There are thirteen parishes in Motherwell Diocese which are privileged to benefit from the services of a permanent deacon. The parishioners of these parishes will probably be more aware than others of the many roles which a deacon may fulfil in parish life. Ask others who haven’t a great deal of experience of permanent deacons in their parishes to describe the primary role of a deacon and most will likely say that it involves serving alongside the priest during Sunday Mass. They may list such liturgical duties as proclaiming the Gospel or preaching a homily, or in some cases, taking on roles normally associated with a priest, like baptizing a child or witnessing a marriage.
But in reality, as those parishes who enjoy the presence of a permanent deacon will testify, there’s much more to a permanent deacon than meets the eye.
While deacons do serve in liturgical roles, theirs is a ministry that extends well beyond the walls of the church. They are also husbands and fathers, employers and employees, members of a community. And as ordained ministers of the Church, they are charged with the responsibility of bringing the Gospel to the secular world in which they live.
So what is a Deacon and what does he do?
Deacons are ordained ministers, as priests and bishops are. From the very earliest days of the church they were understood to occupy a special place in the Christian Community, set apart along with the ‘presbyters’ (bishops and priests) for a special role modelled on that of Christ himself. The first definite reference to deacons occurs in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which is addressed to “all the holy ones at Philippi, with their bishops and deacons in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:1)
The very origin of the diaconate is recorded in the New Testament – in the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. There we read of a dispute which arose in the church of Jerusalem between Greek–speaking and Aramaic–speaking Christians, the former complaining that some of their poor weren’t getting a fair share of the goods which the Christian community divided among people in need of help. When the argument came to the attention of the Apostles, the leaders of the community, they declined to become directly involved, explaining: “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.” Instead they told people to select for this charitable work seven upstanding men “acknowledged to be deeply spiritual and prudent”. The seven candidates were presented to the apostles, who “prayed over them and then imposed hands on them”.
While these seven early Christians were not deacons in the developed sense, the account in Acts accords with the understanding of the diaconate as it emerged and evolved in the church. ‘DEACON’ comes from a Greek word – diakonos – which means a SERVANT or HELPER. Deacons soon came to be understood as helpers in more than a material sense – “not servants of food and drink, but ministers of the Church of God”. As St. Ignatius of Antioch put it around 100 A.D., the deacon’s task was nothing less than “to continue the ministry of Jesus Christ”.
The ministry of deacon flourished in the Church for the first few centuries. Gradually over time, for a variety of reasons it began to decline until it simply became a transitional ministry for those about to be ordained priests.
When, however, the bishops of the whole world met during the II Vatican Council, they decided to re-instate the Diaconal Ministry. The Council’s principal statement on the restoration of the permanent diaconate appears in the Constitution on the Church.(Lumen Gentium).
“Deacons…..receive the imposition of hands not unto the priesthood, but unto a MINISTRY OF SERVICE.” For, strengthened by sacramental grace they are dedicated to the People of God, in conjunction with the bishop and his body of priests, in the service of the liturgy, of the Gospel and of works of charity. It pertains to the office of a deacon, in so far as it may be assigned to him by the competent authority,
• to administer Baptism solemnly,
• to be a custodian and distributor of the Eucharist,
• to bless marriages,
• to bring Viaticum to the dying,
• to read the sacred Scripture to the faithful,
• to instruct and exhort the people,
• to preside over the worship
• to administer sacramentals, and
• to officiate at funeral and burial services.
Dedicated to works of charity and functions of administration, deacons should recall the admonition of St. Polycarp: “let them be merciful, and zealous, and let them walk according to the truth of the lord, who became the servant of all.
The first deacons were ordained and introduced to parishes in the early 1970s. Throughout the world the number of men who have answered the call to serve as Permanent Deacons has risen every year and today there are around thirty-five thousand throughout the world. In Scotland, there are now a great number of deacons serving in parishes,, hospitals, prisons, seafaring chaplaincies marriage tribunals and in many other valuable ministries.
Service is the hallmark of the diaconal ministry as the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church clearly emphasises: “Deacons … receive the imposition of hands ‘not unto the Priesthood but unto MINISTRY’. For strengthened by sacramental grace they are dedicated to the People of God, in conjunction with the Bishop and his body of priests, in the service of the
liturgy, of the gospel, and of WORKS OF CHARITY”.
Permanent deacons, who can be married or celibate but cannot marry after ordination, are associated with the Ministry of Service which entails Word, Altar and Charity.
Ministry of the Word
In relation to Ministry of the Word this entails the visible-aspect of Proclaiming the Gospel, Preaching, articulating the Church’s needs through the Prayers of the Faithful, Catechesis, RCIA, facilitating retreats etc. In their everyday lives they can spread the gospel in their contact with people in the work-place and community.
Ministry of the Altar
In respect to the Ministry of the Altar, they prepare the Altar, distribute Communion, they may baptise, witness marriages, bring Viaticum to the Dying, and preside at the non-Eucharistic parts of the Funeral Rites. He may also preside at Prayer Services and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
Ministry of Charity
In relation to the Ministry of Charity, the deacon can be involved in chaplaincy in hospitals, prisons and schools, minister to those who are sick, are affected by addiction, are treated unfairly, struggling with issues.
Permanent Diaconate - Contact Information
If you feel called to be a deacon then after praying about it and, if married, having discussed it with your wife, and family you should approach your parish priest or diocesan diaconate-director.
Diocesan Diaconate Director
Rev. James A. Grant
Bishops' Conference of Scotland
64 Aitken Street
Tel: 01236 764061
Assistant Diocesan Diaconate Director
Rev. Deacon Jim Aitken
Tel: 01698 269114
St. Stephen, deacon, pray for all deacons.
St. Lawrence, deacon, pray for all deacons.
St. Francis of Assisi, deacon, pray for all deacons.