Friday, October 21, 2011

Interesting reactions.... Interesting situations...

Several have noted that there were other things done by Vatican II besides Novus Ordo.  Perhaps it was such a pivotal change the others seemed minor in comparison.  But they were not.  Several have commented upon the effects of the re-institution of the permanent diaconate.  Now that was one I had not thought that much about -- the effects of the change, that is.

One deacon reminisces:  
After Cardinal Lawrence Shehan ordained Deacon George Evans as one of the first permanent deacons in the United States 40 years ago, a lot of people didn’t know what to make of the new clergyman. “It was a struggle in the first few years,” remembered Deacon Evans, now retired but still assisting at St. Rita in Dundalk. “People were asking, ‘Why are you doing what priests do?’” 

For so long the diaconate had merely been a stop on the train to the priesthood that the idea of permanent deacons was strange and new to Roman Catholics -- even when the office was not.  “I was accepted,” said Deacon Derouaux, now retired in Florida, “but people had a difficult time with some of the things we were doing in the liturgy. To them, it was important that the priest do everything.” Even some priests, unsure how the permanent diaconate related to their own ministry, could be suspicious. 

Permanent deacons had long played an integral role in the first few centuries of the church, but disappeared in the Middle Ages. The diaconate became limited to “transitional deacons” – men who would go on to become priests.  Pope Paul VI reestablished the permanent diaconate in 1967, allowing both single and married men to be ordained to the ministry.  Deacons proclaim the Gospel and preach at Mass. They also perform baptisms, witness marriages and conduct wake and funeral services. 

Given the shortage of priests, I cannot imagine what parishes would do today without the permanent diaconate.  You can read more here or another perspective here. What interests me is not the circumstance in Rome that either created it or continues it, but the difference on the part of people.  What was radical in 1967 has become ordinary today -- so ordinary that the over abundance of Eucharistic Ministers has further distanced the people from a parish life once defined solely by priestly ministry.  In the local hospital these extraordinary ministers bring the Eucharist to the sick and the priest is there generally only for anointing or last rites.  In the local Roman Catholic parish of more than 3500 families, two priests, occasionally assisted by another, cannot possibly do all the masses, hear all the confessions, and do all the baptisms, funerals, and other areas of service open to the diaconate.  Perhaps it is the experience of so many non-priests or a sign of the times that lay and ordained deacons have become so, well, routine.

There is a parallel in Lutheranism.  While the chancel was the domain of the Pastor exclusively, now there are varieties of lay people assisting, and, in some places, replacing clergy.  The plethora of locally defined diaconal offices, the informal role of assisting minister, lector, cantor, etc., and the high cost of having a full-time Pastor in a small congregation have created the situation in which we, too, have become blind to the changes both in expectation and acceptance we see so clearly in Rome.

Some insist that this a good thing.  In Rome it has become a necessity and there are Lutherans who suggest that we are likewise stuck with this out of need more than out of theology.  I will admit that I appreciate aspects of both sides of the argument.  I have trained a number of men to serve in the semi-official role of assisting minister in the Eucharist.  They act as virtual liturgical deacons and nearly all have also been what Missouri calls an "elder."  Yet I am conflicted by the ease at which people have accepted this and the way some no longer raise any question or have any concerns about non-ordained in the pulpit or, it some cases in Missouri, at the altar.

Rome will have to deal with its own problems and needs.  Lutheranism, if we are going to have deacons, needs to define them, delineate coherent job responsibilities and boundaries, and create a common training program that will both prepare those who could and should serve and weed out those who should not.  I think about this in the shadow of the commemoration of St. Philip the Deacon.  Anyway, we cannot afford to have the patchwork quilt of offices, people, training, responsibilities, and unofficial officials the way we do now.  It is unhealthy not only for the Church but for the people serving.  At some point in time we need to discuss this more fully and resolve this more deliberately and uniformly.  Absent some rules and definitions, we will end up with a murkier muddle about who is a minister and who is not, what they can do and what they cannot, who trains them and who does not, and who authorizes them and who does not... which, it seems, may have a little something to do with the Supreme Court case we are waiting to be decided....


Anonymous said...

"To become a deacon was a stepping
stone to becoming a priest"

Since Vatican II this is not always
the case. In our section of the
Mid-West, it has mostly been early
retirement high school teachers who
have assumed this role. They have
been in the 55 to 65 age range and
already had a Masters degree. They
simply wanted to help their parish
who had a shortage of priests.

These new deacons were able to
relate to the parish better than
the priest. Since these deacons
were married and had worked with
the public, they have become
accepted very well. Although they
do not get high marks for their
homilies at weddings and funerals.

James said...

I agree. Wouldn't you also argue that the lack of a defined job title and consistent training program for deacon/deaconess has allowed LCMS churches to call women elders. If the offices of elder and pastor were clearly defined and universally applied, then the argument for Womens ordination would be weakened considerably. Could this issue be added to the Koinonia Project? Perhaps it would be one of the easier tasks to accomplish.

We need to automatically assume that most (almost all?) aspiring church workers are choosing church work as a 2nd career. The LCMS should sell all of the (now mostly secular) Concordia universities and convert the seminary property in Fort Wayne into THE only Concordia church worker college. Because of cost, make it a junior/senior/masters college that encourages students to take community college coursework and then transfer in. That way, students could focus on the major instead of wasting student loan debt on extremely high-priced versions of general education classes such as English 101. Encourage online and distance-based learning classes for career changers who cannot visit campus too often.

It is silly to have the two LCMS seminaries located in the Midwest. If the LCMS insists on having have two seminaries, then leave St. Louis alone and relocate the Fort Wayne seminary out West to Denver, Colorado Springs, or even Cheyenne. If the LCMS insists on having at least two Concordias, then let a second Concordia become a part of the relocated seminary out West. Understandably, the lack of space in St. Louis and the unique property agreement in Ft. Wayne would not allow for the St. Louis seminary and a university to merge under one roof.

By the way, deacons/deaconesses should be required to learn how to sing and to play an instrument - preferably a piano or guitar. That way, choir, handbells, and the musical aspect of youth ministry are all covered.

Anonymous said...

The LCMS in the present environment
is not ready for full time deacons.
We still have too many routes and
shortcuts to become an ordained
pastor. Until we get our current
mess straightened out, then deacons
will be on hold. The need for clergy
who are trained on the campus of
our Seminaries for three full years
plus one year of vicarage needs to
be reaffirmed by the Synod in its
next national convention.

Judy said...

Are you saying that elders can and do distribute Holy Communion in LCMS? And I don't mean just holding the individual communion tray for communicants .

Terry Maher said...

One thing is being overlooked here. The RCC has a shortage of priests. We don't. And I don't mean that in the sense that we have no priests (actually no-one does but some churches think they do), but in the sense that we have more pastors than calls whereas they have a shortage of pastors. So there is no analogy between our situation and theirs, at all.

It is the reasons why calls cannot be issued when they should or could be that needs to be addressed. Yes, we as they have more people doing stuff at services, but the similarity is superficial.

An elder in the Lutheran sense is not a deacon; we, or I suppose being a past elder I should say they, are not even elders in the NT sense. Yes, elders assist in the distribution of Communion. I make mine put it on my damn tongue every Communion Sunday, as I bloody refuse to receive Communion like a novus ordo Catholic. Yes Communion in the hand has ancient precedents, but its resurrection centuries after being discontinued has a distinctly modernist agenda.

Anonymous said...

"The LCMS should sell all of the (now mostly secular) Concordia universities and convert the seminary property in Fort Wayne..." You want to close the best seminary education that the U.S. has to offer?? Great idea.

Anonymous said...

The reception of the Blessed Sacrament via the hand is a Calvinistic practice...I am unaware of any "ancient precedents" Terry.

William Tighe said...

St Cyril of Jerusalem stipulates the manner in which communion-in-the-hand should be received in his Mystagogical Catecheses.

James said...

@ Terry Maher: If priests were allowed to marry. then maybe there would not be such a shortage of priests in the Catholic church. Such an action would decrease the number of sexual molestations by Catholic clergy. Why do the Catholics refuse to address their obvious centuries-old problems? I would like to think that the LCMS is not as ossified to badly needed reforms as the Catholic church.

Or am I totally wrong. Maybe I should be content being a "Cafeteria Lutheran" in the same way many are "Cafeteria Catholics" Your thoughts?

@ Anonymous: Did you bother to read my entire post. The family that originally donated the FT Wayne property to start the seminary stipulated that the FT Wayne property cannot be sold. Therefore, it should be converted into a Concordia. An existing Concordia university should move there.

Close the Fort Wayne seminary and relocate it out West to serve the western half of the USA. Let St. Louis serve the eastern half of the USA. That way, the two LCMS seminaries could be located 1000 miles apart from each other. It would make sense geographically than in having the two seminaries so close to each other in the Midwest.