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.

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