ALL ABOUT THE DEACON


A Catholic Deacon is a member of the clergy.

The title "Deacon" comes from the Greek word "diakonos" which means servant or waiter.

A deacon is ordained by the Bishop into the "Diaconate" - the order of Deacons. Once ordained a deacon is permanently and publicly configured to Christ the Servant and shares in the pastoral responsibility of the Bishop to care for all the people in the diocese, in partnership with priests.

Deacons participate in a unique way in Mass, they are official teachers and preachers of the Gospel and they preside at celebrations of baptisms, matrimony, funerals and other forms of community prayer. Deacons also visit the sick, the housebound, those imprisoned and in need.

A deacon is someone who is also a sacramental sign of Christ within the wider community and the deacon also serves as a prophetic reminder to all the baptized of their own responsibility to care for others.

What led the Council to restore the diaconate as a permanent order of the Ministry?

The horrors of World War II led many leaders to discuss how the Church needed to be renewed - to be a more effective witness of Christ to the modern world. Following the horrific experiences of some in the Dachau Concentration camp and the insights gained and written about later, it was realized that the Church herself was a servant and that the Church needed to respond to her own diaconal nature. A sacramental diaconate, lived as a permanent state of ordained ministry, could help restore that sense of service throughout the Church. Deacons would have a mission from their bishop to be leaders in service to the Church and the community: they would have a responsibility to enflame and inspire the rest of the members of the Church to serve others as well.

At the Second World Congress of the Apostolate of the Laity in Rome (Oct. 5, 1957) Pope Pius XII gave an address in which he acknowledged the growing interest in the possibility of a renewed diaconate. He encouraged bishops and theologians to continue their research into the "permanent" diaconate.

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, hundreds of bishops from around the world requested that the revived diaconate be a topic of discussion during the Council.

The diaconate was discussed in conjunction with the Bishop's own role, during the Second Vatican Council. Deacons are subsequently mentioned in several documents: the desire that the diaconate be renewed as a "proper and permanent" order of the hierarchy is in paragraph #29 of The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium).

This decision on the part of the bishops of the Council was then implemented by Pope Paul VI in 1967, with the document Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem.

There is an intense period of discernment and formation for those considering life as a deacon.

If it is determined by the Bishop that a person may have a vocation to the diaconate he will be admitted into a formal period of discernment, called 'aspirancy'. During this period of prayer, study and personal formation the man and his family (if married) reflect on the nature of ordained ministry and whether this is something that the man might be called to do. Following this the bishop may ask the man to pursue additional human, spiritual, academic and pastoral formation, as a formal candidate for possible ordination.

The period of formation involves significant coursework in theology, scripture studies, homiletics and Church History. Depending on the process put in place by the Bishop this period may last from three to six years.

At the end of this time the candidate's record and process of discernment is reviewed by the Bishop. If he deems it appropriate and with the formal and written consent of the candidates' wife the bishop may call the man to ordination.

Following ordination, deacons - like priests - are required to continue their formation through annual retreats and regular ongoing formation opportunities.

How do you know if you have a vocation to be a deacon?

A person who thinks they might have a vocation to the diaconate should first pray, then talk about it with family and friends, then find out more by contacting the local director of the diaconate or vocations person.

Often a person's "diaconal qualities" have been observed and experienced by friends, family and members of a Parish Community and a suggestion is made by them that one should consider the possibility of becoming a deacon. Or, maybe, through a person's own experience with deacons or through reading, a person might become interested in the diaconate.

How does a deacon balance family, job and ordained ministry?

Balance in any relationship is a necessity and an ongoing "skill" that we must all continually adjust to get it right. Constant prayers and good communication skills between the deacon and his wife, employer, bishops and other partners in ministry are required. One aspect of discernment and formation is learning to juggle and balance multiple responsibilities.

Can women be ordained as deacons?

At this time, women are not ordained to the diaconate. Pope John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis taught that he Church does not have the authority to ordain women to the priesthood. It is not clear whether the specific teaching of this document applies to Deacons a well: the Church has not taught definitively on the subject of the possibility of the ordination of women to the diaconate. Therefore, the discussion and debate of women deacons remains open. However, it does seem unlikely that women will be ordained to the diaconate in the near future.

Do deacons get transferred from parish to parish like priests?

Yes, deacons may be transferred, because when a person is ordained a bishop, deacon or priest, he is at the service of the entire diocese, not just a particular parish or ministry. The bishop is responsible for putting the right "talent" to meet the needs in the best location.

The deacon's family and professional responsibilities are considered in the development and details of an assignment. Sometimes bishops will do this on a regular basis - at other times, transfers are requested by deacons and priests.

What do we call Deacons?

Most deacons prefer to be called simply by their first names, or "Deacon" followed by his first or last name. If they have a professional title (such as doctor, professor or a military rank) it is appropriate to refer to the deacon by this title in professional matters. Transitional deacons are referred to as "Reverend Mister". Both permanent and transitional deacons are referred to as "Reverend".

Bishops and Deacons: what is the relationship?

In parish life it is easy to assume that the deacon "works" for the priest, given that the priest has pastoral responsibility for the parish and clergy assigned by the bishop. However, theologically and historically deacons are most closely associated with their bishops.

In the ancient Church deacons were said to be the "eyes and ears, heart and soul" of the bishop and deacons still have that special relationship to their bishop today. The deacon is expected by his bishop to share in the bishop's own apostolic ministry to care for the people of his diocese.

What is expected of a deacon's wife?

No married deacon may be ordained without the freely given, written consent of his wife.

The best opportunity to grow in her knowledge of the diaconate and its possible impact on her and her whole family - is to participate in the formation program to the greatest extent possible. This will also allow her to give informed consent to her husband's ordination and at the same time encourage her own spiritual growth in discipleship.

In terms of official ministry, there is no specific role for the deacon's wife - the deacon's ordination does not confer any ministerial role to the deacon's wife.

The ministry of the Word: What is the deacon's role?

One of the most traditional liturgical roles of the deacon has been the proclamation of the Gospel at Mass.

During his ordination the deacon is given the book of the Gospels by the bishop with the charge:

"Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are: Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach."

By virtue of the ordination deacons also "possess the faculty to preach everywhere" (Canon 764).

If a married man is ordained a deacon do he and his wife have to refrain from sexual activity?

Not at all! Married deacons and their wives do not surrender any rights or responsibilities resulting from their married state of life. Marriage and orders are not incompatible sacraments; rather, there is a great mutuality between them.

What sacraments do deacons celebrate?

Current canon and liturgical law permits deacons to serve as ordinary ministers of baptism. ("Ordinary" in this sense refers to the fact that deacons exercise this ministry as a normal result of their ordination and the faculties they have received from the Bishop.) They are ordinary ministers for the distribution of Communion.

Deacons also officiate at weddings as the official witness of the Church. Deacons do not confirm, ordain, reconcile (hear confessions/give absolution) or anoint the sick.

In addition to these sacraments, deacons preach in virtue of their ordination and they may also preside at various prayer services and liturgies, including Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, public recitations of the Rosary, Stations of the Cross, the Liturgy of the Hours and Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest. While they do not celebrate the anointing of the sick, they are ordinary ministers of viaticum; deacons may also preside at wakes and funerals.

During Holy Week, what special functions does a deacon have?

Holy Week is the most sacred time of our entire liturgical year. The week begins with Palm Sunday and extends through Holy Saturday. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are known collectively as the "Triduum".

The first day of the Triduum is the celebration of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday. This Mass is frequently associated with the establishment of the Eucharist by Christ at the Last Supper. It is also during the Mass on Holy Thursday that we find the "washing of feet", which has particular importance for deacons.

On Good Friday, the Church commemorates Christ's death and burial. It is the one day of the liturgical year in which we do not celebrate the mass. During the Liturgy of the Word, the deacon proclaims the Gospel and then introduces each of the intercessions directing the assembly to kneel and stand. The deacon may assist with the Veneration of the Cross, and then he brings the reserved hosts, consecrated at the mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, to the altar for the distribution of communion.

The week culminates with the great Easter vigil after sunset on Holy Saturday. This is the heart and soul of the liturgical year, in which the Church herself passes through death to new life. The vigil begins with a Service of Light, and the deacon has a crucial part in this service. After the darkness of death experienced on Good Friday, the Church gathers and the bishop or priest lights and blesses a new fire. Then the Easter candle is brought forward and lit. A procession by the faithful into the church is led by the deacon carrying the lit candle. Three times the deacon pauses on the way into the darkened church to proclaim "Christ, our Light!" The people respond, "Thanks are to God!" Once the candle is placed in its holder in the sanctuary, the deacon chants an ancient hymn known as the Exsultet.

Following the Service of Light, the vigil continues with an extended Liturgy of the Word. The deacon participates as he does in any Mass, as the ordinary proclaimer of the Gospel. After the Liturgy of the Word, the vigil continues with the sacraments of initiation and the deacon assists the bishop or priest with the baptisms, receptions into full communion and confirmations. Finally, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the deacon exercises his normal functions. At the end of the Mass, it is the deacon who sends the newly reborn community back into the word with the dismissal.

What liturgical vestments do deacons wear and what is their significance?

As Members of the clergy, deacons wear during Mass, many of the same basic vestments as priests and bishops. This includes the amice, which is a rectangular linen cloth used to cover the wearer's neckwear if the alb does not completely cover street clothing.

The alb is a long white robe worn by clergy to represent the white garment presented to all Christians at Baptism. (If the alb is large, a cincture (a rope belt) bay is worn to adjust the fit of the alb for ease of movement.)

Vestments unique to the deacon include the stole and the dalmatic. Although the stole is worn by all members of the clergy, it is worn in a different way by the deacon. The stole is a long, narrow piece of cloth worn around the neck of the minister. The Council of Toledo (AD 633) directed that the deacon wear his stole over his left shoulder and caught up on the right hip, because "the right side he must have free, in order that he may without hindrance, do his service".

Stoles are worn over the alb (and cincture) but under the dalmatic. The dalmatic was originally an ordinary garment in the Roman province of Dalmatia. By the fourth century, the dalmatic was worn over the alb by bishops and deacons. By the ninth century, the Western Church decreed that, at Mass, the priest wore a chasuble over the alb and the deacon wore a dalmatic. The dalmatic is a knee-length (or longer) vestment made with sleeves and slit down the sides. As a general rule, if a priest wears a chasuble, the deacon should wear a dalmatic. Like the chasuble, it is in the color of the liturgical season.