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OVERVIEW OF THE DIACONATE FORMATION PROCESS
IN THE DIOCESE OF METUCHEN, NEW JERSEY
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 1960’s. Pope Paul VI published new norms for the Diaconate in his Apostolic Letter, “Ad Pascendum.”
Pope Paul 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 from 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 planning for priesthood were ordained in 1971. As of 2012, there are currently over 19,000 deacons in the United States.
The Diocese of Metuchen was established on November 19, 1981, by a division of the Diocese of Trenton. At that time, there were fifty ordained deacons who lived and were ministering in the area served by the new diocese. Thirty candidates were still in training.
Soon after being assigned as the Ordinary in January 1982, Bishop Theodore E. McCarrick appointed a Director of the Diaconate and a Study Commission of priests, deacons and the wife of a deacon to research and plan a new diaconal program for the diocese. The first Formation Program began in September 1985, and fifteen candidates were ordained by Bishop Edward T. Hughes, Second Bishop of Metuchen, on June 17, 1989.
Deacons are ordained ministers who share the order of the priesthood of Christ with 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 faith, experience, talents and a desire to serve the Church.
Although ordained, 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 different backgrounds and experiences, deacons can serve and minister in a variety of ways in the community. While the liturgical role is an important dimension of their ministry, their primary role will continue to be pastoral.
Key impacts of the Diaconate are the inter-relationships between clergy and laity, between liturgy and daily life, between the Church and the world. Deacons bring valuable insights to the clergy while serving the laity through liturgical and service ministries.
Ministry of Charity or Service
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 to serve.
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, street people, etc. Deacons are meeting these people in the name of the Church and are representing the care of Christ, the servant.
The Diocese of Metuchen encourages applicants from minority and ethnic groups who will be able to use their special talents and cultural backgrounds in serving their communities.
Ministry of the Word
The deacon’s role includes the proclamation of the Gospel at the liturgy, preaching, and catechetical instruction. Other forms include formal teaching, counseling, RCIA, evangelization and outreach to alienated Catholics. Deacons are involved in marriage preparation courses, and other sacramental preparation programs.
Ministry of the Liturgy
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 services, preside at benedictions, 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 talent 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.
The program entails four years of academic, spiritual and pastoral formation. Graduate level credits will be given for these academic courses from Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University. Currently, classes are held on Monday and Thursday evenings at the St. John Neumann Pastoral Center in Piscataway, NJ. Candidates holding an undergraduate degree will be awarded a Masters Degree in Theology and all others will be awarded a ministry certificate.
While the program provides competence within a specialized Church ministry, the curriculum and methodology are not intended to be a condensed theological course for the priesthood. Applicants are already prepared in other fields with valuable, practical, and often professional skills. The formation program will enrich their capabilities in applying these skills to the Diaconate. Field education is designed to integrate theory and practice. Supervised field-ministry assignments offer numerous opportunities for learning about service in the diocese and the variety of ministries available.
The program is based on the assumption the candidates are mature adults and will accept responsibility for their own learning. They are required to participate in class and group discussions, and share their faith and ministry experiences openly. They must be able to communicate their knowledge and experiences to others both orally and in writing.
The four year formation program covers a wide range of subjects and practical experiences. Participants must complete a total of 36 credits and attend designated workshops:
|Revelation & Faith||Trinity|
|Synoptic Gospels||Sacramental Theology (Initiation, Healing, Service|
|Spirituality of Old Testament||Ecclesiology|
|Christian Anthropology||Introduction to Preaching|
|Christology||Intro to Pauline & Johannine Literature|
|Fundamental Themes in Moral Theology||Worship of the Church|
|History of Christianity||Theology of the Spiritual Life|
Deacon candidates are required to participate in a series of workshops and training over a four-year period. Wives of candidates are required to attend 3 workshops per year of their choosing. In addition, workshops on various pastoral issues and concerns are offered each year by experts in theology, spirituality, and liturgy. Additional courses, such as Canon Law and Ritual Practicum, are provided by the diocese.
Throughout the formation process, candidates will experience a deepening of their knowledge and appreciation of sacred scripture and doctrinal studies. Their pastoral experience will lead them to a greater sensitivity in their relationships with other deacons, priests and bishops, and will strengthen their effectiveness in ministering to the needs of the People of God.
By participating together in various spiritual programs, married candidates and their wives will find that their relationship will grow and their marriage will strengthen.
The deacon candidates are required to have personal spiritual directors from the very beginning of their formational journey. They will assist the aspirant/candidate in their growth and in their reflection on the vocation of the Diaconate. The spiritual director of the unmarried applicant will prepare him to take the oath of perpetual celibacy at ordination.
Candidacy, Lector, Acolyte, and Ordination
Aspirants will progress through candidacy and the ministries of lector and acolyte during the formation program. Candidates who successfully complete the program will be ordained at the end of the fourth year.
Once ordained, deacons are expected to continue their education by participating in formal courses, workshops, seminars and spiritual growth programs.
THE ROLE OF WIVES
For married candidates, wives play a significant role in responding to their husband’s call to the Diaconate. While they have no obligation to participate in all of the training sessions, they are required to attend three workshops per year of their own choosing. In addition, they may be asked to attend a day of recollection.
Since the wife’s consent is required for her husband to enter the program and to be ordained, it is essential that she have a complete and thorough understanding of the extent of her spouse’s commitment and of her role and sacrifices in supporting his ministry as an ordained deacon.
REQUIREMENTS FOR APPLICANTS
SELECTION OF CANDIDATES
The selection of candidates will begin with a General Information Meeting held during the Spring of the recruiting year for men and their wives who are interested in the Diaconate. At the conclusion of the meeting, those who wish to be considered for Aspirancy will be asked to read a book about the ministry of Deacon and take a Faith Inventory assessment. At the conclusion of these steps, the inquirer will be asked to complete a comprehensive application form. After the application has been reviewed, the inquirer will proceed to the psychological evaluation. The entire inquiry phase will last approximately 10 – 12 months that will conclude with the submission of names to the Bishop for final approval. .
Should a review of the application and other documents indicate that the applicant cannot be considered for the program, he will be informed at that time.
If at any point in the selection process the Admission Board feels it is not in the best interest of the Diaconate or the applicant to proceed further, he will be informed.
Men interested in becoming candidates for the Diaconate in the Diocese of Metuchen should take the following steps: