The Ministry of the Deacon:
In the book of Acts (Chapter 6), we are told that the twelve apostles called a full meeting of the disciples and addressed them. They said it would not be right for them to neglect the Word of God in order to give food to widows and they said that seven men must be selected for this kind of service. Once selected the apostles laid hands on them. This account is often used to describe the ‘genesis’ of the diaconate, with these seven men called, specifically, to the ministry of service. It is interesting to note that, following their commission, St Stephen is seen preaching in the temple rather than giving food to the widows of the community. So what are deacons and what do they ‘do’?
The Deacon exercises the ministry of the Church in a three-fold way:
The ministry of the Word – The deacon proclaims the Good News both in word and deed, in preaching homilies, as well as teaching, counselling, proclaiming in the marketplace, and witnessing in marriage and family. He is an evangeliser and teacher. The deacon proclaims the Gospel and by virtue of his ordination, he may preach. He is expected to live the word in his professional life and be an example of morality and ethics. In his ministry of the Word, the deacon responds to the commission given him at ordination: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” The deacon is a lifelong student of God’s word which must be deeply rooted in his own life.
The ministry of the Liturgy – The Eucharistic Liturgy is the source and summit of the Church’s activity. It is here that “the deacon is a visible, grace-filled sign of the integral connection between sharing at the Lord’s Eucharistic table and serving the many hungers felt so keenly by all God’s children. In the deacon’s liturgical ministry, as in a mirror, the Church sees a reflection of her own diaconal character and is reminded of her mission to serve as Jesus did.” The deacon’s ministry within the Mass reflects his mission and ministry in the world. It is the deacon who sends the assembly forth from the Liturgy to reach out in love and service to those in need of the Lord’s help. The deacon is the ordinary presider of Liturgical Prayer in the absence of a Priest; he is an ordinary minister of the Rites of Christian Funerals, Matrimony and Baptisms.
The ministry of Charity – The deacon’s ministry of charity cannot be separated from his ministry of word and liturgy. His ministry of the Word flows to his ministry at the altar which then seeks to animate the congregation to live their baptismal call to charity and justice by his example and leadership. The deacon is a servant leader. At the Last Supper, after Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples, he then commissioned them: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (Jn. 13:15) This is one of the commissions Jesus gave to his Apostles that is continued on through apostolic succession in his bishops today. The deacon assists the bishop in attending to this responsibility. It can be said that the deacon helps the bishop in his mission of calling people to holiness by caring for their wholeness.