Permanent Diaconate

Deacons share in Christ’s mission and grace in a special way. The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint (“character”) which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the “deacon” or servant of all. Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1570

The Diaconate is one of the threefold ministries of the Church conveyed by the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Deacons are ordained not to the priesthood, but to the ministry of service. That ministry is expressed in three ways of service. The deacon serves at the altar, assisting the priest during the Mass; he also serves the scriptures, proclaiming the Gospel in the assembly; and he exercises a service of charity in the Church which may be expressed in a verity of ways. Deacons carry Holy Communion from Mass to those who are unable to attend due to illness or infirmity. They can bless marriages, baptise and bury the dead. They also assist in catechesis and the building up of the faithful in Christ, and often undertake chaplaincy work in hospitals, prisons and schools.

The Diaconate has always existed in the Church since apostolic times but only with the Second Vatican Council was the order restored to more general use, rather than being used only as a stepping stone on the road to priesthood. Deacons, like priests and bishops, make promises of celibacy, obedience, and to pray the Liturgy of the Hours – however these are lived in a different way. A man may be ordained to the diaconate who is already married, in which case he promises not to marry again should his wife pass away. A man who is ordained to the diaconate in the single state is bound to the law of celibacy in the same was a priest, and may not marry. The promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours for the sake of the Church and the World is again slightly different insomuch as a deacon is not bound to the whole Office but only to some level of participation. Similarly with obedience, most deacons have another profession and will live with their families in their own house – they are not ‘full time’ in the same sense that a priest is and live out their obedience in away that is fitting to their situation.

As the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium (§29) points out the works associated with the diaconate are essential to the life of the Church, but at times are only managed with great difficulty by the priest on his own. A deacon, working alongside his parish priest, is a great gift to the Church in that place and ensures that those who are most vulnerable and marginalise are remembered and cared for, the housebound imprisoned and hospitalised are brought Communion, and that those in need of teaching and instruction are never short of it.


Useful reading

LUMEN GENTIUM (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) cf. §29
Vatican Council II on 21st November, 1964

SACRUM DIACONATUS ORDINEM (Restoring the Permanent Diaconate in the Latin Church)
Motu Proprio of Bl. Pope Paul VI on 18th June, 1967

DEACONS SERVE THE KINGDOM OF GOD
General Audience of Pope St. John Paul II on 5th October, 1993

MANY PASTORAL FUNCTIONS OF THE DEACON
General Audience of Pope St. John Paul II on 13th October, 1993

DEACONS ARE CALLED TO A LIFE OF HOLINESS
General Audience of Pope St. John Paul II on 20th October, 1993

DEACONS ARE CONFIGURED TO CHRIST THE SERVANT
General Audience of Pope St. John Paul II on 30th November, 1995

DIRECTORY FOR THE MINISTRY AND LIFE OF PERMANENT DEACONS
Congregation for the Clergy on 22nd  February, 1998