FAQ About the Diaconate
- Who is the deacon?
The deacon is an ordained minister of the Catholic Church called to be a “sacramental sign” of the Servant Jesus in the world. The deacon is a reminder to all the baptized of their call to be people of service and ministers of justice in the world. The deacon leads by his own witness of faithful service and advocacy for justice, and he empowers others to be signs of Jesus’ service in the world. Before he was ordained, the deacon was an active Catholic lay person, known for his dedication and service to the people of God. Through the sacrament of holy orders, the deacon is ordained to lifelong service of the people of God.
- What is the Role of the deacon?
The deacon’s role is most properly defined by his life-style of personal commitment to Christian service. He is primarily responsible for promoting and sustaining the apostolic activity of the Church in his most characteristic ministry: the ministry of charity and justice, a ministry that is distinguished by works of social concern and human development. In addition, the deacon may baptize solemnly, officiate at marriages and funeral services, assist as deacon and preach in the Eucharistic Liturgy, and preside at various forms of community devotions.
As an individual, the deacon maintains his current job and family life. Through his ordination, the deacon is committed to a lifelong ministry of worship, word and service. The deacon neither replaces nor inhibits the ministry of priest or laity in the Church. The deacon’s role is unique, and its focus is to be a living reminder of Christ the Servant present in the Church and world today. As Pope Paul VI stated in Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, the deacon is to be a “driving force for the Church’s diakonia.”
- What kinds of things does the deacon do?
The deacon reaches out to the poor, the sick, the elderly, the forgotten, the divorced, the alienated, the imprisoned, the marginalized, those who have no voice or suffer injustice, and others. He performs works of charity, justice and administration in the name of the Church. He helps organize, lead and support lay ministry. He may conduct marriage and baptismal preparation as well as other forms of catechesis.
Since the deacon is identified in the role of servant, he can be more effective as an evangelizer and as a liturgical minister who proclaims the gospel and preaches from a base of direct contact and ministry among God’s poor and needy.
- What is the difference between a permanent deacon and a transitional deacon?
Men who are ordained deacons and remain in that state for the rest of their lives may be referred to as “permanent” deacons. Permanent deacons often times are married. Men who are to be ordained priests are also ordained deacons prior to priesthood. These men are sometimes referred to as “transitional” deacons, because they are in the process of transition to priesthood. Both transitional and permanent deacons are ordained into the one Order of Deacon.
- How is the deacon involved in liturgy in the parish?
The deacon is involved in liturgy as one whose service at the altar, at the baptismal font, or at the graveside comes out of an experience of service to God’s people in the community. The deacon brings the needs and concerns of the community, especially of the marginalized and whose who are hurting, to the altar and to the whole assembly. The deacon goes from the altar and the assembly to those in need, bringing the blessings of God and the support of the community.
- Is the deacon a part-time minister?
Although the deacon has a specific ministry to which he donates several hours a week, he is not part-time. As an ordained minister, the deacon is a representative of the Church at all times and in all aspects of his life. He constantly encourages the Christian laity to carry the gospel message out of the church and into the world… where it is often not proclaimed: the world of business and work, the world of family and neighborhood life, the world of local, national and international citizenship responsibility.
The deacon constantly assists the bishop and priests by carrying the message of the God-created and God-redeemed world back to the Church. It is the deacon’s role to be certain that needs are heard, that assistance and cooperation is offered and that the signs of the time in which we live are seen and understood.
- What is some of the history of the restored diaconate?
The Order of Deacons was instituted by the apostles. Initially, seven were chosen and “hands laid on them”(ordination) so that they could carry on in the name of the apostles the ministry to certain widows in need. The ministry assigned to deacons grew to include others in need, administration of temporal affairs of the Church, preaching, and certain sacramental ministries. (Acts 6 and following.)
After a few hundred years the Order of Deacons disappeared as a separate and distinct order in the Western Church. This order was restored as a permanent and public ministry in the Roman Church as a result of a decision made by the bishops at the Second Vatican Council. The restoration of the permanent diaconate was authorized in the United States in 1968. The number of deacons in the United States has continued to grow steadily. In 2021 there were more than 19,000 permanent deacons ministering in more than 140 (arch) dioceses in the U.S.
The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph was among the first group of dioceses to initiate a permanent diaconate program after the Vatican Council. In the summer of 1970, Bishop Charles Helmsing assigned Monsignor Ernest J. (Bud) Fiedler as Diocesan Director. The summer of 1973 saw Monsignor Fiedler called to Washington, D.C., to become the second Executive Secretary of the Bishop’s Committee on the Permanent Diaconate. At that time, Bishop Helmsing appointed Father Patrick J. Rush to succeed Monsignor Fiedler as Diocesan Director. Formation for deacons continued in the diocese until 1984. Diaconate formation in the diocese was restored in1998.
- Can deacons be married?
Married men can become deacons. If married, a potential candidate should be in a stable marriage for at least seven years and have the expressed consent and support of his wife. (If a married deacon is widowed, ordinarily he may not remarry.) Wives of deacons take part in the full formation process so that they and their husbands can grow together and support one another in their lives and ministries.
When single men are ordained as permanent deacons, they make a promise of celibacy and may not marry once they are ordained.
- What is the role of women in relationship to the diaconate?
Women play important roles in ministry in the Church. As baptized members of the faithful, women share in the ministry of Christ. They exercise their ministries in a variety of ways, depending on their gifts and their state in life (married, single, or vowed religious). As with all members of the Church, women are collaborators with others in serving the people of God. Women participate in roles of leadership, coordination, advocacy, service and other areas of ministry.
Although women are not ordained to the diaconate, they share in diaconal ministry in a variety of ways. First among these is that of the role of wives of deacons. Women who are deacon wives are collaborators with their husbands in the ministries of charity and the word, and also in the ministry of family life that they share. The importance and the contribution of deacon wives ought not to be underestimated.
In addition to the role of the deacon wives, women hold positions of responsibility in diaconate selection, formation and community life.
Women are also co-workers and co-ministers with deacons in all sorts of ministries. There is genuine and full collaboration of women in diaconal ministry. Women are integral to the diaconate in our diocese.
- What are the requirements to become a deacon?
The deacon is called personally and by the Church to serve after the manner of Jesus the Servant. He is first and foremost a Christian man in his usual employment and lifestyle, trained and formed by additional study and prayer for a special ministry to the community as an ordained minister. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops sets criteria for suitable deacon candidates. Here are some of the more common considerations:
Age: A minimum of 35 and maximum of 60 at the time of ordination (in effect, formation must begin by age 56).
Status: A Roman Catholic, married or single, of sound moral character, mature faith, possessing a sense of vocation to service and experienced in works of charity and justice. If a convert to Roman Catholicism, the candidate must be active in the Church for at least five years.
Family: If married, a partner in a stable marriage for at least seven years. He must have the expressed consent and support of his wife. If single, willing to commit to a celibate life.
Natural Gifts: Demonstrates the potential to develop ministerial skills of relating to people, speaking well, and being a leader.
Spiritual Gifts: A person of prayer willing to make personal sacrifices to be a consecrated sign of God’s love for others in his vocation to serve.
Employment: A person who reflects stability in career or work.
Church/Community Involvement: A person living the Christian life who has demonstrated active service, apostolic involvement, and leadership in the community and among the people of God.
Education & Formation: Has a high school degree or GED. Is able to successfully complete a four-year formation program.
- Who should I call to find out more about becoming a deacon?
To find out more about the diaconate, or the formation process to become a deacon, call Deacon Paul Muller, Director of Formation at (816)756-1850 extension 210 or email email@example.com