A roundtable on deacons and women, which I posted about earlier here at dotCommonweal, has now been made into a three-part video. The discussion, sponsored by the Fordham Center for Religion and Culture and America Media is entitled "Deacons, Women, and the Call to Serve." The first installment, posted below, discusses the history and present practice of the diaconate.

Sound a bit dull? Well, here are some things I learned through this conversation. For example, the restoration of the permanent diaconate came about because of discussions in -- wait for it -- a concentration camp during World War II. Wow, I never knew that. And here's another example: In the time of the Emperor Justinian the number of deacons assigned to Hagia Sophia was capped at... one hundred and fifty. One hundred and fifty deacons? I had no idea there were so many.

Other subjects came up in conversation that are important reminders for us today. If not exactly unknown, they do bear repeating. For instance, the restoration of a variety of ministries working in concert together in the liturgy was an important gift of Vatican II. Yeah, we know that, but we still experience a very priest-centered and priest-dominated church. No wonder people have tried to assimilate the role of deacons by thinking of them as "mini-priests" -- it takes a long time to really understand the diaconate on its own two feet and not look upon it as an inferior copy of something else.

I actually wish there had been more time for discussion. We talked briefly about the fact that the diaconate has been implemented in some places around the world much more vigorously than others. I wish we had more time to discuss the role of the permanent diaconate in the hispanic North American context, as an example. Deacons and the charismatic renewal are two manifestations of Vatican II that have been really important to Latino Catholics. We could also have talked about the situation in Chiapas, Mexico, where a large number of deacons were ordained in order to reach indiginous peoples, and the Holy See forbade further ordinations. That prohibition was lifted only recently, under Pope Francis. 

OK, so let the discussion continue, here at Commonweal. Without further ado, I present the segment. Two more will come after this one. Stay tuned.

Rita Ferrone is the author of several books about liturgy, including Pastoral Guide to Pope Francis’s Desiderio Desideravi (Liturgical Press). She is a contributing writer to Commonweal.

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