Fifty years ago the Second Vatican Council sought to analyze and refocus Church teaching and practice. The most obvious result of the Council was a new liturgical form for the Mass, which really was more of a return to an older tradition and not so much an innovation. Once the Council issued a new rite for the Roman Mass it was obvious that an overhaul of the sacrament of Holy Orders was needed.
Prior to the Council the Sacrament of Holy Orders was divided into two parts: minor orders (porter, lector, acolyte, exorcist) and major orders (sub-deacon, deacon, priest, bishop). Earlier in the history of the Church each of these was a ministry in and of itself and stood alone from the other ministries. So a porter, (one who opens a door) actually started off in times when Christians met in secret for fear of authorities or when only fully initiated Christians could participate in the Eucharist. So the porter was responsible for knowing who was who and who to let into the celebration. (You see a remnant of this when during the RCIA process we dismiss the candidates and catechumens after the homily.) The lector was the only one to read the sacred scriptures during the Liturgy as most people were illiterate and books were rare. As liturgies become more complex trained servers (acolytes) would be required to navigate the maze of liturgical rubrics.
Over the course of centuries these ministries morphed into minor orders and became steps leading to the priesthood. Much of this was because St. Thomas Aquinas stressed that the priesthood, since it configured a man to the person of Jesus Christ, was the perfection of all ministries. Church practice usually follows theology and so it was in the case of holy orders: all the official ministries became steps leading to the priesthood.
Vatican II returned to the older traditions and practices of the Church and separated the minor orders from the major. As a result the minor orders became ministries (lector and acolyte) and thus not clerical but lay. This in turn expanded the ministry of lay people as well. And with the major orders the order of sub-deacon was suppressed leaving deacon, priest and bishop. With ordination to the diaconate a man enters the clerical state. Hence deacons are part of the clergy. The Council likewise separated out the order of deacon as an order in and of itself and not only a step towards the priesthood. This is what we refer to as the Permanent Diaconate. In other words men can serve as deacons without ever moving onto priesthood. The first permanent deacons were ordained in the late 1970’s and today thousands of them serve the Church in a variety of capacities. But always as the Acts of the Apostles reminds us that from the first 7 men the Apostles chose, the ministry of deacon is the ministry of charity.
So today we at Mt. Carmel are blessed to have a brand new, hot-off-the-press, newly ordained deacon: Rob Bonura. Rob was ordained on Saturday by Bishop Olmsted and he and his classmates for the past 6yrs+ have undergone an intense formation and training process. We are doubly blessed as Bishop Olmsted has assigned Deacon Rob to serve at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Rob and his wife Vicki have served in the Parish for a long time in a variety of ways and most especially as coordinators of both the Infant Baptism process and the Ministers of Holy Communion.
Since I have been at Mt. Carmel (starting now my 13th year) three of our men have been ordained as deacons: Charlie Voss, Tom Glenn and now Rob Bonura. So now it is time for someone else to step up to the plate and begin the discernment process. It is critically important that we call forth another man who is “of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom”.
Our deacons are men who are spiritually minded and practically minded. With the decline in the number of priests since the 1970’s the deacons have not only served well but also filled a critical void in leadership in many parishes and dioceses. For that we should all be grateful.
As today we give thanks for the ordination of a new deacon, please join me in thanking all of our deacons and their wives for the service they so selflessly offer to us.
O God, who have taught the ministers of your Church to seek not to be served but to serve their brothers and sisters, grant we pray, that this your servant, Robert, whom you graciously choose for the office of Deacon, may be effective in action, gentle in ministry and constant in prayer. Through Christ our Lord. Amen
BACK TO LIST
Fr. John Bonavitacola