Q: What is a Deacon?

A. Deacons are ordained servants of Christ. They are men who have felt called by Christ, to serve Him and the Church. They do this through participating in a threefold ministry of word, sacrament and charity.

Deacons are either “permanent” or “transitional”. When the permanent deaconate was revived during Vatican II, the distinction was made between transitional deacons, those who are in the process of entering the priesthood, and permanent deacons, those who are called to the diaconal ministry and are not becoming priests. Permanent deacons can be either married or single men. Single deacons may start formation at a younger age, however, they must also take a vow of celibacy.

A permanent deacon goes through a long and intense period of discernment prior to starting the formal formation period. In the same fashion as priests, deacons feel a calling to serve, either through conversation with Christ or by a recommendation from their parish community. In either case, the process is lengthy and is typically guided by a Spiritual Director. Upon acceptance by the Bishop into the formation program, deacons spend 4 years of pastoral, spiritual, human and theological development. Deacons are not paid by the Church, so they often conduct this intense training while juggling family and work life!

Upon the completion of the 4 years of formation, the men are ordained as deacons. The degrees of Holy Orders are Episcopate (Bishops), Presbyterate (Priests) and Diaconate (Deacons). Deacons are an extension of the Bishop’s ministry, and as such, are closely linked to the Bishop of their Diocese. However, they are normally placed under the guidance of a local parish priest who supervises their ministry. Once ordained, deacons are subject to many of the same “rules and regulations” as priests. Deacons must pray the Divine Office, but typically only Morning and Evening Prayer. Deacons are ordained for life, and married deacons may not remarry (even if widowed). Deacons wear the dalmatic (whereas a priest wears the chasuble) during Mass. Outside of Mass, you may see a deacon wearing an alb and stole (the stole is worn across the chest) or even a roman collar.

As mentioned earlier, the threefold ministry of the deacon is word, sacrament, and charity. The deacon witnesses marriages, performs baptisms and burials, assists the priest during the Mass, and proclaims the Gospel. The deacon also participates in ministering to the sick, disadvantaged, and outcast. The core of the diaconal ministry is service: to Christ and to the parish. As a cleric of the Church, yet also a married man with a job and family, the deacon speaks in a voice for both the Church and the family.

Ryan Sales and Fr. Andrew

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