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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 102, December 2006



Origin, Role and Importance

of the Permanent Diaconate in the Airport Ministry



Most Rev. Roberto Octavio González Nieves, OFM

Metropolitan Archbishop of San Juan de Puerto Rico



Introduction: a Pilgrim People

The People of God are on a journey. [Lumen Gentium 8]

Like St. Peter, we, the Church, look forward to new heavens and a new earth. [Cf. 2 Peter 3, 13].

“The Church will receive its perfection only in the glory of heaven” at the time of Christ’s glorious return. Until that day, “the Church progresses on her pilgrimage amidst the world’s persecutions and God’s consolations.” [St. Augustine, De Civ. Dei, 18,51: PL 41, 614; LG 8] [ Catechism of the Catholic Church # 769.]

Since the time of the expulsion from the garden [Gen 3, 23ff], there are many journeys in the Bible. All these journeys seem to be part of a great movement back to Paradise [Gen 12, 1] under God’s guidance through Patriarchs, Prophets, Kings and other Leaders.

Just to mention a few of these important journeys, we read about the call of Abraham out of the land of Ur of the Chaldeans, to go to Chanaan. Then we have the journey of the sons of Jacob to Egypt.

Guided by Moses, his People returned from Egypt, in the Exodus. “Out of Egypt, I have called my son.” The organization of the People of God under the Mosaic Covenant took place as they journeyed through the Sinai [Ex 3, 4].

After they had settled in the Promised Land and established the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the People went into exile in Assyria and Babylon and later on, those in Babylon returned to the Promised Land.  

The New Testament seems to be staged amid journeys:

The Archangel Gabriel journeyed from Heaven to announce the Incarnation to Mary, then she traveled to visit her cousin Elizabeth and Jesus sanctified John in her womb [Lk 1, 39]. When Mary was going to deliver her child, on account of the census, they embarked on a trip to Bethlehem, only to find out that there was no room for them in the inn. [Lk 2, 1ff]. The Magi followed the star to Bethlehem [Mt 2, 1ff]. This was followed by the flight to Egypt. Then there was the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the story of the Child at the Temple.

The entire public life of Jesus was a pilgrimage throughout Palestine, as He preached the Kingdom of God. This pilgrimage climaxed in the Vía Crucis, the Way of the Cross. Then, as Jesus ascended to Heaven, He commanded the Apostles to “Go forth, teach all nations; behold I am with you ‘til the end of time.” [Mt 28, 18ff]. 

In the rest of the New Testament we see numerous journeys, especially those of Saint Paul. And after New Testament times, two millennia of missionary journeys to the whole world followed.

[Finally, as one of those minor journeys, we traveled from our respective countries to participate in this congress here.] 

A Word of Thanks

I appreciate the gracious invitation of His Eminence, Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of the Migrants and Itinerant People, to address you today on the subject of “Permanent Deacons as Ministers of the Eucharist – Origin and Importance of the Diaconate in the Airport Ministry.” Likewise, a word of thanks goes to the Cardinal’s collaborator, His Excellency the Most Reverend Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the Pontifical Council, for his kind assistance in facilitating my participation in this congress. 

The Diaconate and Holy Orders

On 19 February 2000, the Jubilee Year, here in Rome, I was honored to speak on “The Permanent Diaconate: Its Identity, Functions and Prospects.” Briefly, I will summarize some of the observations I made at that time, especially those concerning the identity and ministry of the ordained permanent deacon.

First, permit me to state that the deacon, ‘permanent’ or ‘transitional’, is an ordained minister of the Church. A cleric [Cf. canon 266 No 1] who, by the imposition of the bishop’s hands and the Holy Spirit, is a person who truly partakes in the sacrament of Holy Orders for the good of the Church. The stress, then, comes from the word ‘ordained’. Thus, a ‘lay’ deacon does not exist. Both ‘transitional’ and ‘permanent’ deacons receive the very same sacrament of Holy Orders and are equally Deacons. The Permanent Diaconate does not constitute a fourth level in the Hierarchy, as some might mistakenly affirm or unconsciously imply.   

The Second Vatican Council, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium [no. 29], describes the nature and role of the Diaconate, with emphasis on the permanent Diaconate.

“At a lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, upon whom hands are imposed ‘not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service.’ For strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests, they serve the People of God in the ministry of the liturgy, the word, and of charity. It is the duty of the deacon, to the extent that he has been authorized by the competent authority, to administer baptism solemnly, to be custodian and dispenser of the Eucharist, to assist at and bless marriages in the name of the Church, to bring Viaticum to the dying, to read the Sacred Scripture to the faithful, to instruct and exhort the people, to preside at the worship and prayer of the faithful, to administer sacramentals, and to officiate at funeral and burial services. [Deacons are] dedicated to duties of charities and administration.”

“The Diaconate”— continues Lumen Gentium —“can in the future be restored as a permanent rank of the hierarchy.” [For most of the last millennium, the Diaconate has mainly been a stepping stone to the Presbyterate]. “It pertains to the competent territorial bodies of bishops, of one kind or another, to decide, with the approval of the Supreme Pontiff, whether and where it is opportune for such deacons to be appointed for the care of souls. With the consent of the Roman Pontiff, this Diaconate will be able to be conferred upon men of mature age, even upon those living in the married state. It may also be conferred upon suitable young men. For them, however, the law of celibacy must remain intact.” [LG # 29] 

The Deacon as Ordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

The 1983 Revised Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Pope John Paul II [November 27, 1983] and now in force, recapitulates the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

Canon 910.1 says, “The ordinary minister of Holy Communion is a bishop, a presbyter or a deacon.”

The New Commentary of the Code of Canon Law, CLSA 2000, Paulist Press, New York, NY/Mahwah, NJ, indicates the newness of this office of the deacon. “Canon 845 of the 1917 code stated that the priest alone is the ordinary minister of communion, and the deacon is the extra ordinary minister who could exercise this ministry only with the permission of the local ordinary or the pastor or for a grave reason. The current canon 910 states the church discipline that has been in effect since 1967 when the permanent Diaconate was restored and deacons were made ordinary ministers of the Eucharist.”

The footnote given is SDO # 3, Paul VI Motu proprio Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, June 28, 1967, AAS 59[1967] 697-704; CLD 6, 577-584.

This is an important change and basic to the topic of this presentation. The Deacon now has ordinary power to be a minister of Holy Communion. From this ordinary power streams the ability to reserve and expose the Blessed Sacrament, to preside at Eucharistic functions, such as the Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and Eucharistic Adoration, such as holy hours and other public devotions connected with the Eucharist. The Deacon can give the solemn Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament using the monstrance.

In priestly piety, before the Second Vatican Council, the priest was called to be the custodian of the Eucharist. This was symbolized by the norms promulgated in general law and, in particular, about the custody of the key to the tabernacle. Basically, it devolved upon the pastor to keep the tabernacle key. In canon 938 of the 1983 Code, the responsibility devolves upon the person responsible for the church or oratory.

“The person responsible for the church or oratory is to take care that the key of the tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved is safeguarded most diligently.”[Canon 938.5] Please note here that, according to the bishop’s judgment, this ‘person’ may be a ‘lay’ person or a [consecrated life ‘lay’] religious man or woman..

The administration of Viaticum is another duty placed upon the ministers of communion, thus upon the deacon. Canon 921 speaks of the necessity of “nourishing by Holy Communion, the Christian Faithful who are in danger of death.” This can certainly be seen as a work of the airport chaplain. We will speak more of that further on in this talk. 

The Deacon in the Church.

In my February 2000 presentation on the Diaconate, I touched upon some questions that are pondered whenever the Diaconate is discussed, especially the identity of the permanent Diaconate. I stated, “The Second Vatican Council called the laity to the work of building up the Church. ‘Gathered together in the People of God and established in the one Body of Christ under one head, the laity – no matter who they are – have, as living members, the vocation of applying to the building up of the Church and its continued sanctification all the powers which they have received from the goodness of the Creator and from the grace of the Redeemer.’”

[(Lumen Gentium 33) cited in Archbishop Roberto O. González, OFM, February 2000]

“The Church’s pastoral needs have driven the Pope and Bishops to call both lay and ordained brothers to fulfill the duties of teaching and sanctifying. But at an important stage in history, and without taking any functions away from these lay ministries, the Second Vatican Council, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, called for the restoration of the Diaconate as a permanent ordained ministry in the Church. A question arises: why should the Diaconate be reestablished when almost all its functions can be fulfilled by a lay brother?” [González, OFM as above]

“The Diaconate is re-instituted at this time in history, not to replace the Presbyterate, not to threaten the laity, but to act today as a herald: the angel of Evangelismos, that is to say of the Annunciation.” Deacons have traditionally been represented as angels [and angels as Deacons], that is, messengers, heralds of the Divine Mysteries. In ancient times deacons were sent by bishops with important communications to other churches [St. Ignatius of Antioch]; also in Eastern liturgies, the stole is seen as the deacon’s angelic wings, and in Western art many angels appear wearing dalmatics.

Today we can see the deacon as “the new Gabriel who proclaims” – for us – “the good news of salvation. Today the restored diaconate says, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you’ [Lk 1:35]. By receiving the laying on of hands and the Holy Spirit, deacons are established as ordained ministers who, without being Priests or Bishops, are not laymen, and without being lay, are not Priests, and yet they are clerics, ordained ministers.” [González, OFM as above.] To this we can add that, while Priests and Bishops exercise the priesthood of the Church, Deacons exercise service, or the servanthood-diakonía of the Church in Christ’s name. So, the re-establishment of the Diaconate in the Western Church comes as a manifestation of the mystery*, as a renewed Incarnation, as a new, yet ancient, means of evangelization for the good of the Church.

Let the faith in the revealed character of the [mystery of the] Diaconate not be in question, though we realize that theologians have to elaborate a more complete or explicit understanding of this mystery, which dates back to the New Testament. We are all familiar with the protomartyr, the protodeacon Saint Stephen. In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke wrote that the Apostles laid their hands on ‘seven men […] filled with the Spirit and with wisdom’ and entrusted to them the care of the Greek widows. [Acts 6:3]. [González OFM, as above]

It might be good to reiterate here that theologians and canonists could explore this question more deeply. It is not the subject of this paper but it is needed information. What do we mean when we say that the Deacon is a visible sign of the Servant Church? How does the Deacon participate in the threefold ministry of Christ, priest, prophet and king, to which our baptismal character enrolls the baptized Christian? He does not have priestly/sacerdotal functions, but he is not a layman; he is a cleric in Holy Orders whose ministry is to serve others [the Bishop, the Priests, as well as the Laity] in Christ’s name under the bishop’s supervision.

To advance our discussion on the point today [the Deacon in airport ministry], it will be necessary to consider the following questions before we go into other related matters. The questions are as follows:

1. What is the Ministry of the Airport Chaplain?

2. How does the Ministry of a Deacon differ from that of a Priest?

3. What does the Priest Airport Chaplain do that a Deacon Cannot do?

4. How does the Deacon offer Something which is proper to his Ministry?  

Thus we begin: 

1. What is the Ministry of the Airport Chaplain?

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me… in need and you tended to my need.” [Mat. 25, 35]

“Not all major airports throughout [the world] have chaplaincies.” –Yet, some even have interfaith and ecumenical facilities. – Catholic pastoral services “ranging from full parish activities to simply a ministry of presence are offered in the present chaplaincies. Airport chaplaincies are established by the bishop of the diocese in which the airport is located. Each chaplaincy is different because of limitations of space, funding and availability of qualified personnel according to the local situation.” [USCCB as above]

“…[A]irport chaplains are the delegates of the diocesan Church to the world of aviation and its users.  Where possible, opportunities for sharing in the sacramental life of the Church are provided through the celebration of the Eucharist, Reconciliation, and the Anointing of the Sick. In addition, where possible, qualified counseling, interfaith outreach, and pastoral assistance in times of disaster are provided. These services are available to everyone who uses or works in airports.” [USCCB as above]. Notice that the celebration of the Eucharist and the other rituals just mentioned are all priestly functions.

In the United States, for example, “under the auspices of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migrants an organization of airport chaplains was established in August 1986. The mission of the National Catholic Conference of Airport Chaplains [NCCAC] is ‘to be a spiritual and theological source whose purpose is to teach and witness [to] the Word of God and to serve His People by fostering their growth and renewal through prayer, study and Catholic service for airport personnel and travelers.’ [NCCAC Constitution]” [USCCB as above]

The US Bishops refer to Catechetical, Liturgical and Evangelization materials available for those in airport ministry. [Website address].

In our day and age, any qualified person, male [cleric or lay] or female, according to secular CIVIL law and professional secular practice, can be an airport chaplain. In this wider secular context, this is a service to all peoples who are found, for whatever reason, in airports, which “…constitute significant crossroads of human mobility; […]meeting places of people belonging to various cultures” [Address of Pope John Paul II to the XI International Seminar of Catholic Civil Aviation Chaplains and Chaplaincy Members. Rome 24 April, 2002]. It is important to realize that here the secular law speaks of the chaplain as any qualified person.

The Church, however, in canon 564, understands that the chaplain is a [qualified] priest. Today, this understanding is extended by canonists to deacons who may undertake these chaplaincies under the direction of the bishop, who is ultimately responsible for pastoral care of this heterogeneous group of people at the airport.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, for example, has stated that “Airport Ministry or the Civil Aviation Apostolate is an expression of the Catholic Church’s concern for pastoral care of people on the move. The Civil Aviation Apostolate includes all of the faithful in the world of aviation who ‘cannot enjoy sufficiently the normal ordinary pastoral care of parish priests or are completely deprived of it’[Decree Christus Dominus n. 18]. Airport ministry is the pastoral care of persons who travel, those who assist them and others – passengers, airport and airline personnel, visitors, and the homeless and refugees.” [USCCB Web Site Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees-Civil Aviation Apostolate 01/15/2005].

To this list, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People adds, “Airport Chaplains operate in a difficult and very complex environment, where there is an encounter, a melting pot of all races, cultures and religions, and they are specifically concerned with the pastoral care of air crew members, including those in training, ground personnel, mechanics and technicians, employees and executives, airport staff and service workers, workers in airport-based services catering to airline and passenger needs. Their attention is directed also to passengers and to special categories like refugees in airport detention centers, stranded people, and their like. In this complex situation, the Chaplains have to be a point of “unity in diversity” for all categories of people.” [Opening Address to the IV European Seminar for Catholic Airport Chaplains, Lyon (France), 13 May 2003].

How does this view differ from the ministry of a traditional view of the priest chaplain? Let’s answer this question with another question: 

2. How does the Ministry of a Deacon differ from that of a Priest? 

The Servant of God, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, was fond of saying that the vocation of the priest was to sacrifice, to unite oneself to the sacrificing Christ [Christ, the priest]. This teaching is stated precisely in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister” – [bishop, priest] – “it is Christ himself who is present to his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, the Teacher of truth. That is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis.” [Catechism of the Catholic Church #1548]

[The footnote # 23 to this paragraph cites Lumen Gentium 10; 28; Sacrosanctum Concilium 33; Christus Dominus 11; Presbyterorum ordinis 2; 6.]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church itself speaks of the ministerial nature of the Diaconate. “At a lower level of the hierarchy are to be found deacons who receive the imposition of hands ‘not unto priesthood, but unto the ministry’. At an ordination to the diaconate only the bishop lays hands on the candidate, thus signifying the deacon’s special attachment to the bishop in the tasks of his diakonia”. [Catechism as above # 1569]

The Catechism expands this knowledge of the role of the deacon by saying, “Deacons share in Christ’s mission and grace in a special way. The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint [‘character’] which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the ‘deacon’ or servant of all.”[Catechism # 1570 as above]

Now, these are important questions to consider: How does the vocation of the deacon differ from that of the priest? Is diaconal ministry just that of the priest [but] with something missing? This is the negative definition of diaconal ministry, definition by way of exclusion, held by some. The problem perhaps arises from a traditional, perhaps unconscious, reductionistic view of Holy Orders, as practically being only the presbyterate or Sacerdotal Priesthood [as if the Deacon were a priest minus the chasuble and the bishop, a priest plus the miter]: The deacon, as some say simplistically, is a “priest” who cannot do this or that. Or, on the contrary, there is another question: is there something extra, perhaps not in priesthood per se, or that in priesthood is assumed by some other function? Something special? Something proper to diaconal ministry? These questions illustrate that there is still some misunderstanding of the Diaconate and a need for clarification.

Liturgists in particular speak of the ever present presbyter in the history of the liturgy. [For example, priests vested as deacons, priests vested as bishops, and the ever present master of ceremonies assuming all other ministers’ roles.] By this, it is meant that, in two thousand years of history, priests have absorbed, and limited to themselves, most of the functions of the sacrament of Holy Orders, as well as the liturgical roles of the laity. Thus the definition of the Diaconate by way of exclusion, which is so much in vogue today.

We must be aware of the effect of more than a millennium, during which the sacerdotal priesthood has been the almost universally predominant and most visible form of ordained ministry in the Western Church. Just notice that in most obituaries of Bishops, only two dates regarding ordination are given: priesthood and episcopate. It is unusual to remember that before these ordinations he was “set apart” as a deacon, [the Spanish consecratory prayer in the diaconal ordination uses the verb “to consecrate”, which is a theological opinion]. This ordination is seen as conditio sine qua non [a prerequisite, without which not] for the other two, and we must say, through the very same sacrament!

To clarify, the notes from the Catechism cited above indicate in a precise way the positive nature of priestly and diaconal ordination. The priest is ordained to the sacerdotal ministry of sacrifice, of acting in persona Christi. The deacon is ordained to the service of Christ, the Deacon. Both have received the sacrament of Holy Orders. The difference between them is to be seen graphically in the Liturgy, the Mass, which is a microcosm of the Church: the Priest presides, he is acting as a presider on behalf of the Bishop, therefore his place and gestures are those of a presider. The Deacon, on the other hand, is the diakonos-servant of the priest-president. The Deacon is also the diakonos/servant of the Lay-Faithful. His place and gestures are therefore those of a servant who stands between the two [cf. canon907]. A serious misunderstanding arises when these places and gestures become confused, not only in the Liturgy but also in the minds of the laity, as well as of priests and deacons themselves. 

3. What does the Priest Airport Chaplain do that a Deacon Cannot do?

Again here we must make use of the definition by way of exclusion. In a hospital, a nurse can give first aid to a patient, but only the certified doctor performs surgery, while the nurse assists him or her. Obviously the deacon cannot do those things he has not been ordained for. That is, he cannot celebrate the Eucharist, administer confirmation, absolve sins or anoint the sick and dying, as does the priest, for these are specifically priestly functions. The deacon serves the priest at all these rituals. Therefore, these sacramental ministerial services to Christ’s faithful at airports need be supplied by priests at the proper time. The deacon, meanwhile, can free the priest to exercise his sacerdotal duties by undertaking the other duties of assistance to travelers which require, or are enhanced by, the presence of an ordained representative of the Church. Necessary contacts with local pastors or religious priests, depending on the mandate of the local bishop, would need to be arranged for these services. I think it would be beyond the scope of this paper to go into any more details on these matters, except to say that they should be attended to when the territorial bishop or his delegate establishes the airport chaplaincy, where priests and deacons, as well as lay people, will be involved in their respective ministerial capacities. 

4. How does the Deacon offer Something which is characteristic of his Ministry?

The deacon is ordained for service. This service is not necessarily specific to the diaconate. At least, most of the deacon’s service, it would seem, can be rendered by anyone. However, this is not completely true. The ordination is not an empty gesture. Depending on the circumstances of the chaplaincy, availability of a suitable chapel or a series of offices on the airport concourse, the deacon, through the grace of ordination, can render a true diakonia-servanthood present both to the Faithful and to others at the airport, travelers and employees and others alike. Even when this care could also be offered by a priest or by a lay parson, the deacon’s action is graced with special divine assistance through the sacrament of Holy Orders he has received. Particularly, when exercising his ministry at the airport, in order to be identified visibly as a minister of the Catholic Church, it would be appropriate for the Deacon to be in clerical attire.

In my Archdiocese of San Juan de Puerto Rico, we have an Airport Chapel and Office, at the San Juan Muñoz Marín International Airport, with a permanent deacon in charge and a team of volunteers. The deacon is here with some of his staff. He has prepared a report of their work which is available to anyone upon asking.

Ideally, there should be a chapel space, where Mass could be celebrated on a daily bases; certainly, at least occasionally [at least to renew the sacred species according to law. Cf. canon 934 No. 2]. The chapel would house an altar and the tabernacle for the reservation of the Most Blessed Sacrament, with their respective votive lights. The priest and deacon, as ordinary ministers of Holy Communion, could offer an entire range of Eucharistic services scheduled to suit their time and that of the people in the terminal. The Deacon can provide Holy Communion services in different languages, using the official rituals, as needed, at set times or upon request, as would be the most obvious option. Holy Hours, Adoration, and conferences on the Liturgy and on the Blessed Sacrament would all fall into this range of diaconal ministry. Inquiry classes for the transient, and maybe the Rite for the Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) for those permanently stationed at an airport, would constitute a ministry of the Word. The deacon could distribute devotional and instructive literature, again in different languages, according to need.

Deacons, I may add, could give counsel and guidance to travelers, pray and ask for God’s caring blessing upon any traveler that would request it, especially when they are stressed and are in need of loving care. Deacons can invoke God’s blessing on people, both in and out of the airport. [I am reminded here of a popular custom. In the Hispanic tradition, parents, godparents and grandparents (who normally are not priests) invoke God’s blessing making the sign of the Cross in the name of the Blessed Trinity].

In my February 2000 presentation on Diaconal Ministry, I emphasized that the deacon is a minister of the Word. “The office of bishops, successors of the Apostles, is to proclaim the Gospel. Priests share this office with the bishop. By contrast, deacons who do not receive priestly ordination, are conferred with the office of preaching the Gospel to the assembly of the faithful by virtue of their diaconal ordination as ministers of Christ the Servant. Moreover, deacons must turn the Gospel into living faith, teach it and accomplish it.” [Gonzalez OFM, as above.] Both bishops and deacons solemnly receive the Book of the Gospels at their respective ordination rites. The ordaining bishop says to the new deacon: “Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you now are, believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” [Ritual of Diaconal Ordination]. 

In the year of the Eucharist

The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, envisioned a Eucharistic renewal in calling for the Year of the Eucharist [October 2004 to October 2005]. We are in the midst of this Eucharistic Year. The themes of the Eucharist give fire to our considerations at all levels.

“In his homily [June 10, 2004], Pope John Paul II explained the importance of the Eucharist. ‘There is a very close relationship between ‘building the Eucharist’ and proclaiming Christ.’” “The Year of the Eucharist is a time for Christians to deepen their prayer lives. All of the faithful are called to integrate the Eucharist more deeply into their lives. The Pope asks that Christians take every opportunity to adore the Blessed Sacrament. Through adoration, through true involvement with the Eucharist, God’s children throughout the world will be ‘proclaiming Christ’” [The Year of the Eucharist, Oblates Magazine, Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, January-February 2005, pg. 16,17, published by the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate Belleville, IL 62223-11 

Celebration of the Eucharist and Eucharistic devotions

Since the deacon in airport ministry is seen mainly as an ordinary Minister of Holy Communion, it is important here to emphasize that the deacon-chaplains and other chaplains and team members at the airport should try their best to link the Eucharistic devotions, held in their chapel or oratory, with the source and culmination of these devotions, which is the celebration of Holy Mass. In Eucharistiæ Sacramentum, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship declares that “The celebration of the Eucharist in the sacrifice of the Mass is the true origin and purpose of the worship shown to the Eucharist outside Mass. The principal reason for reserving the sacrament after Mass is to unite, through sacramental communion, the faithful unable to participate in the Mass, especially the sick and the aged [and we might add here, ‘travelers at an airport’], with Christ and the offering of his sacrifice.”

“In turn, Eucharistic reservation, which became customary in order to allow the reception of Holy Communion, led to the practice of adoring this sacrament and offering to it the worship of latría that is due to God. This cult of adoration is based on valid and solid principles; furthermore, the Church itself has instituted public and communal forms of this worship.” [Promulgating the edtio typica of rites for holy communion and worship of the Eucharist outside Mass, 21 June 1973].

These ‘public and communal forms’ of Eucharistic worship are the forms mainly celebrated by a deacon at an airport, and, obviously, not the celebration of Holy Mass. These devotions are centered on the real presence of Jesus in the reserved sacrament, indicated by a perennial votive lamp. According to our Holy Father Pope John Paul II, these celebrations are “of inestimable value for the life of the Church. This worship is strictly linked to the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice… [which] is a priceless treasure: by not only celebrating it but also by praying before it outside of Mass we are enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace.” [Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 25].

If there is a chapel where Mass is not celebrated on a regular basis, such celebrations should not show a certain imbalance, in which the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is given emphasis at the expense of the celebration of Holy Mass. For this reason, the altar, and not only the tabernacle, should be given visual prominence. Even if Mass is celebrated there only occasionally, it should be used by the deacon for communion services outside Mass. This way, the fullness of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, i.e., the Eucharistic celebration of Mass itself – represented by the Altar of Sacrifice, with its own votive light indicating that this altar is sacred – and the worship given to our Lord Jesus Christ, really present in the Eucharistic species, by which the grace of the sacrifice is extended, will have its proper place at the airport chapel as it should have in any Catholic church.

Let us remember that it is not only the Mass that consists of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, but all the sacraments contain two parts, that is, Word and Sacrament. It is the deacon’s responsibility to celebrate the Word, in relation to the distribution of Holy Communion, to the travelers who speak many different languages. He should do this at least by using different ritual books, so that the Word might not only be present to those in attendance but also be understood by them. Therefore, while our consideration today centers more on the deacon as the ordinary minister of Holy Communion, let us be mindful of the deacon as minister of the Word, in the administration of Holy Communion and other devotions. Furthermore, the airport chaplain with a series of offices, classrooms, conference room, chapel, will have ample opportunity to proclaim the word “in season and out”, both through speech and good works, as Deacon Saint Francis would tell his friars. 

The Eucharistic real presence of Jesus and a ‘Ministry of presence’ at the Airport

The [U.S.] Bishops speak of the ministry of ‘presence’. We are familiar with the different ‘presences’ of Christ referred to in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council [Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7], in particular the presence of Jesus in the Word, the Eucharist and the Church’s ministers. At the airport, if there is a chapel, it can be the place of celebration and of meditation. In particular, it can be a place that looks and feels like a chapel, inviting to prayer, quiet rest and meditation for the weary, where the Eucharistic Lord calls them saying: “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you” [Mt 28, 29]. Beyond this liturgical/sacramental presence of the Lord, there is the very important ‘presence’ offered by the Church’s ministers, in their loving concern for those at the airport, especially for those in transit to funerals of family members and for the homeless who seek shelter at airport terminals.

This other form of presence is that of the minister, the deacon in particular, who, representing Christ, sacrifices his time and his own self to be there as much as possible. The nature of the arrangement at the airport will determine many details of this presence, but, ideally, the airport chapel, or Catholic Center, could be staffed 24 hours a day by dedicated deacons [and/or other staff], persons who would communicate in different languages, have professional abilities and skills, as well as abundant love, to aid travelers in Jesus’ name and lead his followers into ‘unity in diversity’

Another important ‘presence’ in a Catholic Chaplaincy Office is that of the Church through Our Lady, the Angels and Saints. The chaplain’s quarters should not be abstract and antiseptic, but warm and welcoming. I suggest there be images of the saints on the walls, a shrine to Our Lady with votive lights and flowers, pictures of the Holy Father and the Bishop, and other elements, such as carpets and comfortable chairs, that contribute to remind the traveler that the Church is here, a welcoming place where God receives them. The deacon, as minister in charge of temporalities, in particular, should see to these details. The chaplain’s office should not look like the local immigration office, with bare walls and staffed by unfriendly police with long faces. [We want a taste of heaven, with the angels and the saints. We join the Greeks in asking Philip, ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus.’] 

Finding Bible Travellers today.

Before concluding this presentation, a brief reflection on the nature of travel may help us discern our role and mission at airports.

The German theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoffer maintained that every journey has a meaning. This meaning is unknown to the traveler. Travel helps us acknowledge connections with others as we come ‘face to face’ with their realities as human beings. Seeing the other as ‘other’ changes the prism through which we understand ourselves and the world. If we follow the Holy Scriptures, God reveals himself to us in such situations. God is the Lord of History and it is up to the prophets – old and new – to interpret ‘the signs of the times’. One such prophet was the Blessed John XXIII, who on his deathbed said: “It is not that the gospel has changed; it is that we have begun to understand it better. Those who have lived as long as I have … were enabled to compare different cultures and traditions, and know that the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity and to look far ahead” [ pjlife.html].

At the opening of this talk, I listed some instances of Biblical travelers who answered the call of God. From Abraham going out of his native land, to Moses going out of Egypt, God’s people have been on a journey. The goal of that journey is the Promised Land of milk and honey. Someday we shall enter into his rest [Psalm 95].

In today’s world we see many travelers who are the image of the Pilgrim People of God. Earlier this year we celebrated the journey of Mary and Joseph looking for shelter. “There was no room for them in the inn” [Lk 2, 7]. Those of us who are of Hispanic origin recall the plaintive songs of the pilgrims on the way to Bethlehem [Las Posadas]. After knocking on several doors, at last the warmth of a home opens to the holy travelers and hospitality is extended to all.

As people of almost all socio-economic segments today travel more and more by air, it behooves the Church and her ministers to accompany these travelers on their way and to help them discover, with Blessed John XXIII, that God is revealing himself to them through their journey, “to discern and to look far ahead.”

Travel to other countries and places tells us about ourselves and stretches our imagination. Travel frees us from everyday routine, exposing us to new experiences, new cultures, and new people. When we set off with reasonable expectations, agility of mind and amplitude of spirit, travel helps us gain perspectives in life, educates our tastes, and awakens a sense of what it might be like to be someone else or to live in another time or culture. Travel changes our seemingly irreversible stereotypes and misconceptions about other peoples. 

The wealth, the power and freedom it takes to be a world traveler bring with them the baggage of responsibilities towards our world community.

How many young parents are stranded or lost in airport confusion, needing some direction when tie-ups happen, when bad weather delays or cancels flights, when they stumble upon inspectors, traveler-unfriendly air line employees or immigration officers, or when there is no one to receive them at their final destination. What about those who feel ill or cannot speak the language, or the confused and disoriented elderly in the midst of the frantic movement of an airport? What about the poor? In these days, inspections and searches can be most confrontational and troublesome for many people, like those seeking asylum or those to whom entrance in the country has been denied. Of course, there is always the homeless poor who find a roof over their heads and some warmth at the airport. It is especially the deacon’s role to care for these persons in real need. This way the Church will be present in this humanistic growth process, to help, to guide the traveler in this journey of discovery and self-realization. The Church should help the travelers, people in these circumstances, to open their minds, not only as mere human beings, but as sharers in the divine image which is theirs by creation. Let the Church help us, as travel opens our minds, to turn them toward the God of creation in real conversion.

Recently we made the Way of the Cross. While Good Friday led to Easter, many moved through airports at a time of bereavement, like a family that lost a member at war, or in another tragedy. Recently we witnessed the tragedy of the tsunami in Southeast Asia, and the continuing tragedy in Iraq. We want to show our solidarity with those who are suffering everywhere.

The Way of the Cross becomes most evident at the time of tragedy, like a plane crash. Today’s acts of terror, as well as accidental mishaps, test all our ability to minister to those who are stricken. The deacon, as the servant strengthened by grace, as the presence of Christ-Servant, has an important role to play at such times. The airport chaplain needs to coordinate his services with those of the civil authorities at all levels to assist the victims and their families in the best way possible, as Christ himself would.

At such times of need, just someone who would give a drink of water, a little food, or say a kind word, is a blessing.

At times of great tragedy, whether personal or public, the Church and all her ministers must recall the Easter message of life coming from death, of victory coming out of defeat. If God could permit Good Friday on his beloved Son, how can we deserve anything less? Yet, He is a God of Mercy [Blessed be his Name]. He is the Lord of Life and Resurrection. We must proclaim Him.

Each of us, no matter what rank or order we possess, must minister as Jesus did, with humility, patience and love. It may not be easy. It may not seem to produce warm and fuzzy feelings in you, the minister. But we need to call to mind the biblical images of the pilgrim people, those on the way, mentioned at the beginning of this talk.

Finally, for us, as Christians, travel should open our minds to realize more deeply our divine filiation and human brotherhood, which is ours by baptism and to grow more into Jesus Christ, He who, in this world, is the Image of the invisible God and, in heaven, is seated at the Father’s right hand. Let us then let God be made more present to the travelers through the Church, as they undergo the experience of traveling. Let the deacons in their special ministry be present to them not only at the airport but at any place where love and care is needed. Let Jesus be the guide of the human race as we embark on that final journey to eternal life, the day when Jesus renders all things back to the Father, and God is all in all.    

In Conclusion. Role models.

At this time, let us invoke the intercession of those saints, particularly deacons, that Mother Church proposes to us as models of life in Christ.

Kyrie, eléison.  Christe, eléison.  Kyrie, eléison.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, … pray for us.

Our Lady, heavenly Patroness of Loreto, … pray for us.

Saint Michael the Archangel, Patron of the Church, … pray for us.

All Holy Angels, messengers of God, … pray for us.

All holy Patriarchs and Prophets, … pray for us.

All holy Apostles and Evangelists, … pray for us.

Saint Stephen the Protomartyr and Protodeacon, … pray for us.

Saint Phillip, messenger of the Good News to the Ethiopian traveler, … pray for us.

Saint Ephraim, Preacher of the Gospel, Deacon and Doctor of the Church … pray for us.

Saint Lawrence, Protector of the Poor of Rome, Martyr, …pray for us.

Saint Vincent of Zaragoza, Martyr, …pray for us.

My Holy Father Saint Francis of Assisi, Deacon and Confessor, … pray for us.

All you Holy Deacons in Christ, … pray for us.

All you Holy Men and Women, Saints of God, … pray for us. 

Commemorating the great Mother of God, Mary most holy, and all the Angels and the Saints, we commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our Lord.   AMEN. 

Christ is Risen! Praised be Jesus Christ!


I Diaconi Permanenti Ministri dell'Eucaristia 

Il diacono

Il diaconato, sia permanente sia come tappa di un sacramento, è un ministero ordinato nella Chiesa. Il diacono cioè partecipa realmente nel Sacramento degli Ordini Sacri, per il bene della Chiesa. Non ci può essere dunque un diacono laico. Il suo è un ministero di servizio, della liturgia, della parola e della carità. La Costituzione Dogmatica Lumen Gentium (n. 29) afferma che è dovere del Diacono amministrare il sacramento del battesimo, custodire e distribuire la Eucaristia, benedire i matrimoni, portare il Viatico ai moribondi, leggere la Sacra Scrittura ai fedeli, istruirli e ammonirli, presiedere il culto e la preghiera dei fedeli, e amministrare i sacramentali.

Nel nuovo Codice di Diritto Canonico, del 1983, i1 diacono è annoverato tra i ministri ordinari della Santa Comunione, perciò è abilitato a riservare e fare l'esposizione del Santissimo Sacramento e presiedere alle funzioni eucaristiche, e anche benedire solennemente con il Santissimo Sacramento con l'utilizzo dell'ostensorio.

Il Diaconato permanente è stato ripristinato nella Chiesa non per sostituire il Presbiterato né per intimorire il laicato, ma perché ci siano araldi dei Misteri Divini, messaggeri della Buona Novella. Si ricorda qui Santo Stefano, il diacono protomartire. 

Il ministero del cappellano d'aeroporto

I cappellani d'aeroporto sono delegati della Chiesa locale nel mondo dell'aviazione. Quando è possibile, offre la possibilità di partecipare nella vita sacramentale della Chiesa, attraverso la celebrazione della Eucaristia, della Riconciliazione e dell'Unzione degli Infermi. Altre sue funzioni sono consigliare in modo qualificato, assistere tutti inclusi coloro che appartengono ad altre religioni, e servizio pastorale particolarmente in caso di gravi incidenti aerei.

A differenza della Chiesa, le autorità civili ritengono che il cappellano dell'aeroporto potrebbe essere indistintamente ecclesiastico o laico, uomo o donna. La Chiesa invece precisa che un cappellano deve essere un ministro ordinato, operante sotto la direzione del Vescovo, ultimo responsabile per la pastorale della popolazione eterogenea dell'aeroporto. Tale popolazione infatti comprende tutte le persone che viaggiano e coloro che li assistono, cioè passeggeri, personale aeroportuale o di linee aeree, visitatori, i senzatetto e i rifugiati che ivi si trovano. I cappellani devono essere punti di "unità nella diversità" per tutte queste categorie di persone.

Il cappellano può essere sacerdote o diacono, avendo ambedue ricevuto il Sacramento degli Ordini. Ovviamente il diacono non può assolvere funzioni propriamente sacerdotali, come celebrare la Santa Messa, amministrare la Confermazione, assolvere i peccati e dare l'unzione agli infermi e moribondi, ma egli assiste il sacerdote nell'amministrazione di questi sacramenti. Infatti, il diacono svolge tutte le altre funzioni nel ministero aeroportuale, per rendere il sacerdote libero di svolgere le funzioni propriamente sue. 

Il sevizio proprio del diacono

Sembra che tutto quello che fa un diacono possa essere svolto da chiunque. In realtà, in virtù della sua ordinazione, egli può prestare alla popolazione aeroportuale una vera e propriadiakoniadi servizio. Il suo compito è soprattutto l'annuncio del Vangelo, vivendolo, insegnandolo e compiendolo.

Essendo un ministro ordinario della Santa Comunione, è suo compito ricordare che tutte le devozioni riservate alla Santa Eucaristia, come l'adorazione eucaristica e tutte le altre forme private o pubbliche di culto eucaristico, vanno ricondotte alla fonte e culmine di queste devozioni: la celebrazione Eucaristica. Per questo motivo, nelle cappelle aeroportuali, deve essere messo in rilievo non solo il tabernacolo, ma anche l'altare, su cui i1 Sacrificio eucaristico si celebra. Ciò ricorda che la Santa Messa ha due parti: la Liturgia della Parola e la Liturgia Eucaristica. Oltre ad essere ministro della Santa Comunione, infatti, il diacono è anche ministro della Parola.

La pastorale negli aeroporti è anche una pastorale di presenza. Cristo è presente nella Parola, nella Eucaristia e nei ministri della Chiesa. La presenza del diacono rende il Signore vivo in questi tre modi. Come ministro, il diacono sacrifica se stesso e i1 suo tempo per essere sempre nell'aeroporto, per cui l'ufficio della cappellania deve essere caldo e accogliente per tutti. Egli avrà modo di aiutare i viaggiatori, soprattutto coloro che sono in difficoltà. Che egli possa essere con loro non soltanto nell'aeroporto ma in ogni luogo dove manca l'amore e la attenzione alle persone.



Los Diáconos Permanentes Ministros de la Eucaristía 

El diácono

El diaconato, tanto permanente como etapa de un sacramento, es un ministerio ordenado en la Iglesia. El diácono, entonces, participa realmente en el Sacramento de los Ordenes Sagrados, por el bien de la Iglesia. No puede haber, por lo tanto, un diácono laico. El suyo es un ministerio de servicio, de la liturgia, de la palabra y de la caridad. La Constitución Dogmática Lumen Gentium (n. 29) afirma que es deber del Diácono administrar el sacramento del bautismo, guardar y distribuir la Eucaristía, bendecir los matrimonios, llevar el Viático a los moribundos, leer la Sagrada Escritura a los fieles, instruirles y amonestarles, presidir el culto y la oración de los fieles y administrar los sacramentos.

En el nuevo Código de Derecho Canónigo, del 1983, el diácono está incluido entre los ministros ordinarios de la Santa Comunión, por lo tanto está capacitado para reservar y hacer la exposición del Santísimo Sacramento, presidir las funciones eucarísticas y, también, bendecir solemnemente con el Santísimo Sacramento con la utilización del ostensorio.

El diaconato permanente no ha sido restablecido en la Iglesia para sustituir el Presbiterado ni tampoco para atemorizar el laicado, sino para que hayan heraldos de los Misterios Divinos, mensajeros del Evangelio. Recordamos aquí a San Esteban, el diácono protomártir. 

El ministerio del capellán del aeropuerto

Los capellanes del aeropuerto son delegados de la Iglesia local en el mundo de la aviación. Si posible ofrece la posibilidad de participar en la vida sacramental de la Iglesia, a través de la celebración de la Eucaristía, de la Penitencia y de la Unción a los Enfermos. Otras funciones suyas son las de aconsejar de manera cualificada, asistir a todo el mundo incluso aquellos que pertenecen a otras religiones, y servicio pastoral, particularmente en caso de accidentes de avión. A diferencia de la Iglesia, las autoridades civiles consideran que el capellán del aeropuerto puede ser tanto religioso como laico, hombre o mujer. La Iglesia, en cambio, precisa que el capellán tiene que ser un ministro ordenado, quien opera bajo la dirección del Obispo, último responsable para la pastoral de la población heterogénea del aeropuerto. Esta población, de hecho, incluye a todas aquellas personas que viajan y a aquellos que les acuden, es decir pasajeros, miembros aeroportuarios o de las líneas aéreas, visitantes, los sin techo y los refugiados que se encuentran allí. Los capellanes tienen que ser aguijoneados por la “unidad en la diversidad” para todas aquellas categorías de personas.

El capellán puede ser un sacerdote o un diácono, al haber los dos recibido el Sacramento de los Ordenes. Es evidente que el diácono no puede absolver las funciones propias de los sacerdotes, es decir celebrar la Santa Misa, administrar la Confirmación, remitir de los pecados, y dar la unción a los enfermos y moribundos, pero asiste al sacerdote en la administración de aquellos Sacramentos. De hecho, el diácono desarrolla todas las demás funciones en el ministerio aeroportuario, para que el sacerdote esté más libre y pueda desarrollar sus propias funciones. 

El servicio propio del diácono

Parece que todo lo que hace un diácono puede desarrollarlo cualquiera. En realidad, en virtud de su ordenación, él puede ofrecer a la población aeroportuaria una verdadera diakonia de servicio. Su tarea, sobre todo, es la de anunciar el Evangelio, viviéndolo, enseñándolo, cumpliéndolo.

Al ser un ministro ordinario de la Santa Comunión, su tarea es la de recordar que todas las devociones reservadas a la Santa Eucaristía, como la adoración eucarística y todas aquellas formas particulares o públicas del culto eucarístico, deben ser atribuidas a la fuente y cumbre de estas devociones: la celebración Eucarística. Por lo tanto, en la capillas aeroportuarias, tiene que ponerse de relieve no sólo el tabernáculo, sino también el altar, donde se celebra el Sacrificio eucarístico. Ello recuerda que la Santa Misa tiene dos partes: la Liturgia de la Palabra y la Liturgia Eucarística. Además de ser un ministro de la Santa Comunión, de hecho, el diácono es un ministro de la Palabra.

La pastoral en los aeropuertos es también pastoral de presencia. Cristo está presente en la Palabra, en la Eucaristía, en los ministros de la Iglesia. La presencia del diácono vuelve vivo al Señor en estas tres formas. Como ministro, el diácono sacrifica a si mismo y su tiempo para estar siempre en el aeropuerto, por lo tanto la oficina de la capellanía tiene que ser caliente y acogedora para todo el mundo. Él tendrá la ocasión de ayudar, no sólo, en el aeropuerto, sino también, en aquellos sitios donde haga falta amor y atención a las personas. 

*Mystery here is taken in its ancient meaning of sacrament.