I have been asked on more than one occasion why deacons are related to the chalice, i.e., to the Blood of Christ. This is signified at Mass when the deacon elevates the chalice during the doxology, and when he preferentially distributes the Blood of Christ to the people during the communion rite.
Yes, deacons are in a deep relationship with the Blood of Christ.
I am reminded of St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians in which he says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…… so that the life of Jesus may be manifested on our mortal flesh.” (2 Cor 4: 8-11) I dare say that the life and ministry of many deacons are experienced, at least occasionally, in just this way. In other words, the vocation of a deacon is bound to the Cross, to redemptive suffering, even to marytrydom, to the shedding of his blood for others.
That all sounds rather bleak at first glance, doesn’t it? Not exactly a good recruitment tool for the diaconate. Take a second look though at its meaning.
As our Holy Father, Pope Francis has recently reminded us, ministry requires that we get out of ourselves and enter into the world of the poor. This implies diaconal ministry is a proximal ministry, a ministry in which we are close to the people. When Pope Francis was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he sometimes required his priests not only go out to the poor but that they lived with them in their poverty. Francis required proximity. He understood ministry to the poor would result in getting your hands dirty. He even said that to care for the poor would mean we would “smell’ like them.
The deacon’s bind to the Cross is then seen in his attachment to the suffering of the poor. It is then also bound to martyrdom, the shedding of his blood so others may live.
The deacon elevates the chalice, filled with the Blood of Christ, signifying his commitment to lifting up those who because of political, social, economic or religious reasons have been forgotten and marginalized in our world.
Jesus’ love was shown to all mankind when he shed his blood, blood that washed us and took what was deeply stained by sin and cleansed it. The Blood of Christ is the giving of life. Elevated on the Cross, Jesus’ blood pour out so that life may be raised up again. The deacon, when he elevates the chalice and distributes the Blood of Christ, is saying by these actions that he is letting his own blood be shed so others may live, and his shedding of blood is done in service, in assisting at the sacrifice of the Cross. It is sort of like, if you can imagine it this way, a deacon being at the scene of the crucifixion, having collected the spilled Blood of Jesus as he hangs on the cross and lifting up that Blood to God the Father. The Body is elevated by Christ himself; the Blood (which alone dropped off the Cross that day and on to the ground) is collected and lifted up by the deacon. To do this risks the shedding of one’s own blood because it is a statement of purpose, a public acknowledgment of the deacon’s willingness to be united to the death of Jesus.
It is also an acknowledgment that the deacon is closely bound to the suffering of the people, to their blood which he raises to the Father along with the Blood of Jesus, just as Jesus lifted high all of us, up out of our distress, to the Father who liberates us from all that truly oppresses us in life.
My friends, these are only my reflections; my meditation. I welcome your comments.
May you find this day, and always, solace in the presence of our Risen Savior!