Parish Deacon

Deacon Barry Barton. 103 Maison Dieu Road, Dover, Kent.  CTI6 IRU. email: barry.barton@diakonos.co.uk

 

 

 

Brief History of the Permanent Diaconate The apostles in Jerusalem, finding it difficult to combine the distribution of food to the poor with preaching the word and prayer, appointed seven ministers to serve those in who were in need (cf Acts 6:1-7), charity being considered as central to the ministry of the Church. The apostles handed over this duty to ‘men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom’ by praying and laying hands on them. Among these was Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Saint Paul, writing about 57 AD, includes deacons in his greeting in Philippians (1:1) and writing to Timothy lists the qualities and virtues which all deacons are expected to possess and exercise in their ministry (I Tim 3:8-13), indicating that the diaconate had already become a separate office in the Church. The very term “Diakonia” describes the central characteristic of this order: the deacon is called to service. The witness of the early Fathers of the Church acknowledges the importance of the diaconal ministry. Saint Ignatius of Antioch, about 100 AD, says that it would be impossible to have the Church without bishops, priests and deacons. He explains that their task was nothing less than to continue ‘the ministry of Jesus Christ’. After the fifth century, however, there was a decline in the permanent diaconate in the Latin Church. From the early Middle Ages the diaconate remained only as a transitional order that men received as part of their preparation for the priesthood. There were occasional exceptions to this rule however, Saint Francis of Assisi, for example, was ordained a deacon but not a priest. But the reality was that the permanent character of this order was abandoned by the Latin Church for many centuries. The Second Vatican Council decided that the time was ripe. The permanent character of the order was restored and renewed when the Council in October 1963 called for the reestablishment of the ministry of the permanent deacon. In June 1967, Pope Paul VI carried out the desire of the Council when he published the Apostolic Letter Sacrum diaconatus-ordinem in which he re-established the permanent diaconate in the Latin Church. The Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, echoes the ancient image and concerns of the New Testament when it speaks of the ministry and nature of the diaconate: At a lower level of the hierarchy are deacons, upon whom hands are imposed “not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service”. For strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests they serve in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity to the people of God. It is the duty of the deacon, according as it shall have been assigned to him by competent authority, to administer baptism solemnly, to be custodian and dispenser of the Eucharist, to assist at and bless marriages in the name of the Church, 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 and prayer of the faithful, to administer sacramentals, to officiate at funeral and burial services. Dedicated to duties of charity and of administration, let deacons be mindful of the admonition of Blessed Polycarp: “Be merciful, diligent,