Diocese of Rockville Centre
What is the Diaconate?
The Second Vatican Council reestablished the Order of Deacons as a permanent rank in the hierarchy of the Church. In the Diocese of Rockville Centre, the first permanent deacons were ordained in 1979.
In the Sacrament of Holy Orders and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the deacon receives a permanent imprint or character which unites him to Christ, the Servant of All. The bishop ordains deacons to be consecrated witnesses to service. The deacon serves in the Ministry of the Word, the Ministry of Liturgy, and the Ministry of Charity and Justice.
The deacon is a sacred minister and a member of the clergy. He is ordained to serve God’s people in communion with the bishop and priests. The bishop and deacon share a special relationship. The deacon performs his ministry under the authority of the bishop. The deacon vows respect and obedience to the bishop; the bishop provides for the pastoral care of the deacon.
Because the deacon is involved in the secular world to a greater extent than the priest, he has the ability to bring the Gospel message into the workplace. Deacons, both married and unmarried, give witness to the Gospel value of sacrificial love and the dignity of human work. The deacon has the special opportunity and obligation to proclaim and witness the Gospel in his secular profession.
Three Dimensions of Diaconal Service
Minister of the Word
The deacon, by word and example, brings the Gospel to the market place as he witnesses a life of discipleship to his co-workers. He brings the Word to members of the parish in both catechetical experiences and individual counseling sessions. The deacon also proclaims the Gospel and preaches the Word in the gathered assembly.
Minister of Liturgy
Connected with his ministry of the Word, the deacon presides and preaches at Baptisms, Marriages, and celebrates wake services and funeral and burial rites. His ministry of service during the Eucharistic celebration includes leading the Penitential Rite, proclaiming the Gospel, offering the general intercessions, preparing the gifts, and sometimes preaching. Flowing from his ministry at the altar, the deacon brings Communion to the sick and Viaticum to the dying.
Minister of Charity and Justice
The deacons’ ministry of the Word and of the altar would be incomplete were he not first a minister of charity. While every member of the church is called to a ministry of charity, the deacon sacramentalizes that reality. He is an icon of Christ the Servant, not only preaching the Gospel but also serving as an advocate for justice both within the Church in particular and in society in general. Deacons care for the disadvantaged, the bereaved, the divorced, the dying, and the imprisoned, those pushed to the fringes of society by sickness, poverty, crime or old age. Deacons prepare the faithful to receive the Sacraments and to carry out their vocations as baptized Christians.
Our deacons serve in over 100 parishes throughout the diocese. Deacons can also be found ministering in a variety of other areas, including prisons, hospitals, nursing homes and in the formation of other men for the diaconate.
Deacons, Wives, and Their Families
The majority of deacons are married and share their dedication to ministry with their wives. Although these deacons serve the diocese in diverse ways, their service originates in the home through spousal and parental relationships. The deacon must, therefore, learn to balance his responsibilities to wife, children, work, and ministry.
The marriage call to holiness sanctifies the love of husbands and wives, making evident God’s loving presence to the Church. Marriage demands intimacy, honesty, faithfulness, fidelity, life-giving selflessness, forgiveness, and a good sense of humor. Marriage, when lived in faith, becomes a unique sign to the entire Church of the love of Christ. A married deacon, with his wife and family, gives witness to the sanctity of marriage. The more they grow in mutual love, the more they give to the Christian community a model of Christ-like love, compassion, and self-sacrifice.
Both the deacon and his wife are called to be a dynamic sign of fidelity and permanence in relationship before a world which is in dire need of such signs. By facing in a spirit of faith the challenges of married and family life, they can provide great encouragement to others who are working to promote family life, not only in the Church community, but in society. On a daily basis, they show how the obligations of family life, work and ministry can be harmonized in the service of the Church’s mission.
The wife of a candidate is involved in the discernment process since a fully committed marriage underlies the ministry of married deacons. Wives are required to participate in a yearly retreat with their husbands while in formation. They are also required to participate in several mornings and afternoons of reflection with the candidates during each of the four years of formation.
When possible, children of deacon candidates who live at home are asked to participate in afternoons of reflection with their parents. These sessions are intended to help the children with any challenges they might face as children of a deacon.
By virtue of ordination, deacons are joined in a sacramental fraternity. They form a community that witnesses to Christ, the Deacon-Servant. Each deacon should have a sense of being joined with his fellow deacons in a bond of charity, prayer, obedience to the bishop, ministerial zeal and collaboration. The Order of Deacons is strengthened by meeting periodically to discuss individual ministries, exchange experiences, advance formation and encourage each other in fidelity. Paramount among deacons is a mandate to collaborate, and in so doing, promote their spiritual life, to carry out charitable and pious works and to pursue other objectives consistent with life as an ordained minister. The diaconal community must be, for those in aspirant and candidate paths in formation, a true support in the discernment of their vocation, in personal growth, in the furthering of a spiritual life, in theological study and in pastoral experience.
The deacon’s wife is also a member of the community. Married deacons bring to the Sacrament of Holy Orders the gifts already received and still being nurtured through their participation, with their wife, in the Sacrament of Matrimony. This sacrament sanctifies the love of husband and wife, making their love a sign of the love of Christ for his Church. The Sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders lived in faith form the basis of the married deacon’s unique gift within the Church.
For the unmarried deacon, love becomes a sign of total and undivided consecration to Christ and of greater freedom to serve God and neighbor. In pledging to remain celibate for the service of the Church, like priests, they dedicate themselves as witnesses to the day when all creation will be caught up in the love of God totally.