Homily of Bishop Nulty
Ordination Mass of seven Permanent Deacons
Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow, Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin
“Will you let me be your servant,
let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might be your servant,
let me be your servant too.”
The words of the hymn composed by Richard Gillard – the hymn we know as The Servant Song very aptly fits the ministry of the Permanent Deacon. This afternoon in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin we proudly ordain John, Gary, David, Fergal, Joe, Patrick and Jim to the Permanent Diaconate, seven men who will live the words of The Servant Song for the rest of their lives.
We have indeed much to rejoice in a day like today, because not only the seven men, but their wives and families have been so much a part of the process of discernment that has led to this day. In a society and a culture that weakens that word ‘permanent’ it is so powerful to witness seven men with the love and support of their families about to enter a ministry of permanent service for the good of the Church.
“We are pilgrims on a journey,
we are brothers on the road.
We are here to help each other,
walk the mile and bear the load.”
We have been pilgrims on a journey indeed – fifty years ago the Second Vatican Council restored the Permanent Diaconate, opening it up to married men. In 2007 the Irish bishops announced the publication of the National Directory and Norms for the Permanent Diaconate. Here in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin applications were invited a year later and the seven candidates who were accepted in 2009 have now completed four years of formation. I thank Father Ruairi O’Domhnaill, Father Kevin Doran, the staff of Mater Dei and the sponsoring parishes in the diocese for forming and accompanying our candidates over the past four years.
The journey towards the reinstatement of the Permanent Diaconate here in Ireland has continued to gather pace throughout the country. Last Sunday the Diocese of Dromore ordained two permanent deacons, while a week earlier the Archdiocese of Armagh ordained five permanent deacons. The Diocese of Elphin ordained six permanent deacons last December, while the Archdiocese of Dublin was the first to ordain permanent deacons with the ordination of eight in June 2012. Kildare and Leighlin today becomes the fifth Irish diocese to restore this ancient ministry of the permanent diaconate in the Universal Church. This afternoon’s ordinations bring the number of permanent deacons ordained for the Irish Church to twenty-eight.
A recent study in the United States of America estimates that there are 18,000 permanent deacons there; about 3,000 of them are retired. The Permanent Diaconate is obviously very much in its infancy in Irish dioceses but it will grow. Its growth will bring a huge richness to our Church and to our parishes. The seven men who will be ordained this afternoon here in Carlow are coming from a unique position of being immersed in family life, immersed in their places of work and immersed in all that is so good about parish life today – this triple immersion allows them to witness to Christ in a very complete way.
“I will hold the Christ-light for you
in the night-time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you;
speak the peace you long to hear.”
So what does a Permanent Deacon do? For many years we have been accustomed to the Transitional Deacon for whom the diaconate is a stage on the journey towards Ordination to the Priesthood. The Permanent Diaconate is of itself an ordained ministry rooted in Scripture where the deacon is called to be an icon of Christ the Servant. Permanent Deacons are not substitute priests, nor are they intended to usurp the role of religious or lay ministers in our church. Chapter 6 of the Acts of the Apostles mentions how the apostles appointed seven men to see to the needs of the community, needs that were being overlooked. The seven men in Acts are mirrored by the seven men who present themselves before us this afternoon in Carlow.
Their ministry is essentially threefold incorporating ministry of the word, ministry of charity and ministry of the altar. Like the earlier threefold immersion, the Permanent Deacon enjoys a threefold ministry. The root of the charity dimension is found in the word caritas, suggesting a deep love, and this is a key part of the ministry as the deacon responds to the invitation of Pope Francis to go out to the margins … the sick, the bereaved, those in prison, those living with addictions, those hanging onto life by the slimmest of threads. The Permanent Deacon is the one who will hold the Christ-light for many in the night-time of their fears. The permanency of their ministry in a society that at times looks on everything as transitory or passing, will speak volumes to those who struggle on the edges of society.
The Permanent Deacon will of course assist the priest at Mass; bring Holy Communion to the sick; officiate at baptisms, funeral liturgies and marriages. The Permanent Deacon in not a replacement for the priest – in a year of so many firsts in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin – with our first ordination to the priesthood in years last June, all of us must work earnestly to encourage vocations to the priesthood and to convey the joys and challenges of priesthood to the young people of our Diocese. I firmly believe that the Lord is still calling men to the priesthood and that priesthood is a precious ministry that needs to be sustained. I look forward to bringing this conversation into every second level and third level institution in the diocese in the next twelve months. But today is the Permanent Deacons’ day and we pray for them as the instruction commences.
“I will weep when you are weeping,
when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
till we’ve seen this journey through.”
My dear brothers and sisters, these men are about to be ordained as permanent deacons. Consider carefully the ministry to which they are called: The Holy Spirit will strengthen them to serve the Church as ministers of the Word, of the Altar and of Charity. They will proclaim the Gospel, prepare the sacrifice, and give the Lord’s Body and Blood to the community of believers.
It will also be their duty at the bishop’s discretion, to bring God’s Word to believer and unbeliever alike, to preside over public prayer, to baptise, to assist at marriages and bless them; to give viaticum to the dying, and to lead the rites of burial. Once they are consecrated by the laying on of hands that comes to us from the apostles, they will perform works of charity in the name of the bishop or parish priest. From the way they go about these duties may you recognise them as disciples of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve.
John, Gary, David, Fergal, Joe, Patrick and Jim, as you receive Holy Orders as deacons, follow the example of Christ the Suffering Servant. Do the will of God generously. Serve God and all people in love and joy. Like the men the apostles chose for works of charity, you should be men of good reputation, be filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit. Show before God and all people that you are above every suspicion of blame, true ministers of Christ and of God’s mysteries, men firmly rooted in faith.
Never turn away from the hope which the Gospel offers; now you must not only listen to God’s Word but also preach it. Hold the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. Express in action what you proclaim by word of mouth. Finally, on the last day, when you go to meet the Lord, you will hear him say “well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord”.
+Bishop Denis Nulty