Catholicism’s effect on billions of lives would be significantly compromised if it were limited to the confines of the Church. Its many teachings would have died off centuries ago if they hadn’t been taken beyond Mass, out into the world.
While all clergy devote much of their time taking God’s message beyond the Church, deacons in particular bring the Catholic way out into the community. In doing so, they serve to strengthen the bridge between the clergy and the laity.
“It’s been said that deacons take the grace of the altar into the streets and bring the needs of the streets to the altar,” says Deacon Frank Chavez, director of the Diocese’s Office of the Diaconate. “Of course, bishops and priests do service at the community level, but this is an especially important focus of a deacon’s calling.”
Sixteen new deacons have been doing just that since Oct. 28, when they were ordained by Bishop Kevin Vann at Saint Columban Church, in Garden Grove.
After the Gospel was proclaimed, Bishop Vann called forth each candidate. He asked Deacon Chavez, the director of Deacon Formation, whether or not he considered them worthy. Then an election took place, after which the congregation applauded the decision. The candidates then answered a series of questions, which included the promise of prayer, before approaching Bishop Vann one by one to make the promise of obedience while kneeling and joining hands with him.
All 16 diaconal candidates lay prostrate on the floor while everyone else kneeled and prayed the litany of the saints. Bishop Vann then extended his hands over all the candidates, made the prayer of consecration and laid hands on each candidate’s head, ordaining him a deacon.
They were vested with a stole and dalmatic, the liturgical vestments of Catholic deacons. Each new deacon then knelt before Bishop Vann, who placed the Book of Gospels in his hands and, along with every deacon present, gave him a fraternal kiss. The Celebration of the Eucharist continued, as usual.
A deacon’s role is rooted in Altar, Word and Charity, says Deacon Chavez. “Altar refers to a deacon’s liturgical function: preach, proclaim the gospel and baptize, among other things. Word refers to teaching. And Charity refers to outreach in the community: feeding the poor, visiting the sick, housing the homeless … and this has been expanded to include acts of justice: jail and detention ministries, service for crime victims and their families, and gang outreach. We don’t just ‘put out fires’; we change lives.”
A prospective deacon must be at least 35 years old and a practicing, baptized member of the Church. If baptized as an adult, he must have belonged to the Church for at least five years prior to being ordained. And if married, he must ensure the Church recognizes the marriage; if divorced, he must seek an annulment.
Becoming a deacon is challenging; only those who have a strong calling to serve finish the Diocese’s program. It’s a five-year procedure. The first year includes the application process, discernment (references checked, psych testing, background checks and so forth). During this process, some applicants are weeded out or they learn that the diaconate isn’t what they really want.
The next two years involve preparation as “aspiring candidates.” Academic formation includes classes such as Introduction to Theology, Hebrew Scriptures, New Testament, Theory of the Diaconate and Catholic Social Teaching. Aspiring candidates also go through internships in local jails and a variety of Orange County social service programs.
“We have a ritual between the second and third year, when the aspiring candidates become full candidates,” says Deacon Chavez. “The bishop asks them if they’re ready to continue and reaffirms their commitment to their calling. He then officially proclaims that they’re official candidates for the diaconate.
“After this ritual, and as the candidates get closer to ordination, everything becomes more serious and intense. Some drop out. It’s hard work.”
During the final two years of training, full candidates focus on more specific areas of pastoral care, homiletics, Liturgy and the Sacraments, and Christian initiation. Other areas include marriage, catechesis, evangelization and pastoral counseling. Internships include pastoral care (ministry in local hospitals) and “practical parish experiences,” including marriage preparation. Deacon Chavez notes that spiritual formation underpins everything. This includes monthly formation days, personal spiritual direction, a variety of presentations and more. By the time they were ordained, our 16 new deacons had spent about 1,000 hours of intense preparation.
The parish assignments and duties vary from parish to parish, says Deacon Chavez. They’re often based on need. “For example, a priest may ask for someone who is experienced in teaching in both English and Spanish.”
Regardless of where our new deacons are assigned, the Diocese is surely that much stronger because of them. We offer our congratulations and look forward to their devoted service in 2018.