A deacon is a man who is called by God through the Church (vocation) and after discernment, formation and preparation is ordained by his bishop to serve the needs of God’s people. If a married man is called to the diaconate, his wife must consent and support his decision to seek formation and ordination. As Catholics, we believe that each ordained deacon is conformed through the sacrament grace of Holy Orders into the image of Jesus the Servant.
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. A deacon is also called to teach and catechize his fellow Catholics, help prepare those seeking to receive the sacraments, most especially adults seeking entry into the Catholic family of faith.
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. By virtue of his ordination, a deacon may preside at a number of liturgical services, including the baptism of infants, witness marriages, conduct funeral services, lead Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and assist at the Eucharist. 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.
The complete divinely constituted structure of the Church requires the unique and irreplaceable ministry of bishops, priests, deacons, laity and religious to work together for the building up of the community of faith. Each state of the Church contributes in a unique way to its divinely given mission. Thus, the deacons of the church are the sacramental sign of Christ’s Ministry of Service on behalf of the Church and the world.
Each deacon must be called by God to serve as His deacon. This divine calling to the Diaconate (i.e. vocation) is identified and nurtured through prayer, discernment, and study, open communication with one’s spouse, children, pastor, friends and fellow parishioners. A divine call is an abiding awareness that God is asking a lifetime commitment to serve His people as an ordained deacon of the Church.
a. If a man senses such a divine calling, it is necessary that he enter formation, over a number of years, in order to discern whether this calling is authentic. Formation in this sense is a journey of self-discovery, the deepening of his faith and ongoing learning that will help each man to decide whether the calling that he senses is to the diaconate and if he wishes to follow it.
b. Formation is more than education. Education is the academic pursuit of knowledge in a particular field. Diaconal formation is a lifelong process by which a person is molded into the image of Jesus the Servant. It involves not only academic studies, but also one’s prayer life, values, daily witness, self-understanding and ministry.
c. Diaconal Formation has three distinctive phases:
i. Aspirancy Formation is a period during which a man discerns the nature of God’s calling for him and must make the decision to follow that call.
ii. Candidacy Formation is an intense period of ministerial, liturgical and theological training in preparation for ordination to the diaconate. It lasts approximately five years.
iii. Ongoing Diaconal Formation extends in some form for a deacon’s entire active ministry. Through retreats, days and evenings of prayer and academic courses, each deacon is asked to continually nourish his spiritual and ministerial life in community with his fellow deacons and their wives.
Diaconal Formation seeks to be holistic. This means that it involves growth in all aspects of our human life. More specifically, formation seeks growth in four specific areas:
a. Human dimension: Each man who seeks to answer God’s call to the diaconate must strive for psychological, emotional and relational maturity. Key to this growth is a true self-awareness that recognizes one’s strengths and weaknesses. It demands a true sense of humility and a willingness to be honest and open to change.
b. Spiritual dimension: Each man must seek growth in his spiritual relationship with the Lord Jesus, manifested in his personal and communal prayer, relationship with his friends and parishioners, participation in spiritual exercises such as retreats, days and evenings of prayer, daily reflection, frequent use of the sacrament of reconciliation and participation in Sunday and daily Eucharist.
c. Intellectual dimension: Growth in the knowledge and love of the Catholic faith, the Sacred Scriptures, the Church’s Tradition, the teachings of the Magisterium, our Catholic heritage and culture are essential in diaconal formation.
d. Pastoral dimension: Since diaconal ministry is one of service, an ongoing, vibrant participation in pastoral ministry in one’s parish is a key element in diaconal formation. Key to pastoral ministry if the willingness to be collaborative and obedient to authority.
If a married man feels called to the diaconate, he must recognize that his wife is intimately involved in the discernment process of his vocation. This is true because of the covenant of marriage, wherein two spouses became one flesh in Jesus Christ. This marital covenant is the first and primary commitment that must be honored and nurtured by every married deacon. As a result, a wife must participate in her husband’s Aspirancy, and Candidacy formation with the goal of helping him to discern his vocation and its potential effect upon their relationship, marriage and family.
a. A wife’s approval is essential for a man to enter Aspirancy and Candidacy Formation and for his ordination to the diaconate. This approval is expressed in the form of a written letter of approval addressed to the bishop.
b. Once her husband is accepted into Candidacy, each wife is invited but not required to participate in the academic formation along with her husband. However, each wife is asked to attend days of reflection with her husband and an annual couples’ retreat.
Acceptance into Aspirancy in no way suggests or guarantees that a man will be ordained a deacon. Rather, entrance into Aspirancy seeks to guide and support a man’s discernment of the question of whether God is calling him to serve as a deacon.
a. During both Aspirancy and Candidacy formation, each man must participate in an ongoing evaluation process. This process involves his own self-reflection in addition to input from faculty, pastors, and the Diaconate Office.
b. The Church, through the ministry of those in charge of the diaconate, must ratify each man’s decision to seek ordination by a formal call to Holy Orders. Thus, the Church is responsible to make the final determination as to who will be ordained deacons of the Church.
The rule of celibacy, presently lived by priests of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, requires that a priest remain unmarried in living witness of the Kingdom of God. However, since both married and single men are called to the diaconate, it should be noted that the rule of celibacy applies to deacons in a different way.
a. Men who are married can be ordained deacons of the Church. However, in the case of the death of their spouses, they are bound to a life of celibacy until death. For grave and extraordinary reasons, a deacon may petition to seek re-marriage after the death of his wife. However, this exemption can be granted only by the Holy See.
b. All unmarried men who seek entry into diaconal formation must remain celibate for their entire lives. No exemption is grand for this rule.