By: Protodeacon David Kennedy
(St. Lawrence, Archdeacon of Rome)
Part B.1: What did Vatican II change?
- I would like to compare Orientalium ecclesiarum 17, with Lumen gentium 29.
- What does O. e. 17 say? In order that the ancient established practice of the sacrament of orders in the eastern churches may flourish again, this sacred council ardently desires that the office of the permanent diaconate should, where it has fallen into disuse, be restored.(21) The legislative authorities of each individual church should decide about the subdiaconate and the minor orders and the rights and obligations that attach to them.(22)
Section 17 of Orientalium ecclesiarum, (November 21, 1964)can be outlined in the following manner:
- There is a “desire or a wish” on the part of the holy council/synod that the permanent diaconate be restored in the Eastern Catholic Churches. However, it is but a “desire or a wish”, thus, the diaconate as a permanent order does not need to exist. Why?
- The reason for this restoration is that the “ancient discipline/legislation concerning the sacrament of orders in the Eastern Churches may regain its force/flourish once more”.
- There is a recognition that the permanent diaconate “has fallen into disuse”.
- We need to ask what is the text referring to by the words, “the ancient established practice of the sacrament of orders in the eastern churches”. There is no clear time framework in the text in which to place this unless the footnotes provide us with a clue. These notes refer to canonical and patristic texts ranging from the early 4th to the late 9th centuries. It can be presumed based on these footnotes that this period establishes the paradigm for the diaconate in the Eastern churches, at least from the perspective of Orientalium ecclesiarum No. 17. A general examination of the footnotes also reveals a legislative tone in regards to the practice of the diaconate. (For the footnotes check this blog.)
- The reader should note not only the texts referred to but the many texts and types of texts not mentioned in the footnotes. There are no references to the New Testament and the concept of diakonia found therein or of the N.T. references to the office of the deacon.
- The many references to the diaconate found in the pre-Nicene church are also missing. Why not refer to the diaconate as found in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, 1 Clement, The Shepherd of Hermas, Polycarp of Smyrna, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, etc.? Again, we should ask why are the early church orders, e.g. The Didache, Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, Didascalia Apostolorum, Apostolic Church Order/Ecclesiastical Canons of the Holy Apostles, Apostolic Constitutions, Testament of Our Lord, absent? Why no mention of the diaconate in these patristic writings of the East? Possibly, the reader will be able to ascertain the mindset of this decree not only from what it says, but also from what it does not say. (The footnotes tend to a law perspective while Orientalium ecclesiarum 17 is suggestive rather than prescriptive.)
- The next phrase in the text that deserves attention is “ardently desires that the office of the permanent diaconate should, where it has fallen into disuse, be restored.”
- Let us begin to parse this. The term “permanent diaconate” is not generic to the Eastern or Western Churches. This is a concept that arises since Vat. II in order to make a distinction between those who have declared that they have a vocation to the presbyterate and thus, must pass through the minor orders and the “transitional diaconate” to arrive at the priesthood, and those who have declared that they have a vocation to the diaconate.
- The adjective “permanent” refers not to the deacon but to the order of the diaconate itself. All of the Apostolic orders; episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate are permanent.
- It is the order and not the person in the order that is permanent.
- Each of the Apostolic orders in its own unique way serves in the ministries of liturgy, word and charity. When there has been a lack of deacons in the church, the Apostolic diaconal ministries of liturgy, word, and charity have suffered.
- In various ways the diaconal ministries of liturgy, word, and charity have been assumed by or transferred to either the order of the presbyterate or to the laity.
- In the Divine Liturgy we see that most of the diaconal functions, when no deacon is present to serve are assumed by the celebrant or concelebrants, and to a minor extent by the lay altar servers.
- However, the diaconal functions do not disappear in the liturgy, word or charity. That is because the diaconal apostolic ministry is essential to the very nature of the church and her mission in the world.
(More to come.)