1.0 THE NATURE OF THE DIACONATE
1.1 The History of the Diaconate
The diaconate has its origins in the apostolic times and flourished in the first four centuries of the Church's history. Later, for very complex reasons, the diaconate, as a ministry in its own right, went into decline and eventually became a temporary step on the path to the priesthood in the western Church.
With the Apostolic Letter Sacrum diaconatus ordinem (June 1967), Pope Paul VI implemented the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council, and restored the diaconate as a permanent ministry in the Church. As stated in the Introduction to the Basic Norms for the Formation Of Permanent Deacons, this was done for three primary reasons: "(1) a desire to enrich the Church with the functions of the diaconate, which otherwise, in many regions, could only be exercised with great difficulty; (2) the intention of strengthening with the grace of diaconal ordination those who already exercised many of the functions of the Diaconate; (3) a concern to provide regions, where there was a shortage of clergy, with sacred ministers."
Lumen Gentium states that deacons are ordained "'not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service.' For strengthened by sacramental grace, in communion with the bishop and his group of priests, they serve in the diaconate of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity to the people of God. It is the duty of the deacon to administer baptism solemnly, to be custodian and dispenser of the Eucharist, to assist at and bless marriages in the name of the Church, to bring Viaticum to the dying, to read the Sacred Scripture to the faithful, to instruct and exhort the people, to preside over the worship and prayer of the faithful, to administer sacramentals, to officiate at funeral and burial services. Dedicated to duties of charity and of administration, let deacons be mindful of the admonition of Blessed Polycarp: 'Be merciful, diligent, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who became the servant of all.'" Lumen Gentium 29
1.2 The Ministerial Life of the Deacon
The sacrament of holy orders marks deacons with an indelible character which configures them to Christ, who made himself the 'deacon' or servant of all. Deacons, sustained by the grace of this sacrament and in communion with the bishop and his priests, are at the service of the people of God in the three-fold ministry of the altar, of the Word and of charity.
Deacons, both married and celibate, serve God's people by their witness to the Gospel value of sacrificial love, a quality of life too easily dismissed in today's society. In their secular employment, deacons also make evident the dignity of human work.
1.2.1 Minister of the Altar
The deacon, in exercising his ministry of the altar, leads or assists the community in worship and helps bring Christ's redemptive gift of himself to the people. By participating in the Church's liturgy, the deacon draws the strength to sustain his own Christian life, obtains the grace to carry out his ministry, and reminds the faithful of their own baptismal call to serve as Jesus did.
1.2.2 Minister of the Word
The deacon, in exercising his ministry of the Word, proclaims the Gospel during the liturgy, and brings the good news of the Gospel into the world where he lives and works. His involvement in secular life provides him with unique insights that help lead the Church to a richer and deeper appreciation of the faith by which it lives.
1.2.3 Minister of Charity
The deacon, in exercising his ministry of charity, acts as "the eyes and ears, the mouth, heart, and soul of the bishop." Accordingly, deacons identify the spiritually and materially needy, report their needs to the bishop and the Church, and direct the Church's loving service to them, thereby representing the care of Christ the Servant.
1.3 The Spiritual Life of the Deacon
Deacons are obliged to give priority to the spiritual life and to live their diaconal life with generosity. They should integrate their family obligations, professional life, and ministerial responsibilities so as to grow in their commitment to the person and mission of Christ the Servant. Clerics have a special obligation to seek holiness in their lives because they are consecrated to God by a new title in the reception of orders as dispensers of God's mysteries in the service of His people.
1.3.1 Life of Prayer
The deacon is obligated to recite daily at least Morning Prayer (Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers) of the Liturgy of the Hours. (Canon 276, §2) In addition, the deacon will devote himself to reading and meditating on the Word of God and frequently receive the sacrament of holy Eucharist and the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.
1.3.2 Annual Retreat
The deacon is obligated to take part in an annual spiritual retreat offered by or approved by the Office of Deacons in Ministry. (Canon 276, §4)
1.3.3 Spiritual Direction
The deacon is expected to seek out and regularly meet with a qualified spiritual director, who can assist the deacon in his desire to grow spiritually in a whole and healthy manner.
1.3.4 Support Groups
By virtue of ordination, a sacramental fraternity unites deacons; therefore, deacons are encouraged to gather in small groups to pray and offer mutual support. These groups may be based on geography (e.g., deanery), age, marital status, ordination class, etc., and, where appropriate, may include the wives and widows of deacons.
1.4 The Family Life of the Deacon
The men God calls to the diaconate come from all walks of life. The family of every deacon becomes an integral part of his ministry following his ordination. He has to balance the needs of his family and his work with the demands of his ministry. Although this can be challenging, a functioning and thriving family life is a necessary source of strength and support the deacon needs to be effective in his ministry. The family is the "domestic church", and it is out of this church that his vocation grows and exists.
1.4.1 Married Deacons
The majority of permanent deacons in the United States are married and bring to the sacrament of holy orders the gifts already received through their participation in the sacrament of marriage. The deacon and his wife become a living example of fidelity and indissolubility in Christian marriage before a world in dire need of such signs. By facing the demands of daily living in a spirit of faith, they strengthen family life not only within the Church community, but throughout the whole of society. They also show how the obligations of family life, work and ministry can be harmonized in the service of the Church's mission. The married deacon must always remember that through his participation in both vocational sacraments, first in matrimony and again in holy orders, he is challenged to be faithful to both. He now must involve his wife and family intimately in both, while giving priority to being a husband, and when applicable, a father.
The deacon's wife is an integral part of the diaconate community within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. She must give her consent before her husband can even apply to enter the formation process. She is required to fully participate with him throughout the entire formation process, so that husband and wife can grow together and discern what their family's priorities will be as they transition into their new life together as a deacon couple, always aware that diaconal ministry succeeds only in the context of a good marital and spiritual balance. Deacon wives are always invited and encouraged to attend and participate, as much as possible, in any ministerial, spiritual, educational or social opportunities offered to their husbands
1.4.2 Celibate Deacons
The Church acknowledges the gift of celibacy that God grants to certain of its members. Those who wholeheartedly embrace and live it, demonstrate a total and undivided consecration to Christ and his Church, and a greater freedom to serve God and his people.
Each deacon, even those deacons who are married, need to understand the nature of celibacy, its values and its practice, as this will help him prepare for the possibility of living a celibate lifestyle in the event his wife predeceases him. Likewise, a celibate man must be fully at peace with his chosen lifestyle and understand that the reception of holy orders will forever preclude him from entering into the sacrament of marriage.
1.4.3 Widowed Deacons
The death of a married deacon's wife is a particular moment in life which calls for faith and Christian hope because it introduces a new reality into the daily routine of the deacon's family and ministry. Upon the death of a deacon's wife, the deacon, or someone close to him, shall notify the Director of Deacons, who will inform the larger church community, so that they may offer prayers, comfort and support.
As the widowed deacon assesses and accepts his new personal circumstances, he must carefully consider his obligations to his family and, in particular, any needs they may have. The widowed deacon should not hesitate to seek professional counsel and spiritual direction to assist him in the grieving process and adjust to his new role as a single man.
Note: Canon 1087 expressly prohibits one in holy orders from entering into marriage.
Therefore, a married deacon whose wife precedes him in death is committed to a life of celibacy and cannot remarry. Dispensation from this law is rare and can be granted only by the Holy See.
1.4.4 Deacon Widows
For a deacon wife, the death of her husband calls for a uniquely pastoral response from the diaconate community. Diaconal ministry has its very roots in caring for widows (see Acts 6:1-6). Even more so, the widow of a deacon needs to be shown that type of communal love and support.
Widows of deacons remain vital and integral members of the diaconate community and ought to remain connected with it, not only because of the support and encouragement it can provide, but also because of the unique bonds that are forged by the couple during their formation and ministry journey.
Deacon widows are invited and encouraged to participate in the many social gatherings that the deacon community engages in: deacon ordinations, deacon Christmas Party, deacon Memorial Mass, as well as regional events hosted by the local deacon councils.
1.4.5 Marriages Experiencing Difficulties
Difficulties within the marriage relationship can and do happen. When these difficulties occur, the deacon and his wife are encouraged to seek appropriate help, including counseling, therapy, spiritual direction, etc. Participation in the Retrovaille program, a Christian-based ministry committed to the continued healing of marriages is also strongly encouraged. (https://www.helpourmarriage.org/)
Because of the importance of the marital relationship to a married deacon's ministry, prior to approaching civil authorities, the deacon and/or his wife should notify the deacon's pastoral supervisor and the Director of Deacons of serious issues that could jeopardize their marriage bond. In this way, the couple may receive appropriate support and assistance. The archbishop may approve a leave of absence from diaconal ministry when necessary to help resolve the difficulties the couple are experiencing. During the leave, the deacon and/or his wife will provide the Director of Deacons with periodic updates as to the status of their situation.
1.4.6 Separated/Divorced Deacons
Despite a couple's best efforts at reconciliation, separation and/or divorce between a deacon and his wife can happen. In this situation, suitable pastoral care should be offered to the deacon, his wife, and their children. This pastoral care, which may be facilitated by the Director of Deacons or any other qualified person on behalf of the archbishop, should include ample time to work through the various stages of grieving and adjustment caused by divorce.
For this reason, any deacon who is separated from his wife will have his situation reviewed by the Vicar for Clergy, who will determine the appropriate path forward with regard to the deacon's ministry.
A deacon who is separated or divorced, even if he subsequently receives an annulment, may not remarry.