The Common of Deacons
Charism of the diaconate needs to fully permeate the Church
On Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, as I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, I turned to the Proper of Saints in the Office of Readings and was directed to supplement the prayers using the Common of Holy Men. I wondered, as I do on all the feasts of the deacon saints on the universal Church calendar, “Where is the option for the Common of Deacons?”
All of the other saints on the Church’s calendar include options pertaining to their vocations — except for deacons. The great deacon saints of the Church — Stephen, Vincent of Saragossa (see sidebar), Lawrence, Francis of Assisi and Ephrem — all have their vocation of holy orders, the diaconate, omitted. Certainly their witness as martyrs, religious and even as a Doctor of the Church (in St. Ephrem’s case) are vital as leaven. But so is their diaconate, and it should inspire all to realize the dimension of diakonia in their vocations.
The omission of the order of deacon is somewhat understandable, as the permanency of the diaconate was just restored at the Second Vatican Council, some 50 years ago. Although decades have elapsed since the council was held, this is a relatively short span of time in the greater swath of Church history. Moreover, the latest edition of the breviary was published only shortly after the council, in the early 1970s, just as the permanency of the diaconate was emerging. Nonetheless, the order of deacon has been present in the Church since apostolic times, long before the publication of breviaries in the history of the Church.
Currently there is an effort underway to update the Liturgy of the Hours by the International Commission on the English Language, and thereafter to acquire the proper approvals of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments at the Vatican. It would be a great poverty and a source of sorrow if the Church fails to include a Common of Deacons in the next revision of the hours. The same can be said regarding the current revised Roman Missal, which also does not include a Common of Deacons.
Some might believe that such an addition to the liturgy is unnecessary, but ignoring the diaconate fails to fully understand and acknowledge the saving mission of Christ. Christ himself instituted the sacraments, which includes the three tiers of holy orders (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1210) to sanctify the Church.
Now more than ever, the sanctifying grace, the charism of the deacon, more fully needs to permeate the Church — a Church that is embroiled in scandal, awash with clericalism, in need of significant reforms and thirsts to drink from the mystery of Christ the Servant. The Church could use an assist in being rebuilt on the same diaconal charism that was lived and exhibited so well by St. Francis the deacon, who imitated Christ and says to us once again, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all” (Mk 9:35).
DEACON STEVE MILLER, JD, MTS, is director of deacon formation for the Diocese of Lafayette in Indiana.
St. Vincent of Saragossa, Deacon and Martyr
Born in Huesca, Spain, St. Vincent (d. 304) was a deacon in Saragossa. He was martyred in Valencia during the persecution under Diocletian. He was cruelly tortured for not surrendering the holy books. His feast day is Jan. 22 (though his optional memorial is celebrated Jan. 23, as Jan. 22 is the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children in the United States). The following is the collect for his optional memorial.
“Almighty ever-living God, mercifully pour out your Spirit upon us, so that our hearts may possess that strong love by which the martyr St. Vincent triumphed over all bodily torments. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.”