“I remember him telling me he was asked by a lay person, ‘Are you one of us, or are you one of them?’ The answer, of course, was neither,” he says. “I’m not a ‘supersized’ lay person or a ‘mini priest.’ I’m a deacon.”
But what exactly is a deacon? What are the origins of the permanent diaconate, and how has the diaconate evolved since 1965 when the second Vatican Council restored it as a permanent degree in the sacred hierarchy?
This summer, Deacon Saunders will share insights into these questions and many more through “Theology of the Permanent Diaconate”, an online graduate-level course offered as part of Summer at Seton Hall. The course will run from June 13 through July 25.
“Now is a particularly historic and exciting time to be reflecting on the theology of the permanent diaconate,” says Deacon Saunders. One reason for this is that in 1968, the bishops of the United States were granted permission to restore the diaconate in this country. Thus, 2018 will mark the 50th anniversary of the permanent diaconate in the United States – a significant milestone for the nation with the largest contingent of deacons: 18,000 out of 41,000 deacons worldwide.
With the diaconate continuing to grow in the U.S. and beyond, Deacon Saunders encourages all audiences – ordained and lay – to enroll in the course and gain a better understanding of the Church’s universal ‘diakonia’ and the permanent diaconate specifically. “The second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI emphasized the very nature of the Church as a servant,” he says. “All of us through our baptism are called to sanctify the world. That is our vocation – to be ‘diakonia,’ meaning ‘servant to God and neighbor.’”
Deacon Saunders explains that both “Pope John Paul II and Pope Paul VI would go on to describe the diaconate as ‘a driving force for the Church’s diakonia’ and ‘a living sign of the servanthood of Christ’s Church.’ The deacon is the ‘Church’s service sacramentalized.’ This means it is the role of the deacon to lead, encourage and empower the laity to participate in the diakonia (service) of the Universal Church.”
Upon completion of the course, students will have enhanced knowledge of the permanent diaconate, its rise and fall, its restoration and the post Vatican II era with its emerging challenges. They will also have a clearer perspective of who the deacon is and his unique role within the Catholic Church.
Categories: Faith and Service