Actually, the diaconate should be with us today whether or not there happened to be a priest shortage. Its function, at least, was established by the Early Church shortly after the Resurrection. The seven deacons (Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is perhaps the most famous of these) were men of “good reputation filled with the Holy Spirit and with wisdom” who assisted the growing Church Community. Deacons did not “fill in” for the Apostles as the latter died off. Rather, deacons undertook a totally distinct ministry. While the Apostles proclaimed the Good News, the deacon served the human needs of the Christian Community.
The Permanent Diaconate (a Greek word that means “servant” or “helper”) was an early and distinct Office in the Church. It continued quite active for several hundred years but began to decline in the fourth century due to various reasons:
In the midst of all of this, the special roles of the deacon began to fade and virtually died out around the 12th century, becoming a preparatory step on the way to the priesthood.
While the current shortage of priests has certainly stimulated the recent interest in the Permanent Diaconate, the move for its restoration began in the mid 1940s, long before what some have come to label “the vocation crisis” began. It was the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution of the Church that called for the restoration of the Diaconate “as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy”. The Permanent Diaconate brings a distinct nuance to the image of the Church today, re-emphasizing her role as “Servant” to mankind since deacons are living symbols of that service.
There is no easy answer to this question and any conclusion whatever should be arrived at in a spirit of prayer and dialogue with family and a trusted spiritual advisor.
St. Paul suggested that Timothy look for the following qualification in choosing deacons for the early Church:
“Deacons must be respected men whose work can be trusted, moderate in the amount of wine they drink with no squalid greed for money. They must be conscientious believers in the mystery of the faith. They are to be examined first and only admitted to serve as deacons if there is nothing against them. In the same way, their wives must be respectable, not gossip but be sober and reliable. Deacons must not have been married more than once and must be men who manage their children and family well” (1Timothy 3: 8-12)
Besides these, some additional considerations may be mentioned:
A new formation program for the Permanent Diaconate of the Diocese of Savannah will begin at a date to be determined and continue for five years. On one weekend per month for twelve months each year, at a location to be decided, candidates and their spouses (if applicable), will meet from Friday evening to Saturday afternoon for a program for spiritual, academic, and pastoral formation.
The process for selecting candidates will begin on the parish level. A parish should discern if it needs and desires to have the services of a Permanent Deacon, and, if so, they should pray and search for suitable candidate(s). Parish priest(s), staff persons, and pastoral councils should be involved in the process. The parish family, as it were, may present candidates(s) for acceptance into the diocesan formation program. After interviews, testing, and recommendation by an Admissions Committee, the final acceptance of the candidate will rest with the Bishop of the Savannah Diocese. Any qualified person who is interested in the Permanent Diaconate is invited to discuss the matter with his parish priest.
For more information, please contact the director using teh form below.
A permanent deacon candidate should be a mature and zealous Christian dedicated to his Catholic Community and to its mission of loving service to all people for whom Christ died. He should be respected in his community, not so much for particular talents he possesses, as for the good example of his life, his leadership ability, and his eagerness to serve the many needs of God’s people.
He may or may not be married and may or may not have a family. If he is married, he should be certain that his wife and family support his decision to apply for the Permanent Diaconate and that they are willing to join him in his new undertaking.
He need not necessarily be a man with a college degree, but he should be a man who is willing to study at a high level to deepen his understanding of the Church’s faith and be able to share that understanding with others.
The deacon candidate should be a person of prudent and mature character who is careful in his decisions, conscientious in his judgments, and charitable in his relationships. He should be one who hears, in a prayerful spirit, Christ’s Church calling him to function in a new and on-going role: the role of the Permanent Deacon.
The ministry of a married permanent deacon will be greatly affected by the attitude and concern of his wife and family. From the very beginning, the wives and families will be involved in the formation program, providing them the opportunity to understand better the diaconal role for which their husbands are preparing and to share in the personal growth process being experienced by their husbands.
The decision to live the diaconal vocation must be one of mutuality, commitment, and love. A wife is an equal partner in the sacrament of matrimony and an individual person with her own gifts, talents, and call from God. Diaconate formation is a unique, challenging situation and opportunity for the wife, who should be invited to share as fully as possible in the formation process. The wives of the candidates will be expected to join in the entire weekend with their spouses including the academic courses, as far as possible. For those interested in earning credit hours toward a Baccalaureate or Masters Degree, this can be arranged. For the remainder of the wives, they will be allowed to audit courses free of charge. Church authority views this so crucially that it has determined that a married man cannot be considered for the diaconate without the consent of his wife. As part of the application process, she must hand-write a letter to the bishop affirming her understanding that she gives her unconditional consent for him to pursue the diaconal formation program leading to ordination. After ordination, a wife also needs to be duly informed of her husband’s activities in order to arrive at a harmonious balance between family, professional, and ecclesial responsibilities. Participating with her husband in the formation program provides her with an opportunity to discern further her own call from God, to become more aware of her gifts, to grow in her knowledge of doctrine, scripture, spirituality and ministry, and to deepen her prayer and spiritual life. To assist the wife of a married participant to give an informed consent to their husbands’ request for ordination, they will be consulted to ascertain their questions and concerns, as well as those that may have surfaced through the formation process itself. Since this is a lifetime commitment for the wives also, she will be provided with as much preparation as her husband.