Book Review: The Deacon Reader, Edited by James Keating

On the front cover of The Deacon Reader, edited by James Keating (New York: Paulist Press, May 2006) is a lunette mosaic of St. Lawrence the Deacon from the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy. In this image the reader sees St. Lawrence carrying a cross and a book on the right side of the lunette. In the center of the image is the instrument of his martyrdom, the grid iron. On the other side is a cabinet that holds the four Gospels. Below this image are the Latin words with Gregorian Chant of the Exultet that Deacons traditionally proclaim at the Easter Vigil. This is a great symbolic cover for this book on the diaconate.

All Christians are called to serve each other following the example of Jesus. The deacon is the sacramental sign of this to the rest of the Church. This book might interest those in authority positions in government, the Church, business, education, or even the family. It discusses how a leader is called to not lord it over others, but to be a servant. This follows the example Jesus gave who did not come to be served, but to serve.

This book, meant for those who are already deacons, those studying for the diaconate and for those just interested in knowing more about the diaconate, is a collection of fourteen essays on various subjects connected with the diaconate. The topics and contributors include the following: the history of the diaconate by Fr. Edward J. Enright; the contemporary renewal of the diaconate by Deacon William T. Ditewig; the deacon and Gaudium et Spes by Fr. Paul McPartlan; the diaconate as medius ordo: service in promotion of lay participation by Fr. William S. McKnight; the deacon: icon of the sign of hope by Deacon Michael Ross; the moral life of the deacon by Deacon James Keating, who is also the editor of this book; theological education and the diaconate by Deacon Charles A. Bobertz; father and shepherd by Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas; the deacon and personal prayer by Deacon Owen F. Cummings; the deacon at work by Deacon Thomas Baker; the sacramental ministry of the deacon in the parish life by Deacon Ray R. Noll; the diaconate and marriage by Fr. Mark A. Latcovich; the deacon’s wife by Dr. Rebecca Meehan; the kenotic leadership of deacons by Deacon William T. Ditewig. One area that was not covered is religious who are deacons, perhaps because there are relatively few religious in the diaconate.

Since this book is a collection of essays the readability varies from essay to essay. Some are more academic than others, but the authors all do a very good job on their topics. Not all the authors are priests or bishops, which would have been the case in the early days when the permanent diaconate was restored. The authors include seven deacons, one bishop, four priests and one woman researcher. The diaconate has grown and matured enough that many deacons are involved in academia and hold post graduate degrees. Deacons can write about the diaconate to their fellow deacons or to the world.

The Deacon Reader presents the history and theology of the diaconate and discusses the problem of the diaconate not being recognized by some as being part of the clergy. Some clergy see them as being lay ministers at best while lay people see them as being “almost” a priest but unable to say Mass. The Church is still grappling with this and it will slowly improve as time passes especially since the permanent diaconate continues to grow in numbers throughout the world. The largest numbers of deacons are still in the United States, but other countries are starting to restore it. The future of the diaconate is bright and is meeting the goals set by the Second Vatican Council Fathers.

Several of the contributors to this book have written other books which include: Saintly Deacons (2005) and Deacons in the Church (2004) by Deacon Owen F. Cummings; 101 Questions and Answers on Deacons (2004) by the present executive director of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on the Diaconate, Deacon William T. Ditewig; the forthcoming book Way of Mystery by Deacon James Keating; The Latin Rite Deacon (2001) by Fr. William S. McKnight; Sacraments: A New Understanding for a New Generation (1999) by Deacon Ray R. Noll; and Fr. Paul McPartlan was involved in the creation of the forthcoming Directory for the Formation of Permanent Deacons in England and Wales.

The Deacon Reader is recommended to deacons, those studying for the diaconate, to those involved in the formation of deacons, and to seminary or theological libraries.

Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., writes from St. Gregory’s University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.

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