Committed to the work begun by Jesus, the deacon is ordained to the ministry of service. He is a sign of Christ’s love and concern for all who are in need – especially the widowed, orphans, the infirm, the elderly, prisoners, couples, teenagers, and all who are in need of the loving and serving heart of Christ.
The aspirant begins formation in a small, intimate, caring environment where the dignity of the individual is valued. The aspirant and candidate pursue a spiritual, theological, and pastoral four-year formation program which integrates the aforementioned aspects of formation and assists him to:
- strengthen his spirituality
- discern his vocation
- acquire a strong foundation in scripture, liturgy, dogma, moral and pastoral theology
- be an evangelizer to people of all ages, of every ethnic / racial background
- be a true witness of the Gospel in his words and deeds and at all times strive for peaceful solutions to human conflicts
- grow ever close to Mary, Mother of God, whose life of service should be a model for all aspirants and candidate
- share with his wife and family the training and formation he undergoes so that they will become aware of the ministry, support it, and accommodate the demands of the ministry to their daily family life
The Ministry of the Deacon
The deacon is described as “the bishop’s ear, mouth, heart and soul” (Didascalia Apostolorum II, 44, 4 Funk. Didascalia et Constitutiones Apostolorum I. p. 138). The deacon is at the disposal of the bishop in order that he may serve the whole people of God and take care of the sick and the poor; he is correctly and rightly called “the one who shows love for orphans, for the devout and for the widowed, one who is fervent in spirit, one who shows love for what is good” (Ad Pascendum, Deacon’s Ministry: Flannery, Vatican II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents I. Revised Edition 1992. P. 434).
The ministries of the deacon are one of service and charity, of witness and proclaiming the Good News, and of leadership in prayer and liturgy.
In the documents of Vatican II and in the two decrees of Pope Paul VI that implemented the council’s restoration of the permanent diaconate several lists of diaconal tasks are given…In these documents and as this ministry has developed in practice, it is possible to distinguish three general areas of diaconal ministry: Charity (love and justice), the Word, and Liturgy.
“The diaconal ministries, although categorized by ministry, are not to be separated; the deacon is ordained for them all, and no one should be ordained who is not prepared to undertake each in some way.
“Strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the Bishop and his group of priests, deacons serve the People of God in the Ministry of Charity, the Word and the Liturgy.”
Diaconate in the Archdiocese of New York
In April 1970, a subcommittee was formed to investigate AThe Deacon Role in New York. The members of the subcommittee were: Fr. Harry Byrne, chairman, Frs. John Drew, John Grange, Ed Dugan, Peter Cody, William McPeak, and Giles Nathe. The subcommittee listed 13 specific activities that a deacon would assume in the Archdiocese. The report was submitted to Msgr. John T. Doherty. The report pointed out that Athe success of the permanent diaconate will require providing a definite job description and a careful spelling out of the deacon=s relationship to the pastor, the assistant priests, other deacons and the people.
In July 1970 Msgr. Joseph O’Brien, Vicar General, wrote to Fr. Thomas Leonard requesting that he assume the chairmanship of the Sub-committee which will plan the formation program for the permanent deacons in the Archdiocese of New York. Fr. Leonard accepted the position. The members of the sub-committee were: Msgrs. Daniel Flynn, Gregory Mooney, and Matthew Cox; Frs. James Connolly, Philip Mulcahy, George Thompson, Emerson Moore, Benedict Koult, John K. Daly, and David Arias, O.A.R. Msgr. O’Brien informed Fr. Leonard that His Eminence, Cardinal Cooke, has approved the recommendation that a diaconate program be inaugurated and hoped to have it in operation by the early part of 1971.A
In December 1970, Fr. Leonard and members of his committee attended the Workshop on Permanent Diaconate Program Development sponsored by the Bishops= Committee on the Permanent Diaconate, National Conference of Catholic Bishops at the Center for Continuing Education, University of Chicago. At the time there were 11 deacon formation centers established with 275 candidates.
In March 1971 Fr. Leonard presented to Bishop Edward Head, Executive Director of Catholic Charities and members of his staff a paper on the Restoration of the Permanent Diaconate: Ideas, Questions, and Needs. Fr. Leonard concludes his paper with these words: AThe deacon is a sign, an intermediary, a spokesman for the Church and for the people involved in the continual task of reconciliation and restoration. In the weaving together of liturgy, Word, charity and service, he presents to the world a new challenge and a new hope.
The Diaconate Formation Program began in the Archdiocese of New York at the end of September 1971. The first class of deacon-candidates was admitted to a two-year formation program at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, Yonkers, New York. In September 1975, a similar two-year formation program was begun for Spanish-speaking candidates at Cathedral Preparatory Seminary located on the west side of Manhattan. As the formation program expanded into the upper counties, a formation venue north of Westchester county became necessary. In February 1976 Mt. St. Alphonsus, a Redemptorist Seminary, in Esopus, New York became the third venue for diaconal formation. The two-year formation program, initiated in 1971, ended with the ordination class of 1985. One hundred eighty men were ordained deacons from 1973 – 1985.
The three-year formation program began in September 1983. Three venues were in operation at that time: St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie; Mt. St. Alphonsus, Esopus, New York; and New York City for Hispanic candidates. Each venue had a specific formation program which was based on the national guidelines issued from the Permanent Diaconate Office in Washington, D.C., but were not necessarily uniform in their theological, spiritual, and pastoral formation. The three-year formation program, initiated in 1983, ended with the ordination class of 1989. Sixty-eight men were ordained deacons from 1986 – 1989.
An evaluation team of experienced deacons was formed in September 1986 to review the three-year formation program. The team was divided into four committees: Aspiring, Learning, Developing and Functioning. These committees met from September 1986 to March 1987 at which time they submitted a recommendation for a four-year formation program commencing in September 1987.
Under the direction of Msgr. Edwin O’Brien, Rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary, a four-year formation program was approved. It endeavored to immerse a candidate in an integrated spiritual, theological and pastoral formation program and to unify the program by standardizing the acceptance policy, evaluation procedures and by establishing a core curriculum for candidates studying at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, as well as at Our Lady of Hope Center, Balmville, New York. In September 1996 deacon-candidates studying at Our Lady of Hope Center, Newburgh were transferred to Our Lourdes High School, Poughkeepsie. The four-year formation program is conducted in both English and Spanish.
In September 2004 the implementation of the National Directory’s recommended formation structure was established under the direction of Deacon Anthony P. Cassaneto. The inquiry, aspirancy, and candidacy paths formed the outline of the new formation structure with specific standards to be met prior to advancing to the next level of formation.
Barnett, J.M. (1979). The Diaconate: A Full and Equal Order. New York: Seabury.
Richardson, C.C. (Ed), (1970). Early Christian Fathers. Vol. 1, New York: Mac
Identifying the Deacon
The model “par excellence” is Christ the servant, who lived totally at the service of God, for the good of men. He recognized Himself as the one announced in the servant of the first song of the Book of Isaiah.
The deacon is described as “the bishop’s ear, mouth, heart and soul” The deacon is at the disposal of the bishop in order that he may serve the whole people of God and take care of the sick and the poor; he is correctly and rightly called “the one who shows love for orphans, for the devout and for the widowed, one who is fervent in spirit, one who shows love for what is good.” The portrait of the deacon that follows draws upon scripture, tradition, and a great deal of concrete experience:
First of all, the diaconate is an ordained ministry. It belongs to those central ministries of leadership to which Jesus Christ has entrusted the fundamental task of assuring that the Church become and remain the authentic sacrament of salvation…In this sacrament, a bishop lays hands upon a man and, in the name of the Church, prays God to empower him with the gifts of the Spirit that will enable him to fulfill his particular role…Ordination is, thus, the sacramental differentiation of a Christian within the community of faith, so that he becomes for it a unique sign and instrument of what Jesus Christ is for the Church and of what the Church must be for the sake of Jesus Christ.
In their document, Ratio fundamentalis institutionis diaconorum permanentium, the members of the congregation for Catholic Education stated:
The effectiveness of the formation of permanent deacons depends to a great extent on the theological understanding of the diaconate that underlies it.
First of all we must consider the diaconate, like every other Christian identity, from within the Church which is understood as a mystery of Trinitarian communion in missionary tension. This is a necessary reference in the defintion of the identity of every ordained minister insofar as its full truth consists in being a specific participation in and presentation of the ministry of Christ. This is why the deacon receives the laying on of hands and is sustained by a specific sacramental grace which inserts him into the sacrament of Orders.
The diaconate is conferred through a special outpouring of the Spirit (ordination), which brings about in the one who receives it a specific conformation to Christ, Lord and servant of all. Lumen Gentium defines the laying on of hands on the deacon as being not Aad sacerdotium sed ad ministerium that is, not for the celebration of the eucharist, but for service. This indication, together with the admonition of St. Polycarp, outlines the specific theological identity of the deacon: as a participation in the one ecclesiatical ministry, he is a specific sacramental sign, in the Church, of Christ the servant. His role is to Aexpress the needs and desires of the Christian communities and to be Aa driving force for service, or diakonia, which is an essential part of the mission of the Church.
The essential form of the sacrament is the epiclesis which consists of the words: ALord, send forth upon them the Holy Spirit, that they may be strengthened by the gift of your sevenfold grace to carry out faithfully the work of the ministry. These are the gifts of the Spirit (the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord) given to the Messiah, which are granted to the newly ordained.
Insofar as it is a grade of holy orders, the diaconate imprints a character and communicates a specific sacramental grace. The diaconal character is the configurative and distinguising sign indelibly impressed in the soul, which configures the one ordained to Christ, who made himself the deacon or servant of all. With regard to deacons, 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 (diakonia) of the liturgy, of the Gospel and of works of charity.
Second, the diaconate is a distinct order within the ordained ministry of the Church…In communion with the bishop and priests, deacons are ordained for a distinct ministry, which is indicated by their name: they are ordained, says the ancient tradition (repeated at Vatican II), for service.”
“…Service is a task that falls upon every Christian as an immediate duty of a life in obedience to and imitation of Christ; and service obviously is also a primary and central task of bishops and priests. But, the deacon especially has this role, in virtue of his ordination, to be a representative person in the Church. Pope Paul VI spoke of this active symbolic character when he described the deacon as “the animator and promoter [instimulator] of the Church’s service or diaconia in local Christian communities, and as a sign or sacrament of the Lord Christ himself, who ‘came not to be served but to serve.’” The deacon, in other words, in his person and in his roles, continually makes visible to the Church the redemptive service fulfilled by Jesus Christ. At the same time, the deacon represents and promotes in the Church what the community of faith, as a whole and in all of its members, must be, namely, a community of service.”
“…The deacon’s distinctiveness is rather sacramental: what all in the Church are to be and to do is made visible and effective by the liturgical consecration and empowerment of some members among them. Within the one great sacrament of Jesus Christ which is the Church, the sacrament of orders symbolizes at once the unity and diversity of Christian service.”
“The deacon is also a representative symbol of the inner connections among the three great areas of the Church’s life: Word, sacrament, and service. The ancient tradition appears to indicate that it was because the deacon was the servant at the table of the poor that he had his distinctive liturgical roles in gathering the gifts and distributing communion at the Table of the Lord.
Similarly, there is a reciprocal correspondence between his role as a proclaimer of the Gospel and his role as an articulator of the needs of the Church in the general intercessions. In his formal liturgical roles, the deacon brings the poor to the Church and the Church to the poor. He thus symbolizes in his roles the grounding of the Church’s life in the Eucharist and the mission of the Church in the loving service of the needy.”
“It is, then, in the notion of a deacon as a sacramental symbol that his distinct identity is to be found. The tasks he performs, in any one area of his service, are one that can be – and often are – performed by others in the community, and his ordination is not intended to remove those tasks from others. But, in the deacon these tasks are united in virtue of a sacramental ordination. In an ordination, the Church expresses in word and rite what it believes about the Christ whose disciple it claims to be, about the living service to which that discipleship calls it as a whole, and about the inner link between Word, sacrament, and love; and, what the Church is saying sacramentally, the deacon represents in his person and in his ministry. The deacon is thus a sign and instrument of that manifold service without which the Church cannot be the sign and instrument of Jesus Christ.”
National Catholic Conference of Bishops (NCCB)
The Bishops of the United States petitioned the Holy See on May 2, 1968 to restore the diaconate in this country. In their letter of May 2, 1968, they offered the following as the reasons for their request:
- to enrich and strengthen the many and various diaconal ministries at work in this country with the sacramental grace of the diaconate;
- to enlist a new group of devout and competent men in the active ministry of the Church;
- to aid in extending needed liturgical and charitable services to the faithful in both large urban and small rural communities;
- to provide an official and sacramental presence of the Church in many areas of secular life, as well as in communities within large cities and sparsely settled regions where few or no priests are available;
- to provide an impetus and source for creative adaptations of diaconal ministries to the rapidly changing needs of our society.
On August 30, 1968, an Apostolic Delegate informed the United States Bishops that Pope Paul VI had acceded to their request. The following November the Bishops’ Committee on the Permanent Diaconate was established.
By the spring of 1971 thirteen programs were in operation, with a total of 430 candidates. The first group of ordinations to the permanent diaconate took place in May and June of 1971.
Late in 1971 the Bishops’ Committee on the Permanent Diaconate issued a document entitled, Permanent Deacons in the United States: Guidelines on Their Formation and Ministry. These guidelines drew upon the experience and knowledge gained in the initial programs and served the American Church well, as it began to assimilate the new ministry of the deacons.
The 1971 guidelines were produced from a wish to assist the establishment of the diaconate in this country, but could not reflect actual experience, since they were written before any permanent deacons were ordained. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, motivated by the concern of diocesan bishops that existing formation and ministerial efforts be corrected, improved and updated in light of increased theological understanding and ecclesial practice, used the 1981 survey, A National Study of the Permanent Diaconate in the United States, to prepare an updated version of the 1971 guidelines.
After two revisions and consultation with bishops, supervisors, deacons, and the wives of deacons, the 1984 Guidelines were approved by the Committee on the Permanent Diaconate and forwarded to the NCCB Administrative Committee on June 20, 1984 to present to the general membership of the NCCB for action and publication. They are presently used across the United States as the norm for the establishment of a permanent diaconate formation program.
In 1986, the Bishops= Committee on the Permanent Diaconate was authorized by the general membership of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to prepare a series of monographs as part of a structured catechesis on the permanent diaconate. The first monograph was issued by the Bishops= Committee on the Liturgy entitled, The Deacon, Minister of Word and Sacrament: Study Text VI. The second monograph in the series, Service Ministry of the Deacon, was approved by Bishop Skylstad, chairman of the BCD, and written by Reverend Timothy Shugrue. The third document in the series, Foundations for the Renewal of the Diaconate, was approved by Bishop Melczek, chairman of the BCD, and Deacon Samuel Taub, executive director of Secretariat of the BCD. These documents provide an aspirant and candidate with important diaconal concepts and historical, pastoral, and liturgical understandings which help form the potential deacon.
In June 2000 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops approved and submitted its final draft of the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States. This document was the product of two national committees that had been convened to revise previous formation guidelines and to create a new directory that would reconcile the various formation programs in the United States with the recently issued documents from the Congregation of Catholic Education and the Congregation for the Clergy in 1998.
The National Directory is prescribed for the use of the diocesan bishop and those responsible for its implementation. After more than thirty years of experience with the re-established diaconate, the National Directory is expected to guide and harmonize the various formation programs that at times vary greatly from one to another.
The Ministries of the Deacon
are one of service and charity, of witness and proclaiming the Good News, and of leadership in prayer and liturgy. His ministry is established to reflect the ministry of Christ so that, strengthened and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, he serves and enables others to serve and thus become actively involved in the faith community.
The deacon is committed to the bishop and the local Church through ordination to this permanent and public office of service. As a deacon implements the mission of the parish, he is characterized by openness and responsiveness to a wide variety of needs in keeping with his talents. Because he frequently provides continuity on a parish staff, the deacon’s ministry uniquely complements and supports other ministries, both ordained and those entrusted to the laity.
“In the documents of Vatican II and in the two decrees of Pope Paul VI that implemented the council’s restoration of the permanent diaconate, several lists of diaconal tasks are given…In these documents and as this ministry has developed in practice, it is possible to distinguish three general areas of diaconal ministry: charity (love and justice), the Word, and Liturgy.” The Ratio fundamentalis institutionis diaconorum permanentium (Basic norms for the formation of permanent Deacons) issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education (1998).
The ministry of the deacon is characterized by the exercise of the three munera proper to the ordained ministry, according to the specific perspective of diakonia.
In reference to the munus docendi the deacon is called to proclaim the Scriptures and instruct and exhort the people.
The munus sanctificandi of the deacon is expressed in prayer, in the solemn administration of baptism, in the custody and distribution of the Eucharist, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in presiding at the rites of funeral and burial and in the administration of sacramentals.
Finally, the munus regendi is exercised in dedication of works of charity and assistance and in the direction of communities or sectors of church life, especially as regards charitable activities. This is the ministry most characteristic of the deacon.
The Ministry of Charity (Love and Justice)
“From its beginning, and particularly during the first centuries, the diaconate has been primarily a ministry of love and justice. The early metaphorical description of the deacons as “the eyes and ears, the mouth, heart, and soul of the bishop” referred to the duty of the deacon to identify the needy, to report their needs to the bishop and the Church, and to direct the Church’s loving service of them…In our own day, Pope Paul VI has spoken of the deacon as being “the interpreter of the needs and desires of the Christian communities, the animator and promoter of the Church’s service or diaconia in local Christian communities, and as a sign or sacrament of the Lord Christ himself, who ‘came not to be served but to serve.’…It is a sign of the health of the diaconate in this country that so many new initiatives have been undertaken to bring Jesus Christ’s healing and comforting Word and power to the physically, economically, and spiritually needy of our day.”
“As by ordination, particularly and officially committed to service, the deacon is to inspire, promote and help coordinate the service that the whole Church must undertake in imitation of Christ. He has a special responsibility to identify to the Church those who are in need and particularly those who are without power or voice at the margins of our society…But in the Church, he is also to speak about the needy, to articulate their needs, and to inspire and mobilize the whole community’s response. He thus becomes a representative figure in whom the Church reaches out to the needy and the needy challenge the Church.”
“This ministry of love is also a ministry of justice that aims not only at meeting immediate needs but also at addressing their structural and institutional causes. Action on behalf of social justice is thus an integral part of the deacon’s ministry of love.”
The Ministry of the Word of God [munus docendi]
“The deacon’s Ministry of the Word includes proclaiming the Gospel at the liturgy, preaching, catechetical instruction, and other forms of teaching, counseling, instruction of catechumens, giving retreats, outreach to alienated Catholics, parish renewal programs, etc. Deacons who have secular occupations also are able to witness to the Gospel in the marketplace, where they meet the demands of their work both as committed Catholics and as ordained ministers and use the opportunities their work provides to bring the Gospel to bear on the concrete circumstances of everyday individual and social life.”
The Ministry of the Altar [munus sanctificandi]
“…To the Church gathered in worship, the deacon both brings the gifts of the people and articulates their needs. At the eucharistic assembly, the deacon assists the community in its worship and helps to minister the great mystery of Jesus Christ’s redemptive gift of himself in Word and Sacrament.”
The Ministries of Deacons in the Archdiocese of New York
“Strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the Bishop and his group of priests, deacons serve the People of God in the Ministry of Charity (Love and Justice), the Word, and the Liturgy.” The Ordinary of the Archdiocese of New York has authorized deacons:
The Ministry of Charity (Love and Justice) [munus regendi]
to minister to the sick, the elderly, the bereaved, the homebound, AIDS victims, the handicapped, alcoholics and drug addicts and patients in nursing homes;
to carry out, in the name of the hierarchy, the duties of charity, for example, directing a food pantry, or working with the members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in distributing clothing etc.;
to promote and sustain the apostolic activities of the laity;
to serve as chaplains and assistant chaplains in prisons and hospitals in the Archdiocese of New York.
The Ministry of the Word of God [munus docendi]
- to proclaim the Gospel at the liturgy;
- to preach at baptisms, marriages, and wake services;
- to preach at the liturgy when the appropriate archdiocesan preaching faculty has been granted;
- to instruct those preparing for Sacraments of Initiation and Matrimony;
- to instruct and receive converts; to participate in adult education programs, to instruct children in the teachings of the Faith;
- to counsel those who are seeking an annulment as well as those who are separated and divorced in the Church.
The Ministry of the Altar [munus sanctificandi]
- to assist the bishop and the priest during liturgical celebrations in all actions which the rituals assign him;
- to preach the Word of God within the Archdiocese of New York at baptisms, marriages and wake services;
- to administer Baptism solemnly in a parish church and to supply the ceremonies of Baptism in cases where the sacrament had been administered in an emergency;
- to distribute the Holy Eucharist to communicants both during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and outside of Mass on “Communion calls” to the sick and shut-ins; to bring Viaticum to the dying; to self-communicate if no priest is present; and to replace the Eucharist in the tabernacle;
- to expose the Blessed Sacrament at Benediction and to give the blessing with the sacrament;
- to witness a Catholic marriage in a parish church;
- to lead in the communal recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours and in the absence of a priest, to give the blessing at the end;
- to conduct services in church, to officiate at wakes, funerals, and burial services, and to lead groups of the faithful in prayer;
- to direct the Liturgy of the Word, particularly in the absence of a
“The diaconal ministries, although categorized by ministry, are not to be separated; the deacon is ordained for them all, and no one should be ordained who is not prepared to undertake each in some way. This is not to say that a deacon may not have greater abilities in one ministry, and that, therefore, his ministry may not be marked by one of them more than by the others. But, there is an intrinsic relationship among the three areas of the deacon’s ministry if he is to be a sign of the Servant-Christ who redeemed us as Prophet, Priest, and King.”
Director of Diaconate Formation
Deacon Francis Orlando
Dawn M. Gonzalez
Permanent Diaconate Office
Saint Joseph’s Seminary
201 Seminary Avenue
Yonkers, New York 10704-1896
Director of Ministry and Life
Deacon James Anthony Bello