The Very Reverend Benjamin Shambaugh answers your questions about our life and liturgy.
Submit your own questions for the Dean at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Why does the deacon read the gospel in the middle of the congregation? As you may remember from last week, part of a deacon’s role is to “bring the world to the church and the church to the world.” The Gospels are the part of the Bible that talk directly about Jesus and reading the gospel in the midst of the people reminds us that we find Jesus in the midst of the people. While the priest’s role is symbolized most in the sacraments inside the church, the deacon’s is symbolized the most in service outside the church. That is why the deacon gives the dismissal when worship is over, the idea being that having been fed and inspire with worship, we are ready to serve and it is time to go forth and live out what we have said we believe. Deacon’s remind us that Sunday morning isn’t our “one time” a week to be religious, it is rather what helps us live out our faith all week long. This idea is embodied in a dismissal “Our worship is over, our service begins” and the people’s response, “thanks be to God.”
What is a deacon? The word deacon derives from the Greek Diakonos meaning servant or minister and the biblical concept of diakonia is commonly defined as service, particularly to the poor, sick, and oppressed. (see Acts 6:5) The deacon’s service is a sign or sacrament of Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve. Jesus is the model for the servant leadership a deacon is called to exercise in a variety of ways, including encouraging and enabling others to serve. A deacon has “one foot in the world and one foot in the church.” The biggest differences with priests are that deacons cannot consecrate the Eucharist, and they cannot pronounce the absolution of sin after the Confession or give a blessing. Deacons read the Gospel, they set up the altar for the priest or bishop, and they serve the chalice. They also might have various ministry/service functions outside the worship service. Priests (Presbyteros meaning elder) preside over the worship service. They have the capacity to consecrate the Eucharist, to declare absolution, and to offer a blessing. Priests generally preach, although either order can do so. Priests serve as the pastor/rector of a church. Priests are always ordained as deacons first, just as bishops have always been ordained as priests, with each order embodying the others. Following ancient Roman traditions, deacons wear a stole over one shoulder and priests wear a stole over both. Note that lay people also constitute the first and most important order of ministry in the Episcopal Church, with all of us called to ministry through baptism.
Where do the Bible readings come from each Sunday? Each Sunday four scripture passages (from the Old Testament, the psalms, the New Testament and the Gospel) are read. These come from the Revised Common Lectionary, a calendar of readings that is shared across many denominations. The Lectionary is designed to cover the Bible in three years. Year A focuses on the gospel of Matthew, B on Mark and C on Luke. The Gospel of John is used for special days. We are now in year C, following track 1, which does a chronological walk through the Old Testament. Because Easter follows a lunar calendar, the date of “proper” readings for each day change slightly year to year. This Sunday is Proper 4. You may find the readings on line at thelectionarypage.net.