Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem 7-10: Formation

The following sections deal with the formation of permanent deacons. First, #7 suggests a national or multi-national effort. In the US, it’s pretty much every diocese for itself. Are there any readers who know of diaconate formation occuring across dicoesan lines in the US? Or regionally on another continent?

7. For the foundation of this institute, let the bishops of the same country, or, if advantageous, of several countries according to the diversity of circumstances, join their efforts. Let them choose, for its guidance, particularly suitable superiors, and let them establish most accurate norms regarding discipline and the ordering of studies, observing the following prescriptions.

Note the quality of service to be sought:

8. Let only those young men be admitted to training for the diaconate who have shown a natural inclination of the spirit to service of the sacred hierarchy and of the Christian community and who have acquired a sufficiently good store of knowledge in keeping the custom of their people and country.

We often stress the biblical emphasis on service (cf Acts 6:1ff) but Paul VI includes a “spirit of service” to the hierarchy as well. In the deacons you know, do you find these two aspects balanced?

9. Specific training for the diaconate should be spread over a period of at least three years. The series of subjects, however, should be arranged in such a way that the candidates are orderly and gradually led to carrying out the various functions of the diaconate skillfully and beneficially. Moreover, the whole plan of studies can be so arranged that in the last year special training be given for the various functions which deacons especially will carry out.

Most diaconate formation indeed takes at least three years. Note the wide-open plate given by the pope in his document. #10 gives some specifics to add to diaconal training. These are interesting, aren’t they?

10. To this moreover should be added practice and training in teaching the elements of the Christian religion to children and other faithful, in familiarizing the people with sacred chant and in directing it, in reading the sacred books of Scripture at gatherings of the faithful, in addressing and exhorting the people, in administering the sacraments which pertain to them, in visiting the sick, and in general in fulfilling the ministries which can be entrusted to them.

Except for the administration of the sacraments, these practices pretty much describe the pastoral ministry shouldered by lay ministers in parishes. The catechesis of children and the ministry of music have long preconciliar associations with lay people. But it is interesting to note that the apostolate of the permanent diaconate has grown next to thay of lay ministers serving the Church. It would be an interesting task to explore that, discern the commonalities, and see how the two relate in the sense of the Holy Spirit providing service and leadership to parishes open to either or both expressions.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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3 Responses to Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem 7-10: Formation

  1. Liam says:

    It was Pope St Gregory I who significantly trimmed down the role of the diaconate in leading liturgical chant. For the century or two before this, deacons were chosen not only for administrative ability but for their singing voices.

    As a remnant of this, the deacon retained a key role in singing the anaphora of the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil.

  2. “Except for the administration of the sacraments, these practices pretty much describe the pastoral ministry shouldered by lay ministers in parishes.”

    In terms of functions, the only thing that sets a deacon apart from a lay person is their liturgical role. Yet it seems to me that liturgical training and presidential competency of deacons are given relatively little attention during their formation. I know very few permanent deacons who have received substantial training in the RCIA or presiding at the rites and sacraments. In the span of a three-year formation, some local deacons in a neighboring diocese had only six two-hour classes on presiding at these rites. How does one learn the grace that is needed to preside at these liturgies confidently and transparently in only 12 hours?

  3. Todd says:

    I agree that appropriate classwork is needed, Diana. In my experience, people seem to benefit more from one-on-one mentoring for presidential skills. Once they get the liturgy basics, attention to detail is really needed, whether a deacon is trained by a priest or lay person. The use of visual and audio recordings are essential to the training. I don’t know how much of that would get done in a mere 12 hours.

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