Why do we need Deacons?


Before asking what a deacon can do we must understand what a deacon is. First and foremost deacons are Christians: their vocation, like that of all Christians, is founded upon baptism and faith. All the baptised are called to serve, as they follow Christ who came amongst as 'as one who serves'.

The diaconate is also one of the three apostolic orders found in the New Testament and declared by the Second Vatican Council to be with the episcopate and the priesthood a permanent feature of the Church even as some other ministries come and go. The Council taught that, like all of the baptised, the deacon shares the call to holiness and service, but, as an ordained minister, he also receives the grace of Holy Orders – an indelible and permanent sacramental character that cannot be repeated or removed. The restoration of the diaconate as a permanent order therefore makes available to the Church the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders; without this order the local Church is, in a sense, incomplete. Strengthened by their particular sacramental grace, deacons are dedicated to the People of God in communion with their bishop and his presbyterate in the service of the Altar, the Word and Charity.


The Diaconate as a Vocation to Serve

Recent popes have called the service of the deacon "the Church's service sacramentalised", "a driving force for the Church's diakonia" and "living signs of the servanthood of Christ's Church". Pope John Paul II affirmed: "This is at the very heart of the diaconate to which you have been called: to be a servant of the mysteries of Christ and, at one and the same time, to be a servant of your brothers and sisters. That these two dimensions are inseparably joined together in one reality shows the important nature of the ministry which is yours by ordination." From this theological foundation certain opportunities and roles follow for the deacon.

As with all vocations and ministries, it is a calling and gift to an individual but not for that individual: its end is to build up the Church in particular ways. Diaconate is far more than job-sharing or the fulfilment of human ambitions. Even more clearly than other Christian ministers, deacons must demonstrate Christ's descent from heaven, his becoming a servant (it is from this word in Greek that we get our word deacon), in service of sick and suffering humanity, rather than His ascent to the Father in glory. If all Christians are called to serve, the deacon must exhibit par exemplar that life of service. In their active involvement in the community, their outreach to the poor and the marginalised, and their fostering of the Eucharistic communion of the Church, deacons sacramentalise the Church's service. By calling and ordaining deacons the Church is saying something fundamental: that service is at the heart of the human and divine mystery.

Deacons serve the Altar, the Word and Charity

The vocation of the deacon will sometimes place him at the heart of the Church's life, at the side of the bishop or priest, or performing the sacred Liturgy, as when he baptises infants, proclaims the Gospel, preaches or otherwise assists in the Eucharist, gives Holy Communion to the people and Viaticum to the dying, celebrates the funeral rites for the deceased, or gives pastoral care associated with these key moments in the lives of God's people. At other times it will take deacons to the margins of Church and society, to the poor and alienated.

It is sometimes suggested that we do not need deacons because everything or almost everything they do can either be done by priests or by lay-people. But the same might be said of all ranks and ministries within the Church. Part of the richness of the Church is precisely in the range of ministries that it enables.  The Permanent Diaconate is an ordained ministry, but the Deacon is not a substitute priest or a pastoral associate. Deacons are not in competition with lay ministers, including those in leadership positions.  Diaconal ministry should be in harmony with the ministry of ordained priests and lay leaders. Part of the deacon's role is to promote and support the apostolic activities of the laity.

As men in some sense 'on the cusp' between the clergy (which they properly are and whom they assist) and the laity (amongst whom they mostly live and work), and as men who commonly bring the experience and support of marriage to their ministry, deacons are uniquely placed to offer certain gifts and perspectives to ecclesial ministry.

Servants of the Altar

Areas where deacons minister as servants of the Altar (or the Sacred Liturgy) include:

  • assisting the bishop or priest at the celebration of the Mass
  • reserving and distributing the Blessed Sacrament and especially the Precious Blood
  • bringing the Eucharist to the sick at home and in hospitals
  • bringing Viaticum to the dying
  • instructing the laity in the course of the Liturgy
  • leadership and formation of altar servers, acolytes and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion
  • presiding at Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament
  • presiding at a Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion when no priest is available
  • praying daily at least Morning and Evening Prayer of the Church
  • presiding at the Liturgy of the Hours or other devotions
  • preparing parents (or candidates) for and celebrating Baptism
  • preparing couples for and celebrating marriages
  • preparing and/or presiding at funerals
  • preparing children for First Reconciliation, First Communion or Confirmation


Servant of the Word

Areas where deacons minister as servants of the Word include:

  • proclaiming the Gospel at the Liturgy
  • preaching the homily
  • reading the prayers of the faithful
  • participating in sacramental preparation programs
  • formation of readers
  • training RCIA participants and facilitating RCIA process
  • preparation and leading of parish visitation teams and evangelisation teams
  • facilitating study of and prayer with the Scriptures
  • providing other forms of adult education and faith enrichment
  • coordinating or providing catechesis in Catholic or state schools
  • Catholic Communications

Servants of Charity

Areas where deacons minister as servants of Charity include:

  • carrying out, in the name of the Church, works of charity, administration and social assistance
  • facilitating the development of the full range of lay ministries
  • chaplaincy to hospitals and nursing homes, visiting the sick, seniors ministry, ministry to the disabled
  • chaplaincy to prisons and visiting prisoners
  • bereavement ministry
  • chaplaincy to the armed services, police, emergency services, maritime services, migrants
  • school chaplaincy, youth ministry and the facilitation of peer ministry among young people
  • pastoral care coordinator
  • participation in pastoral councils
  • promoting awareness of the social teaching of the Church
  • promoting justice, development and peace
  • spiritual advisers to St Vincent de Paul, Catholic Women's League or Legion of Mary conferences
  • promoting and sustaining the governing activities of the bishop (e.g. by working as diocesan chancellor or in the chancery
  • promoting and sustaining the apostolic activities of the priests and laity (e.g. Caritas; Catholic Care; marriage tribunal; bishop's secretary; secretary of Council of Priests; vocations promotion; marriage, family and life ministry; ecumenism)
  • missionary activity on behalf of the Archdiocese in remote Christian communities.
"Like those once chosen by the Apostles for the ministry of charity, you should be men of good reputation, filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit. Firmly rooted and grounded in faith, you are to show yourselves chaste and beyond reproach before God and man, as is proper for the ministers of Christ and the stewards of God's mysteries. Never allow yourselves to be turned away from the hope offered by the Gospel. Now you are not only hearers of this Gospel but also its ministers. Holding the mystery of faith with a clear conscience, express by your actions the Word of God which your lips proclaim, so that the Christian people, brought to life by the Spirit, may be a pure offering accepted by God. Then on the last day, when you go out to meet the Lord you will be able to hear him say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord."

From the Ordination Rite of Deacons