What is a deacon?

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The Order of Deacons is an ancient order of the Church reestablished by Pope Paul VI at the suggestion of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).  It was for serious pastoral and theological reasons that the council decided to reestablish the Order of Deacons as a permanent rank in the hierarchy of the Church.[1] Ordination confers an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It configures the deacon to Christ’s consecration and mission. It constitutes the deacon as “a sacred minister and member of the hierarchy[2]” with a distinct identity that marks him as neither a lay person or a priest; rather a cleric who is ordained to diaconia, namely a service to God’s People in communion with the bishop and his body of priests.[3]  At a lower level of the hierarchy are to be found deacons, who receive the imposition of hands, not unto the priesthood, but unto the ministry. At an ordination to the diaconate only the Bishop lays hands on the candidate, thus signifying the deacon’s special attachment to the bishop in the tasks of his diaconia[4]
St. John Paul II, observes that in an ancient text, the deacon’s ministry is defined as a “service to the bishop.”[5] This observation highlights the constant understanding of the church that the deacon enjoys a unique relationship with the church. Deacons, both married and celibate, serve God’s People by their witness to the gospel value of sacrificial love. In their secular employment, deacons also make evident the dignity of human work. Contemporary society is in need of a “new evangelization which demands a greater and more generous effort on the part of ordained ministers.”[6] This is especially an opportunity and obligation for deacons in their secular professions to boldly proclaim and witness to the Gospel of life.[7]

[1] National Directory for the Formation and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, § 27.
[2] Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons, 
[3] National Directory for the Formation and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States,
  § 28 & 29.
[4] CCC § 1570
[5] Pope John Paul II, General Audience, Deacons Have Many Pastoral Functions, no.1,
  citing Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition.
[6] Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons, no. 26.
[7] National Directory for the Formation and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, § 30.

The Role of the Deacon
A deacon’s role is multi-faceted and requires balance of his several responsibilities; first to God and his family, then to his secular employment, and then the parish to which he is assigned by the bishop. Parish work may include any or all of the following three major areas as agreed upon by the deacon and his pastor:  
 The Deacon as Evangelizer and Teacher:

  • Proclaim the Word and Preach the Gospel
  • Teach the Catholic Faith
  • Conduct Prayer Sessions & Retreats
  • Prepare children and adults for the Sacraments
  • Be spiritual moderator for organizations

The Deacon as Sanctifier:

  • Assist at the Mass
  • Serve as an ordinary Minister of the Eucharist. 
  • Administer Baptisms
  • Witness Weddings
  • Bring Viaticum to the dying
  • Preside at wakes and rites of burial
  • Conduct Holy Hours and devotional services
  • Conduct Public rites of blessing
  • Prayer services for the sick
  • Administer the church’s sacramental.

The Deacon as Minister of Charity and Justice

  • Minister to the poor and those in special need.
  • Those who suffer addictions 
  • Those who suffer from Illness
  • The who have disabilities
  • The imprisoned
  • The unemployed
  • Unwed mothers
  • Champion the cause for life
  • Champion the cause of marriage and family life.
  • Live and practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy

The deacon’s service begins at the altar and returns there. The sacrificial love of Christ celebrated in the Eucharist nourishes and motivates him to lay down his life on behalf of God’s People.[8]
A deacon may also have greater abilities in one aspect of ministry; and, therefore, his service may be marked by one of them more than by the others. Fundamentally, however, there is an intrinsic unity in a deacon’s ministry. In sanctifying God’s people through the liturgy, he infuses and elevates people with new meaning and with a Christian world view. In bringing Christ’s reign into every stratum of society, the deacon develops a Christian conscience among all people of good will, motivating their service to the sanctity of human life.[9]
The deacon does not normally receive a salary from the parish where he is assigned. He is to be reimbursed for expenses incurred in the performance of his duties. This service usually amounts to ten hours per week. In some instances, a deacon may also be employed by a parish or the diocese as an employee in a particular position which demands more time and commitment.

[8] National Directory for the Formation and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, § 37.
[9] National Directory for the Formation and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, § 39.

Concluding Reflection
When one reflects upon the Order of Deacons, it is worthwhile to recall the words from the ordination ritual of deacons:
Like those once chosen by the Apostles for the ministry of Charity, you should be men of good reputation, filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit. Firmly rooted and grounded in faith, you are to show yourselves as chaste and beyond reproach before God and man, as is proper for the ministers of Christ and the stewards of God’s mysteries. Never allow yourselves to be turned away from the hope offered by the gospel. Now you are not only hearers of this gospel but also its ministers. Holding the ministry of faith with a clear conscience, express by your actions the word of God which your lips proclaim, so that the Christian people, brought to life by the Spirit, may be a pure offering accepted by God. Then on the last day, when you go out to meet the Lord you will be able to hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy o