“For strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests
they serve in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity to the people of God.”
- Lumen gentium 29
Who are deacons?
Permanent deacons are mature men, aged 35 or over, married or celibate, who by virtue of their ordination are members of the clergy. The word 'deacon' means servant. Their ministry is one of service to the Church, and with the Church to the world, with a special concern of the poor and marginalised. The majority are in secular employment or retired. A few are paid by the Church, or employed as chaplains in hospitals or prisons.
As well as permanent deacons, there are also seminarians who are ordained as deacons, usually in their final year before priestly ordination (often referred to as 'transitional deacons'). All deacons - permanent and transitional - belong to the same Sacred Order of Deacons.
“So the Twelve called a full meeting of the disciples and addressed them, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the word of God so as to give out food; you, brothers, must select from among yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom; to whom we can hand over this duty. We ourselves will continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word.’ The whole assembly approved of this proposal and elected Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these to the apostles, and after prayer they laid their hands on them.”
- Acts 6:2-6
Ministry of service
The ministry of deacons is best understood by reading chapter 6 of the Acts of the Apostles.
Deacons are ordained to the ministry of service, which from the early days of the Church has been characteristically associated with the service of those in need in society. The diaconate as a permanent Order in the Church was restored following the Second Vatican Council, and the ministry of the deacon must always respond to the needs of his time and place.
Deacons proclaim the Gospel, preach, assist at Mass, administer the sacrament of Baptism and officiate at marriages and funerals. A deacon seeks to be a man of prayer, humility and kindness - trying to conform himself to Jesus' teaching, "Anyone who want to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served as to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:43-45)
Salt and light
It is not so much what a deacon does that really matters; it is who a deacon is. They are called to be salt and light in the world. Deacons "support the Christian people in a professional framework" as Pope John Paul II said. They may be husbands, fathers, employers or employees and active in their local communities. As ordained ministers of the Church, they are charged with the responsibility of bringing the Gospel to the secular world in which they live.
Do you have a vocation to the diaconate?
Do you feel called to follow Jesus even more closely?
Are you a Catholic man aged between 30 - late 50s?
Do you love the Catholic Church?
Do you have a deep prayer life?
Are you actively involved in your parish?
Do you have a desire to serve the Church?
Do you live by the teachings of the Church?
Do you care about justice for the poor, vulnerable and marginalised in society?
Do you want to learn how to teach, explain and defend the Catholic faith?
Do you eagerly participate in the celebration of the Mass and regularly seek healing in the sacrament of reconciliation?
If the answer to these questions is 'Yes', then God may be calling you to serve his church as a deacon.
The next step
If you feel God may be calling you to this ministry, then please pray about it. Applying to become a deacon isn't the same as applying for a secular job or profession, but involves you and the Church - particularly the Archbishop - discerning whether or not God is calling you to serve his Church as a deacon. The process of discernment takes time and commitment on both sides. Initially, you should discuss your possible calling with your wife (if married) and your parish priest before moving forward.
If you would like to find out more, please contact the Director for the Permanent Diaconate for the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
Deacon Leo Poole