A deacon in the City of Brotherly Love sent me an e-mail about a little brotherly love from the archbishop.
Below is the text of a letter sent to the priests and deacons of Philadelphia:
￼February 13, 2013
Dear Brother Priests and Deacons,
An important part of the life and work of the Church in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is the service of our permanent deacons. Since becoming your Archbishop, I have discussed several topics I consider important for the permanent diaconate within our local Church. These include especially witnessing marriages, clerical attire, and the age of admission for formation. I have recently approved changes regarding these areas and others after consultation with many, including the Council of Priests. All of these changes will take effect on Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, March 24, 2013.
First, all deacons with the faculties of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will now be delegated to assist at (witness) marriages. Liturgical norms are clear that at marriages within Mass the priest celebrant witnesses the marriage. Please see attached decree.
Second, in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia permanent deacons will now wear clerical attire, a gray clerical shirt with a white collar, in the exercise of their diaconal ministry. When a permanent deacon is not exercising his ministry, his attire is that of the lay faithful. Please see attached decree.
Third, the ordinary age for admission to permanent diaconate formation will be raised from 50 to 55 years of age.
In addition to these changes, I want you to know that deacons are always welcome to vest and be seated together at all archdiocesan liturgies.
Also, the responsibilities of the Office for the Permanent Diaconate will be divided come July. Formation for candidates for the permanent diaconate will move to the Permanent Diaconate Division of Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. Ongoing formation and any personnel related matters will move to the Office for Clergy.
I thank all of you, priests and deacons, for your dedicated ministry to the people of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
May the Lord give you every peace and blessing. Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Archbishop of Philadelphia
UPDATE: As a result of several requests by deacons to see the actual documents involved, I’ve posted links to the two decrees on these issues below.
UPDATE II: The diocesan newspaper has additional details this morning, and clarifies that the age change is about the “upward age” for men beginning formation:
At this time Philadelphia has 196 permanent deacons in active ministry. But including retired deacons who often remain active in their parish, the number is approximately 225, according to Deacon James T. Owens, director of the Office for Permanent Deacons and Dean of the Permanent Diaconate Division of St. Charles Seminary.
He estimates about 90 percent of the active permanent deacons also have secular employment. While clerical garb and a general permission to witness at marriages outside of Mass for permanent deacons is new to Philadelphia, most other dioceses and archdioceses already do this, Deacon Owens explained.
“Deacons are collaborators in ministry with the priests of the Archdiocese and are ordained to serve the people of God,” he said. “These changes will make the deacon’s clerical status more consistently apparent to the lay faithful and enhance the service that deacons offer.”
Deacon Mark Dillon, a permanent deacon in ministry at Mother of Divine Providence Parish in King of Prussia and recently retired from his secular career, is five years ordained. He believes the new directives recognize the service of deacons as being distinct from that of priests.
“Their ministry must be prominent, public and permanent,” he said.
The granting of permission for deacons to witness marriages outside of Mass “is helpful and emphasizes this,” he said. But as a practical matter, since most Catholic marriages take place within Mass, the number of instances where it happens will be relatively few, he thinks.