By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde
It is with deep gratitude and joy that I look forward to the first permanent diaconate ordination in the Diocese of Arlington in more than 20 years. On January 15, 2011, I will ordain 16 men who have made genuine sacrifices to pursue this path, including attending classes twice a month in Alexandria over a four-year period following the initial year of aspirancy and dedicating themselves to the Lord in prayer. For some, like our candidate from St. Isidore the Farmer Church in Orange, this is no small time commitment! The dedicated desire to serve so clearly displayed by these candidates and their supportive families is truly uplifting. Our diocese will be blessed by the work which these men will do for our Church, through their ordination to Holy Orders, by the exercise of their threefold ministry of the Word, Altar and Charity.
Many times during their five-year formation program, I have been moved by the loving support given to the men by their families, particularly by their wives. All the ordinandi this year are married. I visited these men and their wives during one of their classes, and have been kept informed of their progress. I have carefully weighed the evaluations of each candidate and interviewed each one individually this past December in advance of their January 15 ordination.
These men fulfill a unique role in our Church by mirroring the image of Jesus as the Divine Servant, Who came not to be served but to serve others. Most of the candidates work in a secular profession and are called to be a witness to Christ in their place of employment and in their neighborhoods. While we all share the call to holiness by virtue of our Baptism, these men are now called to be holy in a different modality by virtue of their receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders. They are truly ordained.
As I wrote in an October 2005 letter, the Diocese of Arlington began its first Permanent Diaconate Program in 1975. In 1985, a moratorium was declared by Bishop John R. Keating. Years later, a need for deacons was demonstrated and clearly present; thus, I reinstated the program in 2006 and formation began shortly thereafter. This year we shall witness the fruits of this formation and preparation at the January ordination.
The diaconate is an institution crucial to the mission of the Church and one which should be promoted. When prayerfully considering whether to re-establish the program in the Diocese of Arlington, I was struck by what Paul VI in 1967 wrote in Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, General Norms for Restoring the Permanent Diaconate in the Latin Church on the importance of reviving the diaconate:
“Beginning already in the early days of the Apostles, the Catholic Church has held in great veneration the sacred order of the diaconate, as the Apostle of the Gentiles himself bears witness. He expressly sends his greeting to the deacons together with the bishops and instructs Timothy  which virtues and qualities are to be sought in them in order that they may be regarded as worthy of their ministry. … It is not to be considered as a mere step towards the priesthood, but it is so adorned with its own indelible character and its own special grace so that those who are called to it ‘can permanently serve the mysteries of Christ and the Church.’”
A permanent deacon is trained and formed by additional study and prayer for a special ministry to the people of God as an ordained minister. As I mentioned, he exercises his participation in Holy Orders in three specific ways: the Word, at the altar, and in charity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:
“Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priest in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity” (n. 1570).
The faithful of the diocese will notice an enrichment in our faith life because of the dedicated ministry of these men. The new deacons will serve at the altar as ordained ministers by preparing the gifts, administering baptisms or presiding at marriages, funerals, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction. They will assist by proclaiming the Gospel and preaching homilies, as well as implementing evangelization and sacramental preparation. Deacons traditionally have an especially unique call to charity by serving those living on the fringes of society – those in prisons, hospitals and nursing homes, and by bringing communion to the sick and homebound. Each man’s experience will differ, as each parish’s or institution’s needs vary. A large rural parish with one priest will benefit in a way unique to itself. A larger city parish with several priests will have different focuses for their deacon.
You can read about living the call to the permanent diaconate, as explained by Father Ferguson, the Episcopal Vicar for Faith Formation, as well as the perspective of a deacon candidate in the Diocese of Arlington’s program. Both blog posts give valuable and rich insight into the vocational journey toward serving Christ and His Church as a deacon.
We are so blessed that the Diocese of Arlington will soon have 16 additional men who are generously answering the call of the Lord to serve God’s holy people. Please pray for these men as their ordination at the Cathedral of Saint Thomas More approaches and continue to support these courageous and selfless men by your ongoing prayer and encouragement! Men who are interested in applying for the program can visit here to learn more.