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

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Diaconate - Part Two - Tradition

Yesterday, I blogged on the Scriptural foundations of the Diaconate. Today I would like to write on the expression of the Deaconate within the writings of the Church Fathers and tradition. There have been many famous deacons from Saint Stephen to the founder of my own community, Saint Francis and the importance of the deaconate in the tradition of the Church is made quite clear in the writings of the patristics.

The same theme of ministry, evangelization, uprightness and faithfulness are continued for example, Saint Ignatius writes in his epistle to the Trallians:

It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They are bound, therefore, to avoid all grounds of accusation [against them], as they would do fire.

A key element of the ministry of the Deacon is the distibution of the Eucharist as Saint Justin Martyr notes in his First Apology:

And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

Deacons were also to proclaim the Gospel, help in the administration of the sacraments and in the practice of prayer.

The deacon is clearly an honored ministry, for example Saint Ignatius writes, "let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ..." [Epistle to the Trallians]. Saint Clement writes that the deacon, like the bishop has been an office integral to the Church since its foundation:

The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus says the Scripture a certain place, "I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith."

I end with the prayer for the ordination of the deacon as presented in the Constitutions of the Twelve Apostles:

O God Almighty, the true and faithful God, who art rich unto all that call upon Thee in truth, who art fearful in counsels, and wise in understanding, who art powerful and great, hear our prayer, O Lord, and let Thine ears receive our supplication, and "cause the light of Thy countenance to shine upon this Thy servant," who is to be ordained for Thee to the office of a deacon; and replenish him with Thy Holy Spirit, and with power, as Thou didst replenish Stephen, who was Thy martyr, and follower of the sufferings of Thy Christ. Do Thou render him worthy to discharge acceptably the ministration of a deacon, steadily, unblameably, and without reproof, that thereby he may attain an higher degree, through the mediation of Thy only begotten Son, with whom glory, honour, and worship be to Thee and the Holy Spirit for ever. Amen.


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