Holy Orders is the Sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to His Apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1536)
Are you considering a vocation as a Priest of Jesus Christ?
The diocese is looking for men who are interested in becoming Permanent Deacons. If you believe you are being called to this ministry, you and your wife are cordially invited to attend this meeting. Questions? Please call the Diaconate Office at 732-562-1990.
Greetings from the Office of the Diaconate
My name is Deacon Sam Costantino and I serve the bishop as Director, Office of the Diaconate for the Diocese of Metuchen. The purpose of my note is to begin to invite you to read some questions and answers about the ministry of deacon. The questions and answers are taken from Deacon Bill Ditewig’s book entitled, “101 Questions and Answers about Deacons”. I will be running these Q&A articles during the next several months in preparation for the recruitment of men into the Class of 2019. I hope that you find them informative. If you have any questions, please call the Office of the Diaconate at 732-562-1990 ext. 1710 or ext. 1711.
Just who and what is a deacon anyway?
A Catholic deacon is a member of the clergy. In the Catholic Church, “the clergy” consists of three groups of ordained ministers: bishops, priests, and deacons. While all members of the Church are called to minister to others by virtue of their baptism, some Catholics are also ordained to specific forms of ministry to the rest of the Church. We refer to these ordained Catholics as “clerics” or “clergy.”
The title “deacon” comes from the Greek word diakonos, which means “servant”. A deacon is permanently and publicly configured to Christ the Servant, he shares in the overall pastoral responsibility of the bishop to care for all of the people in the diocese, and he becomes an integral part of the clerical structure of the Church, in partnership with priests, serving the needs of the entire diocese.
So are you saying that the deacon is a kind of priest?
No, not at all. Catholics are very familiar with the role of the priest in their communities, but for many people, deacons are still rather new. Since deacons are members of the clergy, they have responsibilities very similar to priests in some ways: they participate in a unique way in the Mass, they are official teachers and preachers of the Gospel, and they preside at celebrations of baptism, matrimony, funerals, and other forms of community prayer.
What exactly does Vatican II say about deacons?
Deacons are ministers who are ordained “not for the priesthood, but for the ministry.” “Strengthened by sacramental grace, they are at the service of the people of God in the ministry of the liturgy, the word, and charity, in communion with the bishops and his priests.” What is most important here is that the deacon shares in the threefold apostolic ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Charity. They have been called to be “supremely necessary for the life of the Church.”
The first ordination took place in Germany and Cameroon in 1968. The bishops of the United States received approval in 1968, and the first permanent deacon in the United States was ordained in 1969. Now there are close to 19,000 permanent deacons in the United States.
Can deacons help with the shortage of priests?
While there are many things that deacons may do that can assist in the pastoral care of the Church, they are not substitutes for priests, nor are they some sort of restricted order of priests. Furthermore, the diaconate was not renewed by the Second Vatican Council because of a shortage of priests. It has been said that the Council did not restore the diaconate because of a shortage of priests, but because of a shortage of deacons. While deacons have a responsibility for some of the same things that priests do, deacons have a different set of responsibilities that are unique to them, and to try to use deacons as substitute priests would be a disservice to both.
The deacon in my parish is employed in a secular job. If deacons are clergy, why do they still hold regular jobs?
Although they are ordained, deacons most often serve within the framework of work and family life. On a practical level, deacons are responsible for providing their own livelihood for themselves and their families. They most often do this by remaining engaged in whatever job, career, or profession they were engaged in prior to ordination.
Are you saying that most deacons are just part-time ministers?
Nothing could be further from the truth! Ordination is something that affects a person permanently, so being a deacon is not a part-time ministry. Once ordained, the deacon is always a deacon, regardless of where he is or what he’s doing, just as a priest or bishop is always a priest or bishop even when they’re on vacation. A deacon is just as engaged in his ministry when he is at work or engaged in other activities not directly related to the Church. It is precisely in his leadership and presence outside formal ecclesial structures that the deacon can often enable and empower others to exercise their own diaconal responsibilities as Christians. Being a deacon is a full-time reality!
How does someone know if he has a vocation to be a deacon?
There is a maxim that says “Grace builds on nature.” In many cases, a person’s diaconal qualities have been observed and experienced by friends, family, and members of a parish community; in these cases, it is often some of these people, or a pastor, who suggest to a man that he ought to consider the possibility of the diaconate. Perhaps a man has become interested in the diaconate because of his own experience with deacons or through something he has read. In every case, a person who thinks he might have a vocation to the diaconate should first pray, then talk about it with his family, if he’s married, and find out more by calling the director of the diaconate for the diocese in which he lives.
I understand that priests receive a salary for their ministry. Do deacons get paid, or are they volunteers?
In general, deacons are not compensated for their ministry as deacons. Sometimes a deacon holds a job in the Church as a member of the bishop’s staff or a parish employee, such as the principal of a parish school. In these cases, the deacon is usually paid whatever a lay person would be paid for serving in the same position. Notice that such compensation is associated with the position accepted by the deacon in addition to his ecclesiastical assignment as deacon, for which no compensation is generally provided.
The bishop of a diocese may provide a modest allowance to help defray the costs of continuing formation and an annual retreat.