By Bill Brewer
The Diocese of Knoxville’s newest class of permanent deacons has taken a key step closer to ordination as they now can serve as lectors proclaiming the Word of God.
Bishop Richard F. Stika celebrated the Rite of the Institution of Lectors for the 25 candidates for the permanent diaconate on Sunday, Sept. 27, at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
As lectors, the deacon candidates promise to live out and share the message of Scripture. An instituted lector is charged with proclaiming the readings from the sacred Scriptures (except for the Gospel), announcing the intentions in the Prayer of the Faithful (in the absence of a deacon), and reciting or singing the responsorial psalm if there is no cantor.
Distinct from the typical parish reader, these men will exercise this ministry in a permanent way. The Institution of Lectors is one of the formal steps to being ordained to the permanent diaconate. The current deacon class will be ordained in June 2022.
Deacon Tim Elliott, director of the Diaconate and Deacon Formation for the Diocese of Knoxville, presented the class to Bishop Stika during the Mass.
“My dear bishop, beginning in August of 2016, 30 men began the journey to this day by beginning a period of informal inquiry. Formal course work began in September of 2017. Since that time, these men have spent their time in diligent study, prayer, and reflection, including over 600 hours of in-classroom formation. Last October, you officially admitted 25 men who came to receive holy orders. Today, having reflected on their formation, the following men are asking to be instituted as lectors,” Deacon Elliott said.
Deacon Elliott called each man by name, and each one responded by standing and saying “present.”
Bishop Stika told the candidates that the ritual to institute lectors is very simple, yet very profound.
“In the name of the entire Church of Knoxville, 70,000-plus, I say thank you for your word ‘present,’” the bishop said. “The profound word you stated, ‘present,’ means that all the energy behind these last couple of years has brought you to this moment in the Church,” Bishop Stika said.
The bishop congratulated the men and expressed gratitude on behalf of the diocese and its members, then reminded them that “it ain’t over yet.”
In his homily, Bishop Stika pointed out that Scripture tells us the Word became Flesh. He remarked that many in the congregation have at some time read at Mass. But he went further and distinguished between reading and proclaiming the Word of God.
“There’s a difference between reading and proclaiming. In many ways, to proclaim also means to live, to believe in the words you are speaking. When we read at Mass, we proclaim, we teach, we share. As you take another step toward, God willing, ordination to the diaconate, I would urge you to never be caught off guard as you prepare to read. People are there to listen, to allow those words to change their lives,” the bishop said.
He said the Scriptures talk to every generation, to every person who reads or listens, with a prayer that those words, in a transformative way, jump off the page into the mind and into the heart of those who proclaim, and those who listen.
“My brothers, as you make this formal step, God willing in a few years to be ordained to the diaconate, I urge you more and more every day to let the Scriptures transform your life,” Bishop Stika said. “Don’t just show up and say, ‘Hey, what is the reading today?’ The people in the pews will know if you believe those words. The power of words. The Word made Flesh. And He made His dwelling place among us.”
Assisting Bishop Stika during the Mass were Deacon Patrick Murphy-Racey and Deacon Fredy Vargas.
The 25 candidates for the permanent diaconate are David Anderson, Shawn Ballard, James Bello, Peter Chiaro, Humberto Collazo, Kenneth Conklin, Roberto Cortes, Eric Dadey, Gianfranco DellaSantina, Robert Denne, Leon Dodd Jr., David Duhamel, Wade Eckler, Michael Gray, Jim Haselsteiner, Joseph Herman, Robert Hunt, Vic Landa, Gregory Larson, Patrick Nakagawa, Augustin Ortega, Rafael Pubillones, Chad Shields, Salvador Soriano, and David Venesky.
The 48 permanent deacons serving in 27 parishes across the diocese are involved in a variety of ministries and activities, including law enforcement, prisons, food banks, minority outreach, hospital chaplaincy, hospice, home-bound visitations, and education.