THE PERMANENT DIACONATE
A CALL TO SERVICE
The renewal of the permanent diaconate is one of the greatest legacies of the Second Vatican Council.
The service of deacons in the Church is documented from apostolic times. A strong tradition, attested by St. Irenaeus, sees the origin of the diaconate in the institution of the “seven” mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (6:1-6). Thus, at the initial grade of sacred hierarchy are deacons, whose ministry has always been greatly esteemed in the Church.
St. Paul refers to the deacons and bishops in his letters to the Philippians (Phil 1:1) and also to Timothy (1 Tim 3:8-13). He lists the qualities and virtues they should possess. He underlines that the ministry of deacons is nothing other than the ministry of service of Jesus Christ.
Up to the fifth century, the diaconate flourished in the Church. But after this period, it experienced, for various reasons, a slow decline, which ended in its surviving only as an intermediate stage for candidates preparing for the priesthood.
Restoration of the Diaconate
The restoration of the diaconate came about during the Second Vatican Council. “At the lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, upon whom hands are imposed ‘not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service.’” (Lumen Gentium 29).
The deacon is a member of the clergy and, like the priest, shares in the ministry of the bishop. Historically, the deacon and bishop worked closely together in meeting the spiritual and temporal needs of others. The diaconate is a distinct order that imitates Christ in service to church and society. The diaconate as a permanent ministry was restored by Pope Paul VI, on June 18, 1967, upon the recommendation of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. In 1969 the Bishops of Canada initiated the ministry in this country. In 1993 the Archdiocese of Kingston ordained its first permanent deacons.
When Pope Paul VI implemented this decree in his Apostolic letter “motu propio” (on his own initiative), Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, he re-established the permanent diaconate in the Latin Church: He wrote the permanent diaconate is “not to be considered as a step towards the priesthood, but by its own character, as indelible, with its particular grace, to enrich all those who are called to it, and could dedicate their time to the ‘mysteries of Christ and His Church,’ in a stable manner.”
Therefore, a deacon is a man, single or married, that is called to be the Sacramental Presence of Christ who serves and, by virtue of the imposition of hands and the Prayer of Consecration, is configured in Christ through the Holy Spirit, with a gift and a permanent promise to participate in a special way in the mission and the grace of Christ, who came “to serve and not to be served.” Christ, throughout the life and service of a deacon, continues to serve His own, touching their lives and responding to their needs as He did during His ministry on earth.
This diakonía, or service, is exercised in the Church in three different ways. Deacons are called to live a threefold ministry of service. This service can be summarized in the following way:
Service to the Word of God
The deacon is called to be a man of deep prayer, becoming familiar with and a living witness to the Word of God in his ministry, among his family and in the workplace. He is to love, preach and teach the Sacred Scriptures from the pulpit and in his daily life.
Service to the Eucharist
Every deacon is called to serve the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood by his proper participation at the Liturgy, his love and reverence of the Blessed Sacrament and his willingness to bring the Eucharist to those who are sick and unable to join the community of faith in Sunday worship. Each deacon must also cultivate a profound love and reverence for the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. Such a eucharistic spirituality is essential in the ministries described above.
Service on behalf of Justice, Charity and Peace
Deacons serve as Christ’s heralds of hope and love to the poor, disabled, needy, lonely, forgotten and society’s outcasts. Through their living witness and service, they promote works of mercy, justice, reconciliation and peace. In this most important aspect of diaconal service, each deacon must strive to challenge fellow believers to address the social needs of the poor (i.e., materially and spiritually poor) and seek to meet them.
If you feel that God is calling you to serve your brothers and sisters through this vocation, talk to your pastor and call the diocesan Diaconate Formation Office at 613-548-4461.
Deacon Bill Gervais
Director of Deacons
Deacon Bill Gervais
Director of Permanent Diaconate