There are three levels of Holy Orders: Deacon, Priest, Bishop. A man who is ordained to the order of Deacon pledges his obedience to the Bishop, who tells him where and how he is to serve the people of God. From the moment of ordination, he surrenders his independence to the Church through the Bishop and becomes a servant in the likeness of Christ.
This type of service cannot happen without a true and holy calling from God. In this sense, the ministry of a man as a Deacon is not his own but God’s. “It was not you who chose me but I who chose you” (Jn 15:16).
The Deacon has a threefold ministry of Word, Liturgy and Charity. All of the Deacon’s energies in serving the Church, under the direction of his Bishop, are channeled through these three areas as he fulfills the Apostles original intent to continue Christ’s presence as one who “came not to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45).
As he kneels before the Bishop at ordination, the Deacon is handed the book of the Gospels and, while they both grasp the book, he hears this command from the Bishop: “Receive the Word of God, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, practice what you teach.”
From this moment forward, the Deacon carries a unique authority to proclaim the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ; he does this not only from the Ambo but in every way he lives his life and functions as a Deacon.
He proclaims the Good News whenever he
- proclaims the Gospel
- teaches parents about Baptism,
- prepares couples for Marriage,
- conducts RCIA classes,
- preaches at Mass
- teaches in any of a variety of ways
His living the proclamation of the Good News is not only for the parish but permeates through his work, his marriage and his family.
Deacons are most often seen assisting the priest at mass:
- proclaiming the Gospel,
- setting the altar,
- proclaim the penitential rite,
- preparing the Chalice,
- announcing the Kiss of Peace,
- ministering the cup at communion,
- purifying the vessels, and
- dismissing the congregation.
Deacons function in other liturgical ways not seen by the community as a whole. They may:
- bless homes and religious articles,
- Baptize children under the age of 7,
- witness marriages,
- conduct funerals outside Mass,
- lead Rosary and vigil services,
- preside at Communion services, and
- perform Benedictions.
There is, also, one other liturgical rite in which the Deacon participates but mostly in private. In cooperation with the Holy Spirit, he daily joins with Christ and His Church and prays the Liturgy of the Hours for all God’s Holy People. He does this twice a day, morning and evening.
The Deacon’s service of charity permeates every other ministry he performs as well as his secular work life, marriage and family life, but is often extended in specific ways to the community. This may happen in the form of:
- ministering to prisoners,
- consoling the grieving,
- assisting with annulments,
- visiting the sick and dying,
- carrying Viaticum to the dying, and
- taking the Eucharist to the homebound
- providing pastoral counseling
- providing spiritual direction
- serving the poor and homeless
As a minister of Charity, the Deacon functions as Christ the servant and is the Church’s expression of our Lord’s outreach to the poor, the sick, the hungry, those in prison, the afflicted and the marginalized. He may also be the Church’s visible promoter of peace and justice, confronting human injustice and protecting the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death.
The Ministry of Charity takes the Deacon into homes, hospitals, prisons, shelters and any place the poor and marginalized are likely to be found.