I found Edward Hahnenberg’s analysis of the contrast and balance between clergy and laity in Chapter 1 of his Ministries: A Relational Approach to be fascinating and intriguing in the context of the re-introduction of the permanent diaconate in the wake of Vatican II. Hahnenberg outlines the tension between clergy and laity and the start of a “theology of the laity” coming out of Vatican II, and explored new models that evolved out of the council, like Yves Congar’s concept of “ministries of service / community.” As a deacon aspirant, it was interesting to consider yet again how the deacon sits “between” the clergy and the laity, or in a spot that others have referred to as a “seam” or a “bridge.” I find myself reflecting again on the opportunity for the deacon, formally part of the clergy and sacramentally ordained but also living a life within and among the laity, to truly bridge this perceived gap.
Perhaps this is part of the wisdom of the Second Vatican Council that is yet to be fully understood – precisely into the empowerment of the laity and calling them to fully live out their life as Baptized Christians, “priests, prophets, and kings”, in a very real sense is planted the diaconate. The order of the diaconate bridges the life of the lay person with the life and sacramental orders of the clergy. For someone aspiring to orders as a deacon, what might this mean? I believe that this means fully taking part in the proper clerical role of a deacon, while at the same time maintaining a life that otherwise is that of a faithful Catholic lay person. While being present in the ministries of sacrament and word in a liturgical sense, a deacon also sends the laity forth at the end of Mass, and then truly leads them forth, first among them, back to his home, his workplace, and the streets, parks, and secular places that need the light of Christ. Without “taking over” opportunities for the laity to serve in new and creative ways, the deacon in fact both sets an example and becomes a facilitator of the participation of the laity in their calling. In this way, he “represents” them and their daily sacrifices at the altar, and he also leads by example in how to take the Word and make it present in the everyday culture and life in the secular world. In this sense, I don’t see the tension outlined by Hahnenberg being as present in a Church in which the diaconate has come back into its full nature and become the “bridge” closing the gap between clergy and laity. In my own reflection, I see the deacon as playing a critical role in a truly “new theology of ministry.”
Submitted December 9, 2017, for assignment 3 of the course “Church History”, Instructor: Deacon Patrick J. Donahue, D. Min..