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RANDOLPH -- Several generations of permanent deacons of the Archdiocese of Boston came together for a Mass and dinner Oct. 20 for a collective birthday celebration, of sorts -- this year marks the 50th anniversary of the renewal of the permanent diaconate in the United States.
Joined by their families and friends, the deacons attended a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley at St. James Church in Stoughton before going to a dinner event at The Lantana in Randolph.
"Today, we celebrate your formation and mission in the Church," Cardinal O'Malley said in his homily during the Mass.
The deacon, from the Greek word "diakonos," meaning servant or minister, is the first of three ranks of ordained ministry in the Church. Among the many functions they perform in parishes, deacons may preside at baptisms, weddings, and rites of Christian burial, as well as aid the priest at Mass, proclaim the Gospel, and deliver homilies.
While the formation of permanent deacons, or deacons who will remain a deacon, as opposed to transitional deacons, who are ordained a deacon on their path to the priesthood, can be traced back to the earliest stages of the Catholic Church, the practice of ordaining permanent deacons began to decline quickly in Church history.
For centuries, there were no permanent deacons in the Latin Church when the Second Vatican Council restored the permanent diaconate in 1967. The United States was granted permission by Blessed Pope Paul VI in 1968. After several years of formation, the first class of permanent deacons in the Archdiocese of Boston was ordained in 1976.
Following the Mass at St. James Church, a special dinner event was held for the archdiocese's permanent deacons and their families at The Lantana in Randolph.
The event, in part an opportunity for the deacons to celebrate their vocation, and in part a way for the archdiocese to thank them for their service, featured comments from Deacon Tim Donohue of Holy Name Parish in West Roxbury; Deacon Pat Guerrini, director of Diaconate Life and Ministry in the archdiocese; and Deacon Christopher Connelly, director of the archdiocese's Office of Permanent Diaconate Formation.
In his comments, Deacon Connelly reflected on his vocation and the renewal of the diaconate, which has formed hundreds of permanent deacons in the Archdiocese of Boston.
That renewal, he said, "created a perfect place within the Church for the diaconate."
Addressing the dozens of deacons in the room, Deacon Connelly said, "it is a joy and a privilege to be a servant among you."
"We thank you deacons for the sacrifices that we make, but we also thank the sacrifices of our wives who give us up, who sit alone in the pews, so their husbands can make present all those they serve," he said.
"May the light and the strength of our deacons inspire all of us who are here to lift up our life in thankful and dedicated service, and offer our lives as a ransom for God," he said.
Bishop Mark O'Connell served as the keynote speaker of the event. In his address, he thanked the deacons for their service, a service which is marked by helping lead others to Christ.
He challenged the deacons to continue to evangelize, a task that has changed over the decades and in some ways has more become more difficult with modern technology and a culture of inwardness.
As deacons, "you have a unique position of being in the Church and in the workplace," he said. "Your words have greater resonance than non-Church people, and you have a platform that we (priests) do not."
The closing prayer was offered by Cardinal O'Malley, who sang the "Salve Regina." He was joined by dozens of deacons, young and old, and their loved ones before they departed for the night.
To be a permanent deacon is to be a bridge between priests and laity, explained Deacon Alfred Geneus, a permanent deacon at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Cambridge. It is to be both a family man and a man of God, a man who "somehow makes a balance between the Church and the family."
To be a permanent deacon is to take on a second job, so to speak, tending to the needs of the Church. There's sacrifice in that, but it's a sacrifice born out of love, and it bears love in return.
"I do baptisms, marriage. I give advice, I counsel," Deacon Geneus said. "I enjoy the community."