We have seen how the pre-conciliar Pontifical preserves the idea, found in the first-century Roman text known as I Clement, that the Diaconate is a primarily cultic institution, the purpose of which is to serve the High Priest, the Bishop, in the Eucharistic celebration, distributing the Sacrament and proclaiming the Gospel; that it is not seen in terms of lowly service to the needy. In the earliest formulae, elements taken from Acts 6 (such as 'serving at tables' and S Stephen) are not even mentioned. In the Middle Ages, occasional references to S Stephen gradually make their way into the rites, but without any great suggestion that deacons should follow his alleged example* of philanthropic endeavour towards the needy.
Naturally, the post-Vatican II reformers, deeply infected by liberal Protestant notions of Ministry-as-Service and of the Servant Church, found the rites they inherited profoundly unsatisfactory. When they got their hands on the Rite for the Consecration of a Bishop, they robbed it entirely of its ancient Roman Consecratory Prayer with its Clementine, first century, view of the Bishop. The Rite of Diaconal Ordination fared a little better; it was fortunate enough not to be deprived of its Consecratory Prayer. But the text of this ancient formula was badly corrupted by the interpolation of phraseology expressing the novel dogma.
After the Diaconal Prayer has referred to the Levitical ministry at the Tabernacle, an entire paragaph is added, based on Acts 6 and ending - tediously, inevitably - with a reference to serving at tables. After the words which, according to Pius XII, are the 'form' of the sacrament, phrases are added about "love that is sincere ... concern for the sick and the poor". And, with equal inevitability, the Prayer is made to end "May they in this life imitate your Son, who came, not to be served but to serve"**. I will leave you to guess where the New Testament Reading is taken from; the Collect refers to "serving their brothers and sisters" and "concern [what a very late-twentieth-century word that is!] for others". The super oblata reminds us of the Lord's foot-washing.
Is the post-conciliar Western rite for diaconal ordination adequate validly to confer the Sacramental order of the Diaconate? Since it is authorised and used by Holy Mother Church, I am convinced that we are protected by an over-arching conviction of the indefectibility of the Church. So I would firmly discourage any scruples and would maintain that the question did not even need to be discussed. If this were not so, strict application of the methodology in Apostolicae curae, which was crafted to make it easy to bring in a 'Guilty' verdict against rites which had been tampered with, might very well raise awkward questions. Sedevacantists have not been blind to the polemical possibilities in this area. But I prefer the older Western notion, derided by liberals as 'mechanistic', that a rite which has been tampered with, denuded, and even corrupted with misguided insertions, provided that it still contains the barest minimum of what is essential in terms of 'form' and 'matter' and is accompanied by a minimal 'intention', is good enough, and cannot even be nullified by the heretical views of a minister. So - even if these tamperings had been done by people outside the Church's unity and even if the maimed and corrupted rites were now being maintained as a badge of separation and of heresy by a sect inimical to the Catholic and Roman Church - I would still be convinced that deacons ordained in accordance with them really were deacons!
One more post will conclude this series.
*S Stephen, after being ordained deacon, is martyred for his witness to the Gospel, and another of the seven deacons, S Philip, actually goes off to preach the Gospel, not to run welfare schemes. Austin 'Anglican Patrimony' Farrer pointed out that "The supposition that the Seven are regarded by St Luke as 'deacons' is a very old error", and remarked that, in Acts 19:22, Timothy and Erastus were among those who were diakonounton ... not to the needy but to Paul.
**The old prayer ended instead with petition that the neo-ordinati "having always the testimony of a good conscience, and continuing ever stable and strong in thy Son Jesus Christ, may so well behave themselves in this inferior office, that they may be found worthy to be called unto the higher ministries in thy Church". (I give Cranmer's ... free but basically honest ... translation.) I find it rather diverting that the realism of the last two clauses seemed unexceptionable to a Reformation Zwinglian but impossibly politically incorrect to trendy liturgical tamperers.
Incidentally, those last clauses also raise problems about deacons who are permanent in the sense that they are forbidden to be ordained beyond the diaconate.