The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Deacons as “hands of the church”

P070110.png You can always count on New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan for an engaging, even eloquent homily. And at the recent diaconate ordination, he didn’t disappoint:

As he ordained 13 new deacons for the archdiocese, Archbishop Dolan said graces will flow through their hands as they carry out their ministries of service to the Church and its people.

He said that as bishops try to be the “head” of the Church, and as priests serve as the heart, deacons are “the hands of the Church.”

“Their hands, the hands of deacons, will be holding high the Gospel…giving out sandwiches in our food pantries…bringing Holy Communion to our elders, our sick and our shut-ins…reaching through prison bars with prayer books,” the archbishop said in a homily during the ordination rite June 19 in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Describing the range of ministries they’ll undertake as deacons, he said their hands will pour water on babies in baptism, will bless the wedding rings at marriage ceremonies, will be “raised in prayer over a casket or a grave,” and will fold the chairs after parish socials.

With their ordination, he said, the Holy Spirit “will fill your head, your heart and your soul, and your hands.”

Check out the rest. If anybody unearths a complete text, I’d love to post it.

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posted July 2, 2010 at 9:42 am

This idea of the deacon as being the “hands of Christ” does not help me get a grip on the diaconate. I get the point, but the metaphor seems to cause more confusion than clarity for me.
If the bishop is the head, the priest is the heart, and the deacon is the hands…doesn’t this paint a very ‘clerical’ picture of the church? What about the rest of the Church, the laity? Since only males are clergy, what are women in the church?
All metaphors are imperfect, but this one seems to be more so than most. IMHO

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posted July 2, 2010 at 9:47 am

Maybe the people are the body.

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posted July 2, 2010 at 9:58 am

Ttrap, this is why i say it is not a helpful metaphor. but if it works for you, great. unless you think the laity are not to be the heart and hands of Christ in the world? a metaphor should provide deeper insight, i dont think this does but am interested in how it helps you.

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted July 2, 2010 at 10:44 am

Well, since the remarks were delivered at an ordination, one would expect he’d paint a “very clerical picture of the church.” I suspect the men being ordained deacons understood exactly what he meant.
I’m reminded of St. Teresa of Avila, who said: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth, yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.”

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posted July 2, 2010 at 11:30 am

Please remember that I said maybe the people are the body, Archbishop Dolan did not.
I just read 1 Corinthians 12 trying to get my arms around this. “So that there should be no division in the body, but that it’s parts should have equal concern for each other.” Though the Church has many parts, it is one body and all are required. In fact, we would cease to be the Church if we were all the same.
As the hands, the deacon commits to doing the work that is required to build the Church. As I see it, notonly is the hand not better than the rest of the body, the hand is the servant of the body.
I’m not a theologian, and don’t speak for Archbishop Dolan, Deacon Greg, or the Church. But the analogy doeskin me.

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posted July 2, 2010 at 11:35 am

If you really want to start a firestorm, research the subject of women as deacons.
Starting point: Dominus Jesus says the Eastern churches are “real” churches. Some of them have female deacons. The Greek Orthodox synod discussed this within the last two decades. While the issue did not catch fire, it was noted that a revered Greek bishop of a century earlier had ordained a woman as a deacon and used the same rite/words used for men – a strong bone of contention in the discussion.

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posted July 2, 2010 at 11:39 am

I would imagine that te homily was intended primarily for the men being ordained and so the analogy is excellent in my opinion. I also think that we need to avoid being too sensitive to these things. The Book of Revelation extols the virgins who kept themselves untouched yet Scripture also praises spouses and the Church has both among its canonized members. My point? Consider the source of a statement and consider the siutation and allow for praise to be given to others without feeling like it denegrates oneself.

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posted July 2, 2010 at 11:41 am

“Well, since the remarks were delivered at an ordination, one would expect he’d paint a “very clerical picture of the church.”
I am not sure why one would expect to hear a “very clerical picture of the church”, I think many would want to hear of the deacons role in the church, especially the deacon’s role of being a ‘living icon” of the spirit of service that should motivate and permeate all ministries in the church.

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Joe M.

posted July 2, 2010 at 12:50 pm

I think you are quite right, and as I continue my own formation, the image of a “living icon” is one I continue to hold close to my heart. A deacon is not defined by WHAT he does, but WHO he is for the community.
A few weeks ago, Archbishop Dolan spoke to a number of priests about their vocation. I replaced the word “priest” with “deacon,” and it will be an reflection for me as I prepare for ordination myself:
“Diaconate is not, first and foremost, something we do, but someone we are.
“The diaconate is a call, not a career; a redefinition of self, not just a ministry; a way of life, not a job; a state of being, not a function; a permanent, lifelong commitment, not a temporary style of service; an identity, not a role.
“If the very value of my diaconal vocation depends on what I do, where I’m assigned, how the people affirm me, how my bishop treats me, what the newspapers report about us, what horrible sins brother deacons may have committed, what negligence was shown by their bishops, how much I get out of it, or how high or low morale may be at a given time — if the very value of our diaconate depends upon those external forces, however dominant they may be; if, in a word, my value depends on what I do, sooner or later we’ll get frustrated, cynical, exhausted, crabby, bored, and tempted.
“Our value must come from who we are.”
In fact, you can replace priest with any number of vocations: (Christian, married life, etc.)

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dcn dave

posted July 2, 2010 at 2:05 pm

from the link Dcn Greg provided: Describing the range of ministries they’ll undertake as deacons, he(Archbishop Dolan) said their hands will pour water on babies in baptism, will bless the wedding rings at marriage ceremonies, will be “raised in prayer over a casket or a grave,” and will fold the chairs after parish socials.
As a deacon of 26yrs, i understood clearly what Archbishop was saying about being a deacon being the hands of the Church…i am expressing the diakonia of the Church every time i “lend a hand” to whatever needs to be done, ESPECIALLY in the most mundane of activities…

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