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Permanent Diaconate

The Permanent Diaconate

The Order of Deacons is an ancient order of the Church reestablished by Pope Paul VI at the suggestion of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).  It was for serious pastoral and theological reasons that the council decided to reestablish the Order of Deacons as a permanent rank in the hierarchy of the Church.[1] Ordination confers an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It configures the deacon to Christ’s consecration and mission. It constitutes the deacon as “a sacred minister and member of the hierarchy[2]” with a distinct identity that marks him as neither a lay person or a priest; rather a cleric who is ordained to diaconia, namely a service to God’s People in communion with the bishop and his body of priests.[3]  At a lower level of the hierarchy are to be found deacons, who receive the imposition of hands, not unto the priesthood, but unto the ministry. At an ordination to the diaconate only the Bishop lays hands on the candidate, thus signifying the deacon’s special attachment to the bishop in the tasks of his diaconia. [4]

St. John Paul II, observes that in an ancient text, the deacon’s ministry is defined as a “service to the bishop.”[5] This observation highlights the constant understanding of the church that the deacon enjoys a unique relationship with the church. Deacons, both married and celibate, serve God’s People by their witness to the gospel value of sacrificial love. In their secular employment, deacons also make evident the dignity of human work. Contemporary society is in need of a “new evangelization which demands a greater and more generous effort on the part of ordained ministers.”[6]  This is especially an opportunity and obligation for deacons in their secular professions to boldly proclaim and witness to the Gospel of life.[7]

The Role of the Deacon

A deacon’s role is multi-faceted and requires balance of his several responsibilities; first to God and his family, then to his secular employment, and then the parish to which he is assigned by the bishop. Parish work may include any or all of the following three major areas as agreed upon by the deacon and his pastor:  

 The Deacon as Evangelizer and Teacher:

The Deacon as Sanctifier:

The Deacon as Minister of Charity and Justice

The deacon’s service begins at the altar and returns there. The sacrificial love of Christ celebrated in the Eucharist nourishes and motivates him to lay down his life on behalf of God’s People.[8]

A deacon may also have greater abilities in one aspect of ministry; and, therefore, his service may be marked by one of them more than by the others. Fundamentally, however, there is an intrinsic unity in a deacon’s ministry. In sanctifying God’s people through the liturgy, he infuses and elevates people with new meaning and with a Christian world view. In bringing Christ’s reign into every stratum of society, the deacon develops a Christian conscience among all people of good will, motivating their service to the sanctity of human life.[9]

The deacon does not normally receive a salary from the parish where he is assigned. He is to be reimbursed for expenses incurred in the performance of his duties. This service usually amounts to ten hours per week. In some instances, a deacon may also be employed by a parish or the diocese as an employee in a particular position which demands more time and commitment.

The Diaconate Formation Program

The “Formation Program” is, in general, set forth in two documents promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as follows; “National Directory for the Formation and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, and “Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons.” However, the bishop of the local diocese has the authority and responsibility to alter the Formation Program to meet the needs of the local church. At the present time there are no definite plans to begin a new formation program. After the class presently in formation is ordained to the diaconate in 2018, a decision may be made to begin a new class.

The Formation program in this diocese begins with a period of recruitment which may take about one-year to complete. It is followed by a one-year period of Aspirancy which consists of study of Catechism, discernment of the diaconate vocation and spiritual development. Aspirancy is followed by advancement to Candidacy; which is a three-year period of theological study and pastoral service to the poor and the sick, and teaching.  After ordination thirty hours of continued education per year is required for two years. Then 15 hours per year of continuing education is required. The program addresses four dimensions of formation; human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.

Basic Qualifications for Admission to Aspirancy:

The Formation Program Format:

Classes are conducted at the Lindenwood Retreat and Conference Center near Donaldson, IN on the campus of Ancilla College. Classes are held on one weekend per month for ten months of each year. Each weekend class begins on Friday evening at 6:30 to 9 PM and on Saturday with 7 AM mass, breakfast and then class at 9 AM to noon, and from 1 PM to 5 PM. Lindenwood provides the meals and overnight accommodations. Class attendance is mandatory. Classes are taught at college level and home work requires about 10 to 15 hours per week of study. Wives are encouraged to attend the classes. Lindenwood does not offer childcare.  In addition to the weekend classes there will be some workshops, annual retreats, and Saturday meetings that must be attended.

Program Cost:

The diocese covers the cost of the program. Participants are expected to pay for their transportation costs to and from program classes, events and other incidental costs.

Additional Information

Books with background information regarding the diaconate are as follows:

These books are available from the Cathedral Bookstore in Fort Wayne.

Concluding Reflection

When one reflects upon the Order of Deacons, it is worthwhile to recall the words from the ordination ritual of deacons:

Like those once chosen by the Apostles for the ministry of Charity, you should be men of good reputation, filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit. Firmly rooted and grounded in faith, you are to show yourselves as chaste and beyond reproach before God and man, as is proper for the ministers of Christ and the stewards of God’s mysteries. Never allow yourselves to be turned away from the hope offered by the gospel. Now you are not only hearers of this gospel but also its ministers. Holding the ministry of faith with a clear conscience, express by your actions the word of God which your lips proclaim, so that the Christian people, brought to life by the Spirit, may be a pure offering accepted by God. Then on the last day, when you go out to meet the Lord you will be able to hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.” [10]


[1] National Directory for the Formation and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, § 27.

[2] Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons, 

[3] National Directory for the Formation and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States,   § 28 & 29.

[4] CCC § 1570

[5] Pope John Paul II, General Audience, Deacons Have Many Pastoral Functions, no.1,  citing Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition.

[6] Congregation for the Clergy, Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons, no. 26.

[7] National Directory for the Formation and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, § 30.

[8] National Directory for the Formation and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, § 37.

[9] National Directory for the Formation and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, § 39.

[10] Roman pontifical, Ordination of Deacons, no. 199, in Rites of Ordination of a Bishop, of Priests, and of Deacons (Washington, D.C. USCCB, 2003); cf. Mt 25:21.

Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. 2017. Back to Top