Another vocation of the Catholic Church is the Permanent Diaconate. Church tradition views as the first deacons the seven men chosen by the twelve apostles to assist them in their work of proclaiming the Good News in the rapidly growing church of Jerusalem (Acts 6: 1-6). St Stephen, the first martyr, St Laurence and St Francis of Assisi are some of the deacons in successive ages of the Church.
Over time, the diaconate became the final step in the training of priests. The Eastern Churches retained the traditional structure of the Sacrament of Order. That is, as well as bishops and priests, they continued to ordain permanent deacons.
In 1972, Pope Paul VI restored the diaconate, open to married and unmarried men, as a permanent rank within the Sacrament of Holy Orders. In doing so, the Church renewed its mission of preaching, worship and service to the community.
Ordained by the Archbishop, they serve as he directs. Often this is in a parish setting, but it could be anywhere that there is a need. In our archdiocese, a deacon will not serve in his home parish. Deacons are called to bring the presence of Jesus to the market place where we shop, to the places where we relax and play, to the workplace and to family life. One way of viewing the deacon's work is that their commission from the bishop is to learn of the needs of people, and to bring word of these to the community, both the archdiocese and the parish. Tradition speaks of deacons as the eyes and ears of the bishop!
The deacon works in harmony with priests and lay leaders of the Church. A deacon is neither a priest nor a pastoral associate, though the functional aspects of the roles can overlap. The deacon is not an ‘almost priest' who cannot celebrate the Eucharist, nor is the deacon a replacement for the pastoral associate. The deacon is not a substitute for or about diminishing the ministry of lay people who are called by baptism to share in the mission of Jesus. On the contrary, the deacon's task includes promoting and sustaining the apostolic activities of the lay faithful.
In Australia, deacons bring God's word to believer and unbeliever alike, they preside over public prayer, baptise, assist at marriages and funerals, they minister in schools, the military, prisons, ports, hospitals and diocesan agencies.
The outline of the formation programme is as follows:
- Enquiry from interested men and admission by the Archbishop to the aspirants' programme. The first aspirants for the Archdiocese of Melbourne were chosen in late 2007.
- One year of monthly meetings during aspirancy with the emphasis on spiritual formation and development of a community of aspirants.
- With the consent of his wife and the positive vote of those who have overseen the aspirancy stage of the programme, an applicant formally petitions the Archbishop to be accepted as a candidate for ordination to the diaconate.
- Candidates undertake up to three years of academic studies, usually at Bachelor of Theology level. They also undertake a programme of pastoral experiences and spiritual and human formation.
- During the late stages of the programme, a candidate is installed by the Archbishop in the ministries of reader and acolyte.
The first Permanent Deacons will be ordained in the Archdiocese of Melbourne in October 2012. Read testimonies of some Permanent Deacons. More information about the Diaconate.