Most Catholics know what a Priest is, but have little idea what Deacons are, even if, as in Eynsham, we have one appearing at the altar most Sundays! Today however in our 1st Reading (Acts 6:1-7) we hear how the first Deacons, were chosen and ordained by the Apostles with prayer and the laying on of hands, way before there were such things as priests! We see that too, when St Paul writes to the Church in a place called Phillipi (Phil 1:1) in Northern Greece. He writes to all the people, whom please note, he calls “saints”! ; and with them the Bishops and Deacons. The Bible refers to Deacons in one other place, in the 1st Letter to Timothy, where it says – and this may amuse you – “Deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.” (1 Tim 3:8)
In our Western Church however, the Bishops later ordained Priests to represent them at the Altar, and for various reasons, and for hundreds of years, Deacons just disappeared, as the Priests took over everything they used to do. It is only therefore in modern times that our Roman Catholic Church has re-introduced Deacons. One of the reasons for this is that the Church has sought to preserve the special calling of a Priest by requiring him not to marry. The Church in modern times then woke up to the fact that it therefore had a pool of intelligent married men sitting there at Mass who could actually serve the Church in many special ways if they were trained and then ordained as Deacons. So if you are a married man over 30, you might consider whether God is calling you to this special role within the Church.
Many married men immediately say they are too busy, not least because they are fathers with young children, as well as fully employed. But children grow up, and many men who are faithful Christians, having almost completed the very important task of being fathers, then begin to consider what God might want them to do next. And that is how we get our Deacons; for, unlike priests, they carry on with their jobs, and train and then serve the Church in their free time.
But what exactly are Deacons, and what do they do? First of all, they can do many of the things a Priest does, for they are, like him, ordained ministers of the Church, and so wear the black shirt and the collar like a priest or a bishop. Because of this they can be an invaluable asset in a busy Parish, conducting Baptisms, Marriages and Funerals as well as Preaching at Mass. You will have seen from our 1st Reading that their special calling has always been to serve those members of the Church who are sick or in some other kind of trouble. Most Deacons therefore, as here in Eynsham, are often the person who organizes this work, especially making sure our sick and housebound folk are regularly taken Communion. Deacons are also often the leaders in teaching the faith to others, leading, or helping to run, Courses for Children or Adults etc. Each Deacon is different, of course, and a wise parish and a wise priest will hopefully encourage a Deacon in the ways in which he is most talented – gifted by God.
Did you notice that wonderful ending to our 2nd Reading? (1 Peter 2:4-9) We, the Church, are called “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God.” Think about that for a moment. You are not at Mass to watch someone else doing things up here. You are at Mass to BE the Church, to BE the holy people of God singing God’s praises, and sharing God’s message of joy and love with others. And remember what I’ve often said to those who say they cannot sing. Sing in your heart if not with your voice. And to those who are too shy to speak about their faith. Live it! Quietly pray for others and if you can, quietly tell them you are praying for them. But also, consider what else God may be calling you to do. Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”. You may not think you are clever or brave enough, but God can take you on the Way to wisdom and courage, as he requires, for He is Truth and Life
Stephen, one of those first Deacons, just thought he was going to help the Apostles in the ordinary ways described. But he was “a man full of faith”. and soon after he found himself in a position where he had to share that faith where there was much opposition. Thus he became the First Martyr of the Church, killed for being a Christian. Don’t worry, most of those called to be a Deacon do not end up like Stephen. But his death simply reminds us that God can do things in and through us that will surprise us, whether that is as a Deacon or a Priest, or simply as a faithful Christian. As Jesus said “Trust in God”. Something we must all do!