Gracing the front cover of The Deacon Reader is a photograph of the St. Lawrence the Deacon lunette mosaic in 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.
This book is meant for those who are already deacons, those studying for the diaconate, and those just interested in knowing more about the diaconate. This collection of fourteen essays covers topics such as 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; and the kenotic leadership of deacons, by Deacon William T. Ditewig. One area that is not covered is that of religious being deacons. There are not many religious in the world who are deacons, but it has not been discussed much.
Readability varies from essay to essay. Some are more academic than others, but the authors all do an admirable job with their topics. As the reader may notice, not all the authors are priests or bishops, which in the early days when the permanent diaconate was restored would have been the case. 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.
All Christians are called to serve each other following the example of Jesus, and 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 to lord it over others but to be a servant. This is following the example Jesus gave, who did not come to be served but to serve.
This book does well in presenting the history and theology of the diaconate. It also discusses the problem the diaconate runs into concerning not being recognized by some as being part of the clergy. Some clergy see deacons as lay ministers at best, while laypeople see them as being almost a priest who cannot 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 the Second Vatican Council Fathers wished for it ,and it is also moving into new areas that the Church will have to discern.
Several of the contributors to this book have written other books: 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 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on the Diaconate, Deacon William T. Ditewig; the forthcoming 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. Footnotes and a select bibliography are provided. The credentials of the authors - seven deacons, one bishop, four priests and one woman researcher - are listed at the beginning of the book.
The Deacon Reader is recommended to deacons, those studying for the diaconate, those involved in the formation of deacons, and seminary or theological libraries.