The Diaconate

  • A Brief History of the Diaconate: From the Apostles to Today

    ​From the time of the apostles, deacons became an important presence in the early centuries of the Church, assisting bishops in catechesis, liturgy, administration, and works of charity to the poor and marginalized.

    “Let them be merciful and zealous,” said St. Polycarp about deacons, “and let them walk according to the truth of the Lord, who became the servant of all.”

    After the sixth century in the Latin Church, however, the distinct role of the diaconate faded, and it generally became a stepping stone on the path to priesthood. Still, beloved saints like Francis of Assisi served in this ministry.

    In the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council re-established the diaconate—in the words of the Council Fathers—“as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy.”

    In addressing the world’s bishops at the conclusion of the Council, Pope Paul VI said, “The Church has declared herself the servant of humanity.” In the years since then, the idea of the Church-as-servant has found concrete sacramental expression in the diaconate, so much so that Pope John Paul II said that deacons are “configured to Christ in his servant role” and, therefore, are “meant to be living signs of the servanthood of his Church.


  • Sacrum Diaconatus ​Ordinem

     
    General Norms for Restoring 
    ​​the Permanent Diaconate
    in the Latin Church

    Pope Paul VI

     

    ​Motu Proprio issued June 18, 1967


    Beginning already in the early days of the Apostles, the Catholic Church has held in great veneration the sacred order of the diaconate, as the Apostle of the Gentiles himself. bears witness. He expressly sends his greeting to the deacons together with the bishops and instructs Timothy which virtues and qualities are to be sought in them in order that they may be regarded as worthy of their ministry.

    Furthermore, the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council following this very ancient tradition, made honorable mention of the diaconate in the Constitution which begins with the words "Lumen Gentium" where, after concerning itself with the bishops and the priests, it praised also the third rank of sacred orders, explaining its dignity and enumerating its functions.


  • Deacons Serve the Kingdom of God

    Pope John Paul II
    Audience of October 5, 1993

    In addition to presbyters there is another category of ministers in the Church with specific tasks and charisma, as the Council of Trent recalls when it discusses the sacrament of Orders: "In the Catholic Church there is a hierarchy established by divine ordinance, which includes Bishops, presbyters and ministers" (DS 1776). The New Testament books already attest to the presence of ministers, "<deacons>", who gradually form a distinct category from the "presbyter)" and "Episcopi".

    One need only recall that Paul addressed his greeting <to the Bishops and ministers> of Philippi (cf. Phil 1 :1). The First Letter to Timothy lists the qualities that <deacons> should have with the recommendation that they be tested before they are entrusted with their functions: they must be dignified and honest, faithful in marriage, and must manage their children and households well, "holding fast to the mystery of faith with a clear conscience" (cf. 1 Tm 3:8-13)


  • ​Envisioning Ministry for the Future: ​The Diaconate and ​the New Evangelization

    The Church in Pittsburgh, like dioceses all over the world, is examining and revitalizing its ministries to meet the challenges of the new millennium. Several years ago the Diocese of Pittsburgh convened the 19th Diocesan Synod to evaluate all of the institutions and structures of our diocese to determine how best we can carry on the mission of Jesus Christ considering the historical context of our local society. “How can we, as a diocesan Church, reach out to others to invite them to the Table of the Lord?” the synod asked. “And, how can we teach and lead the faithful who already gather there to deepen their faith?” In answering these questions, the synod suggested that deacons take a prominent role.