History of the
The origin of the diaconate is
often traced to the Acts of the Apostles where the Apostles laid hands on
seven men selected by the community to take care of its material needs
while the Apostles concerned themselves about the Word of God. Among the
original seven was Stephen who later became the first Christian martyr.
By 57 A.D. it is clear that the diaconate became a separate office in the
Church since St. Paul makes specific references to deacons in his letter to
the Philippians and to Timothy.
After the Apostolic period the deacons performed varying functions in the
church, yet the underlying understanding of all their activities was that
they were to help those who directed the Church. More specifically they
operated in three major areas: Liturgical, Doctrinal and Charitable. They
assisted at the altar, gave instructions to catechumens, ascertained the
material needs of the members of the community and tried to assist them
The diaconate was discontinued as a permanent state about the fourth
century. Some authors ascribe the downfall of the diaconate to the
rivalries between priests and deacons. The diaconate became a temporary
state of life for men who wished to become priests.
The Second Vatican Council restored the office of the Permanent Diaconate
because the duties proper to the office were so very necessary to the life
of the Church. The document mentioned such services as celebrating baptism,
dispensing the Eucharist, witnessing marriages, presiding at worship,
administering sacramentals, officiating at funerals and concern for charity
Central to the notion of diaconate is that ministry must be seen as service
and not as power, privilege, domination or status. It is a gift, a charism,
offered for the enrichment of the Church.
In our day the deacon is a unique position in the Church. He has to meet
demands on many different levels. He leads a life of service to the Church
while at the same time supporting his family and following his secular
career. He is a very busy man, but strives
also to be a man of prayer and meditation. In the best sense, he is a
reminder to all of us of what we are called to become.
The restoration of this office to married men also reminds us that both
married and celibate Christians are equally called to witness to the
Kingdom of God by building the network of love and service.
After ordination each man receives an assignment directly from his Bishop.
Deacons here are ordained for the Church in the Rockford Diocese. Most
are assigned to parish ministry, but some are moving into other specialized
areas of ministry: hospitals, prison, marriage preparation.
Raising awareness of and being involved in social justice issues is a
significant aspect of diaconal ministry.