Permanent deacons should not preach at Mass often. Rather, they should preach at other services and serve the Church in the course of their daily witness to Christ, Bishop Alexander Sample of Marquette, Mich. has said in a new pastoral letter on the deacon’s role in the Catholic Church.
Bishop Sample’s 19-page letter, titled “The Deacon: Icon of Jesus Christ the Servant,” cited the principle that the one who presides at a liturgical service or who is the principal celebrant at Mass should also give the homily.
“This should be the ordinary practice,” he said.
Deacons should preach the homily at Mass “for some identifiable advantage for the faithful in the congregation, but not on a regular basis,” the bishop wrote.
He said deacons have the opportunity to preach in other contexts, such as at wake services, funeral and wedding liturgies outside of Mass, baptisms, liturgies of the Word, during the Liturgy of the Hours and during Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest.
Bishop Sample noted that a deacon also “preaches” through “the witness of his life, especially in his marriage and family life,” as well as in his secular work and his role as a teacher.
The deacon’s ministry in the liturgy is not the “heart” of his service. Rather, he is called especially to serve the bishop by caring for the many works of charity “especially suited” to him, most often under the direction of his local pastor.
Although the deacon is ordained to teach and preach the Word of God, “the most effective preaching he does is through the witness of his life in loving service to the most needy among us,” Bishop Sample wrote in a column summarizing the pastoral letter.
The Bishop of Marquette had stopped accepting new deacon candidates until a study of their role had been completed.
In his letter, he announced that a man will not be ordained simply to “be the deacon” at a particular parish or mission. Instead, there must be “a specifically identified need in the community” recognized by the bishop in consultation with the local pastor. This follows the scriptural example of the early Church, where the Apostles chose deacons to minister to the needs of widows so that the Apostles would be free to pray and preach the Word of God.
In the Diocese of Marquette the prospective deacon will now need to have “a particular service ministry” for which he will be ordained, such as service as a catechist or in care for the poor, the sick, the elderly or the imprisoned.
This change will reflect the fact that a deacon’s primary ministry is “not in the sanctuary but in the service of charity.”
“I express my deep gratitude to my deacon brothers for their selfless service to God’s people in the image of Christ the Servant,” Bishop Sample said. “Let us pray for them and support them as they care for the special children of God among us.”