New diaconate formation changes to expand beyond their ‘home’ parish

September 12, 2023

Deacon Phillip Jackson, Archdiocesan director of the Permanent Diaconate, explains pending major changes to formation to about 300 attending the annual Diaconate Convocation Aug. 5 at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston. (Photo by Jo Ann Zuñiga/Herald)

HOUSTON — Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, speaking to more than 300 deacons at their annual convocation Aug. 5, urged them to accept changes in future formation that could reassign them to serve other parishes in need rather than just their “home” parish.

“We need to have a larger sense of our home Church as in our entire Archdiocese,” Cardinal DiNardo told the audience of deacons and their wives, as well as those in formation to become deacons in their meeting at St. Mary’s Seminary.

Just as priests are assigned by Cardinal DiNardo to various parishes, so will future deacons, beginning with the class of 2027, be assigned to a “field education parish” as part of their formation. That would be a parish where the pastor would agree to assist in the formation of the deacon candidate. The assigned deacon candidate would learn about parish ministry and assist the pastor, he said.

In his report on the state of the diaconate, Deacon Phillip Jackson, director of the Archdiocesan Permanent Diaconate, told to the crowd attending the convocation, “When the deacon candidates are not in their field education parish, they will be back at their home parish seated next to their wife.”

There are some large parishes that have up to seven or nine deacons at their home parish, while 48 other parishes in the Archdiocese may only have one active deacon. There are several other parishes that have no deacons at all to help the pastor and parishioners, Deacon Jackson reported.

“Some of the challenges we face are an uneven distribution of deacons in parishes throughout our Archdiocese,” he said.

To take the financial pressure off the home parishes that currently sponsor diaconate candidates and pay for part of the formation, the Archdiocese will begin paying for the tuition and other materials, except for the master’s degree program.

“The Cardinal will pay for your tuition, prayer books, your albs and dalmatics. That is a big change from when you and your parish had to pay portions, and it was hard to budget,” Deacon Jackson said. “The U.S. bishops in the current edition of the National Directory for the Formation and Ministry and Life of the Permanent Diaconate in the United States are requiring all these changes.”

He added, “It’s the largest change for deacons in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in the past 20 years.”

Deacons are ordained to the three-fold ministry of Word, Liturgy and Charity, with charity as the central core of his ministry, he said.

“As we have read in Acts Chapter 6, when deacons were first instituted to help orphans and widows in ancient times, they did not consider the option of saying, ‘I don’t want to administer to Greek-speaking widows. I only want to minister to Hebrew-speaking widows.’ They would go where they were needed. These recent changes in diaconal formation are a natural evolution to the formation process,” Deacon Jackson said.

Eucharistic Revival

Earlier in the convocation, keynote speaker Father Richard Hinkley explained his role as chairman of the Liturgical Commission of the Archdiocese and as St. Mary’s Seminary coordinator of Spiritual Formation.

Also, a leading committee member of local participation for the Eucharistic Revival, Father Hinkley told the deacons, “There is nothing new under the sun, but the Son Himself made incarnate.”

“We need Him, not a memory of Him. He reaches us through the celebration of the Sacraments,” Father Hinkley said. “This is not a play, theater or drama… this is a real encounter between us and the Body of Christ with our merciful Father.”

Launched as an initiative of the U.S. Catholic bishops in June 2022, the National Eucharistic Revival is a three-year movement that aims to deepen Catholics’ love for Jesus through encountering Him in the Eucharist. The revival leads up to a National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in the summer of 2024.

The revival’s first year was titled “The Year of Diocesan Revival,” and efforts focused on formation for diocesan leadership and diocesan-wide events. The revival’s second year, “The Year of Parish Revival,” aspires to reach Catholics in their parishes through renewed attention to the Mass, Eucharistic devotions, and small-group faith sharing and formation.

“It’s not a book club or a sing-along. It’s an encounter with the Risen Christ,” Father Hinkley stressed. “We want to help amplify whatever the pastors and deacons are doing, whether it’s Adoration or participating in Eucharistic processions.”

Eucharistic processions — which consist of the Eucharist, typically displayed in a monstrance, followed by the faithful for any length of distance inside or outside of a church — became common forms of public devotion for Catholics at points in the Church’s history when the teaching on the Real Presence was questioned. Catholics believe the Eucharist, the bread and wine, become the actual body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, not just a symbol. At the altar, He truly comes again in the Eucharist to be shared in communion.

Thousands of Catholics from across the U.S. plan to participate in next year’s pilgrimage to the five-day National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis starting July 17, 2024. Beforehand, national processions leading to Indianapolis will have four routes beginning in the north, south, east and west of the U.S.

The southern route, dubbed the “Juan Diego Route,” begins in Brownsville, at the U.S.-Mexico border. It will follow Texas’ eastern border through Corpus Christi, Victoria, and then arrive in Houston from May 31 to June 2, 2024. It will continue along the Gulf Coast and up through several states before concluding in Indianapolis in mid-July.

Father Hinkley said, “We want to avoid anything superficial or gimmicky. We want to focus on mystagogical catechesis (initiating people into the mystery of Christ) and the consistency of our faith.”