Jesus the Christ, on the night He was betrayed, established the sacramental and communal Church with the First Eucharist. In the first generation of the Church, the Holy Spirit led the Apostles to select seven men as “deacons” who could free the bishops of their more secular and temporal duties. Historical testimony of the generations that followed shows that the deacon has a special link with the bishop, as the diaconate quickly became a recognized and important office in the Church.
In the centuries that followed, the Church continued to grow under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, the work of the deacons evolved into three major areas: liturgical, doctrinal, and charitable. In regard to liturgy, they fulfilled such roles as proclaiming the Gospel at Holy Mass and exhorting the faithful, directing the Prayers of the Faithful, assisting the celebrant at the altar, and distributing Holy Communion. In regard to doctrine, teaching duties for deacons included giving instructions to prospective converts for initiation into the Christian community. In regard to charity, the work of the deacons consisted of reporting the needs of the community to the bishop and bringing his response and assistance to those in need and want.
Over the centuries, the diaconate was displaced by seminarians in their final year of preparation for the priesthood. These were termed “transitional” deacons.
In Rome in 1959, Caritas International requested that the “permanent” diaconate be restored and from 4-16 October 1963, the subject was discussed during the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council. On September 29, 1964, in four separate votes, the Council Fathers approved the restoration of the diaconate as a permanent Order, in its own right, a full part of the three-fold hierarchy of Holy Orders: bishop, priest and deacon.
On June 18, 1967, Pope Paul VI issued “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem”, a document that re-established the permanent diaconate for the Western Church. In May of 1968, the Roman Catholic bishops of the United States petitioned the Holy See for permission to restore the diaconate in our country. The Apostolic Delegate informed our bishops on August 30, 1968 that Pope Paul VI had acceded to their request. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops created a standing committee on the diaconate in November 1968. Beginning in 1971, with Permanent Deacons in the United States: Guidelines on their Formation and Ministry, the committee published a lengthy series of monographs as a national catechesis on the diaconate. Thus, the Permanent Diaconate became an ordained vocation in Catholic Churches in the United States of America.
If you think you might be called by God to serve in the vocation of permanent deacon, please contact the Director of Formation, Deacon Scott McIntosh.