The Role of the Deacon
by Dc. Dan Grelle
In the early Church, the deacon was originally described as a person actively participating in the ministry of the word and of charity. He oversaw the community’s finances, particularly for the care of widows and orphans. He was a preacher of the word and assisted in works of charity. His was a call to service.
The role of the deacon today is very similar to his role in the early Church. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), “A deacon is an ordained minister of the Catholic Church. There are three groups, or "orders," of ordained ministers in the Church: bishops, presbyters and deacons. Deacons are ordained as a sacramental sign to the Church and to the world of Christ, who came "to serve and not to be served." The entire Church is called by Christ to serve, and the deacon, in virtue of his sacramental ordination and through his various ministries, is to be a servant in a servant-Church.” In fact, the word deacon derives from the Greek diakonia, meaning “service”.
A deacon can baptize, preach during the Mass, officiate at a Catholic wedding, and lead communion services. Deacons, however, cannot administer the Sacraments of Confirmation or Anointing of the Sick. Nor can they hear confessions or consecrate the Eucharist.
There are three essential functions of a deacon: ministry of the word, ministry of the altar, and ministry of charity. As minister of the word, the deacon is called to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed. He also may serve through catechetical instruction of candidates and families preparing for the reception of the sacraments. He may have a leadership role in retreats, evangelization, and renewal programs. Some deacons become counselors and provide spiritual direction, if properly trained.
As minister of the altar, the deacon serves and assists the priest at Mass. He leads the penitential rite, proclaims the Gospel, and sometimes presents the homily to help others better understand the readings at Mass. He presents the prayers and needs of the people to God through the petitions. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the deacon receives the offerings of the faithful and prepares the altar for the consecration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. He raises the chalice as the celebrant raises the consecrated bread at the end of the Eucharistic prayer. The deacon invites the community to share the sign of peace and helps with the distribution of Holy Communion, bringing Christ to all the faithful. At the conclusion of the Mass, he dismisses the community and sends them forth to live the gospel. When the deacon serves at Mass, he is the living sign of the servanthood of Christ and helps the faithful to participate more fully in the celebration of the Eucharist.
As minister of charity, the deacon is called to serve the community through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Examples of this work may include ministering to the poor and homeless or caring for the sick and elderly who are homebound, in nursing homes, or in hospice facilities. Some deacons comfort the sorrowful by assisting at funerals and consoling those who have lost a loved one. Others bring a message of hope to those who are imprisoned. In all these situations, the joy and the love of our Lord are brought to those in need of a compassionate heart. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt. 25:40)
At the heart of every deacon is service. In a meeting with deacons and their families in June 2021, Pope Francis described the role of a deacon as “The generosity of a deacon, who gives of himself without seeking the front ranks, has about him the perfume of the Gospel. He tells of the greatness of God's humility...” Our parish is blessed with 11 deacons. Pray for them, and the next time you see one of our deacons, thank them for the good work they
do in our parish and community.
Dc. Dan Grelle