Exult, let us exult along with the hosts of heaven!
We are so blessed to be able to bring this sacred chant to the people of God at the Easter Vigil! May we, unworthy Levites, ask the faithful to invoke our Lord’s assistance in singing His Praises, that He might pour His light into us unshadowed! That is what Deacons pray for when singing the Easter Proclamation and it should be the desire of our hearts…that we might proclaim God’s perfect praises in our words, our actions, our thoughts and our songs!
The General Instructions of the Roman Missal gives pride of place for chanting the Easter Proclamation first to the Deacon (GIRM p. 347, para.19) precisely because of his close association with the Levites of the Old Testament. Though unworthy, he pleads with the faithful, his dearest friends, to invoke the mercy of the Almighty God.
In the Old Testament, the order of priestly service began with Aaron, who took first place in the hierarchical order as the King, or Bishop, of the Levites. Indeed, it was the Levitical staff, engraved with his name that blossomed and was placed inside the Ark of the Covenant because it had been touched by God. (Nu 17:16-24) After Aaron came his sons and their direct descendants who acted as Levitical Priests in the duty of performing sacrifices to God.
After Aaron (the King) and his familial descendants (the Priests) came men from selected families of the Levitical lineage who functioned as the “Deacons” of Old Testament era. They were known simply as “Levites”. Their responsibilities were to serve within the meeting tent, and to protect and defend the Ark of the Covenant, the Law and the People of Israel. As it is today, the Bishops, Priests and Deacons also share a similar type of ordained “lineage”. The Israelite Priests were assigned to Sacrifice and Levites to Service.
Since the 1960’s when the Church in Her Wisdom restored the order of the Deacon to a permanent status, She has been more readily present to the world in the ministerial duties of the Deacon. Those Catholics who were active in the Church prior to Vatican II can relate to the dynamic wonders that God has worked through the ministry of the Deacon who stands as an Icon of Jesus Christ, the Servant. Indeed, ministries that were sadly impoverished after the diminishment of the role of deacon in the 5th century have re-emerged as special treasures of the Bride of Christ and are bearing wonderful fruit in His Mystical Body.
Across the country today, Deacons understand their role in the threefold ministry of Word, Liturgy and Charity but sometimes do not understand the context of where these ministries originated and are to be carried out. Most Deacons will correctly state that Church Tradition handed down the source of the Diaconal Order through an interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 6. St. Paul’s letter to Timothy provides even more clarity to the role and character of the Deacon. Yet the question lingers on the reference points from which those original seven Deacons took their direction from the Apostles.
For example, with the help of the Holy Spirit, St. Stephen preached powerfully to the adversarial Sanhedrin and then echoed the words of Jesus on the Cross as he was being stoned. “Father forgive them… (Acts: 7)”. St. Philip also preached the Word, and then expelled unclean spirits, baptized, and healed the sick in Samaria. He challenged Simon the Magician and converted him to Christianity (Acts:8). Interestingly, Saints Stephen and Philip are the only two original Deacons whose works are recorded in Scripture and neither of them kept to the literal interpretation of their mission inferred in Acts Chapter 6.
Indeed, the Acts of the Apostles seems to concede that the role of the Deacon had been well established prior to the Apostolic era. The seven worthy men ordained by the Apostles and filled with the Holy Spirit ministered as Deacons whose light was unshadowed by the political leanings of the government or worldly pressures to conform. It seems sequential that these Deacons and Bishops looked to their Levitical ancestors for guidance in their collective ministries.
The early Deacons’ ability to defend the faith and the Church may have been inspired by the heroic acts of Old Testament Levites like those who exhibited solidarity with Moses in the destruction of the golden calf idol. When Moses stood at the gate of the camp and cried, “Whoever is for the Lord, let him come to me!”, only the Levites courageously joined him in defense of the Lord. (Ex 32:25-29). So, it was with St. Stephen, proto-martyr and Deacon. After preaching to the Sanhedrin, he did not back down from the Jewish leaders even though he likely knew that Saul was close by and ready to have him stoned.
Even the Deacon’s physical position in relation to the Bishop draws from the Old Testament readings. For example, standing on his right and left in procession and public appearances, sitting on each side of him during Liturgy and to the right and slightly behind him at the altar, is linked with the Levite’s position in relation to the King. In Old Testament times, it was his Levitical duty to stay with the king wherever he went and surround him on all sides, even with weapons drawn. (2 Ch 23:7)
Levites were also the chief gatekeepers whose permanent duty was to guard and protect the chambers and holy treasures of God. (1 Ch 9:26) They were tasked with protecting and defending the Temple and all it represented. In the same way, Deacons of today have the responsibility of defending not only the physical structure of the Church from vandalism and desecration but also its spiritual treasure: specifically, the teachings of the Church and the poor.
This obligation to spiritually protect the Church is clearly evident in the early Deacons as modeled by St. Philip who confronted Simon the Magician. The people “paid attention to him (Simon) because they were astounded by his magic for a long time.” (Acts 8:11). But through God’s grace working in his heart, the Magician was even more amazed by St. Philip’s powerful preaching of the Gospel as testified to by Acts 8:8 (…Philip left the town of Samaria with) “great joy in that city”. Undoubtedly, this Deacon Saint took his cue from the Old Testament Levites who camped around the tabernacle and the temple to make atonement for those who were unclean, thereby shielding the community from God’s wrath. (Nu 1:53)
But protecting and defending the hearts of the people and the teachings of the Church requires the Deacon to prepare himself to become a living Icon of Jesus Christ, the Servant. Much like the Levites who were required to clean themselves and their garments before entering the temple to purify it and “clean out the filth from the sanctuary” (2 Ch 29:1-5), the Deacon must cultivate a clean heart through prayer, fasting and purging all that distracts from God in order to rid the world from the filth of evil and hatred.
Our role as Deacons is to protect and defend the Bride of Christ, not to cause controversy or question her teachings. There may be times when we don’t fully understand Her instructions but let us view these as opportunities for delving deeper into Her mysteries. Let us, in all humility, think, speak and act in accord with the Magisterial authority that Jesus entrusted to His Church. Ultimately, this relationship with the Bride of Christ will lead to a fresh discovery of her beauty and an enthusiasm to share Her truth, which in turn will lead us ever closer to Her Divine Spouse, Jesus Christ.
We as Deacons should live out our ministries in a light unshadowed–echoing the glory of the Easter Proclamation. I pray that we will often experience the joy of Resurrection, new life, new beginnings and a new creation in the people and situations we encounter. Through our ordination, let us remain closely united to Christ who dispels wickedness, washes away faults, drives out hatred and brings down the mighty. Let us share in His victory over death and darkness, and immerse ourselves in His Redeeming Love which restores innocence to the fallen, brings joy to mourners and fosters peaceful concord. Let us rejoice at the Passover of the Lord, when things in heaven are wed to those of earth, the divine to the human. Let us discover anew the power of the Easter Proclamation and the meaning of Our Lord’s Cross and Resurrection! For it is through the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ that we are able to change the world!