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Restoration of the Diaconate
Restoration of the diaconate as a permanent order of ministry in the Church occurred as a result of the Second Vatican Council in the mid 60's. Pope Paul IV published new norms for the Diaconate in his Apostolic Letter, "Ad Pascendum."
Pope Paul VI described the deacon as "the interpreter of the needs and the desires of the Christian communities, and the sign or sacrament of Christ the Lord Himself who came not to be served but to serve."
The need for this new "servant role" prompted the bishops of the United States to petition the Holy See in 1968 for permission to restore the order of deacon as a permanent ministry. With the approval of Pope Paul VI, the bishops formed a committee to explore the parameters of the diaconate ministry.
Many dioceses established diaconal councils to develop guidelines for the selection and formation of deacon candidates. The first deacons in the United States not preparing for priesthood were ordained in 1971.
As of 2013, there were more than 18,000 deacons in the United States, of which about 3,000 are retired.
Deacons are ordained ministers who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders as do priests and bishops. They are leaders and servants of the Christian community. Usually, they live and work in secular surroundings. They can be married or single. They are drawn to the diaconate ministry because of their experience, talents and a desire to serve the Church.
Although ordained, these deacons retain their lay responsibilities. If married, they continue to be spouse, father, and wage earner; if single, they are required to make a commitment to celibacy.
Because of their varied backgrounds and experience, deacons can serve and minister in a variety of ways in the community.
Key impacts of the Diaconate are on the interrelationships between clergy and laity, between liturgy and daily life, and between the Church and the world. Deacons can bring valuable insights to the clergy while serving the laity through liturgical and service ministries.
The deacon is configured to Christ the Servant.
The deacon is ordained by the local bishop for the service of the diocesan Church. In communion with the bishop and priests, deacons are ordained for a distinct ministry, which is indicated by their title: they are ordained, says the ancient tradition, repeated at Vatican II, "for service." The word "diakonia" means service. The deacon’s ministry is concentrated in three areas: Liturgy, Word and Charity.
The deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen is given assignments in ministry of service and liturgy by the bishop, usually in a parish. Everything he does in his ministry is done in compliance with an agreement or contract indicating his willingness to serve. His pastor and his wife sign the agreement.
Deacons in the United States have a variety of special ministries such as serving the aged, battered women, abused children, the bereaved, the blind, the deaf, the divorced, drug addicts, the dying, the handicapped, the poor, those who are homeless, etc. Deacons are meeting these people in the name of the Church and representing the care of Christ the Servant.
The deacon's role includes the proclamation of the Gospel at the liturgy, preaching and catechetical instruction. He may be involved in formal teaching, counseling, RCIA, evangelization and outreach to alienated Catholics. Deacons are involved in marriage preparation courses, and other sacramental preparation programs.
The deacon can solemnly administer Baptism, witness marriages, and preside at wakes and funerals. He assists the priest at the Eucharistic liturgy. He distributes Communion and brings the Eucharist to the sick. He may lead prayer and communion services, and engage in liturgical planning and coordination.
In addition to the specific ministries of Charity, Word and Liturgy, the deacons may have other functions. They may use their talents in performing administrative duties in diocesan or other Church related offices and agencies or in parishes to which they are assigned.
A vital and significant responsibility of a deacon is to "enable" others, by their example and encouragement, especially lay people, to become effective ministers.
Deacons who have secular jobs also bear witness to the Gospel in the marketplace, where they meet the demands of their work as committed Christians and ordained ministers. They use their work as an opportunity to bring the Gospel to bear on everyday circumstances in individual and social life.