Of the 50 retired deacons, 12 are 80 years of age or older. These brothers have served the Church of Denver well and with their eyes fixed on the Master. As part of their preparation, these older deacons were formed early on during times of uncertainty about diaconal responsibilities and what it means to be an Icon of Jesus Christ, the Servant. As brothers, they deserve all of our respect and accolades.
Part of the respect we give comes through our proper participation in the funeral of a Deacon that has passed away. From the Vigil Service to the graveside Interment, the liturgical events that transpire are filled with rich symbolism and meaning. It is our responsibility to insure these rituals take place with reverence and humility.
The Vigil Service is usually the first time we are able to visit the body of the deceased. In recognition of our common bond, through the mark of Holy Orders, we meet in union with one another and as brothers, to bid farewell in an intimate setting and pray the Liturgy of the Hours in college together with the body of our deceased brother present.
This Office is the prayer that we vowed to pray to God for the Church the day we were ordained. It was for the Church that our brother Deacon dedicated his life–along with the college that stands before his casket. Indeed, it was these prayers that our brother woke up with in the morning and watched the sunset with in the evening, as God displayed his beautiful creation before our brother’s petitions of faith. It is fitting that it be voiced in choir with those who continue the mission he began while on his pilgrimage to eternity.
During the Office of the Dead, the Deacons sit in choir together and across from one another. They sit together as an important and significant sign of unity. The reasons are not to dismiss the families and friends of the vested deacons; rather, it is to show true unity with our brother deacon that has died and in communion with all deacons both present and past who wait for the glory promised us through Jesus Christ. It is important to understand that, while we are fathers, sons, brothers and uncles of others, we are honored to be bonded in a unique way with our deceased Deacon.
The Funeral Mass also takes on significant meaning for everyone present. Again, the deacons at the Funeral Mass sit in college together. Normally, depending on the configuration of the church, the college of deacons sits across from the family of the deceased. This shows the equal and complementary grace of the Sacraments that were gifted to the deceased Deacon by God Himself.
At the Funeral Mass, the Chief Shepherd, or his representative, should generally be present as the main Celebrant of the Mass. As our Spiritual Father on earth, the Archbishop presence conveys to all in the congregation how important it was to the faithful for the Deacon to have dedicated his life to God through the Diaconate. It also reflects the love and concern our Archbishop has for his brothers as a deacon and servant of all. It is with equal sorrow that we, the clergy, grieve for our brother deacon, while anticipating the day that we will rejoice again with him in glory.
Like no other Mass, the Funeral Mass for any cleric should reflect, with care, the obedience and love we have for the Church and for Her Sanctifier, the Holy Spirit. Deacons also have a special love for Our Blessed Mother who watches over the Church and cares for Her sons. When a person walks away from a Funeral Mass of a Deacon they should leave with a sense of awe; allowing them to contemplate on their own lives and mediate on how well they may be imitating a life of obedience and holiness.
The vestments for the deceased and for the deacons present are the alb, the cincture, the stole. The dalmatic should also be part of the vestments for the deceased as he participates spiritually and intimately in the Sacred Order of the Mass along with us. As Catholics, we believe that the saints and angels join with us in the Eucharistic celebration, even during a Funeral Mass. Our white garments give life to the imagery of the saintly deacons who stand together at the altar of God. The stole gives evidence of our commitment to our vocation and the common thread that weavers through each of us into our deceased brother and to God through the indelible mark we took on when we dedicated our lives to the Holy Order of Service.
As we look to the future of the Diaconate, we can thank our brother Deacons that have molded and formed the community of Deacons in a special and important way. These thanksgiving should also be in the form of intecressory prayer to those Deacons Servants who have since passed away and await our company in heaven. Our obligation to all those who have molded the path of diakonia, is to hold firmly to the vows we made at our ordination and to reflect with truth and love, the diaconal mission of liturgy, word and service. The best way to accomplish this is to follow in the footsteps of our brothers by keeping our eyes fixed on the Master.