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