The permanent diaconate has its origins in chapter 6 of the Acts of the Apostles, when the Apostles laid hands on 7 men to ordain them to assist in the ministry of the Church. The Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium restored the diaconate “as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy” in 1964, and in 1967 Pope Paul VI issued the Motu Propio Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem to outline the norms for the permanent diaconate.
The deacon is ordained to a threefold ministry of word, liturgy, and charity. How these ministries are lived out varies with each deacon’s assignment. The primary focus of the deacon’s ministry is charity through service to the Church and the community, which depends on and flows out of the ministries of word and liturgy. This might include teaching within the Church, ministering to the homeless, or visiting those who are ill, homebound, or imprisoned.
According to Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem: “it pertains to the deacon, to the extent that he has been authorized by the local Ordinary, to attend such functions:
- To assist the bishop and the priest during liturgical actions in all things which the rituals of the different orders assign to him;
- To administer baptism solemnly and to supply the ceremonies which may have been omitted when conferring it on children or adults;
- To reserve the Eucharist and to distribute it to himself and to others, to bring it as a Viaticum to the dying and to impart to the people benediction with the Blessed Sacrament with the sacred ciborium;
- In the absence of a priest, to assist at and to bless marriages in the name of the Church by delegation from the bishop or pastor, observing the rest of the requirements which are in the Code of Canon Law(8), with Canon 1098 remaining firm and where what is said in regard to the priest is also to be understood in regard to the deacon;
- To administer sacramentals and to officiate at funeral and burial services;
- To read the sacred books of Scripture to the faithful and to instruct and exhort the people;
- To preside at the worship and prayers of the people when a priest is not present;
- To direct the liturgy of the word, particularly in the absence of a priest;
- To carry out, in the name of the hierarchy, the duties of charity and of administration as well as works of social assistance;
- To guide legitimately, in the name of the parish priest and of the bishop, remote Christian communities;
- To promote and sustain the apostolic activities of laymen.”
From Church Documents
–Lumen Gentium no.29
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