In Ancient Ritual, Br. Mark ordained a Catholic Deacon


Mike Scanlan

In a ritual that goes back to the Apostles, the Most Rev. Manuel A. Cruz, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Newark, ordains Br. Mark Dilone, O.S.B., a Deacon.

It was a gray, rainy Saturday before Christmas on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Newark. In front of St. Benedict’s Prep and Newark Abbey, more than a hundred people huddled under umbrellas, packing the sidewalk, and waited for the last food distribution of the year from St. Mary’s food pantry. Between the blare of car horns, the screech of sirens, and the rumble of the crowd, the din was almost palpable.

A few steps away, inside the Abbey’s red brick St. Mary’s Church, a decidedly different mood reigned. A few dozen people, some in religious garb, silently waited in the small, gleaming chamber. There, impervious to time and modern stresses, Br. Mark Dilone, O.S.B., in a religious rite dating back to the Apostles, was about to be ordained a Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. It’s a necessary step that will ultimately allow him to be ordained a priest next spring.

Candles flickered in the golden light of the church and the only sounds were the quick steps of Benedictine monks readying the altar space for the service. And, then, the Dec. 18 event began.

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Cantor and St. Benedict’s Chemistry Teacher Dennis Lansang played the organ while leading the congregation to sing “I Bind Unto Myself Today,” also known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate. The hymn is meant to provide “divine armor” for protection against spiritual adversity.

The monks of Newark Abbey, guest celebrants, and Br. Mark, dressed in white, processed in during the singing. The sacred Catholic ritual included a full Mass presided over by the Most Rev. Manuel A. Cruz, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Newark. The Rite of Ordination occurred within the body of the Mass.

Br. Mark Dilone, O.S.B., distributes Communion at Mass, following his Rite of Ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacon. (Mike Scanlan)

In his homily, Bishop Cruz spoke directly to Br. Mark, a history teacher at St. Benedict’s, about the importance of continuing Christ’s work on earth. “The Lord has given you the example,” Bishop Cruz said. “Just as He has done, so you should do.” He urged Br. Mark to do the work of charity “from the heart,” and to “serve others as you would the Lord.”

During the service, Abbot Melvin Valvano, O.S.B., spoke of Br. Mark’s careful preparations and worthiness for the role. Bishop Cruz then turned and assessed Br. Mark directly. Br. Mark responded by promising to observe the obligations of the office. While Dr. Lansang and Drama Teacher Ms. Patricia Flynn sang a lengthy hymn, the “Litany of Saints,” Br. Mark prostrated himself on a carpet before the altar while the Bishop kneeled next to him.

  At the hymn’s conclusion, Bishop Cruz rose, stepped back on the altar and stood before Br. Mark, who stood, then kneeled. The Bishop placed his hands on Br. Mark’s head and ordained him through the invocation of the Holy Spirit.

Speaking later, Br. Mark said that this was the most powerful part of the ceremony for him. “These are the essential words and actions where the Sacrament of Holy Orders happens,” he said. “And when you know that it’s been done like this since the time of the Apostles, that is something really incredible.”

Following the Bishop’s actions, one of  Br. Mark’s friends and a former seminary classmate, Br. Daniel Hernández, O.S.C., himself a transitional Deacon, helped him don the dalmatic, a long, loose, wide-sleeved garment that is the proper liturgical vestment of deacons, along with a white stole he was presented with. With the Rite of Ordination as a Catholic Deacon completed, Br. Mark was able to perform some of his new roles in Mass, including the distribution of Communion.

For Br. Mark, the ordination was the realization of a dream.

Br. Mark processes out of St. Mary’s Church at the close of his Ordination, singing “Go to the World.” (Mike Scanlan)

“I went into the ordination, with many prayers and carried many people I love with me,” said Br. Mark, who lost his mother at a young age and was raised by loving relatives. “It was, in some ways, a whirlwind of prayer, ritual, and emotions, but it also was the living out of a calling and a dream – moving closer to the Lord in service. Responding ‘yes’ again — to the call and being confirmed in that call by the Church for service.”

The past few weeks have been an intensive period of reflection and spirituality for Br. Mark. Only two weeks before his Diaconate Ordination, Br. Mark professed his Solemn Vows at St. Mary’s in a Rite of Solemn Monastic Profession During Mass as a Benedictine monk. In doing so, he committed himself for life to the service of Newark Abbey.

Br. Mark will be regarded as a “transitional” deacon because he is on a path to the priesthood. As a minister of Sacrament, he can baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services. As a minister of the Word, Br. Mark as a deacon will be able to proclaim the Gospel, preach, and teach in the name of the Church. 

On the Sunday following his Saturday ordination, Br. Mark reviewed a Homily he had written days before the event and realized how profoundly he had been changed. “No longer was this just a few sheets of paper with a scriptural reflection on it,” Br. Mark said. “Now it was a Homily, and I was no longer giving a reflection, but was now, in the very best sense, duty-bound to God’s people, to not only proclaim this morning’s Gospel at Mass, but through these thoughts and words the fruit of contemplation and study.”

He realized that the onus was on him to “open up the meaning of the Scriptures and to hopefully enrich the people’s spiritual lives in my own imperfect way.” As he pored over his words one more time before speaking them at Mass, “it became clear that this was all very, very real,” he said.