A Step Closer to Priesthood

Br. Asiel Ordained As Deacon


Photo by Michael Scanlan

Pursuing his lifelong quest to become a Catholic priest, Br. Asiel Rodriguez was ordained a deacon on Saturday by Bishop Manuel Cruz.

Geovanni Lopez, Staff Writer

With songs, prayer, and sacred ritual, the Ordination to the Diaconate of the Hive’s very own Br. Asiel Rodriguez, O.S.B, was completed on Sat., July 11, at the Abbey Church of St. Mary in Newark. The event, an important step on the path to Br. Asiel’s lifelong goal of becoming a priest, occurred on the Feast of St. Benedict, which also happens to be Br. Asiel’s birthday.

“I started in 2010, a kid,” said Br. Asiel, shortly after the service concluded. “Now look at me!” The monk turned 29 Saturday.

The monks of Newark Abbey assist Br. Asiel with new vestments. (Photo by Michael Scanlan)

The Ordination, the culmination of a decade of study for the Benedictine monk, had been pushed back for months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Monastery leaders seized the opportunity created by new guidelines from the Archdiocese of Newark — allowing groups of up to 50 back into churches — to hold the event. While the Ordination was live streamed for the larger St. Benedict’s community, the present rules allowed Br. Asiel to invite as witnesses his extended Cuban-American family, many of whom live in nearby Union City. As a sign of the times, all attending wore face masks and sat on chairs appropriately set apart, abiding social distancing standards.

Those attending the service wore masks and observed social distancing rules. (Photo by Michael Scanlan)

The sacred Catholic ritual included a full Mass presided over by the Most Rev. Manuel A. Cruz, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Newark. Newark Abbey monks conducted the readings, and Science Department Chair Dr. Dennis Lansang played the organ and sang. The Rite of Ordination occurred within the body of the Mass.

In his homily, Bishop Cruz spoke of a time he visited a Benedictine abbey on the West Coast and was deeply affected by a statue of St. Benedict on the property. It depicted the saint buffeted by wind during a storm but clinging for all his life to one thing: the book he authored known as “The Rule.”

“Yes,” Bishop Cruz said. “His rule for monastic life. Listen very carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions. And attend to them with the ear of your heart.” Referring to their common heritage as Cuban refugees, the bishop also honored Br. Asiel and his family by making part of his address in Spanish.

During the service, Abbot Melvin Valvano spoke of Br. Asiel’s lengthy preparations and worthiness for the role. Bishop Cruz then turned and assessed Br. Asiel directly. Br. Asiel responded by promising to observe the obligations of the office. While Dr. Lansang sang a lengthy hymn, the “Litany of Saints,” Br. Asiel prostrated himself on a carpet before the altar while the Bishop kneeled next to him. In doing so, Br. Asiel explained later, he was dying to his previous life and giving himself over to God. At the hymn’s conclusion, Bishop Cruz rose, stepped back on the altar and stood before Br. Asiel, who stood, then kneeled. The Bishop placed his hands on Br. Asiel’s head and ordained him.

A central part of the Diaconate Ordination rite involves the prostration of the cleric. (Photo by Michael Scanlan)

His brother monks helped Br. Asiel don the dalmatic, a long, loose, wide-sleeved garment that is the proper liturgical vestment of deacons. Br. Asiel also put on a white stole he was presented with, placing it over his left shoulder and tying it cross-wise at his right side, like a sash.

With the Rite of Ordination as a Catholic Deacon completed, Br. Asiel was able to perform some of his new roles in Mass, including the distribution of Communion. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website, a deacon is “an ordained minister of the Catholic Church…Deacons are ordained as a sacramental sign to the Church and to the world of Christ, who came to serve and not be served.”

Concluding the service, Br. Asiel gave a speech acknowledging all those who have helped him along his journey. “After many years of preparation,” he said, “I stand before you as one who serves only by the grace of God and the prayers of so many of you. Please keep those prayers coming.”

In addition to Br. Asiel’s family, mask-wearing, socially distanced onlookers included 7 Sisters from the Order of St. Benedict and 2 Sisters from the Order of St. Joseph, and several other members of the religious and St. Benedict’s community.

After the service, Sister Ann Marie Gass, Dean of the Elementary Division at SBP, commented on Br. Asiel’s values pertaining to his future in the Church: “His hospitable and humble personality capture the essence of what it means to be a Benedictine monk and serve as a deacon in the life of the Church,” she said.

As a minister of the Word, Br. Asiel as a deacon will be able to proclaim the Gospel, preach, and teach in the name of the Church. As a minister of Sacrament, he can baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services.

Br. Asiel will be regarded as a “transitional” deacon because he is on a path to the priesthood. But there are more than 13,000 deacons in the U.S. alone who minister in this Order permanently, according to the U.S. Conference of Bishops.

SBP Science Department Chair Dr. Dennis Lansang played the organ and sang during the service. (Photo by Michael Scanlan)

It’s already been an exciting year for Br. Asiel. He, along with fellow monk Br. Simon Peter Clayton, O.S.B., professed solemn vows to the Newark Abbey monastery in mid-March during the height of the pandemic in New Jersey. Through their vow of stability, they have committed themselves to the monastery for life. Br. Simon is also preparing for the priesthood.

With the Ordination concluded, Br. Asiel’s first order of business was to deliver his first homily at 7:30 a.m. Sunday Mass July 12 at St. Mary’s. After, he will focus on the next step of completing his preparation for his priestly Ordination. 

“There has always been this huge desire in my heart to be a priest, since I was little,” Br. Asiel said. “Priests were huge examples for me, examples of a life of giving to others and with no time limits, completely giving their 24/7 as a gift to others.” 

Br. Asiel looks forward to the day of his ordination to priesthood in order to serve at his full potential. He is excited about reaching out to more people, returning to his hometown parish in Union City, and using his ability of speaking English, Spanish, and Portuguese to possibly conduct Mass in different languages.   

 Br. Asiel’s priestly Ordination is now scheduled for November. For now, Br. Asiel will continue to practice using his extensive years of study as well as his teaching experience to help with the homilies he will be giving. Teaching at St. Benedict’s has given him invaluable experience in learning how to communicate the Word of God, he said. 

In fact, he quipped, preaching might be a tad more straightforward.

“Right,” he said. “It’s a lot easier, and hopefully people in church won’t be as annoying, interrupting you know, like every two minutes.”