Just last year, the church celebrated the 50th anniversary of the renewal of the diaconate as a permanent ordained ministry of the Catholic Church. Following the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI re-established the permanent diaconate in 1967.
According to a 2014-15 study by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, there are about 18,500 permanent deacons in the United States. There are just over 50 permanent deacons in the Diocese of St. Cloud in active ministry and about 10 who are retired.
The word deacon is taken from the Greek word “diakonia,” which means “service.”
Permanent deacons have three key roles: to proclaim the Word by preaching and teaching, to assist at the altar during Mass and other liturgies and to act in charity, serving the church and the community.
“Deacons act as bridges,” said Deacon Ernie Kociemba, diocesan director of the permanent diaconate. “A deacon serves to be an example for others to follow. Those people are not to do it for the deacon but for Christ himself. A deacon is to be a bridge, a conduit that allows the laity to perform their responsibility as a servant.”
Deacon Kociemba said that deacons are “icons of Christ.”
“When you paint a picture, it has a symbolic meaning behind it, a deeper spiritual reality,” he said. “An example is when Christ washed the feet of his disciples. It was a work of charity but had a much deeper meaning. Whether deacons serve in word, liturgy or charity, they are examples of Christ. Charity is at the heart of a deacon’s ministry and service is the main thrust. We are ordained ministers, very specifically called to service.”
The following is an excerpt from the “Frequently Asked Questions About Deacons” section of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.
Who is a deacon?
A deacon is an ordained minister of the Catholic Church. There are three groups, or “orders,” of ordained ministers in the church: bishops, presbyters and deacons. Deacons are ordained as a sacramental sign to the church and to the world of Christ, who came “to serve and not to be served.”
The entire church is called by Christ to serve, and the deacon, in virtue of his sacramental ordination and through his various ministries, is to be a servant in a servant-church.
What are these “various ministries” of the deacon?
All ordained ministers in the church are called to functions of word, sacrament and charity, but bishops, presbyters and deacons exercise these functions in various ways.
As ministers of word, deacons proclaim the Gospel, preach and teach in the name of the church.
As ministers of sacrament, deacons baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services.
As ministers of charity, deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others, then marshaling the church’s resources to meet those needs.
Deacons are also dedicated to eliminating the injustices or inequities that cause such needs. But no matter what specific functions a deacon performs, they flow from his sacramental identity. In other words, it is not only what a deacon does, but who a deacon is, that is important.
Why do some deacons become priests?
For many years, ordained ministers “ascended” from one office to another, culminating in ordination to the presbyterate, or priesthood.
The Second Vatican Council, however, authorized the restoration of the diaconate as a permanent order of ministry. So, while students for the priesthood are still ordained deacons prior to their ordination as priests, there are [about 18,500] deacons in the United States alone who minister in this order permanently. There is no difference in the sacramental sign or the functions between these so-called “transitional” and “permanent deacons.”
May married men be ordained deacons?
Yes. The Second Vatican Council decreed that the diaconate, when it was restored as a permanent order in the hierarchy, could be opened to “mature married men,” later clarified to mean men over the age of 35.
Is a deacon ordained for the parish or the diocese?
Whenever a person is ordained, he is to serve the diocesan church. Deacons are no different in this regard: They are assigned by the bishop to ministries for which the bishop perceives a great need, and for which the deacon may have special gifts or talents. Most often, this will be within a parish setting, just as most priests serve in a parish. Once assigned to the parish, the deacon and any other clergy assigned to the parish minister under the immediate supervision of the pastor. However, this assignment may be changed at the request of the deacon or the initiative of the bishop.
How do I find out more about becoming a deacon?
Contact Deacon Kociemba at 320-203-0554, or visit http://diaconate.stcdio.org.