The Permanent Diaconate – Servants of the Church; proclaimers of the Gospel
Since the time of the Apostles and the early Church, deacons have played an important role in the life and ministry of the Church (Acts of the Apostles, 6:1-6) with the Apostles establishing the Order of Deacons, ordaining seven men to help with the care of the Greek widows of the Church.
Derived from the Greek ‘diakonos’ meaning ‘servant’, a deacon’s ministry is one of service and the proclamation of the Word of God.
While deacons appear in the early and middle history of the Church, they disappeared in the latter centuries as a “permanent” state and became a “transitional” state for those men being formed toward the priesthood.
The Council of Trent (1545 - 1563) called for the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate, but ultimately, time ran out and the restoration was not discussed.
The Second Vatican Council reintroduced the topic of the Permanent Diaconate in its deliberations. This Council recommendation of the reintroduction of the Permanent Diaconate into the life of the Church.
Then, in 1967, Pope St Paul VI released his Apostolic Letter Given Motu Proprio, Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, declaring the general norms prompting the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate.
Part of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the Order of Deacon is an integral part of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and can be conferred on a single or married man, though he must already be married before receiving the Diaconate.
By virtue of their ordination, they are united to each other by a sacramental fraternity, dedicated to a life of ministry in service of the Church.
Because the deacon is an active apostle of the New Evangelisation, they are well placed to serve as a bridge between leaders of the Church and the wider community.
The principal function of the deacon, as outlined by the Congregation for the Clergy’s Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons, is to collaborate with the bishop and the priests in the exercise of a ministry which is not of their own wisdom but of the Word of God, calling all to conversion and holiness.
This is done by:
- proclaiming the Gospel to believer and unbeliever alike
- presiding over public prayer
- assisting at and blessing marriages in the absence of a priest
- giving viaticum to the dying
- leading the rites of burial
- performing works of charity in the name of the bishop once consecrated
- faithfully celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours for the Church and the whole world
In his message to men ordained to the Permanent Diaconate in 1987, Pope St John Paul II told the permanent deacons present that they belonged to the life of the Church that goes back to the saints - like Lawrence, Stephen and his companions, whom the Acts of the Apostles consider “deeply spiritual and prudent”. (Acts 6:3)
“In your lives as deacons you are called to hear, guard and do the Word of God, in order to be able to proclaim it worthily,” he said.
“This is at the very heart of the Diaconate to which you have been called: to be a servant of the mysteries of Christ and, at one and the same time, to be a servant of your brothers and sisters.
“That these two dimensions are inseparably joined together in one reality shows the important nature of the ministry which is yours by ordination.”
The permanent deacon therefore, he said, has a special sacramental witness to give.
“The sacramental grace of his ordination is meant to strengthen him and to make his efforts fruitful, even as his secular occupation gives him entry into the temporal sphere in a way that is normally not appropriate for other members of the clergy,” Pope St John Paul II said.
“At the same time, the fact that he is an ordained minister of the Church brings a special dimension to his efforts in the eyes of those with whom he lives and works.”
Referencing Christ’s own words in the Gospel, the Didascalia Apostolorum (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) states to the deacons of the first century, “Let he who wishes to be great among you, make himself your servant, in the same way as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many, you deacons must do the same, even if that means giving your life for your brothers and sisters, because of the service which you are bound to fulfil”.
This call to life-giving service is appropriate even for those who are called today to the Permanent Diaconate, urging preparation with great dedication for their future role and ministry in the life of the Church.
THE PERMANENT DIACONATE IN WA
Following the restoration and reinvigoration of the permanent diaconate by the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI’s Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem, two Permanent Deacons were ordained in the 1970’s by then Archbishop Lancelot Goody.
In 2001, then Archbishop Emeritus Barry Hickey called for expressions of interest from men across the Archdiocese.
Because the basic norms for the formation of permanent deacons, together with the directory for the ministry and life of permanent deacons was only released by the Vatican Congregation for Education and Clergy in 1998, there was at the time no program in the Archdiocese either to train or ordain men to the permanent diaconate.
After several years of preparation, 2006 saw 14 men ordained for ministry in the Archdiocese of Perth as permanent deacons by then Archbishop Barry Hickey.
- Aaron Peters
- Albert Aitkinson
- Bruce Talbot
- Damian Gorian
- Greg Lowe
- Ivan Sands
- John Kiely
- Mark Powell
- Patrick Moore
- Patrick Seatter
- Paul Reid
- Paul Russell
- Paul Stacy
- Trevor Lyra
Over the past 15 years, these ordained men served by contributing to the life of the Church in various ways.
Whether by assisting parish priests, holding appointments at Church led ministries and organisations, leading Archdiocesan agencies or serving as chaplains or spiritual directors to various groups in the Archdiocese, these permanent deacons have been an invaluable asset to the Archdiocese.
Pope St John Paul II expressed that the very fact the permanent deacon is an ordained minister of the Church, brings a special dimension to his efforts in the eyes of those with whom he lives and works.
Those serving in the permanent diaconate, St John Paul II said, are “called to hear, guard and do the Word of God, in order to be able to proclaim it worthily.”
“This is at the very heart of the diaconate to which you have been called: to be a servant of the mysteries of Christ and, at one and the same time, to be a servant of your brothers and sisters,” he said.
As the St Paul writes, "Deacons …must be serious, not double tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them first be tested; then if they prove themselves, let them serve as deacons." (1Tim 3:8-10)
An intense period of discernment and formation is involved for those considering life as a permanent deacon.
If it is determined by the Bishop that a man may have a vocation to the permanent diaconate, he commence(s) a formal period of discernment known as 'aspirancy'.
During this period of prayer, study and personal formation, the man and his family (if married) reflect on the nature of ordained ministry and whether it is something the man might be called to do.
Following this, he will be asked to pursue additional human, spiritual, academic and pastoral formation, as a formal candidate for possible ordination.
The period of formation, which may last from three to six years, involves significant coursework in theology, scripture studies, practicum in liturgical practice homiletics and Church History.
Once complete, the candidate's record and process of discernment is reviewed and if deemed appropriate for the diaconate, together with the formal and written consent of the candidates' wife, the man may then be called to ordination.
Following ordination, deacons - like priests - are required to continue their formation through annual retreats and regular ongoing formation opportunities.
Do you think you may be called to serve the Church in the permanent diaconate? Enquire at email@example.com
An Introduction to the Permanent Diaconate with Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB
A Calling from God and How to Discern: An Introduction to the Permanent Diaconate in the Archdiocese of Perth with Fr Peter Bianchini
CRITERIA FOR THE PERMANENT DIACONATE
Have you thought about becoming a permanent deacon?
The Archdiocese of Perth has 12 men ordained as permanent deacons who serve in various ministries in parishes, prisons and hospitals (current January 2022).
Permanent deacons are ordained ministers of the Catholic Church. Most men ordained as permanent deacons are married men. The Order of Deacons is collectively called the Diaconate.
The Archdiocese of Perth welcomes applications from men who meet the following criteria applicable to this vocation:
- Be of a mature and informed Catholic faith, of sound moral character and prayerfulness, with a sense of vocation to service;
- Open to personal, spiritual, theological and ministerial formation, normally over at least three years;
- Involved in an active and positive way in parish life or other apostolic activity for several years and recommended by the parish or other appropriate priest who has witnessed this involvement;
- Has other appropriate ‘people skills’ or ‘pastoral’ experience and (normally) able to complete tertiary studies in theology;
- If single or widowed, willing to accept celibacy;
- Able to undertake formation and future ministry without detriment to family and work;
- If married, supported by a practicing Catholic wife;
- Adequate physical and mental health;
- Usually aged between 35 and 55 years.