The Role of a Permanent Deacon
Permanent Deacons are ordained men called by God to serve the Church in the ministries of Word, Altar and Charity. This ministry of the Word means that Deacons proclaim the Gospel at Mass and, in the words of the ordination service: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach”. Through the ministry of the Altar deacons assist the priest or bishop at Mass by gathering the sacrifice of the people. In expressing the ministry of Charity, the deacon extends the love of Christ and his Church, expressing the Church’s love in the wider community in solidarity with the poor and those in need.
Ordination is the act of incorporating a man into Holy Orders (into the clergy) and is carried out by the laying on of hands by a bishop, this action confers sacred power and causes a change in the fundamental nature of the person. The clergy are a group set apart for the ministry of the Church. There are three orders of ministry within the clergy: bishops, priests and deacons. bishops and priests are conformed to Christ the Head of the Church, whilst deacons are ordained as ‘living icons of Christ the Servant.’ As such, deacons are a symbol to the people of God of their collective calling to serve: “so that the whole Church may better live out this spirituality of service, the Lord gives her a living and personal sign his very being as servant”.
Deacons are often married men with families and jobs outside the church, in all cases their ministry is voluntary, although they often undertake related employment, such as chaplaincy posts in various settings. Men who are not married, and those deacons, whose wives died are asked to remain celibate. In all instance a deacon’s first vocation is to his marriage and family, his second to his occupation, so that he may support his family, and thirdly to his ministry.
Formation for the Permanent Diaconate is a process of discernment, taking a minimum of five years, and involves academic study, pastoral and liturgical training, spiritual direction, and human formation, particularly in the acts of mercy. The duration and intensity of this formation process reflects the responsibility that this vital ministry entails and culminates, God willing, in ordination; but this is only the beginning of a Deacon’s journey.