June 27, 2008


Welcome, new deacons

We offer heartiest congratulations to the men who will be ordained permanent deacons on June 28.

Twenty-five men entered the diaconate program four years ago, and the same 25 men will be ordained as part of the first class of deacons in the history of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Deacons are unique in the Catholic Church. They are the only ones who can receive all seven sacraments. (Men whose wives have died can be ordained permanent deacons or priests, and also thereby receive all seven sacraments.)

Catholics are generally familiar with the role of deacons since they have encountered them frequently when attending Mass in other dioceses. It won’t hurt, though, to review some of the basics about deacons.

When those 25 men receive the sacrament of Holy Orders on Saturday, they will no longer be laymen. One used to hear them called “lay deacons,” but that’s an oxymoron because you can’t be both a layman and a deacon. The men will receive the first of the three degrees of the sacrament of Holy Orders: the diaconate, the presbyterate (priests) and the episcopacy (bishops).

Bishops and priests share in the priesthood of Christ while deacons are ordained to a degree of service. A deacon is, basically, a helper. The word comes from the Greek word diakonos, which means “servant” or “helper.” He is to help the bishop or priest in ministering to those entrusted to him.

All permanent deacons are involved in some way in the three general areas of diaconal ministry—the ministry of the word, the ministry of the liturgy, and the ministry of charity. Of those three, the ministry of charity and service holds a place of priority in the ministry of the deacon.

In the first category, a deacon’s most important function is to proclaim the Gospel and to preach. But the ministry of the word also includes such things as catechetical instruction and other forms of teaching, counseling or conducting retreats.

Deacons have specific roles at Mass, but they also perform other liturgical roles, such as baptizing, witnessing marriages, bringing Communion to the dying (also known as Viaticum), presiding over funerals and burials, presiding over liturgies of the word outside of Mass, conducting Benediction services, leading nonsacramental reconciliation services, conducting prayer services for the sick and dying, and administering certain of the Church’s sacramentals. Of course, they cannot celebrate Mass, hear confessions or anoint the sick.

The role of deacons stretches back to the Apostles. The sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles describes the commissioning of “seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom.”

St. Stephen was one of the first deacons, and also the first martyr. St. Lawrence was a deacon who served Pope Sixtus II and was martyred during the persecution of the Emperor Valerian in 258. He was responsible for the material goods of the Church of Rome and the distribution of alms to the poor. When the Romans demanded the Church’s treasures, Lawrence showed them the poor and the crippled. He was placed on a red hot grill, where he made the famous comment that he was roasted on one side and should be turned over.

Since March 14, The Criterion has been publishing profiles of the new deacons. Two of them were featured in most of our issues since then. We hope, therefore, that you have come to know these men. It’s an extraordinary class.

In selecting deacon candidates, the Church wants mature men, but not necessarily older ones. Our deacons range in age from David Henn’s 39 to Ronald Stier’s 71, but more than half of them are in their 50s. All are or have been married. Timothy Heller’s wife died last year, so Heller is making the commitment to celibacy. A deacon may not remarry if his wife dies.

The deacons will be expected to devote 10 to 12 hours a week to their service for the Church. Some will undoubtedly do more than that, especially those who are retired or are already employed by a parish or a Church agency.

We’re confident that our first deacons will make great contributions to our local Church. We welcome them.

— John F. Fink

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