Given at the Mass of ordination of permanent deacons at Westminster Cathedral on 8th July, 2017.
My brothers and sisters, it’s a well-established and rich part of our tradition and heritage of faith that we begin each day with a morning offering. My mother taught me that the first thing I should do every morning is to make the sign of the Cross and then to offer to the Lord the day and whatever it would bring. It’s a good thing for everybody to do, whether you’re a young altar server in the cathedral this morning or a more mature person who has come to support these six men.
Sometimes when I think about the morning offering, I think of the gesture that goes with it. It would be the gesture of trying to hold my life in the palm of my hands and offer it to God, my life of this day. You remember, I’m sure, in the film, The Man for all Seasons, when Thomas More’s explaining, that when you take an oath, it is like trying to hold your life in your hands and you cannot afford to open your fingers in case your life flows away like water and the promise becomes empty. It’s the same with our morning offering. We try and imagine, we contain the day that is to come and offer it to God, so that he may be with us and bless us.
Now, you know, as our life progresses, that morning offering begins to take on a more particular shape. We might be offering a particular kind of work, a particular role within a family, a particular burden that has come to us, a particular task that lies ahead of us. The morning offering becomes an expression of our vocation, the call that we’ve received from God, to live the Gospel, to follow the Lord in these circumstances, in this way.
So my morning offering this morning included this act of ordaining deacons because that’s my vocation, that’s the call that God has given to me. And, you know, in making the morning offering we’re fulfilling that call of baptism: that we sanctify the world, that we make what we do holy through it, and that we receive God’s grace so that our service in the world, our service in our families, our service in the office may be a service offered in the name of Jesus. In this way we see how the roots of the ordained priesthood and the ordained service of a deacon lie in the life of every baptised Christian.
What happens in an ordination, be it to priesthood or to diaconate, is that that task of sanctifying daily life through our morning offering, that task of serving in the name of Jesus through our morning offering, is given a different and a deeper shape. It is now the vehicle through which the visible, the public character of the life of the Church will be seen and will be made effective. So a priest, a deacon seeks to sanctify life in the name of the Church, seeks to serve in the public image and name of the Church, and that’s why for everyone in Sacred Orders what we do and what we say has an additional dimension. And, as we know so clearly, what we do wrong and what we say poorly and badly has far greater ramifications than it might have had if we had not been ordained ministers of the Church.
In the language of the Church, those who are ordained to Holy Orders, priests and deacons, become a part of the presence and ministry of Christ, the Head of the Church. And that little phrase tells us a lot about the ministry of priests and deacons: it is done in the name of Christ the Head, taking an overview, being there to coordinate, draw together, and make sure of the health of the body of the Church. It’s not there to dominate, it’s not there to issue commands. It’s there to be that drawing together and rooting deeply in the mind and the will of Christ everything that is done in the life of the Church.
In the two readings that we have heard this morning, the role of the deacon, of you six men, the role that you are embracing, is sketched very quickly and easily. In the first reading we heard, as it were, the first call of deacons: they were there to assist the Apostles so that the Apostles, priests and the bishops could be focused a little more clearly on their essential tasks. And deacons are there to express particularly, the task of preaching the Gospel, the task of proclaiming the Gospel, the task of being a presence in a wider world, in complement with the priests and the bishops.
The Gospel reading gave us a slightly different angle because the Gospel reading was speaking of the whole Church being a light on a hilltop, not hidden under a bushel. That Gospel isn’t speaking to me personally or to deacons personally. It is not that I have to be a star, not that I have to be the centre of attention but it’s the Church that should be the light of Christ in every corner of the world, and that’s the vocation of the missionary disciple, every one of us in our baptismal call. We together are to be that light of Christ; and the deacon is there to serve that task, to serve the missionary nature of our baptismal calling expressed in the light of every parish.
So, this morning, I hope your day began with a morning offering. I hope you could perhaps tomorrow imagine it as a holding of your daily life and offering it to God. Today, for these six men, it is a different gesture and that is the gesture of prostration, face down on the floor of the cathedral, while we pray that God’s grace will fill them to enable them to accept and fulfil the role of deacon in the headship and the figure of Christ, the Head of the Church today. The gesture is a dramatic one. It’s a gesture in which a man becomes very vulnerable, lying face down on the floor, not knowing what is going on around him. But here we do know because what goes on around you six men is the prayer of the Church and, just as it accompanies you this morning, it will accompany you every day. And I am sure, I know that that prayer of the Church for you will be led by your wives and your families. So let’s proceed with this ordination of six men to the diaconate, to service in the parishes in the Church of our diocese.