FIRST I would like to acknowledge that Fr Hanlon (Question Box, CL 23/4/00) has captured a number of significant points with regard to the historical development of the ministry of permanent deacon in the Church.
As I see it, these include the following: 1) Some type of ministry designated by the terms of service has been one form of the Church’s ministry from its earliest history; 2) that this ministry itself developed a variety of appearances – liturgical, administrative and, broadly, service to the bishop and community; and 3) that this ministry in its earliest forms seems to have included both men and women.
But I would like to draw attention to a couple of other points in Fr Hanlon’s article. The first is Jesus’ institution of the Church’s ministry and its structure as hierarchical. Even given the limited space for the article, it too simply glides over the meaning of institution and structure. The article shows no recognition that Jesus did not necessarily hand on a “blueprint” of ministry to the early Church to form a hierarchical structure. Neither then does it explain clearly that the variety of ministries for building up the community developed over a long period of time within a variety of cultural settings in accord with the particular needs of these communities. That is, the article does not clearly bring attention to the Spirit guided creation and development of ministry within and by the communities of the Church.
There was not one uniform necessary development of ministry by the Church. As a result, I think it is far from apparent as the article states it, that the office of either deacon or bishop was “a widely accepted one” by 56-57 CE. This is considered to be a much later development and a particular choice by the Church.
My second issue is with the article’s terms of ordination. Fr Hanlon equates the laying on of hands with ordination and hence sees the latter as evident in the action accounted for in the Acts of the Apostles (6:1-8). Ordination as a designated liturgical practice of the Church took some centuries to develop into the ritual meaning we would recognise today. Reading this later development of meaning into the Scriptures is not helpful. It affirms too easily and uncritically the scriptural account with what is in fact a later development by the Church.
The above is not presented to negate the ministry of permanent deacon in the Church nor the acceptance by the Archdiocese of Brisbane to further develop this ministry for its own needs in the present time. It is to say that the Church needs to look critically at its origins of ministry in Jesus Christ and at the Church’s historical development for all its forms of ministry so that they remain in accord with the Spirit of Christ who is the principal guide for the Church.
FR DAVID PASCOE Banyo Seminary Banyo, Qld