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Diaconate Role & Ministry

Identifying the Deacon
The Ministries of the Deacon
The Ministry of Charity (Love and Justice)
The Ministries of Deacons in the Archdiocese of New York

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."