This weekend, 6 good men were ordained to the Deaconate for the Archdiocese of Detroit. These men will serve Jesus for the rest of their lives. But how? I often find many folks confused about what a deacon is and what is his role? Ever since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) restored the permanent diaconate in the church, the numbers of deacons in United States have continued to grow. The United States currently leads the world with about 18,000 deacons, more than 15,000 of whom are in active ministry. By contrast, Poland did not ordain its first permanent deacon until 2003, and India not until 2006. Many other countries have only one or two deacons.
The USCCB provides a succinct definition of a deacon and his particular role in the Church.
“A deacon is an ordained minister of the Catholic Church. There are three groups, or ‘orders,’ of ordained ministers in the Church: bishops, presbyters and deacons. Deacons are ordained as a sacramental sign to the Church and to the world of Christ, who came ‘to serve and not to be served.’ The entire Church is called by Christ to serve, and the deacon, in virtue of his sacramental ordination and through his various ministries, is to be a servant in a servant-Church.”
Deacons have been around the Church since the very beginning, frequently being referenced in the New Testament. Catholics recognize two types of deacons: Permanent and transitional. Permanent deacons, like those ordained this weekend, are men ordained to an office in the Catholic Church who normally have no intention or desire of becoming priests. He can be single or married. If the latter, he must be married before being ordained a deacon. If his wife dies before him, he may be ordained a priest if the bishop permits and approves. Permanent deacons, especially those who are married, have secular jobs to support their families and also help the local pastor by visiting the sick, teaching the faith, counseling couples/individuals, working on parish committees and councils, and celebrating certain sacraments. Transitional deacons are seminarians, students in the last phase of training for the Catholic priesthood. After being a deacon for a year, they’re ordained a priest by the bishop.
Deacons can baptize, witness marriages, perform funeral and burial services outside of Mass, distribute Holy Communion, preach the homily, and are obligated to pray each day the Divine Office (Breviary: These are the 150 Psalms and Scriptural readings from the Old and New Testament that every deacon, priest, and bishop must pray) Deacons, however, cannot consecrate the Eucharist or hear confessions. They cannot administer the sacraments of Confirmation or Anointing of the Sick. Simply put, deacons are meant to be servants, assisting the pastor (and Church) in whatever way he can.
The permanent diaconate is a special vocation in the Church, one that depends on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. While God is the one who calls deacons to service in the Church, we have a role as well. We must pray and invite. In other words, maybe you or someone you know has the qualities, characteristics, and gifts that would be utilized well in the ordained ministry. As the Archbishop’s pastoral letter says, “There are no bystanders.” If you know someone who fits the qualities, tell them. You never know how the Holy Spirit may work to water that vocation. Heck, give me their contact information, and I would be happy to speak to them.
P.S. If you also know of anyone who might be interested in what our Catholic faith is all about, give me their name too. I would love to have them be catechized and be a part of our community.