Bishop: ‘We have deacons precisely because we have priests, not because we are lacking priests’

Bishop: ‘We have deacons precisely because we have priests, not because we are lacking priests’ July 22, 2018

A bishop quickly emerging as a foremost authority on the diaconate has just published a new book on the subject, and he is only too happy to talk about it.

From The Catholic Missourian: 

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight suggested a revision to an article for the Feb. 2 issue of The Catholic Missourian.

Where it said “the word ‘deacon’ is derived from the Greek word, ‘diakonia,’ which means ‘servant,’” he wanted the definition changed to “minister on behalf of another.”

That distinction is a key premise of Bishop McKnight’s book, Understanding the Diaconate: Historical, Theological and Sociological Foundations, released this month by The Catholic University of America Press.

“Deacons are messengers. They are go-betweens, they are intermediaries,” Bishop McKnight insisted. “I see deacons as spiritual entrepreneurs in getting ministries started that are needed but currently don’t exist.”

In his 270-page book (not including the index and extensive bibliography), he draws upon theology, Scriptural exegesis, history and sociology to cast a renewed vision for the Permanent Diaconate in the Church, which he maintains is by nature both priestly and diaconal.

He said deacons animate lay involvement while serving as ambassadors between a bishop and his diocese, between priests and parishes.

“Those who make decisions in the Church benefit from knowing the needs and the desires of the Christian faithful, which deacons bear responsibility for communicating,” he said.

Deacons also extend the ministry of the bishop and that of the priest in showing care and concern for whomever they meet, he stated.

Bishop McKnight studied the Permanent Diaconate extensively while pursuing his licentiate and doctorate in sacramental theology at the The Pontifical Atheneum of St. Anselm in Rome.

His book is an extension of his doctoral thesis, which he completed under the mentorship of Father James F. Puglisi of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.

Having contributed articles to journals and Church publications and led retreats and seminars on the Diaconate, Bishop McKnight is scheduled to give a keynote presentation at the 2018 National Diaconate Congress this month in New Orleans (

Bishop McKnight said writing is a chore for him, “but this book was something I just had to get out. I was driven to get it done.”

Read it all. And check out the book, too! While it is, by necessity, academic — and not exactly light reading for the beach — it’s a richly researched look at an often-misunderstood vocation. Jefferson City is blessed to have a bishop who has spent much of his career “understanding the diaconate.” I’m looking forward to seeing Bishop McKnight in the flesh later this week during the Diaconate Congress.

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