Aparecida 205: Deacons

Let’s have a look at the permanent diaconate: 

205. Some disciples and missionaries of the Lord are called to serve the Church as permanent deacons. Most of them are enhanced by the twofold sacramentality of Matrimony and Holy Orders. They are ordained to serve the Word, charity, and the liturgy, especially for the sacraments of Baptism and Matrimony; also to aid in the formation of new ecclesial communities, especially in geographical and cultural frontline areas, where the Church’s evangelizing activity ordinarily does not reach. 

This paragraph and the three that follow address this renewed ministry in the Church. What do the Aparecida bishops tell us?

  • They acknowledge most deacons stand with one foot in Holy Orders, the other in Matrimony. The bishops of CELAM consider this an “enhancement.”
  • Deacons have a threefold mission of service: the Word of God, outreach to those in need, and the liturgy as a whole.
  • Deacons assist in the founding of parishes and other communities where lay people have yet to take initiative and where bishops and priests have yet to reach.

Unpacking this a bit further, how do the bishops see the separation between Word and liturgy? Or, how could they envision each of these? Looking at the sacraments a bit more closely, no explicit mention of serving at Mass as preacher or cup server. Nothing on the possible frontiers of the Sacraments of Penance or Anointing. If one sees forgiveness and healing as vanguards of evangelization among the faithful, one might ask: why not let them hear confessions and anoint?

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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13 Responses to Aparecida 205: Deacons

  1. Liam says:

    Not sure what the possible frontiers for the sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing would be, given how firmly Trent dogmatically shut the door on those for deacons, though it seems that people forget that…. (Maybe you mean sacramentals of some sort.)

    • Devin Rice says:

      Perhaps a ritual for confessing of non-mortal sins for deacons and well formed lay people while leaving the mortal sins or doubtful mortal to the priests & bishops? Of course this would require 1) both liberal & conservative outlets to know the proper theology and not cause confusion on the internet and their publications. 2) The new class of confessors would have to accurately know when to refer their penitents to sacramental confession and 3) you would have to have confidence for the laity as a whole to note the difference between sacramental and non-sacramental confession. I am too optimistic in either of those three categories.

  2. Todd says:

    I would equate Trent with Liturgiam Authenticam on this point, perhaps. If it changed once, it can change again. Lay people heard confessions and anointed, though long before such sacraments became enshrined in certain late medieval policy. The other question of course: do the successors of the apostles have power of the keys or not? Appealing to Jesus as the founder of the seven sacraments opens up another line of discourse: his stance was openness to God’s grace in spite of prescriptions of religious authorities who were blind to the real need of people. In mission lands, what is more important: the need for people to confess their sins or for the priesthood to maintain a self-identity and protect the administration of the sacraments?

    Mind you, I’m not willing to stand as an advocate for extraordinary ministers on these points. I live in a nation that is relatively flush with clergy. Even in rural areas, one might wait a few days for anointing or a few months for a confessor. In Latin America, it’s a few months between one Mass and the next.

    • Liam says:

      That’s a most curious “equation”. One are dogmatic decrees of an ecumenical council. The other not. Dogmatic decrees are one-way roach motels, unfortunately; the past doesn’t have to be fully reconciled against them, but the future does.

      That dog won’t hunt.

    • Liam says:

      PS: The Eastern churches share the Roman Catholic understanding on the diaconate being unable to confer the mysteries of confession and unction.

      • Todd says:

        I’m largely in agreement with you on councils, what they do, and their lasting effects. On this point we agree and concede that authentic wants and needs of believers go lacking, and that Holy Orders trumps other sacraments. And let’s be clear that is exactly what is happening as a result of a reaction to the Reformation five centuries ago.

        That said, it may be no coincidence that significant numbers of people find more healing and forgiveness these days through lay people: secular professionals, vowed religious, and others–than they do through clergy confessors. It may not be sacramental as Trent saw it. But it may be as real as Presence to those who experience grace in this way.

        If it makes Tridentine fanatics feel better we can decline to capitalize those experiences of penance, forgiveness, and healing. But the Holy Spirit, last time I looked, is not bound by human prescriptions, even those of an important “ecumenical” council.

      • Liam says:

        And that is different* But, were it pursued as a principle, it also cuts more than one way, and potentially in ways you and I would find appalling, because while it can build, it can also be a solvent. Like water. “Progress” is not linear.

        It’s why I caution against a breezy approach on these things: and instead, rather than play the “Imagine” gambit in one direction, be sure if one is doing that to take in less congenial directions before endorsing or embracing.

        * In the manner of: If, as it seems, certain doors have been closed, what windows, skylights and what not might be opened? Proceed in hope and with caution.

      • Liam says:

        PS: Anothe way to put this is that progressives have historically leaned against understanding “the power of the keys” (or Holy Spirit) as anything to be invoked in the manner of Jeremy Irons’ lugubrious Bishop Pucci in Casanova (2005):

        Pucci: Of course. But I think we could say if everything went according to plan we could return your reputation *and* your virginity to you.
        Victoria: You could do that?
        Pucci: Oh, yes. We are the Catholic Church. We can do anything.

        Be sure to think hard about that kind of thinking applied as a *solvent* to your most treasured accomplished desiderata for the Church….

  3. Todd says:

    I think I see where you are going with this. I’m far too old to place much deep hope in earthly structures, even the Church. I find a great freedom in lowered expectations–it often means I can get along much better with others. And sleep easy at night.

    The one thing I hope I don’t lose: a focus on those lacking for service in important areas, in certain times and places. As the institution insists on certain things, these insistences have consequences intended and unintended. You can’t really decry a waning of sacramental practice, blaming the laity, as one withholds it. There are times, of course, when it is good to wait with patience. I’ve seen those. I’ve also seen spiritual neglect by the institution, its bishops, and priests. I dislike being in the position of shrugging my shoulders with nothing to offer.

    • Liam says:

      Trust, hope and prayer are not shrugging shoulders. As for dislike, we may not be given the option of offering something we’d *like* to offer – something that can place us in solidarity with so many others in a similar position.

      Also, I would hesitate to draw a bright line between “institution” and “laity”; while it makes narrative threads easier to spin, it’s not necessarily as important a truth as others. Magical thinking also shows up across the whole Body.

      Sometimes, we may need to be allowed to hit hard walls in order to see things properly that we’d otherwise prefer not to see that way. Like forgiveness: that only really comes when an injury is understood neither to be justified nor excusable – though many would prefer not only to be excused rather than forgiven, but also to excuse rather than forgive. Forgiveness requires meeting a very hard undeniable rock – and transcending it (but cannot be done without that meeting). It’s why the Cross was such a hard business, as it were. It provided us with a mirror of who humanity. At its most ugly and most sublime.

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