Ministers of the Temple

May 1, 2024
Archdiocese of Baltimore
Est. Reading: 4 minutes

In preparation for my ordination to the diaconate on May 18th, I have imagined what it will be like in the Cathedral as I stand next to my fellow candidates, about to be ordained, before Archbishop Lori. Some of the men with whom I will be ordained plan to remain deacons for life. I hope to continue, God-willing, to presbyteral ordination next year. Whichever ‘type’ of deacon we are, we will all be equal as deacons. Both the permanent diaconate and the transitional diaconate highlight the importance of the diaconate in the life of the Church: the former by emphasizing that the diaconate is an honorable lifelong vocation for a Christian man; the latter by emphasizing that a man’s priesthood is incomplete without the prior diaconal dimension. But what is a deacon? As I step forward to be ordained, in my mind will be an image at the heart of the scriptural and liturgical texts on the diaconate, and confirmed by my experience of the Church: the deacon as a minister of God’s Temple.

The unchanging God through his Word established the universe from the beginning as the original Temple of creation. Across history, he has constantly reformed this Temple, as part of his work of recreation. The renewed Temple has its beginnings in the Old Testament, with men such as Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek. It is clearly prefigured by Moses and the sons of Levi in the wilderness, and then in the Temple of Jerusalem. The Gospels begin with a family intimately connected to the Temple: with Zechariah, John, Elizabeth—and her cousin Mary. Through this family, Temple renewal reaches its climax, in the body of Jesus himself. The rebuilt Temple is not in a geographical location. It is the Body of the Risen Lord, the Temple of the Holy Spirit. With Jesus as cornerstone, the Temple is rebuilt on the foundation of the Apostles, assisted by the holy deacons whom they first ordained, and also on the martyrs, of whom a deacon, Stephen, was the very first. The work of re-creation happens as the Holy Spirit gathers women and men from across space and time, from every race, language, class, and culture, building up a holy Temple, a dwelling place for God (see Ephesians 2:19–22). The deacon, a modern son of Levi, enters directly into God’s work of re-creation through ministry to this Temple.

How does a deacon minister in the Temple of the living God? The deacon’s liturgical ministry is easiest to see and hear. He takes care of the Body and Blood of the Risen Lord and the vessels which hold this blessed sacrament. He is also a bridge between the priest and the laity during the liturgy: “Let us offer each other a sign of peace;” “Bow down for the blessing;” “Go in peace!” These moments are connected. The deacon’s liturgical ministry to the vessels holding Jesus’s Body and Blood is a sign of his ministry to the vessels of the Holy Spirit who make up the Body that is the Church. The deacon’s liturgical ministry is a preparatory sign, because he is inspired by his ministry to the Eucharistic Lord to minister to the people on the margins (physical and existential) of the diocese. But his liturgical ministry is also a sign of fulfillment, because the deacon’s mission to the margins has its goal in uniting ever more women and men to Christ for the upbuilding of the heavenly Temple. I love the example of the great deacon of the city of Rome, Lawrence. Lawrence was responsible for the wealth of the church: both the vessels for the Eucharistic sacrifice as well as the money, much of it for the poor. When the ruling prefect of Rome demanded that the church hand over all of her wealth, Lawrence gathered together the poor of Rome and declared them to be her true treasure —vessels of the Holy Spirit, in the treasury of the renewed Temple. For this boldness, Lawrence was martyred.

Lawrence’s knowledge of and care for the marginalized will challenge me in my diaconal ministry to encounter new people, especially those who are different, distant, or deprived of dignity. In my years of preparation for ordination, I have met many people from all walks of life. By hearing their stories and seeing God work his re-creation in their lives, I am convinced that God’s people really are the true treasures of the Church. The Holy Spirit so clearly works his cosmic gathering in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, building up the Body of Christ. In the months to come, I look forward to serving the ‘Temple treasury.’ Pray for me and for all the men ordained deacons on May 18th, that we may be found worthy of this service.

Tommy O’Donnell is a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. His home parish is St. Mark’s in Catonsville. He will be ordained to the diaconate on May 18, 2024. Please pray for Tommy.

Featured photo by Kevin J. Parks/Catholic Review Media. Used with permission.