What is a deacon?
A deacon is a Sacramental Sign of Service. ‘Deacon’ is derived from the Greek ‘diakonia’ meaning service.
At my ordination, Archbishop Emeritus Marcel Gervais stated in his homily, “The priesthood of Christ is made-up of the Bishop, Priest, and Deacon.” Bl. John Paul II, in an address to Permanent Deacons said, “Yours is not just one ministry among others, but it is truly meant to be… a “driving force” for the church’s diakonia. By your ordination you are configured to Christ in his servant role. You are also meant to be living signs of the servanthood of his church.”
What does a deacon do?
Drawing strength from the gift of the Holy Spirit, deacons will help the bishop and his body of priests as a minister of the word, of the altar, and of charity. They will make themselves servants to all. As ministers of the altar they will proclaim the Gospel, prepare the sacrifice, and give the Lord's body and blood to the community of believers. It will also be their duty, at the bishop's discretion, to bring God's word to believer and unbeliever alike, to preside over public prayer, to baptize, to assist at marriages and bless them, to bring communion to the sick and dying, and to lead the rites of burial. Once they are consecrated by the laying on of hands that comes to us from the apostles, deacons will perform works of charity in the name of the bishop or the pastor. We must always be mindful to go about these duties so as to be recognized as disciples of Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served.
What specific tasks do deacons fulfill?
In the Archdiocese of Ottawa, permanent deacons are assigned a ministry by the Archbishop. That principal ministry, or ministries, will normally be outside of the Parish where we may represent the Archbishop in areas where he is unable to be. The Parish in which we serve at the altar is considered our Liturgical Base.
Those outside ministries are vast in nature. Some serve the poor in shelters such as the Ottawa Mission or the Shepherds of Good Hope; others serve in hospitals, long term care facilities, or with the disabled; others serve in prisons. Some work in schools, areas of social justice, and ‘shut-ins’. We are the ‘word’ made mobile to those who are not.
What is it like to assist the priest during mass?
In the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 6, it says, “…pick out from among you seven men of good repute…". The permanent deacon comes from the congregation and often represents their interest. At the altar, the deacon prepares the gifts and adds one drop of water to the cup of sacrifice. That drop of water, amongst other things, represents the union of the faithful with Christ. When raising the cup, I am representing the congregation in their offering. The deacon also reads the prayers of the faithful because it is the deacon who ought to be in tune with the needs and concerns of the congregation. So, for me to assist the priest at the altar is an honor and a privilege, but even more so, an honor and privilege to serve the congregation who chose me to serve them.
What is your favourite part of being a deacon?
Serving at the Shepherds of Good Hope allows me the opportunity to have a real impact on some lives. When I have a decent crowd for a Sunday evening Liturgy I open it up for discussion after a short homily. It is during that time the participants have a chance to express their beliefs and opinions. Trust me, you really get them. I always direct the conversation to how a relationship with Christ could make their situation so much more hopeful. I remind them of their dignity as human beings, and assist them, when possible, with specific problems.
What message do you have for those who are preparing for ordination to the diaconate?
I am a permanent deacon, and you will be a deacon transitioning to the priesthood. Much of what I have written applies to the role of a permanent deacon, but much applies to servants of Christ, in general, which you will always be. You have had several years of discernment, theology, and advice so there is not that much I can add. As a reminder, though, as ordained ministers, we can never lose sight of the fact that all share in the dignity of being created in the image and likeness of God. That likeness has been disfigured by sin, but the fact remains that all human beings were created with the potential to be great saints. It is our duty to help guide them to the Lord.