receive the sacrament of orders to the order of deacons when a bishop
lays hands on them and prays a prayer of consecration. Just as in
baptism and confirmation, deacons receive an indelible character,
marking them forever and enabling them to live in a specific configuration
to Christ. They receive special sacramental graces to assist the
"bishop and his priests as ministers of the word, of the altar,
and of charity" (Homily from "Ordination of Deacons").
seem new since Vatican II, but they actually trace their ministry
to the earliest days of the Church in Jerusalem. In the Acts of
the Apostles, deacons were called to assist the Apostles through
works of charity. In fact, the Greek root of the word "deacon"
diakonos means servant. In the witness of St. Stephen,
the first Christian martyr, and St. Philip's evangelizing of the
Ethiopian, we see the vital role deacons played in serving the faithful
and spreading the Gospel.
Over the centuries,
as the Church grew, the order of deacons faded into a step just
before priestly ordination. Even today, candidates for the priesthood
receive their diaconal ordination and serve for a time as deacons
before continuing on to the priesthood.
But the many
new pastoral demands of the modern world led the Fathers of the
Second Vatican Council to revive the permanent diaconate as a special
ministry of service.
the priest, in virtue of the sacred ordination he has received,
the deacon has first place among those who minister in the celebration
of the Eucharist" (General Instruction on the Roman Missal,
94). We can see this in the distinctive vestments the deacon wears
at Mass. He'll always wear a long white alb and a stole that is
fastened on the right. On more festive occasions, the deacon may
also wear the dalmatic, a liturgical outer garment.
of the deacon seem to cross over between those of the priest and
those of the laity during Mass. The priest has the responsibility
to preach, but he may entrust the deacon to give the homily. Portions
of the Mass dialogue also belong to the deacon. If no deacon is
present, the celebrant fills the role. While the deacon is the usual
minister to announce the general intercessions, laypersons may do
so occasionally for a good reason. Laypersons who serve as extraordinary
ministers of holy Communion may also purify Communion vessels and
give viaticum, but as an "ordinary minister of holy Communion,"
these functions belong to the deacon when he is present.
Since he is
ordained into Christ's ministry in a unique way, only the deacon
may assist the celebrant at the "fraction rite" or breaking
of the bread, and he may also distribute the precious blood into
additional chalices. At the same time, his identity as a member
of the body of Christ is reaffirmed since the deacon receives holy
Communion from the hand of the priest, who represents Christ the
Head of the Body.
also preside at Communion services in the absence of a priest, and
at public prayer and some blessings; assist at and bless marriages;
and lead rites of burial. They also serve parishes and dioceses
in many key administrative roles.
Of 113 parishes
in the Archdiocese of Denver, 74 have 105 deacons assisting our
priests and serving the lay faithful. These are extraordinary men
whose witness is a great blessing for our Church. So just as I asked
you to remember the priests of Northern Colorado in your prayers,
now I ask you to keep our deacons in your daily thoughts and prayers
a demanding call to a divine vocation, and their lives give service
to God and to His people.