By Fr Jason Boatswain, Director of the permanent diaconate programme
Archbishop Jason Gordon will ordain 15 candidates to the permanent diaconate at 10 a.m. on Saturday, January 22, 2022 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Port of Spain. The ordination will be streamed live on Trinity TV and Facebook via CatholicTT.
In the Roman Catholic Church, the order of deacons is the first of three ranks of the clerical state: deacon, priest and bishop. This tripartite understanding of the clergy was already documented by Ignatius, the bishop-martyr of Antioch in the early second century. Usually before a man is ordained to the priesthood, he is ordained to the transitional diaconate for a short period of time. The permanent diaconate however, is the stable vocation to which men are called to serve Christ and His Church. Though most permanent deacons are married men with families, single or widowed men are also eligible for the vocation of the permanent diaconate. If a man is single at the moment of ordination, then he is obligated to take a vow of celibacy.
According to Joseph Komanchak, an authority on the Second Vatican Council, the restoration of the permanent diaconate came about not because there was a shortage of priests but because there was a shortage of deacons! The role of the diaconate is very distinctive from that of the role of a priest. Permanent deacons are not baby priests or little priests. In fact, they are not priests at all. Their role is to function in communion with the bishop and priests in exercising pastoral care for people in a parish. The Greek word for deacon is diakonia which translates as service. It is the Ministry of service which characterises the entire diaconal ministry. This service, the deacon exercises in a threefold ministry: to the poor, to the Word of God and to the Liturgy.
The biblical origins of the diaconate can be traced to Acts 6: 1-6 where the focus was firstly a Ministry of service to the Greek widows who were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. Thus, deacons are called to exercise their Ministry of charity and justice by working with the poor and less fortunate, refugees, prisoners, the sick and persons on the margins of society. Deacons are also the proper ministers of the Word of God. As such, they have important responsibilities in the proclamation of the gospel and the preaching of the Word of God. Liturgically, the deacons exercise pastoral leadership in communion with a priest in a parish in the care for the people of a parish. As such, they prepare and perform the sacramental duties of Baptism and Marriage, assist the priest at the altar in the celebration of the Eucharist, administer viaticum to the dying, conduct funerals and lead the community in prayer and worship. In cases where a parish is without a priest, the deacon may be asked by the bishop to assume the responsibilities of administrating the parish.
Permanent deacons enrich the Church because they act as a bridge, having one foot in the clerical state and one foot deeply rooted in the secular world through their families and jobs. On one hand, in virtue of their ordination, they can offer a unique sacramental presence of Christ and His Church through their Ministry of service to the world in a way that it is sometimes impossible for the priest to offer. On the other hand, their deep involvement in the society can assist the Church in feeling and experiencing more deeply the joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties of people in every age.
We thank God for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit at the Second Vatican Council for the restoration of the permanent diaconate in the Church universal. We also celebrate with the first group of permanent deacons who will celebrate their 12th anniversary since their diaconal ordination on February 6, 2010. We thank them for their varied diakonia that they have rendered to the parishes in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain.
Let us now pray for our 15 brothers who will be called to the order of the permanent diaconate that God will sustain and bless them in their threefold diakonia of charity, word and worship.