The Order of Deacon
The Diaconate -- the 2nd of the Major Orders
The diaconate is the lowest order of the divinely established hierarchy, as well as the lowest sacramental order. It is a true sacrament and imprints an indelible mark upon the soul of the recipient. The deacon partakes of the priesthood so far as he is the assistant of the priest and bishop. The election and ordination of the first deacons is related in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 6, 1-6). In the Old Testament the order of deacons was typified by the Levites.
Deacons have always held an important place in the Church. Their duties in ancient times were manifold: to assist the priest at the Holy Sacrifice, to distribute Holy Communion, to read the Gospel, to preach and to instruct the people. They also exercised a certain supervision over the faithful, and together with priests assisted the bishop in the ecclesiastical courts; lastly, they had charge of the poor and sick, and administered the revenues of the Church. At the present time the functions of the deacon are mainly to assist the priest at solemn liturgical functions. It is only in rare cases that deacons baptize, preach, or distribute Holy Communion.
New ceremonial acts which appear in the ordination of deacons are:
- The Postulation -- The archdeacon requests the bishop, in the name of the Church to perform the ordination. The postulation is the public expression of the anxious desire of the Church that worthy ministers of the altar be ordained, so that the public worship of God may be continued and the mission of Christ for the salvation of souls carried on.
- The Scrutiny -- The bishop makes inquiry as to the worthiness of the candidates. Many laws have been passed, and many are still in force, whereby the responsibility authorities are required to watch over the candidates for the priesthood and to recommend for ordination only such men as, according to their opinion, will be worthy priests.
- The Consultation of the People -- The assembled people are called upon to state openly if they know aught concerning a candidate which would make him undesirable for the service of the Church. This, as well as the preceding act, was of eminently practical value in ancient times, when candidates for the priesthood did not receive a seminary training of many years as in our days. The ceremony clearly shows the importance which holy Church attaches to the selection of worthy candidates for the service of the altar. Indeed, the bishop cannot in conscience ordain anyone concerning whose worthiness he does not have a positive assurance.
- The Imposition of the Hands -- This is the essential rite by which the orders of sacrmental character are conferred; it symbolizes the communication of supernatural grace and power through the Holy Spirit.
Candidates for deaconship present themselves for ordination dressed in alb, cincture, amice, maniple; on their left arm they carry stole and dalmatic, and in their right hand a burning candle.
The Call. The bishop, with his miter on, sits on the faldstool before the middle of the altar. The archdeacon bids the candidates come forward; the notary reads their names:
Let those come forward who are to be ordained deacons: N. N., etc.
The Postulation. The archdeacon continues:
Most Reverend Father,
Most Eminent and Reverend Father,
our holy mother, the Catholic Church, requests that you ordain the subdeacons here present to the office of deaconship.
Does thou know them to be worthy?
As far as human frailty allows to know, I know and I testify that they are worthy of the charge of this office.
Thanks be to God.
By the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, we choose the subdeacons here present for the order of deaconship. If anyone has anything against them, let him confidently come forward and speak in the presence of God and for the sake of God. However, let him be mindful of his condition.
Dearly beloved sons, about to be promoted to the order of Levites, consider well to what an exalted rank you rise in the Church. The office of the deacon is to assist at the altar, to baptize, and to preach.
Under the Old Law, indeed, the one tribe of Levi was chosen out of the twelve tribes, that it should attend with special devotion to the Tabernacle of God and to its sacrifices according to a perpetual rite. So great was the dignity bestowed upon it that no one, except of this tribe, could rise to hold an office in the performance of that divine worship. Thus by some great hereditary privilege it deserved bot to be and to be called the tribe of the Lord.
Today, dearly beloved sons, you receive their name and their office. You are chosen for the service of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, that is, the Church of God, in the Levitical office. The Church, always ready for battle, wages an unceasing warfare against her enemies, as the Apostle says: "Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places." It is your duty to uphold and defend this Church of God, even as the Tabernacle, with the armor of holiness, by divine preaching and perfect example.
Levi signifies added, or lifted up. You, dearly beloved sons, who receive your name from an office of paternal inheritance, be lifted up above the desires of the flesh and earthly passions which war against the soul. Be clean and undefiled, pure and chaste, as it behooves ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God, that you may worthily be added to the number of those who have ecclesiastical rank and deserve to be the inheritance and the beloved tribe of the Lord. And since you are co-ministers and cooperate in the sacrifice of the body and blood of the Lord, keep yourselves proof against every allurement of the flesh, as the Scripture says: "Be ye clean, you that carry the vessels of the Lord." Remember that Blessed Stephen was elected by the apostles for this office, because of his eminent chastity. Take care to interpret the gospel by living works to those to whom you are preaching so that it may be said of you: "Blessed are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, of them that bring glad tidings of good things." Have your feet shod with the examples of the saints in the propagation of the gospel of peace. May the Lord grant it to you by His grace. R. Amen.
After the litany, the ordinands kneel, and the bishop, sitting on the faldstool, with his miter on, addresses clergy and people as follows:
Let common supplication and united prayer continue, that these men, who are prepared for the ministry of deaconship, may, through the prayer of the whole Church, shine in the order of Levitical + benediction, distinguish themselves by a spiritual life and show forth the grace by which they have been sanctified, through the help of our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, God forever. R. Amen.
Dearly beloved brethren, let us beseech God, the Father Almighty, that He may graciously pour out His grace upon and bless these His servants whom He deigns to assume into the office of deaconship, and in His goodness preserve in them the gifts of the ordination to which they are admitted. May He graciously hear our prayers and by His loving assistance bring to perfection what we are about to administer, and may He by His + blessing sanctify and strengthen them, whom according to our knowledge we consider worthy to be assigned to the celebration of the sacred mysteries. Through His only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who with Him and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, God,
Forever and ever.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And also with thee.
V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We have lifted them up unto the Lord.
V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R. It is meet and just.
It is truly meet and just, right and profitable unto salvation, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to Thee, O holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God, who givest honors, assignest rank, and bestowest offices. Abiding in Thyself, Thou renewest all things and disposest all things through Thy Word and Power and Wisdom, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. With eternal providence dost Thou prepare and dispense in due time what is needful. Thou hast adorned with a variety of heavenly gifts Thy Church, which is His body. Its members are distinct, but Thou hast united them by a wonderful law which governs its whole structure. Thus Thou makest it to grow and to expand, and Thy temple to enlarge.
Thou hast ordained that those who are in charge of the sacred ministry should serve Thy holy name in three orders. So of old, the sons of Levi were chosen as faithful guardians to devote their lives to the sacred mysteries celebrated in Thy house and to possess as their abiding portion the heritage of a blessing which was to endure forever.
Look down graciously, O Lord, also on these Thy servants whom we, amid humble prayer, ordain to the office of deacon, that they may serve Thy holy altars. As men without the resources of divine perception and supreme understanding, we judge of their lives so far as we are able. But what is unknown to us, does not escape Thee, O Lord; and what is hidden does not deceive Thee. Thou knowest the secrets; Thou searchest the hearts. Thou art able to examine their lives with heavenly discernment, by which Thou always prevailest, both to cleanse from sin and to grant what is to be accomplished.
Receive the Holy Spirit, unto power and to resist the devil and his temptations. In the name of the Lord.
Send forth upon them, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the Holy Spirit that they may be strengthened by Him, through the gift of Thy sevenfold grace, unto the faithful discharge of Thy service. May the pattern of all virtue abound in them, modest authority, constant propriety, the purity of innocence, the observance of spiritual discipline. Let Thy precepts shine forth in their lives so that, by the example of their holiness, the faithful may be aroused to holy imitation. May they prize above all things the testimony of a good conscience, persevere firm and steadfast in Christ, an by Thy grace make themselves worthy to rise in due succession from a lower to a higher order.
Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, Thy Son, who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. R. Amen.
Receive the spotless + stole from the hand of God, fulfill thy ministry; for God is powerful to increase His grace unto thee, who lives and reigns forever and ever.
The deacon answers: Amen.
May the Lord clothe thee with the garment of salvation and the vesture of gladness, and may the dalmatic of justice ever encompass thee. In the name of the Lord.
The deacon answers: Amen.
Receive the power to read the Gospel in the Church of God, both for the living and for the dead. In the name of the Lord.
The deacon answers: Amen.
Let Us Pray
The assistants: Let us bend our knees. R. Arise.
Hear, O Lord, our prayers, and send forth upon these Thy servants the Spirit of Thy + blessing, so that enriched with the heavenly gift they may be able to earn the favor of Thy Majesty and give to others the example of a virtuous life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. R. Amen.
Let Us Pray
Holy Lord, Father of faith, hope and grace, Rewarder of progress: everywhere in heaven and on earth dost Thou employ the services of angels and scatter the works fo Thy will throughout the universe: vouchsafe to enlighten also these Thy servants by love of spiritual things so that, ready for Thy service, they may as irreproachable ministers join Thy holy altars. May they grow in purity through Thy grace, and be worthy of the rank of those seven men whom the apostles elected under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and of whom Stephen was the chief and the leader. Adorned with all virtues which Thy service calls for, may they be pleasing to Thee. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. R. Amen.
Upon the direction of the archdeacon, the ordained return to their places. One of the newly ordained deacons reads the Gospel aloud, together with the bishop.