During the ceremony, the deacon candidates will make three promises: those of celibacy, prayer, and obedience. These are lifelong commitments to a way of life.
“In the presence of God and his Church, are you resolved, as a sign of your interior dedication to Christ, to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom and in lifelong service to God and mankind?”
The promise of celibacy means that the deacon will forgo marriage for the sake of God’s kingdom. This is not a rejection of the goodness of marriage, but a commitment rooted in the deacon’s deep conviction that the kingdom of God is something for which it is worth giving his life.
A sacred minister’s celibacy proclaims to those he meets that he belongs completely to God, and this frees him for ministerial service. The Church has highlighted some of the practical benefits the celibate man possesses in his relationship to Jesus Christ: “they adhere to him more easily with an undivided heart, they dedicate themselves more freely in him and through him to the service of God and men, and they more expeditiously minister to his Kingdom and the work of heavenly regeneration, and thus they are apt to accept, in a broad sense, paternity in Christ” (Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis, 16).
But above all, celibacy is a life given to Christ and lived in radical imitation of him—“an answer of love to the love which Christ has shown us so sublimely,” as Pope Paul VI described it. It is a life dedicated “not to any human ideal, no matter how noble, but to Christ and to His work to bring about a new form of humanity in all places and for all generations” (Sacerdotalis Caelibatus, 24).
The Second Vatican Council asked all the faithful to “receive this precious gift of priestly celibacy in their hearts, and ask of God that he will always bestow this gift upon his Church” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 16). The beauty of this gift of celibacy is most clearly and brilliantly seen through the examples of so many of those same saints who are to be invoked in the litany of the saints during the ordination ceremony. Through them, it is evident that when “accepted with a joyous heart, celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1579).
“Are you resolved to maintain and deepen a spirit of prayer appropriate to your way of life and, in keeping with what is required of you, to celebrate faithfully the Liturgy of the Hours for the Church and for the whole world?”
The deacon’s daily prayer focuses on both his personal needs as well as on his service to others. The promise to maintain and deepen a spirit of prayer specifically includes the promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours—contained in a book more commonly referred to as the Breviary—developed from the practice of early Christian monks who would recite the psalms throughout the day as a way of sanctifying time. It was gradually adapted to suit the needs of parish priests. Generally speaking, it is prayed five times a day, at different times. Thus, “by tradition going back to early Christian times, the divine office is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God” (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 84). While praying the Divine Office, one prays for the entire Church and the world. By praying the psalms, the deacon will be saying the very same prayers that Christ learnt as a boy and prayed throughout his life.
“Do you promise respect and obedience to your ordinary and his successors?”
This last promise is made separately from the other two, and each candidate will kneel before the bishop to make it. He commits himself to a life of humble, active obedience. Obedience guarantees that the one body of Christ is united in one mind and heart. It is not a repression of one’s desires or opinions, but a fruitful directing of them to a common goal. Obedience in the Church resembles that which is within any family—in fact, in speaking of priestly obedience, the Catechism states that “the promise of obedience they make to the bishop at the moment of ordination and the kiss of peace from him at the end of the ordination liturgy mean that the bishop considers them his co-workers, his sons, his brothers and his friends, and that they in return owe him love and obedience” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1567).
This is the image of a true Christian community—united and all working together in their respective roles for the glory of God and the proclamation of the Kingdom.