Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Address to the National Association of Deacons Conference 2019, Fremantle
“The renewed ministry of diakonia in the Church beyond the shadows of the priesthood“
4 October 2019
PART 3: RESTORATION OF THE DIACONATE
One of the major achievements of the Second Vatican Council was the restructuring of the sacrament of orders. Along with the suppression of the minor orders, the Council restored the diaconate and defined its function in communion with the presbyterate and the episcopacy.
Paragraph 29 of Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church contains the ancient assertion that deacons “receive the imposition of hands not unto priesthood but unto service. For strengthened by sacramental grace they are dedicated to the People of God, in conjunction with the bishop and his body of priests, in service of the liturgy, of the Word, and works of charity.”
The decision to restore the Order of the Diaconate was not driven by bishops from developing nations. Rather, it came most forcefully from bishops in Europe who had experienced the impact of the Second World War and the desire to meet the pastoral needs that arose in its aftermath.
In addition to sacramental and liturgical functions, the bishops also envisaged the need for deacons to exercise the administration of the Church’s temporal goods. They spoke of the many charisms, distinct from the priesthood, which were established to provide direct assistance to the bishop in the care of the poor and the nurturing of the community.
Thus, Paragraph 16 on the Missionary Activity of the Church, the sacramental grace of the diaconate is spoken of as follows: “For there are men who actually carry out the functions of the deacon’s office, either preaching the word of God as catechists, or presiding over scattered Christian communities in the name of the pastor and the bishop, or practicing charity in social or relief work. It is only right to strengthen them by the imposition of hands which has come down from the Apostles, and to bind them more closely to the altar, that they may carry out their ministry more effectively because of the sacramental grace of the diaconate.”
This statement affirms the unique charism of the diaconate, that is to say, it no longer finds its sacramental end in the priesthood as has been the case for centuries. The diaconate would emerge from the shadows of the presbyterate and become its own permanent state of life.
Part 4 will be published tomorrow.
To read Part 2 of Bishop Vincent’s address, click here.