Ave Explores Series | The Mass

Deacons Bridge the Secular and the Sacred at Mass

By Deacon Greg Kandra


I remember it like it was yesterday: May 20, 2007.

Just twenty-four hours after my Ordination, I stood behind the altar at my parish in Queens moments after delivering my first proclamation of the Gospel and offering my first homily. I raised in my hands the silver chalice containing the Precious Blood and I took a deep breath and thought to myself: “Am I really doing this?”

Yes. It was really happening.   

I was a deacon.

My ministry at the altar had just begun.

I’ve assisted at Mass hundreds of times since then, in a variety of places for many circumstances, from weddings to funerals to ordinary Masses in Ordinary Time. But one thing I’ve come to realize is that Mass is never just ordinary. Not really.

To be just inches away from the greatest ongoing Mystery in the Church is extraordinary and a thing of wonder. More than a few times, I’ve told people, “I can’t believe I get to do this.”

To be a deacon serving at the altar for Mass is to appreciate anew the gift of the Eucharist—this profound act of self-giving that continues day after day at altars around the world through the humble circumstances of bread and wine and gestures and words.

But you realize, too, that being a deacon at Mass is more than just being the priest’s “helper”—as one parishioner I know once put it. Being a deacon is also being the hands, voice, and knees of the people in the pews. The deacon dwells in two worlds, the secular and the sacred, and blends the two during his ministry at Mass. When people see a deacon preparing the gifts, raising the chalice, or offering prayers of petition, they are seeing the guy who lives down the block, shops at the local butcher, shows up for PTA meetings, and drives the kids to soccer practice. They should see him and think, “He’s one of us.” He gives voice to the needs, concerns, and pleas of the faithful.

Likewise, when the deacon steps into the pulpit to preach, he reflects a world lived outside the walls of the church. He brings a lifetime of experiences to those few minutes—experiences as a husband, father, grandfather, worker and, above all, servant. The deacon lives to serve, to assist, to facilitate, to help. And one of the most important ways he does that is by helping people understand the Church and by helping the Church understand its people. His perspective should be fundamentally different from a priest’s. And as a result, he should help people in the pews see and hear the Good News differently.

Ultimately, it all goes back to the beautiful, central reality of the Mass: the Eucharist. Just as the deacon bridges the secular and the sacred, the Eucharist bridges heaven and earth. Here is where God enters the world and becomes a part of us through simple bread and wine. Here the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Everything changes.

And the deacon gets to be an integral part of it.

Really? Yes, really.

I can’t believe I get to do this.

Download this article as a pdf here.

Greg Kandra serves as a deacon in the Diocese of Brooklyn and recently retired as a senior writer at the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. He writes The Deacon’s Bench blog and is the author of A Deacon Prays: Prayers and Devotions for Liturgy and Life and Befriending St. Joseph: Finding Faith, Hope, and Courage in the Seven Sorrows Devotion.

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