Deacon Scott Dodge. D.Min.
Deacons are in many ways uniquely qualified to teach the Catholic faith, not only because of the grace conferred by ordination, but also because of our lengthy and thorough formation.
According to the most recent edition of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ national Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, for those called to serve the Church and the world permanently as deacons, initial formation is just shy of six years. Given this, it should be safe for the bishop under whom they serve and the People of God the bishop sends them to serve to assume that permanent deacons are capable teachers of our Catholic faith.
It will be interesting to see how the Church moves forward in its desire to institute both women and men into the orders of lector and acolyte. It will also be interesting to see whether the newly constituted Order of Catechist will be conferred on those preparing for ordination in addition to laypeople. Either way, the ability to effectively communicate the faith remains a core competency for all the ordained.
According to the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, a deacon “in communion with the bishop and his group of priests ... serve in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity to the people of God.” One aspect of the diaconate of the word is the call to “the catechesis of the faithful of all stages of Christian living” (Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons, sec. 25).
In addition to preaching at liturgical celebrations, deacons need to be involved in catechetical programs at the diocesan and parish level. Because catechesis is an important component of evangelization, deacons catechize by how they conduct themselves at home, in their professional lives, and by their active participation in civic life, especially “where public opinion is formed and ethical norms are applied.” (Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons, sec. 26). Involvement in these matters, which is part of the diaconal call, requires deacons to constantly study the faith.
The diaconate of the Word can also be considered as a ministry of charity. Engaged as they are in serving the sick, those in prison, including at-risk young people, as well as the homebound, many deacons are uniquely situated to speak to others about the love God gives us in and through Christ Jesus when prompted to do so by the Spirit. As the call of those whom the Church deems to be the first deacons amply demonstrates, deacons must be Spirit-filled (see Acts 6:3). Catechesis, after all, means to echo or resound the teaching of Christ and the apostles.
The vast majority of permanent deacons throughout the world, in the U.S. and in the Diocese of Salt Lake City are married. Because of this, deacons are uniquely called to simultaneously live out the sacraments at the service of communion: holy matrimony and holy orders. Deacon Owen Cummings dubbed these “the diaconal sacraments.”
Most married permanent deacons are also parents. Like all Christian parents, deacons with children, along with their spouses, have responsibility for being the first and main teachers of the faith. This helps them understand firsthand the challenges and opportunities involved with imparting an understanding of Christian faith to the hearts and minds of young people.
Being married clerics also ideally situates many deacons, often alongside their spouses, to prepare couples for marriage. Deacons and their wives should be involved in parish and diocesan marriage enrichment programs as both participants and presenters. Preparing parents for the baptism of infants and small children is also a fruitful catechetical service.
When done well, advocating canonically for those engaged in a marriage annulment process is a chance to offer compassionate pastoral care. Additionally, serving as a canonical advocate for someone involved in an often painful, sometimes lengthy, and far too often incomprehensible annulment process presents an opportunity to assist them in attaining a deeper understanding of and greater appreciation for the sacrament of matrimony.
“In his person,” noted theologian Herbert Vorgrimler, “the deacon makes it clear that the liturgy must have consequences in the world with all its needs, and that work in the world that is done in a spirit of charity has a spiritual dimension.” Through their charitable service, preaching, and teaching deacons are catechists.
Deacon Scott Dodge, D.Min. is director of the Diocese of Salt Lake City Office of the Diaconate.