Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Omnium in Mentem Fascination

Blog comments on Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio, Omnium in Mentem as it relates to the identity and ministry of deacons range over quite a spectrum. One Anglo-Catholic thinks it's part of a conspiracy to rope more of the Anglican flock into reunion with Rome. At least two commentators (one a deacon, the other a self-identified canon lawyer!) think the changes in Canons 1008 and 1009 will make it easier to “ordain” women deacons. Other typical responses are puzzlement, if not apathy. At least one canon lawyer’s website betrays shock if not confusion. One blogger thinks that the proclamation is merely correcting an error (score one for her).

The changes in the two canons resolve a conflict among Lumen Gentium and the 1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church on one hand and the 1983 Code of Canon Law. The International Theological Commission described the conflict in 2003 (English version, 2004) -- From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles. At the heart of the conflict is the applicability of the term “in persona Christi capitis” to not only bishops and priests, but also deacons. Lumen Gentium and the 1997 Catechism limit the term to only bishops and priests while the 1983 Code includes application of the term to deacons as well. The first edition of the Catechism was consistent with the 1983 Code. One of the principal changes included in the 1997 Catechism restored consistency with Lumen Gentium; with that change the Code was the only outlier. The Motu Proprio achieves consistency among all three Magisterial documents in regard to this particular teaching.

Are there any further implications beyond consistency? Of course, there are.

Let’s dismiss the silliness first:
No, it’s not a conspiracy “against” Anglicans.
Ordain women deacons? Please! Canon 1024 (“A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly.”) hasn’t been changed.
Other comments related to a fragmentation of the ministerial priesthood are inverted. Instead of an identification of priesthood and the clerical state (see canon 266), perhaps another question should be the focus. Do priests lose their diaconal identity when they receive the priesthood? Consider the first (apparently unchanged) part of Canon 1008: “By divine institution, the sacrament of orders establishes some among the Christian faithful as sacred ministers through an indelible character which marks them” (emphasis added). The faculties a deacon receives upon ordination continue into priesthood and episcopacy. The deacon himself is the matter of the sacrament; the form is the contained in the Rite of Ordination to the Diaconate.

Perhaps this is still puzzling or seemingly irrelevant. Nevertheless it is important to not only deacons, but also priests and bishops -- indeed the entire People of God.

Update - English version of Omnium in Mentem: link.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2007 Book Review - The Deacon at Mass

Original published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review (November, 2007; December, 2009, corrections and additions underlined)

Book Review

The role of the Deacon

THE DEACON AT MASS: A THEOLOGICAL AND PASTORAL GUIDE. By William T. Ditewig (Paulist Press, 997 Macarthur Blvd., Mahwah, N. J. 07430, 2007), xii + 126 pp. PB $14.95.

Deacon Ditewig’s latest book interprets the role of the deacon in light of the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and the post-GIRM instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum (RS). (1) He introduces his interpretation with a brief history of the restoration of the permanent diaconate in the Latin Church, drawing on his previous work. While Deacon Ditewig serves in the Secretariat for the Diaconate of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,* his interpretations are clearly personal, with anecdotes drawn from personal experience and those of other deacons.

Ditewig quotes John Paul II (p. 6): “The service of the deacon is the Church’s service sacramentalized.” If the timing of the book had been delayed a bit, he could have quoted Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est as well: “The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). (2) Thus deacons are the visible sacramental signs of the ministry of the Church.

The author appropriately cites RS: “Let all Deacons then, do their part so that the Sacred Liturgy will be celebrated according to the norms of the duly approved liturgical books” (p. 10). RS could have been quoted further: “…it is the right of all of Christ’s faithful that the Liturgy, and in particular the celebration of Holy Mass, should truly be as the Church wishes.” (3)

Consistent with the GIRM and RS, Ditewig admonishes deacons to serve Mass as often as possible and to be fully vested in not only alb and stole, but cincture (where appropriate) and, especially, dalmatic. Ditewig proposes a useful rule: when the celebrant wears the chasuble, the deacon wears the dalmatic; he implies another: if a deacon is present at Mass, he should serve and fulfill all the roles proper to him [if another deacon is not serving].

The author has strong opinions. The preaching of the deacon should be distinctive: “prophetic… to take the Gospel out of the assembly and into the world at large” (p. 19-20). One could add the connection of Word with Eucharist as prerequisite to evangelization. “[L]iturgy demands that on occasion, certain parts are to be sung, and this includes parts assigned to the deacon” (p. 31). [Reviewer’s experience:] Even the most musically-challenged can develop acceptable chanting abilities.

There is one controversial idea asserted by Ditewig: In proclaiming the Gospel, the deacon “acts in persona Christi” (p. 91).** An authoritative study (4) considered the term in relation to deacons (in addition to priests and bishops), without coming to a definitive conclusion.

The ministry of deacon along with the entire Church finds its source and summit in the Liturgy. The book can be valuable if it encourages deacons to probe more deeply into their liturgical identity, especially in the GIRM and RS. By careful study, the deacon can assess what in fact the Church intends, beyond the opinions interpreters [including the reviewer] may express. Long-ministering deacons will find echoes of their own experience in Ditewig’s anecdotes and should also find motivation for even more faithful exercise of their liturgical identity.

Deacon Rex H. Pilger, Jr.
Arvada, Colo.

End Notes

(1) Redemptionis Sacramentum, On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist, Vatican (2004).
(2) Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, Vatican (2006).
(3) RS, no 12.
(4) From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles, Hillenbrand Books, Mundelein, IL., 124p. (2004)

Homiletic and Pastoral Review, v. CVIII, no. 2, November, 2007, p. 78-79.

© Ignatius Press

* DeaconDitewig is now a professor at Saint Leo University, Saint Leo, Florida.

** According to Benedict XVI’s (2009) Motu Proprio, Omnium in Mentem, “in persona Christi capitis” applies only to priests and bishops.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Motu Proprio - Clarification in Code of Canon Law

As predicted in a 2008 letter to Homiletic and Pastoral Review (link: last letter in post), the Code of Canon Law is now to be consistent with both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Lumen Gentium in the distinction between Bishops and Priests (who act in persona Christi capitis) and Deacons who serve as ministers of liturgy, Word and charity.

See: From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles (2003, 2004).

See also In Persona Christi and the Deacon (2007).

Temporary English text of the Motu Proprio (OMNIUM IN MENTEM): link; courtesy Jimmy (link).

Update - Official English text: link.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Back to the Future?

Weak and skinny as I am, I'm eager to return to work and active ministry, to the extent I can. Now, I have to deal with red tape imposed by our benevolent government on corporations to move from medical leave to full-time employee again. So I can't predict how soon I can get back with my talented coworkers to design and develop the next versions of our software.

Ministry-wise, I'm aiming to serve one Christmas Eve Mass. I may not be able to carry the Book of the Gospels or the gifts from the people to the altar, but I should be able to prepare the bread and pour the wine. I'd be eager to preach, too, but I'm not sure my voice is strong enough for everyone to hear, even with a mike.

I'm dependent on God's time, I guess, not my own schedule.

In the meantime, there's time spent with my wife and family, time to pray and write, time to thank God and his people for this amazing reprieve.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Latest Struggle…

Until this summer, I thought my struggles as a man, deacon, husband, father, grandfather, software product manager, and geophysicist were all well-defined: juggle family, job, and ministry responsibilities while getting out of debt. It had been twelve years since my last surgery. And, yes, there was a troublesome fibrillation, but it was under control, after all – heartbeat and blood thinners, with frequent monitoring. Oh, and yes, the weight was a bit troublesome, but I lost ten pounds since February by cutting down on wine and fat and was on the cholesterol meds, too. (Oh, if the heart starts fibrillating, the nurses in ER get testy like librarians asking for your missing library card, if you admit to driving yourself to the hospital, even if you said you stayed in the right lane, just in case.)

But, the pain in the chest in late July was undeniable. This time my wife was home and drove me in. That almost forgotten surgery (two episodes) had come undone. The optimistic young surgeon scheduled the laparoscopic procedure that would fix it for early September. A success, he felt. One and a half weeks later, feeling better, I returned home.

Alas, within hours I was retching and heaving. Returning to the ER, to X-rays and cat scans and fluoroscopes the news was like that with my second surgery (which repaired the first failed lap procedure thirteen years ago), only worse. No, the third surgery hadn’t failed, but rather, much of the stomach had penetrated the diaphragm.Three weeks later I awoke in an ambulance transporting me from the critical care hospital to a rehabilitation facility where I spent the next five weeks. I thought the ambulance was taking me to a South Louisiana facility (I had been ordained in Baton Rouge twenty-one years earlier); I thought to myself, well the archbishop must know what he is doing by sending me here.

The intervening time was to me a time of crazy hallucinations – I was on a late night call-in show hosted by Pat Sajak and the audience thought I was pretty funny; another time I was watching Bret Favre (still dressed in green and yellow) in a reality competition to find the next tailback to play with him; then my wife and I were adopting a child from New Zealand (with five grown children and four grandkids I’m sure she would have been delighted).

My wife gradually filled in the reality of those lost weeks. Three weeks unconscious in the ICU. Prayers of family, friends, fellow deacon and KC families, parishioners and even strangers flooded the heavens. Even my mother-in-law in Florida reported hearing from a friend to be sure and pray for a seriously ill deacon in Colorado. A deacon-doctor whom I had taught in diaconate formation provided valuable advice to her as she made the hard decisions and warned her of the tracheotomy that was likely to be required (it was).

Hallucinations continued for the first week or so – somehow the insurance had provided for our garage to be converted into a simultaneous recovery room at the hospital and twenty miles away at home – it was better than the Star Trek Holodeck room: “reality” in two places. And my bed was recovered from a German auto accident. I later explained to my wife the dual spaces were why I kept asking where we were. Another time I thought I was helping rebel New Mexicans against their rich oppressors and managed to remove my IV’s in the struggle.

Recovery was too, too slow. Retching continued along with the pain. My chest looked like the GPS map on my wife’s Tom-Tom, or like a railroad map, with most routes headed east.

Finally… home. And forty pounds lighter. I hadn’t weighed this little since I was what, 25? I wrote my boss that I was now a skinny old man. As I lay in bed, I discovered how difficult it was to lay on my side – bony leg on bony leg.

Two weekends in a row and I’m able to go to Sunday Mass – not to serve, that’s not in the plan yet, but just to worship with my caring parishioners is enough. Both times our Pastor announces my presence to joyful applause. And, I'm able to go to my company's annual pre-Thanksgiving celebration; unfortunately most of co-workers must have headed to the mountains.

Even at home, the retching continued, if under some control. A month later, a visit to the surgeon convinced him to re-hospitalize me – over Thanksgiving. Biggest hurdle: pain. I agreed to stop the oxycodone. And then accept alternative nausea med – reglan. I had forgotten that it had been tried at the rehab place, where I had hated the hyperactive side effects. Well, I got to feel the effects again. But, happily the gastroenterologist said – let’s lower the dosage. It worked. Hooray! And, he has a plan for transitioning to a comparable medicine down the road. A little residual pain without retching is definitely worth it.

For the two days I’m confined local Extraordinary Ministers bring Holy Communion. One tells me it’s only her third time. I tell her I’m a deacon and how much I appreciate her new ministry. I give her a mini-homily about how we Catholics have the extraordinary blessing of Eucharist and the responsibility of living our lives not only for ourselves but for all but doing penance for all, and she responded, yes, including our children and politicians in our country and especially state, with which I strongly agreed. (I hope my sufferings more than compensate for not only my own sinfulness, but for my family, my friends, and strangers – even politicians). I mentioned that I know most of the deacons in Denver and she expressed her joy in a newly ordained deacon’s recent homily, for which I promptly took some credit – he was another I had taught. Before leaving she asks for my deacon blessing – so I'm still ministering from my hospital bed.

I now am home with my long-suffering wife. She’s delighted and I’m content for now. It’s been about twenty-eight hours. We spent the morning with me as navigator of my wheelchair while she propelled us around Super Target, Christmas shopping for the grandkids (we saved $10.69 on this “Black Saturday”). I’m still skinny, weak, and feeling old (my goatee is only a memory – too much gray), but, praise God! I’m still here. No retching so she can join me in sharing our bed for the first time in months.

And my wife continues to tell me stories of what happened “while I was sleeping”: Of her tears and the comfort she received from our sons, of the care of all our children for Dad, of her anxieties, her conversations with the physicians, and the decisions she made… of the care of deacons, especially John and Joe, my two supervisors, and my (non-Catholic) boss. She said that what I said during my hallucinations was indeed very funny; she me she wished she could have written them down, but she was too busy holding me down.

Come Monday physical therapy starts. And I have to remind myself to eat. I will see my primary physician – constantly surprised by my latest adventures (his name is Tom and “My Lord and My God” is posted on the wall of one of his examination rooms – appropriate for a Thomas, don’t you think?)

My wife helps me with the timing of the meds and reality checks, but soon, I hope, I’ll get back to work and active ministry. I hope they’ll recognize me.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ephesians 5

Homiletic and Pastoral Review has published an article on Ephesians 5 and marriage. Link:

At the end of the article there is this comment: "This, his first article in HPR, ran in the July 2009 issue." Actually, this is the second article by the author to appear in HPR; the first article can be found at:

Friday, March 6, 2009

Startling but Familiar

The letter reproduced in the previous post includes this all too common assertion:

I believe government should not interfere in a woman's right to choose and medical decisions are between a woman and her doctor.

We've been hearing and reading this sentiment for nearly a half-century. However, as familiar as these "beliefs" may be, there is something profoundly inhuman about them, especially the second: "medical decisions are between a woman and her doctor."

Does any woman think of an abortionist as really "her" physician? The abortion doctor is there for the woman for only one reason: to end her pregnancy. The decision to end the nascent life in her womb is not a matter of debate between an expectant woman and the medics with the anaesthetic, the chemicals, and the tools.

There is something chilling about not "interfering"; the congressperson's assertion could be restated as:

I believe that we should leave unfortunately pregnant women to fend for themselves. They got themselves in this situation. They should seek out the panacea of abortion without any concern from anyone else. Send them off alone to a cold, sterile place to make this trivial decision.
Is this what we have come to: preserving the convenience of some by isolating and ignoring the many? What a callous, shocking attitude towards women. Isn't this idea really misogynism in its cold, lifeless heart-of hearts?

A Canned Response

Last month, a Congressman provided this response to a citizen concerned about FOCA -- the so-called Freedom of Conscience Act:

February 19, 2009

Dear Rex,

Thank you for contacting me about your position on H.R. 1964, the Freedom of Choice Act. I appreciate hearing from you on such an important issue because it enables me to better represent the beliefs and values of our district.

I believe government should not interfere in a woman's right to choose and medical decisions are between a woman and her doctor. I also believe we must do all we can to reduce unintended pregnancies through comprehensive sex education programs that include abstinence education. As you know, H.R. 1964 would declare the policy of the United States that every woman has the fundamental right to choose to: (1) bear a child; (2) terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability; or (3) terminate a pregnancy after fetal viability when necessary to protect her life or her health. In addition, the bill would also prohibit a federal, state, or local governmental entity from: (1) denying or interfering with a woman's right to exercise such choices; or (2) discriminating against the exercise of those rights in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.

Currently, the bill is under review by the House Committee on the Judiciary of which I am not a member. Rest assured I will closely monitor the progress of the bill during the 111th Congress, and will keep your views in mind.

Even though we were unable to find common ground this time, I understand and am respectful of your strong beliefs on this important topic. I look forward to working with you in the future on the many issues where we are in agreement.

I encourage you to continue to contact me about the issues that are important to you. Please visit my website ... where you can also sign up for my electronic newsletter and receive periodic updates on my activities as your Representative in Washington.

Because of a desire to post and discuss this message, the Congressperson was contacted again to ask permission for posting the email together with identifying information. This was the response to that request…

March 5, 2009

Dear Rex,

Thank you for contacting me about your position on H.R. 1964, the Freedom of Choice Act. I appreciate hearing from you on such an important issue because it enables me to better represent the beliefs and values of our district.


I encourage you to continue to contact me about the issues that are important to you. Please visit my website … where you can also sign up for my electronic newsletter and receive periodic updates on my activities as your Representative in Washington.

Yes, the two letters are identical. This implies (does it not?) that the congressperson’s staff is not reading communications closely. However, explicit permission to reproduce the email has still not been received. So, the Congressperson will remain unidentified.

Succeeding posts will comment on the email response and the (expanded) website quotation.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Who's on First?

A posting on Deacon Greg Kandra's blog, SSPX and married deacons: "completely unlawful", is certainly an intriguing read. The criticism of the married diaconate quoted in the post, from a Society of St. Pius X website, implies the Society arrived at their judgment no earlier than 1995, some years before other critics of the ministry checked-in to the essentially the same place. (The author of this blog became aware of the SSPX article some time ago, but didn't see reason to cite it before now.)

Some of the same arguments against a married deacon being ordained or being allowed marital rights are found in both the SSPX article and subsequent letters and postings of others. Of course, SSPX cannot invoke the canons of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, as they apparently and unsurprisingly do not accept it (link; oddly, while enumerating 1983 canons that the Society cannot "accept," canons which mention married deacons are not included in the list).

Some of those commenting on Deacon Kandra's post may not be familiar with the 2007-2008 HPR letter thread on the subject of marital rights for deacons, although it is linked from one of the web pages cited by a comment and indirectly referenced in another.

Two of the comments on Deacon Kandra's post are worth quoting here, as they supplement the arguments advanced in the last letter of the HPR thread:

Dcn Scott Dodge said...
What Dr. Peters and Fr Van Hove ignore, assuming that the above accurately reflects their considered views, is the decree of the council and the canonical status of a dogmatic constitution, namely Lumen Gentium, and the universal and supreme legistlative authority of the pope as exercised in the motu proprio, Sacrem Diaconatus Ordinem, particularly numbers 2 and 11-13:
2. When asking the Apostolic See for approval, the reasons must be explained which favor the introduction of this new practice in a region as well as the circumstances which give well-founded hope of success. Likewise, the manner will have to be indicated in which the new discipline will be implemented, that is to say, whether it is a matter of conferring the diaconate on 'suitable young men for whom the law of celibacy must remain intact, or on men of more mature age, even upon those living in the married state,' or on both kinds of candidates."
11. Older men, whether single or married, can be called to the diaconate. The latter, however, are not to be admitted unless there is certainty not only about the wife's consent, but also about her blameless Christian life and those qualities which will neither impede nor bring dishonor on the husband's ministry.
12. The older age in this case is reached at the completion of the thirty-fifth year. Nevertheless, the age requirement is to be understood in this sense, namely, that no one can be called to the diaconate unless he has gained the high regard of the clergy and the faithful by a long example of truly Christian life, by his unexceptionable
conduct, and by his ready disposition to be of service.13. In the case of married men care must be taken that only those are promoted to the diaconate who while living many years in matrimony have shown that they are ruling well their own household and who have a wife and children leading a truly Christian life and noted for their good reputation.
All of this is codified in the CIC [Code of Canon Law]. Besides being codified, these documents must inform any interpretation of the canons in the revised code as they were promulgated prior to and are constitutive of the new code. So, anyone who presumes to say that married deacons, who live in the married state in a conjugally normal way, are invalidly or illicitly ordained are clearly in error. Such a one also, either explicitly, or by implication, believes their bishop, the Holy Father, and an ecumenical council to be error.Besides the idea that celibacy is required in order to live in the clerical state is clearly not of apostolic origin, a simple reading of the New Testament will disabuse anyone of that erroneous idea. Besides, look not only at the Orthodox churches, but the Eastern churches in communion with Rome, we validly and licitly ordain married men to the presbyterate. February 5, 2009 11:04 AM
Thomas Welbers said...
So far in these comments nobody has actually looked at canon 3 of the First Council of Nicaea to see that the interpretation of the SSPX is erroneous from the getgo. This is the complete text: "The Great Synod has stringently forbidden any bishop, presbyter, deacon, or any one of the clergy whatever, to have a subintroducta dwelling with him, except only a mother, or sister, or aunt, or such persons only as are beyond all suspicion." (See: "Subintroducta" specifically is not a wife, but a woman living in the same household with a celibate man or group of men. (See:
The question of mandatory celibacy of the clergy -- or at least total abstinence from sexual intercourse if they already had wives -- was introduced at the Council, possibly at the instigation of the few western bishops, under the Spanish Hosius, but was opposed by most eastern bishops. The Spanish Council of Elvira in 306 AD is the first instance of a disciplinary canon (of a local council) requiring absolute sexual abstinence (continence) not only for the ordained but also for "others with a position in the ministry." It is speculated that Hosius wanted to use the Council of Nicaea to extend this prohibition universally, something the Council specifically refused to do.
Interestingly, it was St. Paphnutius, an aged Egyptian monk who had been severely deformed in the persecution under Diocletian, who hobbled to the podium, and in severe language denounced those who would impose such a burden on the clergy. In the words of the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, "Paphnutius earnestly entreated his fellow-bishops not to impose this obligation on the orders of the clergy concerned. He proposed, in accordance 'with the ancient tradition of the Church', that only those who were celibates at the time of ordination should continue to observe continence, but, on the other hand, that 'none should be separated from her, to whom, while yet unordained, he had been united'. The great veneration in which he was held, and the well known fact that he had himself observed the strictest chastity all his life, gave weight to his proposal, which was unanimously adopted. The council left it to the discretion of the married clergy to continue or discontinue their marital relations." It's interesting to review the other 19 of the disciplinary canons of Nicaea to see how many of them are still relevant, or, as in the case of canons 17 and 20, observed even by the conservative of Catholics. February 5, 2009 3:34 PM