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What is a Deacon

The service of deacons in the Church is documented from apostolic times and flourished well into the 5th century. For a variety of reasons, the diaconate then began to be conferred only on those preparing for the priesthood. The renewal of the diaconate as a permanent order in its own right was called for both by the Council of Trent and by the Second Vatican Council and implemented by Pope Paul VI in 1967.

By reason of their ordination by the Bishop, deacons are to serve as a sign or sacrament of Jesus himself, the one who “came not to be served, but to serve.” They are to be icons, living signs, of Christ the Servant. Pope John Paul II has spoken of the service of deacons as “the Church’s service sacramentalized.”

A deacon is ordained to a threefold, integrated ministry of service of the Liturgy, Word and Charity/Justice.

  • The deacon’s service of the liturgy at Mass, besides proclaiming the Gospel and articulating the Church’s needs in the general intercessions, includes preparing the gifts, distributing Holy Communion and, with the approval of the Bishop and his pastor, preaching the homily. The deacon may solemnly baptize, witness marriages in the name of the Church, bring Viaticum to the dying, and preside over wakes, funerals and burial services. He may preside over liturgies of the Word, the Liturgy of the Hours and exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. He may also conduct other prayer services and administer certain of the Church’s sacramentals.
  • The service of the Word includes: offering catechetical instruction, counseling, instructing catechumens, leading retreats and Scripture study, conducting parish renewal programs and reaching out to alienated Catholics.
  • The deacon is a pre-eminent minister of charity and justice. The service of charity/justice is as extensive as are human needs. The deacon ministers in prisons and in hospitals. He visits the homebound, serves the mentally ill, chemically dependent, the abused and battered, the old and the young, the abandoned, the dying and the bereaved. Since in modern society it is no longer sufficient merely to help someone in need, a deacon should also be involved in social justice and advocacy efforts for a just society.

Currently, there are over 17,000 permanent deacons in the United States and 32,000 worldwide. The first permanent deacons in the Diocese of Joliet were ordained in 1974. Presently, 218 deacons serve our diocese in parishes, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and wherever the needs of people call for their ministry.