Deacon's Corner

Fr. Tony has suggested that during his absence I provide some background information for those parishioners who may be unfamiliar with the ordained ministry of deacon in the Roman Catholic Church.  A series of short articles will appear in the bulletin over the coming weeks. If you have specific questions please contact me at .

Deacon Ron McRae,  April 28, 2013

Deacon Ron`s articles, six in all, are reproduced below:

Beginnings of Diaconal Ministry

April 28, 2013 

We find in the New Testament evidence of a ministry of service that models that of Christ the Servant. The words deacon, diaconal and diaconate have their origin in the Greek word diakonein, having to do with service. Texts such as Mark 10:43-45, John 13:26 and 13:1-20 reveal the self-emptying service for all that characterizes the identity and role of the deacon. Acts 6:1-6 is often cited as the first formal institution of diaconal ministry when the Twelve Apostles “prayed and laid hands” upon “seven reputable men” who would serve the needs of Greek-speaking widows amongst the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. Two of the seven, Stephen and Philip, offer an early illustration of the effective contribution that deacons would offer to preaching and evangelization. The powerful preaching of Stephen resulted in his becoming the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:54-60), and Philip provides an early exemplar of the deacon as evangelizer and baptizer (Acts 8:26-40).

The First Letter to Timothy provides evidence of the qualities the early churches sought when selecting bishops and deacons. The latter “must be dignified, not deceitful, not addicted to drink, not greedy for sordid gain, holding fast to the mystery of faith with a clear conscience (3:8).”

Deacons In The Early Church

May 5, 2013

 The earliest expression of diaconal ministry in Christian communities stressed service to the apostles and to the marginalized. The overseers (episkopoi) or bishops in the emerging churches were the apostles’ successors, and they relied heavily upon deacons for many tasks, including the management of funds, charitable works, distribution of communion to those unable to attend Eucharistic liturgy, and supervising orderliness and silence in the worshipping assembly. The Didascalia Apostolorum, a 3rd-century Christian document, refers to the deacon as “the bishop’s ear, mouth, heart, and soul,” and it was the bishop alone who ordained the deacon to service by laying hands on his head. Over the ensuing centuries, ordination to the diaconate increasingly became a temporary stepping stone to the priesthood and, as a result, was referred to as the transitional diaconate and encompassed a service-oriented period of one to four years as preparation for priestly ordination. While a deacon still reports directly to his bishop today, each one is assigned to assist with the liturgy in a specific parish, and his day-to-day parish ministry is offered in close and supportive collaboration with the local pastor.

Throughout the history of the Church, there are countless examples of deacons who offered outstanding service and leadership, and subsequently were beatified or canonized. Amongst them, we count St. Lawrence of Rome who, following the martyrdom of his bishop and six brother deacons, was roasted to death on a gridiron after distributing all the local church’s funds to the poor and then presenting the poor and disabled to persecuting imperial officials as the Church’s greatest treasure. St. Francis of Assisi continued the example of diaconal self-sacrifice, and became a source of inspiration for the pastoral care that has been so powerfully taught and modelled by Pope Francis.



May 12, 2013

One of the many fruits of the Second Vatican Council was the restoration of the permanent diaconate as “a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy.” Once ordained through the sacrament of holy orders, the permanent deacon would remain so for the rest of his life. The Council Fathers recognized that deacons are “supremely necessary” for the life of the Church, and declared in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church that “strengthened by sacramental grace, deacons are dedicated to the people of God, in communion with the bishop and his presbyterate, in the service of the liturgy, of the word and of charity. It is a deacon’s task … to administer Baptism solemnly, to reserve and distribute the Eucharist, to assist at and to bless marriages in the name of the Church, to take Viaticum to the dying, to proclaim sacred scripture to the faithful, to instruct and exhort the people, to preside over the worship and the prayer of the faithful, to administer sacramentals, and to officiate at funeral and burial services.”

The Council Fathers declared that the diaconal order could be conferred upon married men (indeed, most deacons are married), “and also on suitable young men, for whom, however, the law of celibacy must remain in force.”  If a deacon’s spouse should die, he is expected to remain celibate.  Officially implemented by Pope Paul VI, the restored diaconate soon had official rites for diaconal ordination and guidelines for formation. Typically, candidates for the permanent diaconate must be at least 35-years-old and be ordained by age 60. Like other clergy, deacons are expected to retire at age 75. The most recent statistics available indicate there are some 40,000 permanent deacons, of which approximately 1200 are incardinated in Canada. Depending upon the population and leadership of the diocese, there may be a large number of deacons (Toronto has more than 130) or relatively few. Formation usually extends over 4 years and covers a curriculum with topics such as liturgy, scripture, church history, pastoral care, theology, and philosophy.


May 19, 2013

The role of a deacon during celebration of the Eucharist is described in the Roman Missal, and his diaconia (service) at the altar is founded in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. During the introductory rites of the mass, the deacon walks beside the presiding priest or bishop (if aisle width allows), or in front of him when carrying the Book of the Gospels. After reverencing the altar and the tabernacle with a profound bow, the deacon and presider then kiss the altar as an expression of veneration. If the Book of the Gospels is being used, it is placed on the altar by the deacon.  He is seated at the presider’s right side during the mass. If the presider or a cantor does not sing the Kyrie eleison, the deacon may do so.

During the Liturgy of the Word, the deacon requests the presider’s blessing prior to proclaiming the Gospel (“May the Lord be in your heart and on your lips, that you may proclaim his Gospel worthily and well, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”). If being used, the Book of the Gospels is processed from the altar to the ambo by the deacon, accompanied by altar servers with candles. On solemn occasions, the deacon may incense the Book. With hands joined, he greets the people (“The Lord be with you”), and then, at the words “A reading from the Holy Gospel according to …” he signs the book with his thumb and, afterwards, himself on his forehead, mouth, and breast. Following the reading, he offers the appropriate seasonal acclamation, venerates the Book with a kiss, and says quietly “Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away.” When not offered by the presider, the deacon then preaches the homily. Following the communal Profession of Faith (Creed), the deacon announces from the ambo the intentions of the Universal Prayer (Prayer of the Faithful). This concludes the Liturgy of the Word part of the mass.


May 26, 2013

The deacon also has a role to play in the Liturgy of the Eucharist part of the mass.

Assisted by altar servers and/or the sacristan, he prepares the altar by placing the corporal, purificator, Roman Missal, and chalice on it. The gifts of bread and wine are then brought forward in procession by representatives of the people and accepted by the presiding priest and/or the deacon. On occasions when the gifts, the altar and the cross are incensed by the presider, then the deacon incenses both the presider (because of his sacred ministry) and the people (by reason of their baptismal dignity). After handing the presider the paten with the bread to be consecrated, the deacon pours wine and a little water into the chalice while saying quietly “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

During the concluding doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer, the deacon stands next to the presider and holds the chalice elevated while the presider elevates the paten with the host. Following the presider’s prayer and greeting at the Rite of Peace, the deacon, with hands joined, invites everyone to share the sign of peace. The deacon then assists with the distribution of communion, and afterwards purifies the vessels at the altar or credence table. For the Concluding Rites, the deacon invites the people to “Bow your heads and pray for God’s blessing” on occasions when a solemn blessing is offered. Following the presider’s blessing, the deacon dismisses the people with the words “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life” or another formula from the Roman Missal. After venerating the altar with a kiss, the presider and deacon join the other ministers in front of the altar, make a profound bow to the altar and the tabernacle, and then follow the procession to the entrance of the church.

When assisting in the celebration of mass, the deacon is vested in an alb with a diaconal stole and dalmatic  (an ancient style of liturgical over garment with sleeves) of the appropriate colour for the season, feast or solemnity.


June 2, 2013

Like many permanent deacons, I have often been asked what made me feel called to this ministry. Ultimately the answer has to be a call from God. That, of course, begs the question of how God calls any of us (clergy, religious or laity) to serve both the Church and each other. While God’s call was certainly heard through the daily practice of prayer and regular immersion in studying and reflecting upon God’s self-revelation in biblical texts, it really was the voice of God speaking through other Christians that initiated and then affirmed my call to ordained service. Parish priests, other theology students, Brother Knights, diocesan staff, fellow parishioners, and family members all noted skills, abilities and prior experience that would support effective diaconal service. During four years of formation, the discernment of an authentic call to service was confirmed by time spent with prisoners, street people, people suffering from mental or physical illness, adults excited by in-depth study of the Bible and the history of our faith, parents seeking baptism for their children, couples seeking marriage and those struggling with marriage problems, and adults wanting to become Roman Catholics or to return to the Church after a long period of absence. Invariably, these people expressed gratitude for the listening, compassion, and spiritual direction I was able to offer through the power of the Holy Spirit.

 During the ordination rite, the bishop presents the Book of the Gospels and instructs the new deacon: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practise what you teach.” This consistency of speech and action is essential for fruitful discipleship and ordained ministry. Clergy, in particular, are called to proclaim “good news” in a world that is often characterized by negative and disastrous news and to model love for each other in settings where jealousy, fear and gossip can work against unity in the Body of Christ (a situation that has not changed since St. Paul bemoaned it in the early church). The instruction of Jesus to “feed my sheep” resonates particularly in the ministry of deacons as we seek to address the intense spiritual and physical hunger that affects deeply the daily lives of many of our sisters and brothers both inside and outside the Church.