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As the Church grew and began to incorporate converts from other regions, disputes began to emerge between different groups within the church. Here we see a division between those Jews who grew up in Palestine and spoke Aramaic (the Hebrews) and those who grew up in the diaspora and spoke mainly Greek (the Hellenists) over the provision of needs for their widows. Although there were no Gentiles in the Church yet, this episode would foreshadow the struggles they would face later on when they begin to include non-Jews.
We also see here the institution of the Diaconate. Deacons were originally called to assist the Apostles in “serving tables,” which could either mean the distribution of food to those who were in need, or the distribution of the Holy Eucharist during the liturgy (or both). Seven men of good repute were chosen for this task, pointing to the need to ensure that anyone who aspires to any ministry position within the church, no matter how lowly, must be someone of great faith and exemplary character.
As time went on, the role of the deacon expanded, and the Catechism provides us with a list of the tasks of a deacon:
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. Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity. (CCC 1570)
We should be thankful for the deacons who serve faithfully in our churches, as they fulfill a vital task in assisting the bishops and priests in the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
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