I attended the Diocese of Massachusetts ordination of 7 new vocational deacons yesterday. It was wonderful to see the “magnificent seven” ordained to a vocation to which they are so clearly destined. Vocational deacons are deacons who are called specifically to the work of a deacon. My ordination 2 weeks ago was to the “transitional” diaconate. Transitional deacons are deacons who are called to a temporary service as a deacon and will, God willing and the people consenting, be eventually ordained as priests in the church. There is much debate over whether it is necessary to be ordained to the transitional diaconate prior to being ordained to the priesthood. I believe that the time of service as a deacon is a vital part of our formation as priests. It is my belief that the eventual calling to sacramental ministry, the ministry of a priest, also includes some of the vital components of diaconal ministry.
Deacons serve a very important role in the church as those who are specifically called to a servant ministry of welcoming the poor and oppressed, providing pastoral counsel, and proclaiming the Gospel outside of the walls of the church. While we are all called, by virtue of our baptism, to share the good news it is the vocation of a deacon to organize such efforts on behalf of and in cooperation with the church. It is my belief that one never stops being a deacon once ordained to the diaconate. Thus, when I am (God willing) ordained to the priesthood next year it will be an extension of my ministry into a sacramental realm because that is the calling I have received.
When I arrived at the ordination I met a priest in the diocese whom I have never met before. I was wearing my cassock, surplice, and deacon’s stole. The priest asked me, “So, are you a real deacon?” I was confused by the question. I am, undoubtably, a real deacon. But what he meant was “are you a vocational (permanent) deacon?”
Does being a transitional deacon mean that I am not a real deacon? I don’t think so. Some dioceses ordain seminarians to the transitional diaconate in their senior year so that they can be ordained to the priesthood more quickly after graduation. There are many reasons for this and the deacons I graduated with are tremendous ministers of the Gospel. I am grateful, though, that my diocese did not choose to do that. Personally, I found senior year of seminary to be very challenging with the many directions demanding of my focus and I do not think I would have been able to adequately focus my attention on the work of a deacon.
For the next six months -or longer- I am gratefully, proudly a “real deacon” and I am excited to see where this ministry will lead me.