On Sunday 6 November, Bishop Francis Duffy, Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois published a pastoral letter to all Catholics of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, in which he outlined plans for the introduction of two new ministries in the diocese – Parish Catechist and Permanent Deacon.
Bishop Duffy said, “It is in this context of greater participation by the laity in the running of the diocese that I write this pastoral letter. By virtue of our baptismal vocation we are all called to serve in our Church and to utilise our gifts. In this way, Catholics are called to live their vocation in the context of their family, their work-place and their neighbourhood. Today the Church in Ireland is blessed, in that many of the faithful of all ages are involved in specific activities of their local parish – liturgical ministries such as distributing Holy Communion, proclaiming God’s Word by reading at Mass and altar servers, and in a wide range of other activities including baptismal preparation, parish pastoral councils, parish finance councils and administration, choirs, safeguarding, bereavement counselling, marriage preparation and school management, stewarding and in reaching out to those in various kinds of need.
“In the near future, I hope to offer two new possibilities, of a voluntary nature, to people already involved and to those who might wish to participate in new ministries in our parishes. These are the two ministries of Parish Catechist and of Permanent Deacon.”
Outlining the Ministry of Parish Catechist, Bishop Duffy said, “The first pastoral initiative I wish to introduce is the ministry of Parish Catechist. Our teachers do excellent work in preparing young people for the sacraments and in faith formation. This is carried out in conjunction with parents and with parishes. To complement this work I now invite women and men from the 41 parishes of Ardagh and Clonmacnois to consider the ministry of Parish Catechist.
“The role of the Catechist is to work alongside parish clergy, in particular with parents of candidates for the sacraments of First Holy Communion, Confirmation and also in other programmes and initiatives that help people of all ages to deepen their faith.
“Following a two-year training period the Parish Catechist will be commissioned to assist in a parish, for a term of four years, in this new voluntary role. The course of training is also open to people who would like to deepen their knowledge of the Catholic faith and teachings of the Catholic Church without taking on a formal role of parish ministry. This course, which begins in autumn 2017, will take place in Longford in partnership with the Diocesan Pastoral Development Office and will be offered by the Maryvale Institute, International Catholic College, Birmingham, England.”
Bishop Duffy said, “As believers we are called to increase and to deepen our faith. Saint Paul wrote “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints (Eph 1: 17-18). The Parish Catechist can assist in deepening our knowledge and our relationship with the Lord. This ministry has the potential to expand and develop into other pastoral areas, according to the needs of the diocese in the years ahead.”
The second initiative is the introduction of the Permanent Diaconate to the Diocese of Armagh and Clonmacnois. Bishop Duffy said, “From the earliest times the ministry of Deacon has been understood as a ministry of service in the Church. Along with priest and bishop, it is one of three holy orders of the Church. In the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council proposed the restoration of the Diaconate and, in 2006, the Holy See agreed to a request from the Irish bishops for its restoration in Ireland.”
Explaining the ministry of permanent deacon, Bishop Duffy said, “Deacons are men – married or single – who are ordained to serve the people of God, in an unpaid voluntary part-time capacity, in a threefold ministry: the ministry of Charity, the ministry of the Word and the ministry of the Altar.
“The Ministry of Charity: The Deacon is particularly called to serve the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised. The Deacon will coordinate the local church’s response to their needs.
“The Ministry of the Word: The Deacon will proclaim the Gospel and sometimes preach at Mass and will preside over services other than the Mass. He will lead the people in prayer and may officiate at funeral and burial services.
“The Ministry of the Altar: The Deacon will offer service at the altar at Mass assisting the bishop or priest. He is able to distribute Holy Communion at Mass, in hospitals and in the homes of the sick, the housebound and the dying. The Deacon can also baptise and prepare people for that sacrament and officiate at marriages.”
Bishop Duffy said that candidates for the Permanent Diaconate will have a good knowledge of the Gospel, a well-established spiritual life, and a proven willingness to serve others. The minimum age for admission to the Permanent Diaconate is twenty-five years for an unmarried man, and thirty-five years for a married candidate. The maximum age is sixty years. It will take four years to become a Permanent Deacon: a preliminary year, before he is accepted as a candidate, followed by three years of formation, in a part-time course, involving the study of theology and philosophy, as well as pastoral, spiritual and human formation.
Those interested in the role of Parish Catechist and those who feel a call to the Order of Deacon are invited to contact their local priest in the Diocese of Armagh and Clonmacnois, who will supply further information and arrange for them to meet the people charged with organising these ministries in our diocese.
Concluding his pastoral letter Bishop Duffy quoted Saint Paul,
“There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them … You together are Christ’s body; but each of you is a different part of it (1 Cor 12: 4-5.27).
Bishop Duffy said, “I see these two pastoral initiatives as building on the strong foundations of faith already in existence and nurtured in our families and parishes. The introduction of the Parish Catechist and the Permanent Deacon is a calling forth of people of faith into new leadership and service roles in our parishes.”
For more see www.ardaghdiocese.com.