Saturday, January 21, 2017

Hands, communion, water - a deacon's meditation

The Mass for the closing of the centennial year of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán was celebrated today in the atrium of the cathedral – since the crowd could not fit inside. 

On this bright, sunny, hot morning, I was one of five deacons at the Mass.

The other four deacons in the picture are “transitional” deacons who will be ordained, God willing, this year. I am the old guy, the permanent deacon, on the left.

The concept of a permanent deacon is still very hard for some people to grasp, since there only experience is the transitional deacon. The deacon as a permanent sign of Christ the Servant is new – even to some priests.

I had to explain this to people several times today. A young priest, who is very accepting but continually talks about me and the priesthood, had to tell a young man that I was not a minister of the sacrament of reconciliation. Later, speaking to a small group of young people from Santa Barbara I explained the importance of witnessing on the altar the image of Christ the Servant, but quickly had to correct myself by explaining that part of my ministry is to facilitate their ministry as servants.

But as I served today at the altar I remembered the remark of a US priest about the role of the permanent deacon. As I have reinterpreted his quote, a deacon serves at the altar, the table of the Lord, with clean hands because his hands are dirty from serving at the table of the poor.

My hands aren’t really dirty, though I do have some residue from coffee picking on my thumbs and forefingers and under my nails. That is a good reminder of my ministry - showing the link between the table of the Lord and the table of the poor in the world.

But as I distributed communion today at the Mass, the importance of hands come clearer to me.

Here most people, out of a sense of reverence and a feeling of unworthiness, receive the host on the tongue. But today there were many people who came forward, as I walked into the crowd, with their hands extended to receive Jesus. I noted the hands – especially several hands stained and calloused from hard work. What a fitting place for Jesus to rest – in the hands that daily sought to do the will of God, working God’s holy creation.

I was overwhelmed at one point, near tears. For here Jesus was finding his resting place in the hands of people like him, people he identified with, people he loved.These were people who made His presence felt in the world.

The Mass ended and the bishop moved with the deacons and the priests into the cathedral behind the altar. But I knew that not all the plastic bags of water had been distributed and so I decided to go and help pass them out. I went to the car where the bags were and had the men there fill my arms with the bags. I proceeded, refilling my arms several times, to pass the water around – in my vestments.

What better way to end the Mass – having served the people the Body of Christ, I was now serving them water for the journey. What better ways to serve as a deacon.


A few other comments about today's liturgy.

The first reading was read by a Lenca woman from Intibucá. I didn't take a picture of her during the Mass since I was seated behind her, by the bishop. But I did take this one from a distance before Mass, as she was preparing to read.

During the Mass the five deacons shared their roles.

I carried the Gospel book in the opening procession.

I also ended up receiving the gifts from the offertory procession. As I think of it I find this most appropriate for a permanent deacon whose ministry, is in part, to witness to and to highlight the connection between the altar and the world.

I also was asked to assist the bishop with the incensing - accompanying him as he incensed the altar and the gifts. I also them incensed the bishop, the clergy, and the people. I go all out with them and sometimes fear that I'll send the charcoals and the incense flying over the people. But I see this as a way to recall and to reverence the presence of God in all God's holy people gathered around the table, so that our prayers go up to God with the incense . It is also a recognition of the holiness that God has poured out over the People of God.

Incensing at the Mass of my ordination in July 2016.

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