by a permanant deacon who was a construction worker. Boy was I relieved - there was hope for me.
    He said that all the degrees in the world could not make a deacon.
    A man must have the "nature" of the deacon - ordination is "grace upon nature."

    I would like to recommend a book written by Msgr. Timothy Shugrue, who was once the director of the Permanent Diaconate program of the Archdiocese of Newak NJ. He wrote a book titled :"The Service Ministry of the Deacon." It is a wonderful book, very much to the point. I highly recommend it. It is not easy to find, sometimes hiding on the bookshelf of your local Catholic book store.
    You may find it on Amazon.

  3. Brian:

    Sounds like you were privileged to have a wise spiritual director!

    Thank you for the recommendation of Msgr.Shugrue's book. I'll add it my list for the fall when I begin the long slog towards completing my own master's thesis on the diaconate.


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