FRIDAY-SUNDAY
May 3-5, 2002
volume 13, no. 85

The Germs of GIRM



Part Forty-five: The Rise and Fall of the Permanent Deaconate

    "The permanent diaconate has actually served as a disincentive for young boys and men to consider a priestly vocation. And, irony of ironies, the permanent diaconate itself has been somewhat undermined by the proliferation of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. Why should a man give up his time to study for the permanent diaconate in order to be able to distribute Holy Communion when he can just as easily be handed a pyx and given a key to the tabernacle as an extraordinary minister?"

    While the ranks of the Permanent Deaconate have seen an increase over the past 30 some years, its numbers are destined to plummet. Why? Because this "office" has crested because an ennui has set in that presents the role of deacon as neither attractive or ugly. It is just there. And since it is, there has to be justification for keeping it as it is, so more busy-work and ceremony is heaped upon the role of the deacon, taking away from the role of the priest. It is not coincidence. It is very much planned that way as I shall explain in today's analysis of Paragraph 94.

Paragraph 94 of GIRM reads as follows:

    After the priest, in virtue of the sacred ordination he has received, the deacon has first place among those who minister in the celebration of the Eucharist. For the sacred Order of the diaconate has been held in high honor in the Church since the time of the Apostles. At Mass the deacon proclaims the gospel reading, sometimes preaches God's word, announces the intentions of the general intercessions, ministers to the priest, prepares the altar and serves the celebration of the sacrifice, distributes the Eucharist to the faithful, especially under the species of wine, and from time to time gives direction to the people's gestures and postures.

Comment and Analysis: While the diaconate was instituted in Apostolic times, the permanent diaconate was reintroduced by Pope Paul VI in 1972. It is beyond the purview of this analysis to discuss in detail the erroneous nature of Pope Paul's decision, which has by and large resulted in the creation of a constituency group dedicated to the protection of its own interests and to de-emphasizing the role of the priest in the life of a parish. The transitional diaconate has always been the last step for a man who has studied for the priesthood. His service as a transitional deacon prepares him more fully for his ordination as a priest, and it equips him to serve as a deacon in a Solemn High Mass (just as his service as a subdeacon prepares him for that role even after his ordination to the priesthood). The permanent diaconate was superceded by the transitional diaconate in order to emphasize, correctly, the need of the Church for priests, not those who desire some of the privileges and powers of holy orders while remaining free to pursue their interests in the secular world.

    As a practical matter, the permanent diaconate has reduced the importance of the parish priest in many instances. It is not unusual for permanent deacons to preach in the place of a priest, to preside over "priestless" "communion services" during the week (which gives those priests who are uninterested in celebrating daily Mass an excuse to absent themselves from the parish), to take Holy Communion to the sick, and to "plan" a parish's liturgy. It would be a gross misrepresentation to state that all permanent deacons usurp the role of the priest; some serve quite subordinately, to be sure. However, many do not. Many consider themselves the equal of the priest. And many, having a minimal and quite questionable training in actual Catholic theology, preach outright heresy from the pulpit, heresy which is never contradicted by anyone else in ecclesiastical authority.

    One deacon in a parish in New Mexico, for example, gave a talk in an adult education lecture in which he said that Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism have as much to offer "humankind" as Catholicism. No one ever contradicted him. He continues to preach from the pulpit after speaking such heresy in an adult education lecture. This is not at all unusual. At its most innocuous, many of the sermons delivered by permanent deacons are simply badly delivered by men who have no capacity for teaching and next to no understanding of the Deposit of Faith. The faithful have been very, very badly served by Pope Paul VI's unwise decision to restore the permanent diaconate and by the men chosen to be ordained for it by bishops upon the recommendation of parish priests.

    The permanent diaconate has actually served as a disincentive for young boys and men to consider a priestly vocation. And, irony of ironies, the permanent diaconate itself has been somewhat undermined by the proliferation of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. Why should a man give up his time to study for the permanent diaconate in order to be able to distribute Holy Communion when he can just as easily be handed a pyx and given a key to the tabernacle as an extraordinary minister?

    Insofar as the functions of the deacon, whether permanent or transitional, at Holy Mass, suffice it to note that the Novus Ordo once again stresses the importance of novel features by institutionalizing the "general intercessions" and by encouraging Holy Communion under both kinds, which is not the traditional of the Roman Rite. Thus, the deacon has more roles to play in the Novus Ordo than in the Traditional Latin Mass, making him more prominent in the celebration, a veritable sign of the Church's diversity, wouldn't you say?

Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.

Next Friday: Ecclesiastical Egalitarianism

For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives



May 3-5, 2002
volume 13, no. 85
CHRIST or chaos
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