By NANCY SCHWERIN
CHARLESTON — The installation to the Ministry of Acolyte was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on Jan. 19 for 29 men in diaconate formation for the Diocese of Charleston. It is the second step in a four-year process to becoming a deacon.
In his homily, Bishop Robert Baker addressed the candidates: “Your devotion to the Word of God and the holy Eucharist will shape your ministry and determine its effectiveness. Continue to cultivate your relationship with God through his holy Word and his divine presence in the holy Eucharist, and you will grow in holiness of life and in effective service of God’s people.”
Deacons are married or single, actively working or retired, are part-time or full-time, and are dedicated to a ministry of service to the church. The Diaconate Handbook for the Diocese of Charleston states, “… what distinguishes a deacon from the lay person is his vocation to share in the ministry of Jesus Christ by the Sacrament of Holy Orders.”
In the diaconate ordination, through the laying on of hands by the bishop, these men will be called to service in the ministries of the liturgy, the Word and of justice and love. The next ordination date is expected to be in early 2003.
Since 1967 when the diaconate was restored in the church, nationally the number of deacons grew exponentially until the late ’80s but has continued to grow by thousands each year. So that in 1999 there were 12,862 deacons in the United States. Currently, in the diocese there are 69 active deacons, six who are inactive, retired or working in another state and 30 candidates. (One candidate was transferred with his job for five years to Washington and was installed to the Ministry of Acolyte with the class there. He will return in the spring to be ordained with the Charleston candidates.)
The installation to the Ministry of Acolyte allows deacons to assist priests and bishops during the Mass and in the preparation of the Eucharist. The first ministry to which a candidate is installed is Reader. This allows the candidate to carry the Book of Gospels in procession and proclaim the readings during the Liturgy of the Word.
Once ordained, the men can proclaim the Gospel and give the homily. Some of the duties listed in the Diaconate Handbook include administering infant baptism, distributing Communion at Mass and to the sick, witnessing marriages in the absence of a priest, and presiding at funeral services outside Mass.
The defined faculties given to a deacon are plentiful, and their activities in church life are even more numerous. Deacons are called to minister to the elderly, the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, young adults, youth, and married and engaged couples through church groups and activities. Deacons in the Diocese of Charleston are required to give 10 hours a week to their diaconate duties, but most give much more.
Deacons are called to first tend to their familial duties. Seventy-one of the diocese’s 75 deacons are married and 29 of the candidates are married. The deacon handbook states: “A stable marriage and loving family life are positive attributes contributing to this ministry. The married deacon or deacon candidate keeps sight of the practical order of priorities: the Sacrament of Matrimony preceded the Sacrament of Orders and must maintain that same practical priority in the deacon’s life” (p. 25).
Wives are encouraged to take an active role in the formation process. Candidates are trained through classwork and practicums in theology, spirituality and pastoral care. They meet in Columbia twice a month from September to June.
They also meet once a year for an annual retreat. This year’s retreat was Jan. 18-20. The dynamic Franciscan Father Paul Williams, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua in Greenville, spoke to the deacons, diaconate candidates, and their wives about the formation and continuing education of deacons.
After ordination, these men will maintain a Ministry Agreement with their parishes. It acts as a contract that delineates their duties to the parish as determined by the priest, the deacon and the diaconate office.
Msgr. Joseph R. Roth is the director of the Permanent Diaconate program in the diocese. In 1997, he authored a book titled The Deacon in Church Ministry, in which he wrote: “The deacon is not simply a liturgical functionary or is he solely a soup kitchen server. Diaconate is far more than both of these. … We are clergy! We are part of the hierarchy of the church. We are not bishops nor are we priests. We are deacons and it is about time we discovered what in creation a deacon is and should be!”
Thirty men are finding out just what a deacon should be as they prepare to serve the people of the Diocese of Charleston: Ronald J. Anderson, Reginald Armstrong, Mark Arnold, Thomas Baranoski, Michael A. Beeler, M. William Bower, James H. Collins, Lawrence Corum, Gabriel Cuervo, Donald DeNitto, John DeWolfe, Diego Ferro, Robert Gerald, Shane Graham, Walter C. Hollis, William LaCombe, Gerald Loignon, Matthew A. Mannino, Jeffrey P. Mevissen, James Moore, Oliver R. Moore, Orean D. Palmer, Coleman T. Parks, Edward Peitler, Robert Pierce, Donald Roseborough, Charlie E. Saad, Gregory Sams, Joseph Urbanski, and W. James Williams.