The introduction of deacons and parish catechists is to receive significant encouragement next weekend when a pastoral letter from Bishop Jones circulates throughout the thirty-eight parishes of the Elphin diocese.
In his second Pentecost letter Bishop Jones notes the huge evolution of the Irish Church in recent years. “If one were to list all the persons in our diocese who contribute to Church activities, the list would contain several thousand names” he said. “This is a great sign of the vitality of our diocese”.
He also praises the ongoing contribution of priests and religious, including retired priests and sisters, and thanks them for their support of families through their contributions to education, community development, the evolution of social services and many other developments.
The bishop goes on to comment upon contemporary challenges facing parishioners and parishes. “As baptised people with the Spirit of God at work in us we face the challenges that confront us with confidence and enthusiasm” he writes. “The work of transforming family and community life through the Gospel is ours.”
“Certain challenges however need more than goodwill. They call for systematic planning and investment in persons and by persons who will exercise a service of leadership, support and encouragement. In light of this and following consultation with priests and our Diocesan Pastoral Council I propose to reintroduce the permanent diaconate and to invite parishes to encourage women and men to train as parish catechists.”
Last year a decision was taken by the Irish bishops to reintroduce the permanent diaconate. The Catholic Church has always taught that there are three degrees within the Sacrament of Holy Orders: bishops, priests and deacons, but in recent centuries, the Order of Deacon, tended to be seen as a step towards becoming a priest.
This outcome was revisited in the 1960s during Vatican II and a decision taken to restore the diaconate as a distinct ministry.
Today there are in excess of 15,000 deacons in the Roman Catholic church, including Britain, mainland Europe and the USA. These men, many of whom hold down jobs to support their families have three areas of responsibility: the liturgy, the service of the Gospel and works of charity.
In terms of the liturgy deacons are involved in helping people prepare to receive all the sacraments. They can also officiate at baptisms, bless marriages, preside at funerals and lead prayer services.
In terms of serving the Gospel they are expected to read and pray with Sacred Scripture every day and to commit themselves to on-going study, particularly by way of becoming skilled preachers.
Deacons are also expected to be devoted to works of charity and to the functions of administration that accompany the on-going work of the Church.
“The ministry of deacons will compliment and not replace the many services exercised by lay people” states Bishop Jones.
He also notes the restriction of the permanent diaconate to men as “a source of disappointment to some women and men”. He continues “I hope however that we will recognise the potential the permanent diaconate represents”.
Bishop Jones is also of the view that tomorrow’s parishes will have need of qualified catechists. Parishes, he suggests, need to compliment the efforts of families and Catholic schools in bringing young people to a sustaining faith and to support adults deepen their faith.
“We have much to benefit from having suitably trained persons. Such persons, known abroad as Parish Catechists, frequently contribute by organising and facilitating short programmes that fan the flame of faith that burns in each of us”.
He also believes that parish catechists will contribute very positively to developing a sense of Christian community within parishes.
For more download the full text here (pdf)