Diaconal Ministries: About Us
What is a Deacon?
What is the permanent diaconate?
A permanent deacon is a member of the sacred hierarchy of the Church ordained for the ministry of service assisting the diocesan bishop with the needs of the faith community. Diaconal ministry includes a threefold ministry of Word, Sacrament, and charity exercised for the benefit of the local Church.
The name “deacon” comes from the Greek word diakonos meaning servant or minister. From the earliest times in the Church, deacons have assisted in the day-to-day ministries of charity and justice. Since a man is ordained into Holy Orders, the diaconate imprints a character and communicates a specific sacramental grace for the purpose of service. The spirituality and ministry of the deacon, therefore, can be a source of inspiration, motivation, and example for all the faithful in the Church.
How does the diaconate relate to the priesthood?
The Church teaches that Christ has instituted the sacraments for the good of the People of God, including the sacrament of Holy Orders. There are three degrees of Holy Orders — the episcopacy, presbyterate, and the diaconate. Those ordained to Holy Orders are invested with sacred power to further the Church’s mission. There are two degrees of ministerial participation in the priesthood of Christ -- the episcopacy and presbyterate. The Diaconate provides a sacramental grace to the Church with witness and ministry to charity. Thus while the bishop and priest are ordained in the person of Christ as head of the Church, the deacon is ordained in the person of Christ as servant of the Church.
Has the diaconate always been part of the Church?
Yes. The roots of the diaconate are in the Acts of the Apostles. The apostles, overwhelmed with the many needs of the growing Church, appointed seven men, including St. Stephen, to ministries of charity and service.
Deacons had an important role in the western Church’s hierarchy until the fifth century. For various reasons though, it began to experience a slow decline, until the diaconate became only an intermediate stage for candidates preparing for priestly ordination.
The Second Vatican Council renewed the permanent diaconate to meet growing pastoral needs. In 1967, Pope Paul VI issued norms for the re-establishment of the Order of Deacon; and since then, the diaconate has flourished in many dioceses throughout the world.
In the United States, as Pope John Paul II observed, the call has come at exactly the right time for the Church in America. American society faces unprecedented challenges from abortion, euthanasia, eroding of social values, technological advances, an aging population, racism, poverty, and scores of other issues that the Church needs to address.
More on what deacons do...
What do permanent deacons do?
As exemplars of service, the work of the deacon is characterized by the specific ministry the deacon provides the faith community. The deacon is primarily ordained for the ministry of charity and justice. In the Diocese of Steubenville, the deacon is ordained to meet the specific pastoral needs of the local Church. This ministry requires both humility and flexibility since deacons pledge obedience to their diocesan bishop and answer the bishop's call wherever and whenever it comes. The deacon’s assignment can involve ministry at the parish, regional, deanery, or diocesan levels, or ministry to various institutions within the diocese.
How does the permanent diaconate serve the mission of the Church?
We are all, as Pope John Paul II frequently said, in a new springtime of the faith. A new springtime of faith requires a new evangelization. In the classical form of evangelization, Christians shared the Good News with non-Christians through acts of charity and service. But the new evangelization also reaches out to inactive, marginal and nominal Catholics while also encouraging a deeper spirituality and participation among practicing Catholics as well.
Evangelization — bringing the Good News to the people who need it most — is a theme that runs throughout a deacon’s life. The Scriptures tell the story of how the ministry of St. Philip, one of the first deacons, was instrumental in the conversion of an Ethiopian. St. Philip taught him, baptized him, and, in the process, helped bring the Gospel to Africa.
How do permanent deacons serve the new evangelization? Their ministries vary as the needs vary. Some find themselves bringing Christ to young people in detention centers or to men and women in prisons. Others find themselves ministering to patients in hospitals and nursing homes. Others promote the culture of life through ministries of charity and justice. And others work in parishes, teaching RCIA and serving where they are needed most.
How will the permanent diaconate respond to the Envisioning Ministry for the Future project?
Through the Envisioning Ministry project, the Diocese of Steubenville is currently evaluating its needs in light of both the Nineteenth Diocesan Synod and an overall decline in the number of priests. This will play a large part in how the diocese is planning to select, form, and place the upcoming class of permanent deacons.
The result of this consultation will be a permanent diaconate equipped for the future. New deacons will be selected and trained to prepare for the specific needs they will encounter, whether in parishes or other settings.
Deacons were typically rooted in particular parishes, often their home parishes, under the direction of the pastor. Deacons in the future may be shared among several parishes in a cluster or even be assigned to serve at the deanery level under the direction of the dean. Deacons will have to be more mobile as a result.
How can I learn more about the diaconate?
Men interested in the permanent diaconate should contact their parish pastor or Diaconal Ministry office at 740-282-3631.
Vocation to the Diaconate
A vocation to the diaconate comes from God and is verified by the Church for which it is given. The discernment of a vocation for ministry in the Church requires one to gain knowledge, seek information, converse with other people, and be sustained in prayer. The permanent diaconate is a ministry of service and charity to the faith community, thus requiring from the deacon a real commitment involving time, effort, and hard work. A man who believes the Lord is calling him to serve the Church as a deacon is called forth by the bishop and ordained for the Church. The deacon ministers alongside priests and bishops while also maintaining his obligations to family and career. Below is information about the range of various responsibilities undertaken by deacons, the desirable attributes for those involved in diaconal ministry, and ways others might encourage men to discern a vocation to the diaconate.
Areas of Diaconal Ministry to be exercised potentially at the parish, regional, diocesan or institutional level
1) Ministry of the Word Tasks:
- Teach religious education: adult and children
- Conduct inquiry classes for those interested in the Catholic Faith
- Proclaim the Gospel during Mass and at times deliver homilies
- Give baptismal instructions to parents
- Lead or assist with marriage preparation programs
- Participate-in/coordinate youth ministry programs
- Assist with catechetical programs
- Mentor Catechists
2) Ministry of Sacrament Tasks:
- Serve as deacon at the Eucharistic and distribute Holy Communion
- Take Communion to the sick and shut-ins
- Celebrate Baptisms, witness marriages, and preside at funerals outside of Mass
- Lead prayers at funeral home and at the cemetery
- Serve as minister of exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament
- Preside at the celebration of Morning or Evening Prayer
3) Ministry of Charity and Justice Tasks:
- Visit the hospitalized and minister to persons with disabilities
- Visit the imprisoned, the aged, and homebound
- Provide information, referral, and assistance for the poor and disadvantaged
- Promote parish social action and coordinate efforts to promote Catholic social teaching
- Assist parish organizations (Saint Vincent de Paul, etc.)
- Minister for at-risk children (detention centers, group homes, etc.)
- Assist with ministries directed to food pantries, etc.
- Serve as advocate for marriage nullity cases
4) The overall goal of a person living out the Diaconate:
The overall goal of a person serving as a deacon goes far beyond the tasks listed above. For what is listed above are just that, tasks. Almost any lay person can perform many of these particular ministries. A deacon is a person who enlivens the call to ministry in others. He does this animation by actively living out his personal call to ministry and building the support that others need.
Behavioral and Spiritual Attributes
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in its National Directory on the formation of men to the permanent diaconate identifies behavioral attributes of exemplary deacons which can assist an inquirer in his discernment:
- Natural inclination to serve the Christian community and those in need
- Demonstrates psychological integrity
- Has a capacity for dialogue
- Ability to share one's faith yet listen respectfully to other points of view
- Capacity to listen carefully and without prejudice to race, gender or ethnicity
- Good communication skills
- Self-directed and collaborative accountability
- Balanced and prudent judgment
- Generosity in service
- Ability to lead, motivate, facilitate, and animate others into appropriate action and service
The USCCB also emphasizes the following spiritual attributes of exemplary deacons:
- Sound faith and good Christian reputation
- Active involvement in the Church's apostolate
- Personal integrity, maturity, and holiness
- Regular participation in the Church's sacramental life
- Evidence of recognized, ongoing commitment to the Church's life and service
- Participation in faith enrichment opportunities (e.g., retreats, days of recollection, adult education programming)
- Positive and stable marriage, if married; or a mature celibate state of life, if single
- Active membership in a Christian community
- Capacity for obedience and fraternal communion
- Deep spirituality and prayer life