By: Protodeacon David Kennedy
(Priest, bishop and deacon: Raganaldus Sacramentary, c. 845.)
Language very much not only conveys meaning but it shapes meaning. It has the power to form how the users of the language perceive what they understand to be reality. What we perceive, we name but no word stands alone. Words belong to a language, and languages are not static as long as they are being spoken. Orientalium ecclesiarum of Vatican II called for the restoration of the diaconate in the Eastern Catholic Churches with these words in § 17: “The holy council wishes the institution of the permanent diaconate (ut institutum diaconatus permanentis,) to be restored where it has fallen into disuse, in order that the ancient discipline of the Sacrament of Orders may flourish once more in the Eastern Churches.” Quite clearly the word diaconate is modified by the word permanent in this document. However, it is not usual to speak of the presbyterate or the episcopate as permanent so why then does the diaconate receive this modifier?
If all dogs were black, it would be understood by the reader or listener, that when the word dog was used, it implied a black dog. However, all dogs are not black, and it does help to identify a particular dog by its color when necessary. Of course, there are many other ways of identifying a dog besides referring to its color. Unlike dogs, deacons in the Roman Catholic Church are identified in two categories, permanent and transitory. But all deacons are of one genus and one species. There are not two types of deacons. All deacons regardless of particulars such as rite, age, marital status, education, ethnicity, race, etc., belong to the order of the diaconate, and the said order is permanent being of apostolic and divine institution. It is an essential part of the hierarch. It is because of this reality that the diaconate can be called permanent.
The only differentiation that can be made among deacons is one of liturgical precedence when more than one deacon serves, and the purpose of liturgical precedence is to establish good order, and to be free of arbitrary and subjective decisions. (This same differentiation of liturgical precedence is made with the episcopate and the presbyterate. Thus archbishops precede bishops, and protodeacons/archdeacons precede deacons.)
(The angel is vested as a deacon: sticharion (alb), orarion (stole) over the left shoulder, epimanikia (cuffs)under the sticharion.)
It seems that the primary reason for referring to some deacons as permanent is because other deacons are transitory. The transitory deacon while not solely, is primarily the fruit of the curus honorum, which I will address in a separate post in the near future. All of the orders are permanent, yet one can move from one particular order e.g. the order of the baptized and christmated to another particular order, e.g. the diaconate. The anomaly is not the permanent but the transitional.
While the norm of the transitional deacon has been with the Church for well over a thousand years, the transitional deacon still remains irregular from the perspective of order and vocation. We need to consider the following, which will put the transitional deacon into context. The original purpose of the curus honorum was to provide a period of education, training and spiritual development for a candidate that would be ordained, i.e. received into the order of the presbyterate. Keep in mind that seminary training is in the wake of the Reformation. Keep in mind that many following the Peace of Constantine sought offices in the hierarchy because it would be to their social and pecuniary benefit. There needed to be a way to test the candidates. There was a time in Western Christendom that a candidate would not be ordained to the diaconate before 25 years of age, and then spend at least 5 years as a deacon, before ordination to the presbyterate at 30 years of age.
What has also played an important part in this matter is the concept of vocation. From the Christian perspective the primary vocation of every person is union with God (theosis). Yet, when we speak of vocation today, we so often think of religious life and holy orders as vocations, paying little or any attention to the primary vocation. But let us focus here — when a man presents himself as a possible candidate for the presbyterate, he genuinely believes he has a vocation to serve the Church and the apostolic mandate in this order. He does not say to his bishop, let me first try the diaconate and then if I make the grade there, I will go on to the presbyterate. Such a thought would be a non-sequitor. The presbyterate does not follow from the diaconate; it is neither an historical fact nor a theological necessity to be ordained a deacon prior to being ordained a priest, although it is a canonical requirement. (Be patient on this point and await a post on the cursus honorum.) Thus, in regards to language and reality, the transitional diaconate is what leads to us to speak of a permanent diaconate and of permanent deacons.
While the Code of Canon Law (CIC) of the Roman Catholic Church refers to permanent deacons, the Code of Canons of the Eastern Catholic Churches (CCEO) does not refer to permanent deacons and a permanent diaconate. When the CCEO refers to a candidate for the diaconate who has declared that he believes he has a vocation to the diaconate it says, “…a candidate who is not destined for the priesthood,…” (“…de candidate ad sacerdotium non destinato agitur, …”) Can. 760 § 2. This is consistent with the earlier Eastern Catholic code found in Cleri sanctitatae Can. 62. §2. “Those deacons who will not be promoted to the presbyterate are bound by the same obligation.” (“Eadem obligatione tenentur etiam diaconi ad presbyteratum non promovendi.”) The obligation refers to here is a retreat at least every third year.
In the Eastern Catholic Churches marriage is not an impediment to ordination to the presbyterate. Unfortunately, when permanent precedes diaconate, the general understanding is that the deacon is married. If one opens the Annuario Pontificio deacons are listed only as permanent. Thus, those deacons who are “transitional” are excluded. Of course there are exceptions but it must be admitted that language carries its own hermeneutic. The sacramental reality, and that is where the Church is most itself, knows only the diaconate without a modifier, liturgical precedence excepted.
(Roman rite: Bishop Vincent Nguyen & Deacon Pedro Guevara Mann.)
The Particular Law of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church promulgated on April 7, 2015 reads in 101 (CCEO: 760 § 1,)
“§ 1. A deacon may be ordained to the presbyterate only after successfully completing the fourth year of philosophical-theological studies and the required seminary formation.
- 2. In the case of a candidate who is not destined for the priesthood, it is permissible to ordain him a deacon only after he has successfully completed the three years of studies mentioned in CCEO: 354. If in the future, the candidate wishes to receive holy orders, then he must complete the required theological studies and seminary formation before this.”
Again we see that the adjective “permanent” is not used for “a candidate who is not destined for the priesthood.” The particular law certainly allows such a deacon who completes “the required theological studies and seminary formation” to request ordination to the presbyterate.
Since the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches are not inclined to divide the diaconate into “transitional” and “permanent”, is there any real theological need to use such terminology in the Roman Catholic Church? These terms have only a very recent history and are not particularly helpful because they tend to divide the order of the diaconate, thus making it difficult to grasp and understand the diaconate as an apostolic and divinely instituted order, not an apprenticeship to the priesthood.