St. Stephen

St. Stephen

St. Stephen is one of that first group of 7 deacons who were chosen to enable the Apostles to continue in their work while the necessary service of the community was carried on faithfully. By tradition deacons have always been seen as exercising a particular ministry of service.

In our time we have seen the revival of this ministry. The Second Vatican Council called for the re-establishment of Permanent Deacons so that in this expression of the Sacrament of Holy Orders we might focus on the double call to be a servant and to be a herald of the Gospel. It would be wrong to imagine that the diaconate is simply a limited version of priesthood. A permanent deacon is called by God to live and work in the world and act as a particular witness to faith. Of course, this is at the heart of the calling of all members of the Church and every lay person is to be an apostle in their place of work and in their family. The permanent deacon is called to provide leadership in service and be an example of this great activity by living it out himself.

It is significant that the first martyr to the risen Christ was a deacon - Saint Stephen (the word 'marty' means 'witness') and he gave his witness not only by his life of service but also in his death. His name 'Stephen' means 'crown' which reminds us of the reward for all who serve. Saint Stephen is the patron of Deacons and we should pray especially for vocations to the Permanent Diaconate on this day and keep all our Deacons in our prayers.

Saint Stephen is also the patron saint of Altar Servers - those who assist in the celebration of the Mass and other services. On his day we pray for all of those who help in this way at Mass and we ask that more will commit themselves to this important way of contributing to the life of the family of the Church.

It might seem strange that the feast falls on the day after Christmas. This is probably because the keeping of St. Stephen's Day is at least as old as the keeping of Christmas as a feast. Before the 4th Century there is no record of a feast of Christmas and when it was first introduced it would have been a single day of celebration and so the recalling of Saint Stephen on the next day did not appear odd. From our point of view the way these feasts fall together shows that our belief in the birth of Jesus places upon us a responsibility to witness to the love that God showed for us when he became human.

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