Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Theology of the Sacred Diaconate

Deacons of the Anglican Tradition are permitted to administer the Blessed Sacrament at Mass and to those who cannot attend the Eucharistic celebration in church; they may preach; they may baptise in the absence of a priest; they also bear the great responsibility of teaching and preaching the Gospel through catechesis and instruction of the young and converts to the Faith; deacons may teach Confirmation, enquirers' and Sunday school classes; they may teach classes on Holy Scripture, just as they proclaim the Scriptures in the liturgy of the Mass and Offices; they also possess the profound 'ministry of the Altar and of charity' - biblically and historically, deacons serve the needs of the poor and sick and function to collect and distribute the alms of the Church to those in need. In this respect, deacons uniquely represent the bishop as ministers of charity and mercy, and have so functioned since Apostolic times (Acts 6). In the liturgy, the deacon proclaims the Holy Gospel and traditionally administers the Chalice of Our Lord's Precious Blood. The role and ministry of the deacon in the Anglican Rite are succinctly summarised in the Ordinal (BCP 533).

Deacons of the modern Roman Rite, since the II Vatican Council and contrary to earlier Tradition, are today permitted to solemnise marriages and confer the nuptial blessing at such rites; they are permitted to bless persons, places and objects as the need may arise. However, modern Roman deacons are not permitted to administer the Sacrament of the Unction of the Sick: that sacrament, like the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance, depends on the grace of the sacerdotium, the sacramental priesthood, for a valid administration. It should be noted that neither traditional rite Roman deacons nor Eastern Orthodox deacons are permitted to bless things and solemnise Matrimony, which actions are entirely novel and were only introduced by Vatican II, never before being part of the diaconal ministry as received from Christian antiquity. Deacons of the ancient Oriental Orthodox Churches follow the same pattern of ministry as the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and traditional Latin Churches. The traditional Anglican form of the diaconate is that inherited from Apostolic Tradition and the practice of the undivided Catholic Church of the first millennium.

The deacon is in fact ordained to assist the episcopal or priestly celebrant at the altar and in the celebration of the Mysteries, because that ministry of service and servanthood is the essence of the charcater of the diaconate: the diakonos, servant, is conformed to the image of Jesus Christ the Deacon, Christ the Servant, by the sacramental ontological character of ordination. The Deacon is 'ordered' to the altar; he is admitted to the order of servanthood in the liturgical life of the Church and therefore mystically represents the Angels in heaven who attend to the eternal and divine Liturgy of the heavenly court. The New Testament deacon is the New Testament fulfillment and antitype of the Old Testament Levite, who was ordained to assist in the sacrifices and worship of the Old Testament sacramental system. An icon of the heavenly Ministers of the Altar, the angelic host, and the perfection of the Levitical ministry of sacrifice and offering, the Catholic and Apostolic deacon is consecrated to God by the Sacrament of Holy Orders to participate in the action of the Mass and to take his rightful place in the administration of the sacraments as a Minister, a servant and steward of the Mysteries of God. Deacons have administered the Chalice at Mass since Apostolic times, and in the primitive Church enjoyed a more prominent role in the celebration of Mass than that of the presbyterate: the priests as a council would be seated behind the altar, while the bishop celebrated at the altar with his deacons beside him, assisting the bishop in the offertory and the administration of Holy Communion. In the first four centuries, the bishop was always the chief celebrant of the Mass and the other sacraments in his region, the High Priest of the local Church; the deacons were his special and unique assistants in the liturgical action. Presbyters, priests of the second order of ministry, only came fully to share in the sacramental ministry of the bishop after the third century. But the unique and essential role of the deacon has always remained in tact. The deacon 'serves the Table of the Lord' (Acts 6.2) in an altogether primary and distinctive sense, by Apostolic institution. The deacon is associated with the sacramental ministry of the bishop and of the Church because that is his liturgical ministry given from the Apostles themselves.

Ordination is the conferral and reception of the commission and authority of Jesus Christ to act in His Name and Person, and of the grace to execute the ministry of the Church; a commission and authority to act as an authentic representative of Christ and His Church. Deacons receive through Apostolic Succession the grace of this commission and authority, a power given from the Apostles and conveyed by Apostolic hands in the episcopate. Thus, deacons are true Ministers of the Word and Sacraments of God, true Ministers of the Church of God, according to their specific Order conferred by diaconal ordination. The diaconate is the third sacred Order in the hierarchy constituted by Our Lord and the Apostles, a real sharing in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Deacons take their place next to priests and bishops as participants in the Threefold Apostolic Ministry, a Ministry of divine institution and appointment.

Deacons may assist in the administration of the Chalice at Mass and may bear the Blessed Sacrament in both kinds to those who are unable to attend the Mass in church, but are strictly forbidden to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice according to the canons and decrees of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea I (AD 325). Deacons do not possess the grace of priestly ordination and thus cannot validly consecrate the Mass.

The following is one of the earliest testimonies to the ordination of the deacon outside the New Testament, the Apostolic Tradition of Saint Hippolytus of Rome: note carefully what this record of AD 215 says about the theology of the Diaconate:

When one ordains a deacon, he is chosen according to what has been said above, with only the bishop laying on his hand in the same manner. In the ordination of a deacon, only the bishop lays on his hand, because the deacon is not ordained to the priesthood, but to the service of the bishop, to do that which he commands. For he is not part of the council of the clergy, but acts as a manager, and reports to the bishop what is necessary. He does not receive the spirit common to the presbyters, which the presbyters share, but that which is entrusted to him under the bishop's authority. This is why only the bishop makes a deacon. Upon the presbyters, the other presbyters place their hands because of a common spirit and similar duty. Indeed, the presbyter has only the authority to receive this, but he has no authority to give it. Therefore he does not ordain to the clergy. Upon the ordination of the presbyter he seals; the bishop ordains.

The bishop says this over the deacon:

O God, you who have created all and put it in order by your Word, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom you sent to serve by your will, and to manifest to us your desire, give the Holy Spirit of grace and earnestness and diligence to this your servant, whom you have chosen to serve your church and to offer up in holiness in your sanctuary that which is offered from the inheritance of your high priests, so that serving without reproach and in purity, he may obtain a higher degree, and that he may praise you and glorify you, through your son Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom to you be glory, and power, and praise, with the Holy Spirit, now and always, and throughout the ages of the ages. Amen.

A deacon may baptise in the absence of a priest because the validity of Holy Baptism does not depend on its administration by one in sacerdotal orders and character; its validity depends solely on the proper administration of the matter and form instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ, to wit, water in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Because Baptism is generally necessary for salvation for all men (St John 3.5), Our Lord has instituted it in such a way that any person who intends seriously to administer the Sacrament of Holy Baptism may validly do so - because it is the rite itself, given by Christ, which effects the grace of the sacrament. Any baptised Christian, lay or ordained, may validly baptise in emergency, in extremis. But in order to maintain the regula fidei and the bene esse of the Church, her good order and canonical obedience to the Catholic Faith and Tradition, it is required where and when possible that one in Holy Orders, a duly ordained cleric of the Church, baptise. A deacon no less than a priest is an ordained representative of the Holy Catholic Church. A deacon possesses the indelible character of Holy Orders and thus sacramentally represents Jesus Christ, no less than a priest - only in a different manner according to a different grace of ordination. For a Baptism to be canonically regular and in accordance with the Church's ordering of her own life, a deacon, ordained for this purpose as a herald of the Gospel and a minister of the Word and Sacraments, should always preside if a priest cannot be present. Deacons are truly ordained.

For the reasons listed above, because the deacon is a true and sacramentally ordained minister of the Word and Sacraments according to his own full and complete order in the Church, he may in the absence of the priest celebrate the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified and administer the consecrated gifts of the Body and Blood of Christ to the faithful: he is ordered to the altar and has the commission and authority so to act, under the authority of the bishop and priest. Anglicans call this rite in the absence of the priest the 'Deacon's Mass,' a colloquial term for us; Roman Catholics call it a 'Communion service,' wherein the Eucharistic Elements are not consecrated but the Pre-Sanctified Gifts are offered in Holy Communion to the people. In the Orthodox Church, the Deacon's Mass is called the Deacon's Typika. All Catholic Churches have a form of service in which the deacon administers Holy Communion from the reserved Sacrament.

A deacon is not permitted to bless sacramentally persons, places or objects, even using holy water blessed by a priest, because the deacon does not possess the necessary character of Holy Orders to bless in the Name of Christ and the Church in a sacramental way. Bishops and priests possess the sacramental character of the sacerdotium, which entails the blessing of people, places and objects in the Name of Christ, thus conveying the blessing of Almighty God and of the Church in a sacramental action. Such ministry of blessing is an integral part of the ministry of the priesthood; priestly grace is required for one so to act in the Name and Person of Christ and the Church, in persona Christi capitis. Holy water is a sacramental of the Church, blessed by the Church to invigorate and encourage the faith of those who use it, but it is not a sacrament and does not convey grace in the manner of a sacrament. Sacramentals are aids to faith, meant to inspire devotion and drive away evil, but they do not have the nature of the sacraments themselves. Sacramental blessings, priestly blessings, are just that - they require a sacrament, in this case, the Sacramental Man, the 'walking sacrament' of the priest, to convey them. Now, of course, please let it be clearly understood that this fact of theology does not preclude the ability of any Christian to pray and to bless in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and all Christians should so pray and bless in the Lord's Name. Parents should bless their children; loved ones should bless their needy, their sick, the lonely and those in trouble; Christians should pray for one another and bless one another in the Name of Jesus. But the specific sacramental action of sacramental blessing is reserved in the Church's liturgical life to those endowed with the Spirit of the Priesthood, the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God. (BCP 546, BCP 294).

All of the aforementioned also apply to the Sacrament of the Unction of the Sick, but even more so, because the Sacrament of Unction requires a bishop or priest for the valid administration of the sacrament by divine institution. Holy Scripture records the practice of the Sacrament of Unction from New Testament times: 'Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters (priests) of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven' (Saint James 5.14-15). Our Lord anticipated the practice of this sacrament by giving power to His Apostles (and their successors in the episcopate and priesthood) to administer healing to the sick by means of anointing them with oil: 'So they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them' (Saint Mark 6.13). Only bishops and priests may administer this Sacrament, as Saint James clearly teaches. A priest should administer Unction using holy oil blessed by a bishop for this purpose. The outward and visible sign is the anointing of a baptised Christian who is ill, by a priest, with oil blessed by a bishop. Typically, the oil is applied to the forehead, and sometimes to the hands or specific place of pain. The prayer is one for blessing and spiritual healing from God (BCP 320). The inward and spiritual grace is divine power, peace, strength and forgiveness of all sins. This sacramental economy was given by the Lord Jesus Christ to His Church.

(Copied from Philorthodox with Permission)

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