All members of the Catholic Church are called to share their gifts as Christ did. By virtue of baptism, each and every member of the Catholic Church enjoys new life in Christ, a sharing in his divine life. In light of this participation, all the baptized share in his mission and priesthood – to sanctify, to teach, to guide, that is, to minister to others, according to the gifts each has received.
Ministry is a tapestry. We need all the threads to appreciate the richness and diversity of the whole, and each of these threads is woven together in Christ. We are a diocese that encourages all ministries, lay and ordained, for the building up of the Body of Christ.
God calls some men through the Church to ordained ministry: bishops, priests, and deacons. Bishops and priests are ordained to the ministerial priesthood; deacons are ordained for a ministry of service. All receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Thus, the deacon is an ordained minister of the Church. He is neither a layman nor a priest. The deacon is a cleric ordained for the service of God’s people in communion with the bishop and his body of priests. He works collaboratively with bishops, priests, and existing staff members of a parish or institution. They work together to build up the Body of Christ.
All ordained ministers in the Church are called to serve through Word, Sacrament, and Charity, but they exercise this service in various ways. As minister of Word, a deacon proclaims the Gospel, preaches, and teaches in the name of the Church. As minister of Sacrament, a deacon baptizes, leads the faithful in prayer, witnesses marriages, and conducts wake and funeral services. As minister of Charity, a deacon is a leader in identifying the needs of others and in calling God’s people into service to meet these needs.
Becoming a deacon involves a vocation from God; it is not simply another volunteer job or ministry. Therefore, a person becomes a deacon not just out of personal desire or interest, but for the common good of the Church as determined by the bishop. It is for these reasons that the selection, discernment, and formation of deacon candidates are rigorous efforts. The entire formation process in fact, is a journey of discernment. Through systematic opportunities for prayer, spiritual direction, formal course work, and pastoral-skills development, the candidate is able to reflect critically on his life and the various ministries to which he might be assigned. This process of discernment continues to the very moment of ordination.
Ordination bestows a permanent character on a person. Once ordained, the deacon is always a deacon, regardless of where he is or what he is doing, just as a bishop or a priest is always a bishop or a priest, regardless of where he is or what he is doing. The title “deacon” comes from the Greek word diakonos, which means “servant.” The deacon is an “icon,” or sacramental sign of Christ, who came “not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). Once the bishop ordains the deacon he enters into a new set of relationships: he is permanently and publicly configured to Christ the Servant; he shares in the overall responsibility of the bishop to care for the people in the diocese, and he becomes an integral part of the clergy of the diocese, assisting the bishop and the priests in serving the needs of the diocese.
Whatever specific services a deacon performs, they all flow from his sacramental identity. In other words, it is not only WHAT a deacon does, but WHO a deacon is, that is significant.
Deacons, both married and celibate, serve God’s people by their witness to the gospel value of sacrificial love. In their secular employment, deacons witness to the dignity of human work. In their lives of service, deacons can often enable and empower others to exercise their own diaconal responsibilities, and witness more effectively to the Gospel of life.
The deacon, as an ordained minister, has a permanent and a public responsibility for a ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Charity. Through ordination, he becomes an icon of Christ the Servant. When a person sees the deacon, the person ought to see and experience Christ in service to the world.
The Permanent Diaconate continues to grow. In the United States today 18,000 ordained deacons are serving abused children, battered women, the mentally ill, drug addicts, those with HIV/AIDS, the homeless, prisoners, refugees, migrants, the rural poor, and victims of racial and ethnic discrimination. Over 3,000 are preparing for the ministry of deacon.
The Office of the Permanent Diaconate, assisted by the Permanent Diaconate Continuing Formation Board, provides the programs of continuing formation, retreats, and ministry support for the fifty permanent deacons and their families. The office also coordinates and oversees the spiritual, theological, human, and pastoral formation of candidates for the permanent diaconate.
Diocese of Manchester
The Catholic Church in New Hampshire
153 Ash Street, Box 310
Manchester, NH 03105-0310
Fax: (603) 669-0377
© Diocese of Manchester