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(With apologies to my friends at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH)

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About Catholic Deacons
Q: What's a deacon?
A: Not quite forty years ago, Pope Paul VI set in motion the restoration of the ‘office’ of permanent deacons. This action is found in his apostolic letter of June 18, 1967, entitled Sacram Diaconatus Ordinem. It took just one year for the United States Conference of Bishops to begin work to restore the role of deacons in the United States.

Yet many – perhaps most don’t know what a Catholic deacon is. What are his duties? Are they ‘fancy altar servers?’ Are they ‘mini priests?’ What privileges do they have? What duties? Can they bless articles? All these are good questions.

In the earliest days of the Christian Church, deacons were selected and admitted to the Eucharistic ceremony because they would help at table, serve the poor, most especially widows who had no men to care for or provide for them. (See ACTS, Chapter 6 concerning the need for ‘Assistants’ in the early Church.) We see in the early calling of Stephen and six other men – the charisms of (1) Service at the liturgy and table of the Lord; (2) Being of service to others; (3) And later – a charism of the Word of God, especially by proclaiming the Gospel. There is a fundamental, even a theological point about the first deacons. They were called from the community of believers. The fact that deacons are called from the community is highly significant. In a sense, the deacon has one foot in the lay community of worshipers.

In the Mass, a deacon usually announces the Penitential Rite – calling his brothers and sisters to repentance for sins. He proclaims the Gospel, and is authorized to preach at the direction of the pastor. A deacon represents your needs, your prayers, and your petitions. This is why the deacon, when present at the Mass announces the petitions for the community after the Creed. This is also why a deacon steps forward to help receive the gifts with the priest. The deacon symbolizes your gifts being moved to the altar by your representative to become part of the sacrifice of the Mass. The deacon lifts the chalice during the Mass – an awesome symbol that each parishioner is a part of this presentation of Jesus in the Consecrated Wine as an offering and gift back to the Father.

The deacon prepares the altar for the celebration of the Eucharist, distributes Communion, and he helps clean the vessels. The deacon dismisses the faithful at the end of Mass. So those are some of the deacon’s liturgical duties associated with Mass.


Deacons also perform baptisms, witness marriages, and they do funeral vigils, funeral liturgies and graveside services. Deacons are fully ordained clergy – so they can bless a new rosary, and bless your home, a new pet, a new car –or even that new computer (getting ride of evil bugs in your computer is a specialty of Deacon Tom!). Deacons can also help liturgically as you celebrate the renewal of your wedding vows. Deacons cannot celebrate Mass. Deacons cannot hear confessions. Deacons cannot perform the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. But deacons can come and pray over anyone who is sick or aged or confined by illness or lack of capacity. A deacon should be willing to be intimately involved with the needs of the sick, the poor and the needy.

Deacons need a willingness to be a man of the Church. Technically, a deacon reports directly to the bishop. In practice, the deacon works at a Liturgical Base, most often a local parish. Some deacons are given special assignments such as jail or hospital ministry, food banks, etc. As a rule, deacons are not paid, although some serve as paid parish administrators; others serve as paid educators, paid liturgists or other forms of extended parish service.

Like all men and women – deacons are called to a life of holiness; but certainly, deacons can be flawed and sometimes weak and sinful people. The words of the bishop at our ordination challenge us. We were exhorted to live the Gospel life – the Gospel whose herald we have now become.

Just as with priests and bishops, deacons (and their spouses) need your prayers to be able to do these things that are part and parcel of being clergy… being mediators… being examples of God’s call to each and every one of us.

About Confession
Q: Why do Catholics go to confession?
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