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The deacon’s unfulfilled potential—and what he has in common with angels


A great read, from the Rev. Ryan Rojo, S.T.L., in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, who looks at “the liturgical potential of the permanent diaconate in the continued renewal of the Church’s liturgy”—and begins by reminding his readers of the link between deacons and angelic hosts:

There were certainly no deacons at the dawn of creation. Does there exist, however, a created order that embodies the diaconate’s three-fold ministry of word, charity, and altar? We read in the Book of Revelation that angelic hosts minister at the altar of God (Revelation 8:3). Christians, and non-Christians, affirm their bearing God’s word, and we can also be certain that the angelic hosts exercise charity in their ministry to the human race.

The deacons, in turn, were associated throughout the Tradition with the angelic hosts. St. Ignatius of Antioch, in his Epistle to the Trallians, reminds the Church, “…and what are the deacons but imitators of the angelic powers, fulfilling a pure and blameless ministry unto him, as the holy Stephen did to the blessed James, Timothy, and Linus, to Paul, Anencletus and Clement to Peter?”  St. Clement of Alexandria, in his Stromata, says that all three ministries—bishop, priest, and deacon—are “imitators of the angelic glory of the heavenly economy.” Narsal, a Father of the Nestorian Church, is consistent with this theme: “He (St. Stephen) was made a deacon of the dread divine mysteries; and in his ministry, he depicted a type of the angels. This type, the deacons, bear in Holy Church, imitating in their ministry the hosts of the height.”

The Order of the Diaconate, and the Angelic hosts, are almost synonymous in the Christian East. The Iconostasis, a large screen that separates the nave from the sanctuary, is typically adorned with various icons. The placement of the icons is not a random process, but the icon’s position on the Iconostasis is fixed, and reveals a purpose. Side doors, often times used by the deacons during different parts of the liturgy, are traditionally adorned with either angels or saintly deacons. Angels in traditional iconography are vested in the vestments of the deacon, and statuary, in some older Catholic Churches, follow suit in angels vested in dalmatics.

There’s much more. Read it all. And his conclusion:

It is important, therefore, that priests recognize and acknowledge the dignity of the diaconate. Irrational fear or hostility is unacceptable and nonsensical. With our combined efforts, we can effectively “restore all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10). The diaconate is certainly affirmed and assumed by the Church’s most contemporary legislation. The anniversary of Sacram Diaconatus Ordinem is a cause for rejoicing, but also an opportunity for continued reflection and purpose. On a theological level, the deacon serves as an icon for countless moral and theological dimensions in the sacred liturgy. Their presence serves as a window to encounter the sacred, and their role in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Mass—with respects to solemnity—is unparalleled. The Church must double-down its efforts to bring this venerable rank to full stature. This will only come about with quality catechesis and sound liturgical formation. With these things in mind, the men called to service in the 21st Century will certainly be in the venerable line of deacons who came before.

Meanwhile, I was reminded late today of this excellent analysis from a few years back, by the great Triple D: Deacon Doctor Ditewig. Snip:

Although many people mistakenly characterize Christianity as a Western church, in our roots we are Eastern.  And the Eastern traditions of Christianity have, almost from the beginning, associated deacons with the role of the angel in the community.  In particular, deacons are often associated with the angels who would later be described as archangels: Michael, the great defender of the people (Dan 12:1-13; Dan 10:31,21; Jude 9; Rev 12:7); Gabriel, who announces and explains great messages (Daniel 8:16-26; 9:21-27;Lk 1:28); Raphael, who is a healer who guides and protects his charges (Tobit 5; 6:6-11; 8:1-3; 12:15).

All of this is found explicitly throughout the Eastern liturgical traditions of Catholicism and Orthodoxy.  Father Simon Smyth has written:

The deacon as an icon of an angel finds repeated expression throughout the Liturgy. As the angels both worship God in heaven and come down to earth as messengers and helpers, ascending and descending, so the deacon comes out from the sanctuary (the symbol of  heaven) and from standing before the altar (the throne of God) to the people to teach, to proclaim the Gospel, to lead them in prayer – angelic ministries all.

Read more. 

Deacon Greg Kandra
The Deacon's Bench
Deacon Greg Kandra is a Roman Catholic deacon in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. For nearly three decades, he was a writer and producer for CBS News, where he contributed to a variety of programs and was honored with every major award in broadcasting. Deacon Greg now serves as Multimedia Editor for Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA.) He and his wife live in Forest Hills, New York.
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