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The Acts of the Apostles describes how, in the first century, the Church was faced with the challenge of responding to the needs of those who were at risk of being marginalized, either through culture or through material poverty. Keeping in mind the example of Jesus, the Apostles selected and ordained a number of men specifically for this service.


For a number of centuries, deacons ministered in close cooperation with the bishops of the Church, assisting at the Eucharist, preaching the Gospel, and exercising a ministry of charity.


Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Orders, is probably one of the best known deacons, though many tend to assume that he was a priest. Gradually, in the Western Church, the functions of deacons were absorbed into the ministry of the priest, and the diaconate became a transitional order, for those on the way to the priesthood. The diaconate continued to exist as a permanent ministry in the Eastern Churches, including those in full communion with Rome.

What is a Permanent Deacon?

Origins and History


The Second Vatican Council envisioned a renewal of ministry, both lay and ordained, in the Church. The Council’s Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, explains that the lay faithful, by virtue of their Baptism, are commissioned to an active apostolate and insists that “every opportunity be given them so that, according to their abilities and the needs of the times, that they may zealously participate in the saving work of the Church.”


The Second Vatican Council also proposed the restoration of the diaconate as a “distinct ministry of service” to be exercised “in communion with the bishop and his group of priests”. Many of the functions which deacons perform can also be carried out by members of the lay faithful. The restoration of the diaconate is not intended in any sense to change that situation. The idea is that some men who already exercise these functions would be “strengthened with the grace of diaconal ordination” and in that way would be designated to be a visible public sign of Christ the Servant in the community of the Church.

What do Permanent Deacons "do"?

The first responsibility of the deacon is to be an effective visible sign of Christ who came to serve rather than to be served. Although the ministry of the deacon may be exercised on a part-time basis, he remains at all times a deacon and he is called, in his life-style, to reflect this.


The ministry of the deacon is an expression of his being, as the documents say, an icon of Christ the servant. The areas of ministry which may be entrusted to deacons fall under three general headings; Altar, Word and Charity. They include:


i. Altar


  • Assisting the priest at the celebration of the Eucharist

  • Bringing the Eucharist to the sick at home and in hospitals.

  • The formation of altar servers and acolytes.

  • Presiding at Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

  • The celebration of Baptism.

  • Witnessing marriages that are celebrated outside of Mass (with the appropriate delegation).

  • Participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults

  • Presiding at funerals that take place outside the context of Mass.


ii. Word


  • Proclaiming the Gospel at the Liturgy.

  • Preaching the homily.

  • Participating in sacramental preparations programs.

  • The formation of readers.

  • Participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults

  • Facilitating study of and prayer with the scriptures.


iii. Charity


  • Facilitating the development of lay ministry.

  • Visiting the sick.

  • Visiting prisoners.

  • Visiting the bereaved.

  • Youth ministry and the facilitation of peer-ministry among young people.

  • Promoting awareness of the social teaching of the Church.

  • The promotion of justice and human rights.

  • The administration of Church property.


A permanent deacon is not a “lone ranger.” He receives his mission from the Bishop, and is assigned to work as a member of a team, normally under the leadership of a parish priest. He is called to minister in close cooperation with priests and with members of the lay faithful who are entrusted with various ministries.


Collaborative ministry is already a reality in many parishes, especially with the development of Parish Pastoral Councils, baptism teams, bereavement support groups, etc. Deacons are not intended to replace lay ministries. On the contrary, in many places, they play a key role in the development and coordination of lay ministry. Neither is a deacon intended to be a “mini-priest”, making up for a shortage of vocations. The Vatican Council was quite clear that, alongside the diaconate, the role of the ordained priesthood must continue to be fostered because without the priest there is no Eucharist and without the Eucharist there is no Church.

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