Each of the 15 deacon formation candidates stepped forward and knelt down before Bishop W. Shawn McKnight.
From the bishop’s chair, a symbol of his teaching authority, the bishop handed each a leather-bound Bible, stating:
“Take this book of Holy Scripture. Be faithful in handing on the Word of God, so that it may grow strong in the hearts of his people.”
This was part of the rite for instituting lectors — Catholic laypeople who are commissioned to proclaim God’s inspired Word in the liturgical assembly and to instruct the faith.
For these 15 men, it was an important milestone in the five-year process of discernment and formation for the Diaconate.
Bishop McKnight instituted the new lectors during the regular 10 a.m. Sunday Mass on Nov. 5 in the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
The diocese’s permanent deacons and their wives and the candidates and their wives attended the Mass together as part of their annual weekend retreat in Jefferson City.
In his homily, the bishop told the new lectors that the permanent commission of lector obliges them to become even more familiar with the Bible and the official teachings of the Church.
He said their pastors should be able to look to them for help proclaiming God’s Word in the divine liturgies of the Church, as well as with teaching the faith in classes for people who are preparing to become Catholic, in sacramental preparation courses, and with adult faith formation.
He urged them all to meditate on a passage of Scripture each day for the rest of their lives.
“With this routine, intimacy with the Incarnate Word of God will help you to see the world and the happenings in your life with a biblical vision — that is, the way God sees,” Bishop McKnight told them.
It will help them maintain a proper mind and spirit for ministry, giving themselves entirely to being an authentic and genuine vessel of the Word of God, the bishop said.
With the end in mind
The newly instituted lectors include:
They hope to be ordained deacons in 2025.
Father Louis Nelen, pastor of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish in Jefferson City, concelebrated the Mass.
Deacon John Schwartze, diocesan director of deacon formation, and Deacon Michael Berendzen, diocesan director of deacon life and ministry, assisted.
Bishop McKnight noted that bishops, priests and deacons, who have received the Sacrament of Holy Orders, bear particular responsibility for preaching God’s Word with integrity and authenticity.
“We are admonished to be practitioners of the Word we preach, as well as our obligation to be faithful to the model of leadership shown to us by our Lord,” the bishop said.
In fact, that directive to be proclaimers and doers of the Word applies to all who are baptized.
Such Christian witness helps others recognize God and draw them closer to him.
“If we simply use our Catholic religious practices as a means of drawing attention to ourselves or to castigate others about how sinful they are without lifting a finger to help them, we are guilty like the scribes and pharisees of old,” said Bishop McKnight.
Jesus was clear that people in authority who condemn without helping are to be obeyed but not imitated.
Toward this end, the bishop noted, Pope Francis is leading the whole Church, especially during the ongoing synodal process, “to redirect how we individually and corporately have been conducting ourselves and our ministry.
“Are we merely self-referential in our religious practices,” the bishop asked, “or are we truly missionary in living out the privileged relationship we all share with the Incarnate Word of God, whose Body is broken and whose Blood poured out in the offering of the Holy Eucharist?”
God’s remedy for spiritual dullness, insularity and lack of evangelical zeal is found in his Inspired Word contained in the Bible.
Accordingly, “we need an ongoing, intimate and personal relationship with the Incarnate Word in the Scriptures that we read and prayerfully meditate on,” said Bishop McKnight.
That applies to all Catholics, lay and ordained.
“This is why Bible study groups or small-group catechetical series of one kind or another are important to maintaining a proper attitude and spirit in our relationship with God, in our relationship with the Church’s objective authorities, and with one another,” the bishop stated.
He pointed out that while many have particular vocations to Marriage, Religious Life or Holy Orders, “each and every one of us has a common vocation, by virtue of our Baptism.”
“All of us are called to be witnesses of our Catholic faith,” he noted. “We are called to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, first and foremost, in how we live.”