Grateful for the Service of Deacons in the Catholic Church
By Fr. Dennis J. J. Mancuso, M.Div.
Some Catholics have had no experience of the ministry of a Deacon. I am sure that people have many questions. In this short article I will answer three questions:
What are Deacons?
Where did Deacons come from?
What is the role of the Deacon in the Mass and in the Parish?
WHAT ARE DEACONS?
Deacons are Clergy! There are three successive Orders in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the first is that of the Order of Deacons, the second the Order of Presbyters (Priests), and the third is the Order of Bishops. Each of these orders has ministries and roles particular to it. Within the Order of Deacons, there are two types of Deacons. There is no difference in their ministry or role; there is only a difference in their destination. There are Permanent Deacons and Transitional Deacons. Priests are first ordained deacons before they are ordained priests. They are Transitional Deacons. I myself was a Transitional Deacon from my diaconal ordination on June 25,1995, until my ordination to the priesthood on May 4,1996. Other deacons, such as Deacon Joseph Pasquella, who is a CFP affiliate and who writes occasionally for the Confraternity of Penitents web site and blog, was ordained to minister in the Order of Deacons as a permanent state.
WHERE DID DEACONS COME FROM?
There have always been Deacons in the Church from the time of the Apostles. In the Acts of the Apostles 6:1-6, we see the institution of this Order. The writing of the earliest Fathers of the Church testify that the Order of Deacons functioned in the early Church as a permanent state with an essential ministry of service to the Church. While ordination as a Deacon was always a prerequisite for ordination to the priesthood, by end of the Medieval period Deaconate was only seen as a stepping stone to the priesthood. The Second Vatican Council restored the Deaconate as an Order and Ministry in its own right, apart from any transition to the Priesthood.
In many dioceses, deacons are now actively ministering to the faithful.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE DEACON AT MASS AND IN THE PARISH?
Now that we have discussed our first two questions, let us turn our attention to the practical matter of what Deacons do.
1. WHAT DEACONS DO AT MASS:
In our Roman Liturgy the Deacon has certain specific parts that belong to him. In the Sacramentary (the big red book on the Altar) those parts are usually designated by the directions: ". . ,the deacon (or in his absence the priest) says. . .n. “These include certain parts of the Penitential Rite, the Proclamation of the Gospel, the introduction to the Memorial Acclamation, the injunction at the Sign of Peace, and the Dismissal at the end of Mass. Key to the ministry of the Deacon is the Proclamation of the Gospel - even if the Pope is saying the Mass the Deacon reads the Gospel! Deacons who have been given faculties to preach by their Bishop are required to give the Weekend Homily
at least once a month. In addition, in the hierarchy of ministries in the Church, since Deacons are ordinary ministers of Holy Communion (similar to a priest), by instruction from Rome, they are to distribute communion before a lay extra-ordinary minister of Holy Communion.
2. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE DEACON'S OTHER ROLES?
There are two Sacraments particularly connected to the Order of Deacons: Baptism and Marriage. Deacons are Ordinary Ministers of the Sacrament of Baptism, as well as having the ability to act on behalf of the Church in witnessing Marriages. A Deacon can give certain types of blessings, and in the worship of the Eucharist outside of Mass can expose, repose, and administer the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. They can preside and preach at Liturgy of Word and Communion Services in the absence of a Priest. Deacons can also administer the Funeral Rites outside of Mass, at the Funeral Home and at the cemetery.
GRATEFUL FOR THE SERVICE OF DEACONS
As the shortage of priests gets more acute we will need to utilize deacons and lay ministers to aid us in our service to God's people. I am grateful for the ministry of our deacons - for all deacons I know and those I have yet to meet. I AM GRATEFUL FOR THE SERVICE OF OUR DEACONS.