Q&A

What is a Deacon?

How does a deacon balance family, job and ordained ministry?

Can women be ordained as deacons?

Do deacons get transferred from parish to parish like priests?

What do we call Deacons?

Bishops and Deacons: what is the relationship?

What is expected of a deacon's wife?

If a married man is ordained a deacon do he and his wife have to refrain from sexual activity?

What is the involvement of the candidate's family in formation?

The ministry of the Word: What is the deacon's role?

What sacraments do deacons celebrate?

What liturgical vestments do deacons wear and what is their significance?



What is a Deacon?

A Catholic Deacon is a member of the clergy.

The title "Deacon" comes from the Greek word "diakonos" which means servant or waiter.

A deacon is ordained by the Bishop into the "Diaconate" - the order of Deacons.  Once ordained, a deacon is permanently and publicly configured to Christ the Servant and shares in the pastoral responsibility of the Bishop to care for all the people in the diocese, in partnership with priests.

Deacons participate in a unique way in the Mass, they are official teachers and preachers of the Gospel and they preside at celebrations of baptisms, matrimony, funerals and other forms of community prayer.  Deacons also visit the sick, the housebound, those imprisoned and in need.

A deacon is someone who is also a sacramental sign of Christ within the wider community and the deacon also serves as a prophetic reminder to all the baptised of their own responsibility to care for others.

How does a deacon balance family, job and ordained ministry?

Balance in any relationship is a necessity and an ongoing "skill" that we must all continually adjust to get it right. Most married people already understand the importance of balance in their own family and work relationships. Becoming a deacon adds another set of relationships into the equation.

Constant prayers and good communication skills between the deacon and his wife, employer, bishop and other partners in ministry are required. One aspect of discernment and formation is learning to juggle and balance multiple responsibilities.

Can women be ordained as deacons?

At this time, according to the universal Church, women are not ordained to the diaconate.  Pope John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis taught that he Church does not have the authority to ordain women to the priesthood.  It is not clear whether the specific teaching of this document applies to Deacons a well: the Church has not taught definitively on the subject of the possibility of the ordination of women to the diaconate.  However, it seems unlikely that women will be ordained to the diaconate in the near future.

Do deacons get transferred from parish to parish like priests?

Yes, deacons may be transferred, because when a person is ordained a bishop, deacon or priest, he is at the service of the entire diocese, not just a particular parish or ministry.

The bishop is responsible for putting the right "talent" to meet the needs in the best location.

The deacon's family and professional responsibilities are considered in the development and details of an assignment.  Sometimes bishops will do this on a regular basis - at other times, transfers are requested by deacons and priests.

What do we call Deacons?

Most deacons prefer to be called simply by their first names, or "Deacon" followed by his first or last name.  If they have a professional title (such as doctor, professor or a military rank) it is appropriate to refer to the deacon by this title in professional matters.

Transitional deacons are referred to as "Reverend Mister".

Both permanent and transitional deacons are referred to as "Reverend".

Bishops and Deacons: what is the relationship?

In parish life it is easy to assume that the deacon "works" for the priest, given that the priest has pastoral responsibility for the parish and clergy assigned by the bishop.  However, theologically and historically deacons are most closely associated with their bishops.

In the ancient Church deacons were said to be the "eyes and ears, heart and soul" of the bishop and deacons still have that special relationship to their bishop today.  The deacon is expected by his bishop to share in the bishop's own apostolic ministry to care for the people of his diocese.

What is expected of a deacon's wife?

No married deacon may be ordained without the freely given, written consent of his wife.

The best opportunity to grow in her knowledge of the diaconate and its possible impact on her and her whole family - is to participate in the formation program to the greatest extent possible.  This will also allow her to give informed consent to her husband's ordination and at the same time encourage her own spiritual growth in discipleship.

In terms of official ministry, there is no specific role for the deacon's wife - the deacon's ordination does not confer any ministerial role to the deacon's wife.

Flowing out of her own baptism (not as an outcome of her husband's ordination) many wives of deacons are involved in ministry.

If the one who feels called to the Diaconate is married, he must have the active support of his wife (and family). No married man may be ordained without the freely given consent of his wife. And naturally the parents would take into account the welfare of their children.

At the time of the initial interview of the applicant, his wife should also be interviewed. She should continue to be consulted at the regular evaluation sessions which will be held during the aspirant's period of formation.

The aspirant's wife is encouraged to participate in at least some aspects of the formation program. Some additional sessions are conducted specifically for the wives of aspirants.

When the time comes at the end of the formation program for the aspirant to petition the bishop to be ordained a deacon, the formal consent of the aspirant's wife is again required in writing.

What is the role of the wife of a deacon? To answer this question I find it really helpful to look at Mary's supportive role in the ministry of her Son Jesus. As a mother, Mary encouraged, guided and supported her son as he felt his way towards his ministry. Look how gentle yet firm she was… She was there whenever he needed her. The other women in the Gospel did the same, they were never forceful and yet I get the impression that life would have been pretty difficult for Jesus and the Apostles without the care and love of these loyal, faith-filled women. But there is a fine line between supporting and sharing. We share Matrimony not the Diaconate. I have personal ministries e.g. Catechist, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion etc. But the Diaconate is my husband's calling and is his ministry. – Sydney deacon's wife
If a married man is ordained a deacon do he and his wife have to refrain from sexual activity?

Married deacons and their wives do not surrender any rights or responsibilities resulting from their married state of life.  Marriage and orders are not incompatible sacraments; rather, there is a great mutuality between them.

What is the involvement of the candidate's family in formation?

As experience with the diaconate grows, the importance of the entire family to the formation of a married permanent deacon is being realised.

Once it was considered that the ordination of a deacon was only a matter of concern for the candidate himself.  Gradually it became clear that the involvement of the wife in the process was crucial.  Now, also, the entire family.

The ministry of the Word: What is the deacon's role?

One of the most traditional liturgical roles of the deacon has been the proclamation of the Gospel at Mass.

During his ordination the deacon is given the book of the Gospels by the bishop with the charge:

"Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are:  Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach." By virtue of the ordination deacons also "possess the faculty to preach everywhere" (Canon 764).
What sacraments do deacons celebrate?

Current canon and liturgical law permits deacons to serve as ordinary ministers of baptism. ("Ordinary" in this sense refers to the fact that deacons exercise this ministry as a normal result of their ordination and the faculties they have received from the Bishop.)  They are ordinary ministers for the distribution of Communion.

Deacons also officiate at weddings as the official witness of the Church.  Deacons do not confirm, ordain, reconcile (hear confessions/give absolution), anoint the sick or celebrate Mass.

In addition to these sacraments, deacons preach in virtue of their ordination and they may also preside at various prayer services and liturgies, including Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, public recitations of the Rosary, Stations of the Cross, the Liturgy of the Hours and Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest.  While they do not celebrate the anointing of the sick, they are ordinary ministers of viaticum; deacons may also preside at wakes and funerals.

What liturgical vestments do deacons wear and what is their significance?

As Members of the clergy, deacons wear during Mass, many of the same basic vestments as priests and bishops.  This includes the amice, which is a rectangular linen cloth used to cover the wearer's neckwear if the alb does not completely cover street clothing.

The alb is a long white robe worn by clergy to represent the white garment presented to all Christians at Baptism.  (If the alb is large, a cincture (a rope belt) may be worn to adjust the fit of the alb for ease of movement.)

Vestments unique to the deacon include the stole and the dalmatic.  Although the stole is worn by all members of the clergy, it is worn in a different way by the deacon.  The stole is a long, narrow piece of cloth worn around the neck of the minister.  The Council of Toledo (AD 633) directed that the deacon wear his stole over his left shoulder and caught up on the right hip, because "the right side he must have free, in order that he may without hindrance, do his service".

Stoles are worn over the alb (and cincture) but under the dalmatic.  The dalmatic was originally an ordinary garment in the Roman province of Dalmatia.  By the fourth century, the dalmatic was worn over the alb by bishops and deacons.  By the ninth century, the Western Church decreed that, at Mass, the priest wore a chasuble over the alb and the deacon wore a dalmatic.    The dalmatic is a knee-length (or longer) vestment made with sleeves and slit down the sides.  As a general rule, if a priest wears a chasuble, the deacon should wear a dalmatic.  Like the chasuble, it is in the color of the liturgical season.

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