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BOSTON -- On June 12, the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley ordained five seminarians as transitional deacons in a Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, marking one of the final steps towards their priestly ordination.
The deacon, from the Greek word "diakonia," meaning service, is the first of three ranks of ordained ministry in the Church. Among the many functions they perform in parishes, the deacon may assist the priest at Mass, proclaim the Gospel, deliver homilies, and preside at baptisms, weddings, and rites of Christian burial. The newly ordained will minister in parishes for one year as deacons in preparation for their ordination to the priesthood in 2022.
Those ordained were Deacons Maxwell Chukwudiebere, Patrick O'Connor, Bertrand Proulx, Nathaniel Sanders and Nicholas Stano.
During the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word included readings pertaining to both the diaconate and the feast day. Then, the ordination rite began as the candidates were each called by name and presented to Cardinal O'Malley, who elected them to be ordained to the diaconate.
In his homily, the cardinal explained that the feast of the Immaculate Heart used to have a fixed date, but is now a movable feast so it can be celebrated close to the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He said that whenever he ordains someone to the priesthood or the diaconate, he consecrates them to the Blessed Mother, invoking her protection for them.
"Today, we will consecrate all of you to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so close to the Sacred Heart of Jesus," he said.
Reflecting on the first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, Cardinal O'Malley spoke about the creation of the diaconate, which was "born out of a moment of crisis and division," as the Holy Spirit led the apostles to select the first deacons.
"We, too, live in a moment of crisis and division in our world and the Church. But just as surely as the Holy Spirit was guiding the Church in the first century, the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church today," Cardinal O'Malley said.
Referring to St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, he spoke of being a "new creation" and "ambassadors of Christ."
"As deacons, you must live for Christ. You must live for others. As Paul assures us, whoever is in Christ is a new creation. You men are a new creation, and are being given a ministry of reconciliation, just as surely as those seven just men ordained by the apostles 2,000 years ago," Cardinal O'Malley told the ordinands.
As ambassadors, he said, "your words and your actions must be totally the words and the actions of the one whom you represent, Jesus Christ."
Cardinal O'Malley also examined St. Luke's Gospel passage about Mary and Joseph losing Jesus as a child and finding him in the temple. He noted that this event is counted among both the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary and the Seven Sorrows of Mary.
A lesson to be drawn from that, he said, is that "The joys and sorrows of life in ministry are often very close together."
He spoke about what Pope Francis calls "the art of accompaniment" and "the culture of encounter," and told the candidates that their task will be to accompany those who are seeking Christ.
"For deacons in the Catholic Church, these tasks are so crucial. And we have to have that sense of urgency that moved Mary and Joseph" in their search for Christ, Cardinal O'Malley said.
He pointed to the Holy Family's life in Nazareth, a place that represents contemplation, obedience, and preparation for ministry. Jesus was obedient to his parents when he lived with them in Nazareth, and, the cardinal acknowledged, the candidates would soon pledge obedience to their bishop.
"Let your obedience be a liberation, making a gift of your life to God. May your ordination be a movable feast, something you celebrate every day. Relive that moment when, lying on the ground of the cathedral, you placed your lives in God's hands as a gift of love and trust," Cardinal O'Malley told them.
After the homily, the ordination ceremony continued with the Promise of the Elect, as each candidate pledged obedience and respect to the cardinal and his successors. The elect then lay prostrate before the altar as the assembly prayed the Litany of Saints over them.
Then, Cardinal O'Malley laid his hands on the head of each candidate, an action that confers the Holy Spirit, and prayed the words of consecration.
Each ordinand was vested with a stole and dalmatic, which signify the office of the diaconate and the deacon's role in celebrating the Eucharist. The cardinal gave each of them the Book of the Gospels, instructing them to "Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach."
After exchanging the kiss of peace with other deacons present, the newly ordained assisted at the Eucharist as deacons for the first time.
Speaking to The Pilot after the Mass, newly ordained Deacon Sanders said it was "an absolute grace and a privilege."
He said the ceremony was "beautiful" and "moving," as well as "an occasion for us to pray that we might be holy servants and someday holy priests, and also recognizing that there's a reality, that we're receiving grace that is completely a gift from God, that we're just grateful for and that we hope to put to service to his Church."