Discernment: Celebrating God’s love as a deacon in the liturgy
By Deacon Paul Lavallee
At my first Sunday Mass after ordination, everything went well until I was to announce the Exchange of Peace. Although I’d practiced it for hours the week before, I was so nervous that my mind blanked, and I stood dumbfounded, silent and red-faced. Thank God, after Mass everyone was forgiving, especially my pastor Father Jim Evans. Many years have passed since then and despite that initial gaffe, through God’s grace –– and many more opportunities to serve at liturgies –– I have gained a deep love of the liturgy and my role in them as a deacon.
Through ordination, the deacon receives faculties to serve at various liturgies: to solemnly baptize, witness marriages, bring viaticum to the dying, lead wake services, and preside at funerals (outside of Mass) and burials. At Mass, my role is to assist the presider in the liturgies of the Word and Eucharist.
I serve at all liturgies with love for Christ. Before Mass, I make many small preparations with love: ensuring the sacred vessels, lavabo bowl and towel, purificators, and other items used in the liturgy are properly arranged, including setting the Lectionary’s and Roman Missal’s ribbons properly.
At Mass “God speaks to His people, and Christ is still proclaiming His Gospel,” says Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (33). As deacon, I am honored and humbled to proclaim the Gospel, taking great care to know the Gospel in my heart before speaking it from my lips. Then, I offer the Universal Prayers of the Church, voicing the yearnings of the people to God.
With the liturgy of the Word complete, I then “set the table,” and step back so the presider can lead the Liturgy of the Eucharist, during which I assist with a servant heart, for I was not ordained into the priesthood but to assist the Bishop and his priests.
I accompany the celebrant in receiving the gifts and bringing them to the altar. First I hand the celebrant the bread to be consecrated; then, I prepare the chalice with water, wine and prayer, and proffer the chalice to him. I then prepare my heart to witness the miracle of salvation.
At the concluding doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer, while the presider elevates the host, I elevate the chalice: priest and deacon, the Body and the Blood, Christ the Shepherd and Christ the Servant. Finally, at the conclusion of Mass, I dismiss the faithful, urging them to “glorify the Lord” with their lives. After Mass, I greet parishioners, purify the vessels, and set up for the next Mass.
When a deacon comes to serve –– in life “the poor must know him as their friend. Orphans must see him as their father, and all who are alone, afraid or confused must see in him a refuge in the model of Christ Jesus,” writes Msgr. James Moroney writes in his essay “The Deacon and the Liturgy: A Search for Identity.” And when he serves in liturgies “he must minister to the priest and to the altar with the humility of Him whose very Body and Blood were offered on the altar of the cross.” In all charitable service the deacon must “empty himself from all selfish concerns” and become Christ the Servant, offering his love and mercy, Msgr. Moroney writes.
Years ago as I discerned God’s will for me, I realized my love for the poor and suffering was one way God was calling me to the diaconate. How could this be? As Msgr. Moroney explains, “…the deacon [is] the one who shows love for orphans, for the devout and for the widowed, one who is fervent in spirit, one who shows love for what is good … He articulates the “cry of the poor” because [by his ministry beyond the parish to the poor and suffering] he is the minister most intimately acquainted with the pains, sorrows and struggles of those most in need of our prayers.”
I thank God every day for his loving call to serve his church and his people as a deacon.
Sessions explore call to the diaconate
Information sessions exploring the vocational call, the qualities of a man suitable for formation, the church’s discernment process, the formation program, diaconal ministry, and implications on marriage will be offered in English and Spanish from 2 to 5 p.m. on the following dates and locations:
Jan. 17 at St. Mary Parish in Brenham
Feb. 14 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Temple
March 13 at St. John the Evangelist Parish in San Marcos
April 10 at the Pastoral Center in Austin
Please note: A pastor’s written consent is required to attend any session.
For more information about diaconate formation, call (512) 949-2459.