5 March 2016

Diaconia in the Tradition of the Roman Church (2)

If you look at the ancient liturgical formulae of the Western Church, you will find that there is very little ... I think I really mean Nothing, as one so often does when one uses these I'd-better-cover-myself-academically formulae ... about Acts 6 and S Stephen and Ministering at Tables and making sure that poor widows had enough to eat. Instead, you find an emphasis on cult: on Christian worship. The Roman Prayer for the Ordination of Deacons (still in use but bowdlerised, as I shall explain, after the Council) says* "You established a threefold ministry of worship and service for the glory of your name. As ministers of your tabernacle you chose [from the first] the sons of Levi [to abide in faithful watch at the mystical workings of your house] and gave them your blessing as their everlasting inheritance. Lord, look [also] with favour upon these servants of yours whom we now dedicate to the office of deacon to minister at your holy altar ... " The deacons, in effect, are the Christian Levites. They have a commissioned ministry to serve the High Priest, the Bishop, just as Jewish levitical ministers served the Temple's sacrificial priesthood.

At this point, sadly, I have to remind you that the ancient Roman Prayer for the Consecration of Bishops was completely abolished in the post-conciliar 'reforms'. Before it was written out of the Pontifical by well-meaning but dangerous men, it associated the bishop with the Aaronic high priest adorned with his sacerdotal vestments.

It is not difficult to see why the 'reformers' of the 1960s were uneasy with a concept of ministry which saw it in terms of cult, of hierarchy, of the Jewish Temple. These were not the fashions of the 1960s; such was not then the dominant mode of discourse about Christian Ministry. "Medieval claptrap!" Unfortunately, however, for such an attitude, the evidence strongly suggests that the language of the (unreformed) Pontifical, far from being formed by 'later' structures of ministerial 'status' and an 'unhealthy' preoccupation with an 'increasingly clericalised' cultus, represents the very earliest thinking of the Roman Church. I think some of you will have spotted which early writing I am about to quote.


* I use the curent ICEL translation, supplying in square brackets phrases eliminated from the modern rites.


Matthew Roth said...

I hope your diaconal readers are practicing the Exultet, which is another example of the deacon being included among the Levites, which until now I never understood it.

J.P. Roach said...

Fr. Hunwicke's explanation of the role of the Diakonia is the best and clearest I have seen. I am in formation for the permanent Diaconate in the Latin Church, and the connection between a Deacon and his Bishop is constantly emphasized and underlined. Fr. Hunwicke's explanation of the cultic and ecclesial basis of the Diaconate makes sense of this relationship better than the vague, philanthropic descriptions I have read elsewhere.

Deacon Augustine said...

Cue: Pope St Clement's Letter to the Corinthians?

Banshee said...

I like the bit where bishops are the eyes, priests are the hands, and deacons are the feet of the Church. It usually shows up in sermons about "If your eye makes you sin, cut it out." But the Levite thing works too.