Many people don’t know exactly what deacons are or how they fit into the Church. This article provides five reasons why we need permanent deacons in the Church right now, but before we do that let’s look at the differences between transitional and permanent deacons and the three degrees of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Transitional Versus Permanent Deacons

Transitional deacons are seminarians in training to become priests. Hence, their intent is to eventually receive the next degree of Holy Orders after they are ordained deacons. Permanent deacons are men, usually married, whose intent is to receive only the first degree of Holy Orders, that of the diaconate. The Sacrament and rite of ordination for all deacons, whether transitional or permanent, is the same, except for the vow of celibacy which married men do not recite during the ordination ceremony.

The Three Degrees of Holy Orders

There are three degrees of the Sacrament of Holy Orders in the Catholic Church. The third degree of Holy Orders is bishop, the episcopate, which is the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Bishops are members of the “high priesthood.” They are the primary teachers of their flock and rulers over their assigned geographical area or diocese (CCC 1555-1561).

The second degree of Holy Orders is priest, the co-worker of the bishop. “The function of the bishops’ ministry was handed over in a subordinate degree to priests so that they might be appointed in the order of the priesthood and be co-workers of the episcopal order for the proper fulfillment of the apostolic mission that had been entrusted to it by Christ” (CCC 1562). People are most familiar with priests whose duties include celebrating the Mass, acting as confessor and acting as the shepherd of the people of God at the parish level.

The first degree of Holy Orders is deacon, the servant of the Church. “At a lower level of the hierarchy are to be found deacons, who receive the imposition of hands ‘not unto the priesthood, but unto the ministry.’ At an ordination to the diaconate only the bishop lays hands on the candidate, thus signifying the deacon’s special attachment to the bishop in the tasks of his ‘diakonia’” (CCC 1569). “The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint (‘character’) which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the ‘deacon’ or servant of all” (CCC 1570).

“The spirituality of service is a spirituality of the whole Church, insofar as the whole Church, in the same way as Mary, is the ‘handmaid of the Lord,’ at the service of the salvation of the world. And so that the whole Church may better live out this spirituality of service, the Lord gives her a living and personal sign of his very being as servant. In a specific way, this is the spirituality of the deacon. In fact, with sacred ordination, he is constituted a living icon of Christ the servant within the Church” (“Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons.”).

The diaconate is ancient. Seven deacons, including St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, were ordained by the Apostles in the year 34 A.D. (Acts 6). Today, some believe that the deacon’s only purpose was to serve as a table servant or waiter. While deacons are not above doing any work, including the most menial work, deacons in the early Church had important administrative responsibilities and served as the eyes and ears of the bishop, basically as the bishop’s “right hand man.” (“A Short History of the Permanent Diaconate.”).

In summary, the deacon is a servant of all, especially the poor, and an icon of Christ the servant. Today, deacons primarily perform baptisms, witness marriages, serve at funerals, proclaim and preach the Gospel and serve at the altar. They also serve in a variety of other ministries as directed by their bishop or the pastor of the parish they are assigned to.

Five Reasons Why the Church Needs Deacons Right Now

“Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them first be tested; then, if they prove themselves blameless, let them serve as deacons” (1 Timothy 3:8-10).

“Only those are to be promoted to orders who…have sound faith, are motivated by the right intention, are endowed with the requisite knowledge, enjoy a good reputation, and have moral probity, proven virtue and the other physical and psychological qualities appropriate to the order to be received.” The deacon must be “affable, hospitable, sincere in their words and heart, prudent and discreet, generous and ready to serve, capable of opening themselves to clear and brotherly relationships, and quick to understand, forgive and console” (“Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons.”).

This list applies to permanent deacons in varying degrees, of course.

Deacons Have Been Tested

Permanent deacons cannot be ordained until they are at least 35 years old. This gives them time to experience trials (financial, family and health), grow in their humanity and spirituality and gain life experience.

Deacons Have Special Skills

Permanent deacons are accountants, physicians, IT professionals, auto mechanics, architects, lawyers, business owners, and professors. They come from diverse work backgrounds and possess special skills which they have developed using their own resources (time and money) which can be applied to ministriesand administrative roles within the Church.

Deacons Have Diverse Social Experience

Most permanent deacons are married, so they understand intimate relationships between men and women (from courtship and engagement, to marriage, childrearing, and running a household). They also have experience with a variety of mature relationships with co-workers and parishioners and can easily relate to other men who struggle with financial, work, marital and family challenges.

Deacons Have a Track Record

Since permanent deacons cannot be ordained until they are 35 years old, and since most are ordained even later than that, they have a track record. Before being accepted into the diaconate formation program, the bishop can closely review the aspirant’s track record. He can look at the aspirant’s entire life and how he has performed in his roles as husband, father, worker and parishioner. Having a track record helps the bishop determine whether an aspirant will be a faithful and trusted steward of the Church and servant of God once he is ordained.

Deacons are Manly

The world lacks good male role models. Manliness is under attack by our culture. In fact, manliness is being feminized and has been treated as inherently bad for some time. Deacons who are responsible members of secular society, who are living a sacramental marriage, who are actively raising their children and running their household, who are prayerful and devoted to Christ, and who give their lives in service to others for Christ are real men. They are a heroic model of manliness for the world. Balancing family, work, prayer and ministry is not easy, but the deacon who does so provides a powerful witness to society of what men can be if they give everything to Christ.

  • Thomist

    We don’t need permeant deacons, we just need Holy Priests.

    • Phil Alcoceli

      “Thomist”, I do respect your opinion as I have met some effeminate deacons, priests and bishops. At the same time, it is nowhere just limited specifically to deacons, or other clergy, or lay leaders in the Church or just regular parishioners. Not at all. Effeminization or Over-Feminization is a worldwide devious, destructive plague that has monstrified and destroyed the true identity of both men and women and people of every country, race, rank, etc. It is Satan’s strategy: when our true core identities are skewed using far out extremes, then it is a lot easier to disfigure and monstrify the Truth (Political Correctness) to divide and destroy the Church and all society. Is it fair to target just Permanent Deacons? They can indeed be the answer to our deep plunge in Priestly vocations as they can project (integrity required) that clergy is “in the world without being of the world”. They can (integrity required again) clear the air from the “lets-cure-sin-with-greater-sin” deafening noise that has self-sanctifyingly condemned a large portion of innocent priests and also condemned those found as innocent to never return. Throwing the precious baby out with the dirty bathwater? Maybe not.

      • Thomist

        Hello Mr. Alcoceli, I appreciate your thoughts.

        And certainly no, I would not limit the ‘effeminate man’ to permeant deacons. I only mentioned that because the author was focusing on how ‘manly’ deacons are, implying there are more ‘manly’ deacons than there are ‘manly’ priest. My point was simply, “Yes, deacons can be manly, but there are effeminate deacons too.” To take a step back, I too would suggest the ‘effeminate man’ is a social epidemic and growing within a significant minority of men, in The Church and outside The Church.

        However, I would disagree that Permanent Deacons are the (ideal) answer to the deep plunge in Priestly Vocations. Rather, more Holy Priest are the answer. And Holy Priest come (most often and abundantly) from Holy Seminaries and Holy Families. So – we all have are part to play to restore order within Holy Mother the Church.

      • Phil Alcoceli

        Very well, said, Mr. Thomist! Paraphrasing what I said before, manliness is not an exclusive province of Deacons either. Not at all. I’ve read other articles by Mr. Garofalo before in other places and I know he wouldn’t have that intention. His articles are very Catholic, well-reasoned, mature and bold and, being human as all of us, I think, yes, maybe this time a certain rephrasing could be in order. You make a great point that it is the ordinary way for holy families to bring holy vocations. With much fewer holy families today, we need very Catholic extraordinary solutions, like the Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist who bring me Holy Communion due to my chronic illnesses, freeing the seriously overburdened Priests.

        The Church is the ever living, ever growing, ever maturing, ever adapting body of Christ. No high-falooting theology here, it IS the Body of Christ. It is alive!!! My complain with both traditionalist and modernists (worse with the latter) is that both tend to cross swords over a static, basically dead image of the Church that they defend to the death. We took a risk with the Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, we are taking another with the Permanent Deacons but they are truly Catholic risks. Only the living take risks. Life devoid of any and all risk is not life at all. The modern families we have today that are blocking the way for their son to the Priesthood would be more open to the Diaconate and the Church could end up with more of both. Win-win! Are we gambling here? I trust the Divine Owner of the House and the House always wins, some losses and payouts notwithstanding.

      • Andrew Garofalo

        Thanks gentlemen.

        If you read my article you will note that I never compared priests to deacons, nor did I say deacons represent the ideal for manliness, nor did I say they will solve the decline in priestly vocations.

        I stand by all five reasons I provided, manliness being one of them (and not the focus of the entire article), for why the Church needs permanent deacons right now.

        They have unique gifts and charisms to offer in service to the Church. The church needs the minds and skills of professionals and businessmen as well as theologians and philosophers. The Church would be best served to take full advantage of the unique contributions deacons have to offer.

        I should also add that the spirit of the deacon (service) is alive and well in the laity as well. There already are many lay “deacons” serving in the Church today. However, if you believe what the Church teaches, then you understand that the Sacrament of Holy Orders bestows special graces upon the ordained man to carry out his mission. Therefore, the ordained deacon has a role to play alongside lay deacons and priests.

        Thanks for your comments.

      • Phil Alcoceli

        You’re welcome. As you can see, I didn’t offer right way or just reduce the Diaconate as just a “patch” to solve the sharp decline in Priestly vocations but to address “Thomist” concerns, given that in the Living Body of the Church all healthy, holy cells (hopefully each one of us), help each other directly or indirectly, consciously or unsconciously. I do greatly appreciate and have been greatly blessed by Permanent Deacons, several of which are invaluable friends and real brothers in the Only True Faith. It is them that have been giving me the insider information and serious warnings that I mention in my stand alone comment below.

        Deacons do have special graces and have enormous potential but are far from invulnerable to the ever-growing Demonic High Technology of Corruption and False Righteousness that so tragically found some very unprepared targets in some Priests and is trying to condemn all others to nullity. I hope and pray that Deacon formation one day soon includes a preparation to the many challenges that are just waiting to pounce, devour and nullify them (1 Peter 5:8). The military-like approach I suggest below is more appropiate than ever, even much more than it was in the bloody and glorious beginning of our Church through Saint Paul’s amazing ministry (2 Timothy 2:3-4). Spirituality and holy militancy must be one (1 John 3:8). This last verse illustrates that God’s Mercy is far from a sentimental construct at all. Jesus Highest Love is that of an Ultimate Soldier (John 15:13). We have disfigured God’s Face through extreme sentimentality and that makes us easy targets, a massacre so far. That’s not God’s Will.

    • A. Nonymous

      I have to disagree, and in the interest of full disclosure, yes – I am a permanent Deacon.

      What we need is godly men in all states of life – Bishops, Priests, Deacons, religious, and in the laity.

      What we in the permanent Diaconate provide is a bridge between the laity and the clergy. While we are clergy, we still have one foot in the day-to-day world of the laity. I work a 9 to 5. I’m married, and yes, at times my wife and I have the same monetary, communication, and other issues as Joe Parishioner. I’m a parent.

      In my case, when I was ordained, I was fortunate enough to be appointed to serve the same Parish where I had already been an active Parishioner for 14 years, so I was fortunate enough to have a pre-existing relationship with the Parish.

      What I offer that a Priest doesn’t is accessibility at a different level. People who may be hesitant about approaching our Pastor will approach me with questions. I’m active in our local KoC Council & my Assembly, which our Pastor can’t always be.

      Outside Church, I work for a fairly large company. Some people within the company know that I’m a Deacon, others don’t. But I’m a Deacon all the time, not just on Sundays, or whether I’m involved in my ministry of charity. I’m available to (and do!) minister to anyone who needs it, whether Catholic or not. I’ve been on my way out the door after work and been pulled into a conference room for an hour to counsel someone who needed spiritual advice.

      Part of my ministry is a ministry of charity. As Christians, we are all called to works of charity by our Baptismal promises. As a Deacon, I am the sacramental presence of the Church in that ministry of charity, even if I’m just helping to unload boxes at the food pantry.

      When you read Acts 6, the twelve chose the first Deacons as the answer to how they could care for the members of the community. This is still our role. We’re primarily accountable to the Bishop (even though he usually delegates our immediate supervision to a Priest). In the ideal world, the Bishop wouldn’t need Priests or Deacons. He would personally offer Mass for all the members of his flock. He’d visit each member of his flock who was in the hospital. He’d be working at the homeless shelter, the soup kitchen, and the food pantry.

      He also wouldn’t sleep.

      Deacons serve in a specific way, and it usually isn’t flashy. Yes, we need more godly men as permanent Deacons.

      But yes, we also need more godly Priests and Bishops to serve in the roles that they are uniquely configured for. And we need more men and women in the monasteries and convents. And more men and women in godly marriages. And more men and women living chaste lives as godly single people.

  • Phil Alcoceli

    Thank you, Mr. Garofalo! Great article. As far as you mentioning the manliness and proven integrity of deacons as an answer to the devious, destructive, Over-Feminization of the present Anti-Culture of Death, It is very pertinent to mention the growing Over-Feminization Movement within the Catholic Church itself. There’s much to say about that but I’ll focus on the recent National Diaconate Congress, July 22 to July 26 at the Archdiocese of New Orleans. I have several Permanent Deacon as friends, as I dearly and always appreciate their gift to the Church enormously. Some of them attended that Congress and some didn’t. The ones who did, mentioned some very good things but also that there was an exaggerated emphasis on pushing for women deacons, married priests and also women priests. My response was that I had been a Protestant for several years in several different denominations before my re-conversion to Catholicism and that all those “new and improved and urgently needed” ideas have consistently proven to be a total, absolute disaster in all the Protestant denominations that it has been tried.

    Over-emotional chaos, over-sentimental compromise and ever more fanatical and vacuum-sealed blind factions reign. An exact copy of the Snti-Culture of Death. I still have Protestant Pastor as friends that continue to confirm this to me, in private. The fanatical activist Catholic women who compromise so much with the Anti-Culture of Death must be waiting to pounce at this opportunity and then forcefully sweep the good ones under the rug for good. Manliness of our real Permanent Deacons will be absolutely required and seriously demanded more than ever in all of history. I highly recommend a great devotion to St. Joseph, Holy Guardian of the Church as of the Holy Family. Start with “St. Joseph Gems” by Father Donald H. Calloway, MIC. Then read all the great books of men as warriors both Catholic, Protestant and secular (“Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield is a must!). Will all this make you too uptight and unloving? Not at all!! Just the opposite!! It will give you the Sacrificial Heart of the Ultimate Loving Warrior, Jesus Christ!!! Call to rebellion? Just like the one by Our Holy Mother Mary who strongly pressed Jesus to begin his “Hour” early. This is your “Hour”!!