Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, April 22, 2018

cram_halfAs Mass ended, my friend and I followed the crowd into the warm sunshine. We greeted the priest, then proceeded to the shade of a nearby tree to chat.

"You know what bugs me?" my friend Annie complained, seemingly out of nowhere. "Why do all of our clergy have to be celibate? How can they possibly understand married life, or children, or the workplace, when all they know is celibacy?" It was clear that she had been stewing about this matter for a while.

"But not all clergy are celibate," I began.

"Yes, they are!" Annie interrupted. "Priests cannot be married. Everyone knows that."

"But priests are not the only clergy in the Catholic Church. What about deacons?"

Annie was silent for a moment. "Um, what about deacons?" she asked tentatively.

"Deacons are ordained clergymen of the Catholic Church," I explained. "They can be married, and have children and grandchildren. Most hold regular jobs. A typical deacon lives in a neighborhood and mows the lawn and coaches his kid’s soccer team."

"And they’re clergy?" Annie asked, incredulous. "I mean, real clergy?"

"They sure are," I assured my friend. "Deacons go through seminary and are ordained by the bishop. They preach at Masses. They baptize babies, prepare couples for marriage, conduct wakes and certain wedding liturgies and assist the priests in caring for God’s people. Personally, I think deacons are the Church’s quiet heroes."

Annie was still unsure. "You know the guy up front who wears the sash across his robe? Is he the deacon?"

"That’s him," I replied. "The sash is the deacon’s stole, which symbolizes his vocation. During Mass, the deacon typically proclaims the Gospel and sometimes he preaches. He also assists the priest in the liturgy of the Eucharist."

"Is our deacon married?" Annie inquired, gaining interest.

"Yes. His wife usually sits about halfway down the center aisle, on the left. You’d recognize her."

Annie looked like she was having trouble absorbing all this new information, so I decided to tell her about some deacons I know.

"Our parish deacon works with Peter and me, and other married couples, in the engaged couples ministry. Three or four times a year, engaged couples from around the diocese attend a half-day gathering at which a team of presenters helps prepare the couples for Catholic marriage. Typically, a team comprises two lay couples and a deacon and his wife. Our deacon is a fantastic bridge between the engaged couples and the Church because he is a member of the clergy as well as a married man. I love it when he and his wife are on the team."

Annie was listening intently.

I continued: "My family are all converts, and it was a deacon who first helped usher us into the Catholic Church years ago. He came to the house to meet us and answer our endless questions. He wore regular clothes, worked a regular job and talked about his wife and kids. In fact, he, too, is a convert, so he understood what we were going through. He was the perfect person to welcome us to the Catholic Church. Now, years later, he is preparing our daughter and her fiancé for marriage.

"I’ve seen deacons bring Communion to strangers, console the bereaved, laugh with teenagers, and load the moving van for a mission trip. Once I watched a deacon kneel in front of the Blessed Sacrament to pray with a child who was having nightmares. Our deacons are gems."

"Wow. I had no idea," Annie admitted.

As I headed home, it occurred to me that as Catholics, we have the best of both worlds: priests who are free to serve without the limitations of a wife and children, and deacons who have the richness of family life. God’s design is always perfect.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.