12 January 2020

Diaconia in the Tradition of the Roman Church (4)

We have seen how the pre-conciliar Pontifical preserves the idea, found in the first-century Roman text known as I Clement, that the Diaconate is a primarily cultic institution, the purpose of which is to serve the High Priest, the Bishop, in the Eucharistic celebration, distributing the Sacrament and proclaiming the Gospel; that it is not seen in terms of lowly service to the needy. In the earliest formulae, elements taken from Acts 6 (such as 'serving at tables' and S Stephen) are not even mentioned. In the Middle Ages, occasional references to S Stephen gradually make their way into the rites, but without any great suggestion that deacons should follow his alleged example* of philanthropic endeavour towards the needy.

Recent Protestant responses to the conclusions established by Collins tend towards a disgruntled acceptance of his philological conclusions accompanied by a faintly ashamed assertion of a grim determination to ignore it in practice, on the grounds that 'we' have invested too much in the old mistake to be able to drop it now! So much for all that Reformation woffle about the supremacy of Sola Scriptura as the judge of merely human traditions in the Church!

Naturally, the post-Vatican II reformers, deeply infected by liberal Protestant notions of Diaconia-as-Service and of the Servant Church, found the rites they inherited profoundly unsatisfactory. When they had got their hands on the Rite for the Consecration of a Bishop, they had robbed it entirely of its ancient Roman Consecratory Prayer with its Clementine, first century, doctrine of the Bishop. Happily, the Rite of Diaconal Ordination fared a little better and was fortunate enough not to be deprived of its ancient Consecratory Prayer. But the text of this venerable formula was badly corrupted by the interpolation of phraseology expressing the novel Protestant dogma.

After the Diaconal Prayer has referred to the Levitical ministry at the Tabernacle, an entire paragaph was added in the post-Conciliar period, based on Acts 6 and ending - tediously, inevitably - with a reference to serving at tables. After the words which, according to Pius XII, are the 'form' of the sacrament, phrases are added about "love that is sincere ... concern for the sick and the poor". And, with equal inevitability, the Prayer is made to end "May they in this life imitate your Son, who came, not to be served but to serve"**. I will leave you to guess where the New Testament Reading is taken from. (Yes, you're right.) The Collect as rendered by ICEL refers to "serving their brothers and sisters" and "concern [what a very late-twentieth-century word that is!] for others". The super oblata reminds us of the Lord's foot-washing. I'm quite sure that's what S Stephen did to the widows after he'd given them their breakfast, only S Luke has forgotten to mention it.

Is this altered post-conciliar Western rite for diaconal ordination adequate validly to confer the Sacramental order of the Diaconate? Since it is authorised and used by Holy Mother Church, we are, of course, completely protected by our over-arching conviction of the indefectibility of the Church. So I would firmly discourage any scruples and would maintain that the question does not even need to be discussed. (If this were not so, strict application of the methodology in Apostolicae curae, which was specifically crafted to make it easy to bring in a 'Guilty' verdict against rites which had been tampered with, might very well raise awkward questions. Sedevacantists have not been blind to the polemical possibilities in this area. But I prefer the older and healthier Western notion that a rite which has been tampered with, denuded, or even corrupted with misguided insertions, provided that it still contains the barest minimum of what is essential in terms of 'form' and 'matter' and is accompanied by a minimal 'intention', is good enough, and cannot even be nullified by the erroneous views of a minister. S Robert Bellarmine rules, OK.)
One more post will conclude this series.

*S Stephen, after being ordained deacon, is martyred for his witness to the Gospel, and another of the seven deacons, S Philip, actually goes off to preach the Gospel, not to run welfare schemes. Austin 'Anglican Patrimony' Farrer pointed out that "The supposition that the Seven are regarded by St Luke as 'deacons' is a very old error", and remarked that, in Acts 19:22, Timothy and Erastus were among those who were diakonounton ... not to the needy but to Paul.
**The old prayer ended instead with petition that the neo-ordinati "having always the testimony of a good conscience, and continuing ever stable and strong in thy Son Jesus Christ, may so well behave themselves in this inferior office, that they may be found worthy to be called unto the higher ministries in thy Church". I give Cranmer's ... free but basically honest ... translation of Sarum; I find it rather diverting that the realism of the last two clauses seemed unexceptionable to a Reformation Zwinglian but impossibly politically incorrect to trendy liturgical tamperers in the 1960s.

Incidentally, those last clauses also raise difficult problems about deacons who are permanent in the sense that they are forbidden to be ordained beyond the diaconate. I think I regard that prohibition a a disorder.


Tom Broughton said...

Fr. Hunwicke,

Your contention regarding the institution of the permanent deaconate as a disorder is an interesting viewpoint: it raises the simple question of WHY. It would seem--and this is solely my conjecture--that they are permanent deacons because, generally speaking, either the Vatican or their bishop/ordinary does not deem them worthy to advance to the priesthood. It would seem that there are a good number of men who were granted permission to be ordained as deacons for the simple reason that they have shown their devotion to the parish, are devotedly involved in parish life, and there needs to be a way to keep them from straying away and serving at another parish. In essence, they are glorified sextons. The mentality is almost as if they say to themselves, "This devoted fellow has keys and can lock up everything. So, hey, let's ordain them."

In another case, I know of one fellow (a former Anglican priest in the ACNA in the Reformed Episcopal Church) who told me that the Anglican seminary that he attended would probably disqualify him from advancing to the priesthood; so that is why he was ordained to the permanent diaconate.

Regardless, please elaborate on why you believe the permanent diaconate to be a disorder.

Many thanks,


Anonymous said...

I believe in the Eastern churches, both uniate and otherwise, that a priest who marries before ordination is thereby barred from being raised to the episcopate. Is this not the same "disorder". I think the only reason that a so-called "permanent" deacon may not be ordained to the priesthood is that he is married. Is he so barred if he is celibate or indeed becomes widowed? If he is simply by his diacontate being deemed "permanent" no matter what his marital status, that does feel almost like another grade or kind of ordination has been invented.

Joannes said...

Fr. Hunwicke, I have been following these posts on the diaconate with great interest. Three weeks ago, my local Ordinary, at my pastor's request, installed me as an Acolyte - in Latin according to the modern installation ceremony - but here's the twist, this happened in the context of a Traditional Mass exclusive parish of which I am part. I can (and now have) function as a "straw" subdeacon. I also have no desire or see any need to exercise this ministry/order in the context of the Novus Ordo.

That said, this has me thinking about the value of a permanent diaconate in the context of the TLM parishes. To add to what Mr. Broughton said, it would seem good to have resident, permanent deacons in addition to those of now in (the equivalent of) minor orders so as to restore a full liturgical life in the parishes, notably Solemn Mass and sung Office regularly. It would seem that this could very well restore the sense of the diaconate as primarily cultic.

Fergus said...

The International Liturgical Commission in its document on the diaconate sided with the view that the seven in Acts were not deacons, or perhaps this has already been mentioned.

The Modern Medievalist said...

John R,

I know you've commented on my blog from time to time, but I didn't realize until now that it was you who was installed as an acolyte recently! Congratulations. I've been trying to find a bishop to install me as lector and acolyte for five or more years. It's practically become a ritual to write a new letter to a bishop about it whenever I move to a new diocese. I also wrote to your bishop after hearing the news of your installation to see if he'd be willing to do the same for a Philadelphian in the future, but no cigar. I'm currently in the application process for membership in the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, so I'll have yet another letter to write if that goes through. Anyway....

The phrase "permanent deacon" is awkward insofar as that we don't speak of "permanent priests", and this is why the Eastern churches don't use that expression. However, most priests of the Ordinariates (including our dear Fr. Hunwicke) are effectively "permanent priests" for the same reason as most deacons: because the married state is an impediment to advancement in Holy Orders. It's why Bishop Lopes, an unmarried man, is a bishop and Msgr. Newton, a married man, is not.

Frederick (Fritz) Bauerschmidt said...

I wish we'd drop the phrase "permanent deacon" entirely. It only engenders confusion as to whether "permanent deacons" are real deacons.

E sapelion said...

I know one man who, after retirement, was ordained to the 'permanent' diaconate. And then when his wife died shortly afterwards, the Archbishop was persuaded to 'exceptionally' allow him to proceed to the priesthood. I understand that there was a back history which may have influenced the decision, that he had dropped out of seminary as a teenager when his father died and as the eldest son he thought it his duty to get a job and support the remaining family.
Incidentally today's RORATE COELI blog has a pair of photographs of Cdl Burke which show him in both liturgical and servile 'service'.

Deacon Augustine said...

Frederick Bauerschmidt, the other confusion the term engenders is whether transitional deacons cease to be deacons once they are ordained as priests. Surely every bishop and priest is also a deacon and, therefore, how can they not be said to be "permanent deacons" too? It is not like they have their ordination to the diaconate scrubbed out of them when they advance in Holy Orders.

If the principle of "lex orandi, lex credendi" means anything at all, then the fact that a bishop is supposed to wear a pontifical dalmatic when celebrating Holy Mass would be evidence enough from Sacred Tradition that he is still a deacon as well as a priest and a bishop.

Perhaps a more appropriate term than "permanent deacon" would be "repressed deacon". ;) On the other hand perhaps just "deacon" would do.

Auriel Ragmon said...

Tom Broughton said: "I believe in the Eastern churches, both uniate and otherwise, that a priest who marries before ordination is thereby barred from being raised to the episcopate."
In the Orthodox Church a widowed priest is often advanced to the Episcopate. Only qualification marriage-wise is that he not have a current wife.
Rdr. James Morgan

Banshee said...

The Eastern church requirement is that the priest be able to observe perpetual continence as a bishop, able to say Mass every day without being unfair to the wife by imposing the same condition on her, making her live elsewhere than in his house, etc.

So normally they pick a monk and avoid the problem.

Scribe said...

We have a permanent deacon known officially as 'Deacon John.' The parish priest, however, is not called 'Priest Timothy'. These deacons are ordained clergymen in the Catholic Church, and should be referred to as 'The Reverend Mr John Smith', or whatever. That's what the Anglicans do. Permanent Deacons should not be addressed as though they were backwoods itinerant preachers. (I note that the SSPX refer to their deacons - who of course are on the way to the priesthood - as Reverend Mr.

Joshua said...

How should one address a deacon, "permanent" (that is, cæteris paribus, diaconus in æternum) or "transitional" (and so to be ordained a priest sooner or later)?

Of course, one calls a priest "Father", plus his surname, if he is a secular priest, or plus his name in religion, if he is a member of a religious order or congregation. (I doubt that anyone would still observe the former English custom of calling a secular priest "Sir".) Similarly, at least in the British dominions, one calls a bishop "My Lord" and an archbishop "Your Grace"; I recall a young Dominican brother who thus addressed an auxiliary bishop (a.k.a. confirmation stooge), and when the protocol-disregarding prelate replied, "I'm not your Lord," the brother pertly replied - as if to a wilfully disobedient child - "Oh yes you are!" and carried on addressing him as "My Lord" irregardless.

Father Stephen Schumacher said...

The liturgical argument for the essentially-cultic orientation of the deacon is very strong. Strong, too, is the scriptural point that the diakonoi of Acts 6 are related only in "liturgical" roles (preaching and baptizing).

But one element that I find interesting is the evidence from 3rd-century Rome that the Roman Church employed deacons in roles of material service to the poor. Saint Cornelius' letter to Fabian of Antioch relates that there are seven deacons at Rome, which seems to be an allusion to the Seven of Acts 6. And the martyrology for Saint Fabian relates that Fabian established the seven diaconal districts of Rome for the purpose of caring for the poor ("septem diaconis regiones divisit, qui pauperum curam haberent.") Or again, Saint Lawrence famously had charge of the material goods of the church, which were demanded of him by his persecutors.

In any case, the Roman Church seems to have entrusted her work of the material care of the poor into the diaconal office, at least by the mid-200s, and to have linked this diaconal ministry with the commission of the seven in Acts 6. Does this evidence factor into Collins' argument?