Dear friends in Christ:
Some weeks ago, a terrible mistake occurred here at the parish. Fr. Chuck had offered the 8:00 a.m. mass and I offered the 9:30 and 11:00 masses. It was one of those rare Sundays that I did not have to worry about marriage preparation classes or baptisms in the afternoon, so Fr. Chuck and I enjoyed a nice lunch in the rectory. There was only one problem, well actually two problems. The visiting priest who was scheduled to offer the 12:30 Mass got confused about the schedule and didn’t show up and no one thought to come and knock on the rectory door or call either me or Fr. Chuck to tell us that there was no priest for Mass! Needless to say, I was not happy when later in the day when I found out that there was no Mass at 12:30. Deacon Dale eventually led the congregation in some prayers and Holy Communion was distributed. Since then I have instructed the deacons and the others to come and check at the rectory. Emergencies happen. Mistakes happen. Unfortunately, this was totally avoidable had someone bothered just to ring the doorbell! I am grateful to the folks at the 12:30 (Noon) mass for their understanding and forgiveness.
Since then, I have discovered that some people were confused about what transpired. Some people mistakenly thought that the deacon “gave the mass”. As wonderful as deacons are and while they are ordained clergy, they cannot offer Mass. It is not merely that they are not allowed. Deacons are not capable of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they are not priests. They likewise do not have the power to forgive sins in the Sacrament of Penance or to administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Other people thought that the communion offered was not really Jesus because there was no Mass. Again, this is mistaken. Deacon Dale went to the tabernacle and distributed hosts that had been consecrated (changed into the Body of Christ) by a priest at an earlier Mass.
Deacons may validly and solemnly baptize and witness marriages. They may proclaim the gospel at Mass, officiate at funeral liturgies, preside at Eucharistic Benediction and assist at the altar at Mass. Deacons may have the faculty (permission) to preach, though not all and not everywhere. They may offer some blessings, but not every kind. Like priests and the laity, the majority of the deacons’ ministry is not at Mass or only when wearing vestments! We are greatly blessed with four deacons here at SJV, Deacons Dale Steffes, Al Vacek, Fred Kossegi and our newest Deacon, Greg Stokes. We are fortunate to have them serve our parish. Deacons Dale and Fred are officially retired and Deacon Al’s primary assignment is the Hospital Ministry of the Archdiocese. That leaves Deacon Greg as our only “active assigned” deacon. As he is brand new, it is going to take a little while for him to ‘learn the ropes.’ I hope and pray that we will have more men from the parish respond to God’s call and serve as deacons here at SJV. There is plenty of work to share!
Diaconal ministry is a gift to the Church, but it is not priestly ministry nor does it take the place of the ministry of the baptized faithful.
Diaconal ministry is still a work in progress. While there have always been deacons in the Church (all priests are first ordained deacons), the permanent diaconate is a restored ministry in the Church of only about 50 years after many centuries of being suppressed. Deacons are not laity although they work and live in the world and may be married and have families, nor are they priests. They do not have priestly orders. They are ministers of charity and the Word.
When the permanent diaconate was restored, it was thought it would be primarily in mission lands. Instead, the vast majority of deacons are found in the U.S. and the most of these are found only in a few dioceses. Our archdiocese has one of the largest numbers of deacons in the world!!! Surprisingly, the average age of deacons is older than that of priests. Please keep all of our deacons and our lay ministers in your prayers and pray for more vocations to all Church ministries.
In Pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately