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I am a Third Order Franciscan of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Diaconate - Part One - Scriptural Foundations

As I prepare for my Diaconate ordination on Saturday, I wanted to put up a few posts about the Diaconate and what it means to be a deacon. Since the Diaconate was restored in the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II, few Catholics have seen a deacon much less know what a deacon is other than perhaps considering the deacon a "lesser priest".

In fact, the Diaconate is an order with a long noble history as will become clearer in this series of posts beginning with a reflection on the Diaconate in Holy Scripture.

The word diakanos appears several times in Scripture both in the Old and New Testament and carries with it the meaning of minister and servant. [For example, Esther 2:2 and Matthew 20:28] In this sense, it applies to the responsibilities of all Christian believers.

In terms of a specific office, the first reference to the Diaconate is in Acts 6:1-7 though the words deacon or deaconate do not appear. The office of the deacon is said to originate out of a need to ensure that the needy widowed Greek Jews be treated fairly in the daily distribution of food. The Church chose seven men "filled with the Spirit and Wisdom" and entrusted them to this task.

It is interesting that immediately after this, the Scriptures describe the deeds of one of these first seven deacons, Stephen. [Acts 6:8-60] Stephen, one of the first deacons and the first martyr to the Church, is known not for his ministry to the widows, but for the proclaiming of the Gospel of Christ. So, in addition to a service of ministry, we also see the deacon possessing a responsibility to evangelize. Evangelism is also demonstrated in the encounter of the deacon Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40.

The most explicit description of the Diaconate comes in 1 Timothy 3:8 in which we are told that deacons must be "dignified, not deceitful, not addicted to drink, not greedy after sordid gain." So, again, the deacon must be one of moral uprightness. Deacons are also to remain steadfast in the faith. [3:9]

Ministry, Evangelization, Uprightness, Faithfulness are characteristics of the deacon as presented in Scripture, as this series on the Diaconate continues, we shall see more clearly how they are made manifest in the life of the deacon in the Church.


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