Deacons who divorce

Question: If a permanent deacon gets divorced and remarried, would he still be a permanent deacon?

Allen Eberle, Hague, N.D.

Answer: No, a man in that situation could not continue to function as a permanent deacon. However, some distinctions are necessary so as to clarify the answer.

While celibacy is not required of a married man who becomes a permanent deacon, celibacy does apply to some permanent deacons. First, if an unmarried man becomes a permanent deacon, he is required to promise celibacy at his ordination and to remain celibate for the rest of his life. Secondly, if the spouse of a permanent deacon dies, he is expected to live celibately from that point forward. 

In the unfortunate situation you describe of a deacon who is divorced, he also would be expected to live celibately from that point forward.

In the thankfully rare situation where permanent deacons become divorced, the local bishop usually permits such a deacon to continue ministering as a deacon. But the bishop also needs to ensure that the deacon did all he could to reasonably save his marriage, and did not casually cast aside his marital vows, which would be a scandal. Presuming this can be assured and that scandal can be avoided, the bishop can permit a divorced permanent deacon to continue ministering. But, as already stated, he must live celibately from that point forward.

What if the deacon were to refuse to follow Church law, either by flagrantly divorcing and remarrying or by remarrying after the death of a spouse? In such cases, he would be suspended from practicing his ministry as a deacon and likely be laicized. Since ordination confers a character, he would still, technically, be a deacon but could in no way perform the ministry of the diaconate.

Origin of Lent

Question: Where does the word “Lent” come from? In my native Spanish we just call the season cuaresma, which seems more descriptive.

Anna Gonzalez, Via email

Answer: You are right. The Latin title for this period is Quadragesima and is best translated, “40th day (before Easter)” or more loosely “the 40 days.” Most of the Romance Languages keep this root in their words for the season (e.g. cuaresma, quaresma, carême, quaresima) and these are, as you say, more descriptive and less abstract.

The word “Lent” seems to come from Germanic roots wherein the words lenz and lente refer to the spring season when the days “lengthen.” Thus the word “Lent” describes less the liturgical time frame and more the seasonal one. So, as the days lengthen and our thoughts move to Easter, beginning 40 days before, we spend time spiritually preparing for that greatest feast of the Church’s year.

The notion of 40 days of course reminds us of the 40 days Christ spent in the desert fasting and praying in preparation for his public ministry. We are encouraged to go into the desert with him spiritually and thus also be strengthened through the spiritual exercises of resisting temptation, praying and fasting. “Giving up something” for Lent is not merely for its own sake, but rather to make room for other things. Thus, if we forgo some lawful pleasure, we can perhaps be freer to pray.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.