The men of our diocesan diaconate formation class were formally installed as Lectors by Bishop Stika on Saturday evening at the Vigil Mass at All Saints in West Knoxville on Saturday evening. As was done when we were made Candidates (and will be done again when we are made Acolytes and will later, God willing, be ordained) we all answered “present” to our names and came forward. All of the men were called forward individually, and kneeled before the bishop and took the Lectionary in their hands. Most all of them looked the bishop in the eye, it appeared to me. The bishop came down to where I was standing, and I remember when I took hold of the Book of the Gospels, I have to admit that I looked straight at it. While I did, I meditated for that very short few moments on the responsibility that this position of being a Lector places upon me and upon my fellow candidates. More than merely readers at Mass, we are all officially catechists now, teachers of the faith. Many people volunteer to be catechists in their parish each year, and I myself have done and continue to do this, but we have been commissioned by the bishop to teach the faith in preparation for ordination.
When I stepped forward and grasped the Lectionary as it lay in the bishop’s hands, he said to me, as he said to each of the other men:
Take this book of Holy Scripture
and be faithful in handing on the Word of God,
so that it may grow strong in the hearts of his people.
Hearing those words causes a person to understand that being “faithful in handing on the Word of God” is a responsibility that is now placed upon each and every one of us in the diaconate formation class. As a priest friend of mine pointed out to me in an internet exchange on Sunday, being installed as a Lector of the Church is connected in a special way directly to Holy Orders, as it used to be that to be made a Lector or an Acolyte meant that a man was ordained to what were called the minor orders, and so in declaring our presence and willingness to follow Christ, in taking the Scriptures into our hands, in promising to be faithful in handing on the Word of God, all of us are already committing our lives to following Christ and his Church. We have made a pledge to the Body of Christ that we will be readers, teachers, and by God’s grace doers of the Word.
Before we began the Mass, many people were gathered in the narthex of the Church, and most of the deacons of the diocese were to be found there, because they had their retreat that day with the bishop and processed into the church with their wives to renew their vows of ordination before Bishop Stika as we were all being installed as Lectors. I saw many of the deacons, and said hello to several of them, including my own mentor Deacon Jim Prosak, Deacon Jim Fage, Deacon Jack Raymond, Deacon Joe Stackhouse, and Deacon Bob Smearing and his wife, among others. The comment of the day that can perhaps be said to have planted the seed for this very reflection came from Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey, who was my Spiritual Director for the first few months of our formation. He asked: “Are you ready to read?” I sincerely thought that he was trying to tell me that I was going to be reading the Scriptures at that very Mass. “No one told me that I was going to be reading today,” I responded. “You will be reading for the rest of your life,” he pointedly said.
Deacon Pat is very right, but not just about me. Each of us blessed to be in the Diocese of Knoxville’s diaconate formation program is now earnestly on the road that will lead us to the sacrament of Holy Orders. When we say “present” in response to our names, we present ourselves in service to the People of God, and from now on when we read God’s Word, we will be looked to as those who can teach that Word to the people. It is an awesome responsibility, a humbling reality, and a grace-filled calling. And it is a gift…all is gift.