In the Catholic Church, the diaconate is the first of three ranks in ordained ministry. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional deacons. Those not planning to be ordained priests are called permanent deacons. Married men may be ordained permanent deacons, and single men may be ordained with a commitment to celibacy.
Vatican II Said the Following
Dedicated to the works of charity and functions of administration, deacons should recall the admonition of St. Polycarp: “Let them be merciful and zealous, and let them walk according to the truth of the Lord who became servant of all.” (Lurnen Gentium, #29)
The ministry of a deacon is similar to but different from that of a priest of bishop. A deacon is ordained and missioned by Christ through the bishop to minister to the needy and the poor and to be a minister of Word and Sacrament, working in obedience to his bishop and in close fraternal cooperation with priests. While all Christians are called to serve others, the deacon is an official sign of this service and he solemnly promises to be a living example of such service for others.
Through Holy Orders, the deacon acquires a special relationship to the bishop. Though surely “his own man” – by reason of his place in the hierarchy – tradition refers to him as “the bishop’s man … the bishop’s ears and eyes.” His ministry of charity, word, and sacrament enables the Church to be a credible sign of the Servant Christ in the world.
What the Deacon Is
The deacon should be a creative leader – an “inspirator” – one who gradually initiates a meaningful response of loving service from the community to those who are in spiritual or material need. Ordained PRIMARILY to be a minister of charity, he will hold himself accountable for such a service before God and the Church. He will draw his strength and his continuing motivation from the Holy Eucharist where- he is transformed by his reception of the Body and Blood of Christ.
What the Deacon Does
A permanent deacon exercising diaconal ministry in the Archdiocese of Boston and in good standing:
- May solemnly baptize and enter the data in the Register,
- May act as deacon at the Eucharistic Liturgy in accord with the prescriptions of the law,
- May preach everywhere in virtue of Canon 764, unless it has been restricted or taken away by the competent ordinary. This faculty is to be exercised with at least the presumed consent of the rector of the church. Preaching to religious in their churches or oratories requires the permission of the competent superior (C.765),
- May distribute Holy Communion and bring Holy Communion to the sick. If no priest is available, he may bring Viaticum to the sick who are dying,
- May be the minister of exposition and benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament,
- May impart those blessings which are expressly permitted to him by law,
- May officiate at marriages with delegation from the pastor of the parish where the marriage is to be celebrated,
- May lead prayers at a wake and officiate at burial services at a cemetery, unless any one of these is restricted.
What are the Requirements?
The deacon is called personally and ecclesially to serve after the manner of Jesus. He is first and foremost a Christian man in his usual employment and lifestyle, trained and formed by additional study and prayer for a special ministry to the community as an ordained minister. Consideration is given to the following as to a man’s suitability for the Diaconate Formation Program:
- Age: At least 35 at time of ordination
- Status: A Roman Catholic, married or single, of sound moral character, mature faith and possessing a sense of vocation to service
- Family: If married, a partner in a stable marriage for at least eight to 10 years, who has the expressed consent and support of his wife, and whose children are of such an age and adjustment so as not to be unduly affected by their father’s pursuit of a life that involves special apostolic commitments
- Natural Gifts: Demonstrates the basic potential to develop the ministerial skills of relating to people, speaking well and being a spiritual leader
- Spirituality: A man of prayer willing to make personal sacrifices to be a consecrated sign of God’s love for others in his vocation to serve
- Education: At least two years of college or its academic equivalent
- Employment: A person who reflects prior stability in career or work
- Church/Community service, Involvement: A man living the Christian life who has demonstrated active apostolic involvement and leadership among the people of God.
- The best credentials a candidate can bring to the diaconate is his past performance: personal, familial, professional, ecclesial and social.
Permanent Deacons in the United States
The Order of Deacons was instituted by the Apostles. It was restored as a permanent and public ministry in the Roman Church as a result of a decision made by the bishops at the Second Vatican Council. The restoration of the permanent diaconate was authorized in the United States in 1968.
The aims of the diaconate are to enrich and strengthen the works of service being performed by the Church, to enlist a new group of devout and competent married and single men in the active ministry of the Church, and to aid in extending needed charitable and liturgical service to the faithful. Wives of deacons assist in many of these areas.
The number of deacons in the United States has continued to grow steadily. There are more than 10,000 permanent deacons ministering in better than 140 (arch)dioceses in the United States.