Called to Serve
Rev. Runaine Radine
On Heritage Day, 24 September 2018 Bishop Zungu ordained three transitory deacons for our diocese. This occasion was marked by noble simplicity. Processing into a packed St Augustine’s Cathedral, to the signing of that appropriate hymn, “Holy God we praise Thy Name”, together with my fellow ordinands, Patrick Misomali and Xolile Mafu, was a moving experience, especially after each of our unique journeys. In my case, having spent eight long uninterrupted years in formation, not without its fair share of challenges, this moment felt like the fulfilment of an era and the opening of another more exciting one. It was a celebration of the community, with the presence of people from all the areas of our lives, beloved family, friends, past educators, parishioners of our home parishes as well the communities in which we currently serve. All gathered around the Altar with the Bishop and clergy of PE diocese and beyond.
Those Catholics who were “schooled” prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) often speak about the seven steps to priesthood/preparatory stages in the reception of sacred orders: the tonsure, the minor orders (offices of porter, lector, exorcist, and acolyte), and the major orders (subdiaconate, diaconate, and the priesthood).
Pope Paul VI, now Saint, in his Apostolic Letter, Ministeria Quaedam (of 15 August 1972), addresses the first tonsure, minor orders, and the subdiaconate, which were closely related to the liturgical celebration (word and altar) and the practice of charity from the earliest times in the history of the Church. The Pope suppressed the first tonsure and renamed minor orders as ministries. Furthermore, having suppressed the subdiaconate, only the ministry of lector and acolyte are retained in the Latin Church and these ministries can now be conferred, by institution rather than ordination, on both those men who are candidates for holy orders as well as those who are not. Nonetheless, candidates for ordination as deacons and priests must receive the ministries of lector and acolyte prior to ordination (as we do prior to the pastoral internship at St John Vianney Seminary). Since ministries are no longer strictly reserved to the clergy but are opened to lay Christians, four categories of ministries have emerged:
(i) hierarchic ministry of the ordained – bishop, priest, and deacon (the permanent diaconate was restored by Pope Paul VI in “Ad Pascendum” of 15 August 1972)
(ii) instituted (lector and acolyte)
(iii) deputised (e.g. readers, special ministers of Holy Communion)
(iv) recognised ministries (such as commentator, altar server, etc).
The aim of this reflection is to consider in greater depth the Order of the Diaconate, by which men become members of the clergy. If this is the final step to the priesthood, it is certainly a step down, in the sense that a deacon is a servant (from diakonia in Greek). Indeed, from its origins, deacons were typically servants; they were the assistants of the bishop and involved in a great diversity of services. The Acts of the Apostles (6:1-7) relays a prime example of this ministry which arose out of the needs of the local church. The duties associated with this new ministry would entail serving at the tables while the Apostles would continue to devote themselves ‘to prayer and the service of the word’ (v.4) to the faithful who were ever-increasing in number.
The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), of the Second Vatican Council, explains the meaning of the diaconate as follows: ‘At a lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, upon whom hands are imposed "not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service.” For strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests they serve in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity to the people of God (LG 29). In his homily during the Mass of Ordination, Bishop Zungu explained this key understanding of the diaconate as a ministry of service. Going through the Rite of Ordination itself, will illustrate this aspect:
Ordination, which takes place during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, begins after the Gospel, with the calling of the candidates by a deacon. Following this, the candidates are presented to the Bishop. This was done by Fr Peter Whitehead, who is responsible in our diocese for seminarians and their formation. He was thus in a privileged position to respond to the rather direct question of the Bishop, “Do you judge them to be worthy?” His testimony allows the bishop to elect the candidates for the Order of Deacons to which the people consent, “Thanks be to God.”
After exhorting the candidates in the homily, the rite of ordination continues with a series of questions, pertaining to the life and ministry of deacons, which expresses the free will with which we approach this order. In our case, since we are transitioning to the priesthood, and therefore unmarried, we make a public commitment to celibacy, “as a sign of...interior dedication to Christ...for the sake of the kingdom and in lifelong service to God and mankind.” The response of the bishop to this commitment shows that it cannot be done without the help of God’s grace: “May the Lord help you to persevere in this commitment.”
The Examination of the Candidates underscores essential elements of the office of deacons: humility and love; assisting the bishop and the priests; serving the people of Christ; prayer (especially the Liturgy of the Hours) - all of this in imitation of Christ - who came not to be served but to serve (cf. Mark 10:45).
At this point, each individual candidate approaches the Bishop in order to make a Promise of Obedience, by placing his hands into that of his “father”. It is worth mentioning here that we are members of the secular clergy (diocesan clergy) who are attached to a diocese under the direct authority of the diocesan bishop unlike religious clergy (such as Franciscans/Domincans) who belong to their religious order.
The Litany of the Saints comes at the right time – with all these kinds of commitments – we now need the prayers of Our Lady and all the saints! The candidates prostrate during this part, a sign of their resolve.
Then comes the essential element of ordination, the Laying on of hands and Prayer of Ordination, for a candidate is ordained for the Church's ministry by the laying on of hands and the gift of the Holy Spirit. For diaconate ordination only the Bishop imposes hands, in silence. If this ministry is received kneeling, it says something about how it is sustained through dependence on God’s grace, in prayer and the sacraments.
The Prayer of Ordination acknowledges that the Father enriches the Church of Jesus Christ with a variety of ministries through the Holy Spirit. The threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, closely associated with divine worship, has been established for the glory of God’s name. It traces the origins of the diaconate in the scriptures, beginning with the selection of Levi’s sons for the ministry of the tabernacle. After recalling the institution of the diaconate in the early Church, for the service of tables, the Holy Spirit is invoked, so that the ordinand may carry out the ministry faithfully, “excel in every virtue; in love that is sincere, in concern for the sick and the poor, in unassuming authority, in self-discipline, and in holiness of life.” This prayer brings together everything that is expected of deacons.
What follows are the explanatory rites, since they show how the minister will carry out the order just received, such as the investiture with Stole and Dalmatic. I asked Fr Max Salsone, who celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his own priestly ordination a few years ago, to vest me since he was the one who baptised me as an infant. Then, for one who “resolved to hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience, as the Apostle urges, and to proclaim this faith in word and action as it is taught by the Gospel and the Church's tradition”, the Presentation of the Book of the Gospels is significant, not only because a deacon primarily reads the Gospel during Mass but because he is to believe what he reads, teach what he believes, and practice what he teaches.
The duties of all deacons include, proclaiming the Gospel, preaching the homily, assisting the priest at Mass, administering Baptism, distributing Holy Communion. He may also preside over funeral and burial services, act as the official witness at weddings, administer sacramentals and bless articles of popular devotion. His pastoral ministry may include bringing Holy Communion to the sick and housebound, preparing the faithful for the sacraments, and so forth. Furthermore, ‘dedicated to duties of charity and of administration, let deacons be mindful of the admonition of Blessed Polycarp: "Be merciful, diligent, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who became the servant of all"’ (LG 29). Charitable works, especially the Works of Mercy, must be part of the deacon’s life.
Since this is the final “step” to the priesthood, for PE diocese’s recently ordained transitory deacons, we can only pray: May God who has begun the good work in us bring it to fulfilment. Amen.
Picture :L to R: Rev. P.Misomali, Bishop Vincent Zungu OFM, R. Rev. Radine & Rev. X. Mafu