With the imposition of hands and the prayer of consecration the Lord will pour out the Holy Spirit upon these acolytes, and consecrate them deacons. Five of them, chosen from the ranks of mature married men, will be permanent deacons ordained for the service of this local Church, the Diocese of Orlando. Another young man, will be ordained a transitional deacon and will in due time be called to the priesthood as a member of the missionary congregation, the Legion of Christ. Today he will also freely embrace the celibate state as a sign and a motive of pastoral charity.
My dear friends, these men receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders in the order of deacons through the “laying on of hands – in the words of the Second Vatican Council – not for the priesthood, but for the ministry. Strengthened by sacramental grace, they serve the People of God, in the diakonia of liturgy, word, and charity, in communion with the Bishop and his presbyterate.” Lumen Gentium, 29
My brothers, you will be Deacons of the Church of God. As such, you are ordained to be a sign and instrument of Christ who came, “not to be served but to serve”.
If we can associate the words “Christian” and “ambition”, it should only be when “Christian ambition” describes the Christian’s passion to serve. For “service” is the highest calling of every Christian. Even the Pope – who is the “highest” figure in the hierarchy of the Church – is rightly called: the Servus servorum Dei, the Servant of the Servants of God.
As ordained deacons, you are to inspire, to promote and to help coordinate the service that the whole Church must undertake in imitation of Christ. Your diakonia or service is threefold: service of the Word, service of the Eucharist, and service of the poor.
As deacons you have the duty of proclaiming the Gospel and helping the priests explain the Word of God. Today, I will entrust you with the Book of the Gospel with these words: Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Remember it is his Gospel, not yours; it is the Word of God, not our own! As heralds, you must always speak in his name and not your own.
The Church is to live always in the world, but not to be of the world. Living in the world, the Church has a unique service to render to the world– it is the diakonia of the truth, the service of the truth. As ministers of the Church, you must understand that it is the truth that judges events –not vice versa, as so often happens today in our current culture. By your faithful service to the Gospel in its integrity – without compromise, without accommodation, hesitation or fear – you must help the world to discover that Truth that has a human face, the Truth that is a person: Jesus Christ.
As deacons, you are the first co-workers of the Priest in the celebration of the Eucharist. As co-workers of the Priest, you also are servers of the Mysterium fidei, the great mystery of faith.
All Christ’s faithful can come to a fuller and deeper understanding of and participation in these “mysteries”, if your service at the altar helps to underscore the “sacredness” of this sacrament encounter with the Living Christ. At the altar, your language, your demeanor must in no way be profane or given to an informal familiarity – for in this Holy Sacrifice we meet our Lord and Redeemer.
The Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, reminded us in Ecclesia de Eucharistia: “The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift – however precious – among many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work”. (#11) Tomorrow’s celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord’s Body and Blood, reminds us that the Eucharist is God’s gift for the Life of the World.
Our communion with Christ in the Eucharist, for this reason, must lead us to seek communion with our brothers and sisters. Nourished on the Eucharistic bread, and therefore becoming more fully alive in Christ, we all must pay attention to the needs of others noticing their pain and suffering, and thus be in the world as witnesses to hope..
Yes, deacons assist at the altar; but they are call primarily to that other “service of the table” referred to in the Acts of the Apostles: the care of the orphans and widows. As co-workers with the Bishop and priests, you must be the living and working expression of the charity of the Church. To you, then, is entrusted in a special way the ministry of charity that is at the origin of the institution of the deacon.
Thus, you have a special responsibility to identify to the Church those who are in need and particularly those who are without the power of voice at the margins of our society.
Among such people, the deacon is to speak about Christ and to offer them the Church’s varied assistance. In the Church, the deacon is to speak about the needy, to articulate their needs and to inspire and mobilize the Catholic community’s response. Imitate that early deacon of Rome, St. Lawrence who was martyred in the year 258. When ordered by the pagan emperor to hand over the treasures of the Church, he gathered together the poor and sick and said: ‘This is the treasure of the Church”
Through the ministry of her deacons, the Church can make herself present to the world of need and pain that too often remains invisible to us within our normal parish life. You must continually remind us that there, among needy and the marginalized, lies the true treasure of the Church.
As this beautiful Ordination ceremony so richly makes clear, as deacons, you are born from the Altar – from within the heart of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. You are born in prayer.
And prayer – and only prayer – will sustain you and keep you faithful to your triple diakonia of Word, Eucharist and Charity. In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict reminds us that, since God is Love, in order to give love we must receive love. In his encyclical he mentions Blessed Mother Teresa three times to stress that the roots of effective Christian service and charity is in prayer.
For this reason, I recommend to you, the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours is entrusted in a particular way to the ordained ministers of the Church. The Liturgy of the Hours belongs to you – no less than it belongs to the bishops and priests who are bound to it for their daily prayer. Pope John Paul II, in urging that our parishes in the new millennium become schools of prayers, also highly recommended that the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours be promoted among all the faithful. As deacons you can be instrumental in better acquainting the laity to The Liturgy of the Hours. And your own efforts to pray daily The Liturgy of the Hours can help you grow in vigor, be strengthened in faithfulness and increase your ability to serve. And, since it is a prayer offered in the Spirit to the Father in the name of Christ for the Church and for the whole world, it is itself another form of diakonia.
Follow the example of the Lord himself: just as he himself has done, you also should do. Do God’s will from the heart: serve the people in love and joy as you would the Lord.