The Catholic diaconate is a permanent order of ordained ministry within the Church, distinct from both the priesthood and the laity. Deacons are ministers of the Church who are ordained by a bishop and serve by proclaiming the Gospel, preaching, distributing the Eucharist, baptising new Catholics, and assisting at weddings and funerals. They may also be involved in various ministries, such as social justice work, prison ministry, and youth ministry.
The diaconate is a distinct ministry from the priesthood. While priests are responsible for the celebration of the sacraments, deacons are ordained to assist in the liturgical and pastoral work of the Church. Deacons may be married or single, have the full support of their spouse, family and their parish priest to pursue this vocation, and have completed a rigorous formation program before being ordained.
The Diocese of Parramatta welcomes applications from men who meet the following criteria applicable to this vocation:
- Mature and informed Catholic faith, sound moral character, prayerfulness and a sense of vocation to service;
- Openness to personal, spiritual, theological and ministerial formation, normally over at least four years;
- Involved in an active and positive way in parish life or other apostolic activity for several years and upon recommendation of the parish priest or other appropriate priest who has witnessed this involvement;
- Other appropriate ‘people skills’ or ‘pastoral’ experience
- (normally) able to complete tertiary studies in theology;
- If single or widowed, willing to accept celibacy;
- Able to undertake formation and future ministry without detriment to family and work;
- If married, supported by their wife and family;
- Adequate physical and mental health; and
- if unmarried, men must be at least 25 years of age when they are accepted and no more than the commonly accepted retirement age at the time of ordination. If an applicant is married, they must be at least 35 years of age, married for at least seven years, and no more than the commonly accepted retirement age at the time of ordination. Note: formation will generally take at least 4 – 6 years after being accepted by the Bishop into the formation program, so this needs to be considered in estimating the potential age at the time of ordination.
- Applicants must also have the full support of their parish priest.
The History of the Diaconate
The Second Vatican Council reinvigorated the ancient order of deacons, reinstituting the permanent diaconate. By calling and ordaining deacons the Church is saying something fundamental: that service is at the heart of the human and divine mystery. Deacons are a permanent feature of the Church and the Church is not fully herself wherever deacons, priests or bishops are lacking. Pope Francis is named after the most famous deacon in history. Historically, the deacon served as the eyes and ears of the bishop and in practical ways as the heart and hands. He is a ‘go-between’ as it were between the secular and the Church.
Deacons are intermediaries, informing the community of the bishop’s wishes and, in return, conveying what the community reflects to the bishop. It is a ministry that extends well beyond the walls of the church. The role does not detract from the vital role of an empowered lay faithful, and it should enrich it. A vibrant diaconate will enhance and expand the ministry of the priesthood.
The Gift and Calling of Deacons
The gift and calling of the deacon is not for his own sake but for building up the Church in particular ways:
- To bring God’s Word to believer and unbeliever alike;
- To preside over public prayer, to baptise, to assist at marriages and bless them;
- To give viaticum to the dying, and to lead the rites of burial;
- Once he is consecrated by the laying on of hands, he will perform works of charity in the name of the bishop; and
- To celebrate faithfully the liturgy of the hours for the Church and for the whole world.
In their active involvement in the community, their outreach to the poor and marginalised, and their fostering of Eucharistic communion, deacons sacramentalise the Church’s service. The support of a deacon’s family is vital and essential for anyone contemplating the ordained ministry of the permanent diaconate.
The Role of an Ordained Deacon
An ordained deacon will be appointed to one parish and may be asked to prepare parents and candidates for Baptism, couples for marriage and conduct funerals. As servants of the Word of God they will proclaim the Gospel in the liturgy, preach the homily, pray the prayer of the faithful and participate in sacramental programs. As servants of charity ordained deacons can be chaplains in hospitals, prisons, universities, armed services and visit the sick.
What type of study does a Deacon commit to?
Suitable applicants will be required to complete a tertiary degree in theology as well as participate with their spouses in regular monthly formation sessions offered through the Diocese of Parramatta over the four or more years of study. Deacons must be willing to take part in formation opportunities after ordination.