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"One of the greatest legacies of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was its renewal and encouragement of the order of deacon throughout the entire Church…" NDPD, 1)1
The Second Vatican Council restored the Permanent Diaconate to the Universal Church (LG 29), and in 1967 Pope Paul VI implemented the Council's decision by establishing the canonical norms for the permanent diaconate with the Apostolic Letter "Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem" issued on June 18.
In the United States, the Bishop's petitioned the Holy See in 1968 for authorization to restore the Permanent Diaconate presenting the following reasons:
- To complete the hierarchy of sacred orders and to enrich and strengthen the many and various diaconal ministries at work in the United States with the sacramental grace of the diaconate
- To enlist a new group of devout and competent men in active ministry of the Church
- To aid in extending needed liturgical and charitable services to the faithful in both large urban and small rural communities
- To provide an impetus and source for creative adaptations of diaconal ministries to the rapidly changing needs of our society. (NDPD, 5)
In Milwaukee, the first class of deacons was ordained in 1975. Since that time there have been over 235 deacons ordained in the Archdiocese. Currently, twelve men were ordained in June of this year. In the United States at the present time, there nearly 17,000 deacons. World-wide there are about 35,000, with ~50% of the world's dioceses reporting the presence of deacons.
"Central to Second Vatican Council's teaching on the Church is the service of ministry bestowed by Christ upon the apostles and their successors. The office of the bishop is a true service, which in sacred literature is significantly called a 'diakonia' or ministry. The Council Fathers teach that the bishops, with priests and deacons as helpers, have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church. Priests and deacons are seen as complimentary but subordinate participants in the one apostolic ministry bestowed by Christ…" (NDPD, 2)
The Sacred Order of Deacon is for the Church:
"…a driving force for the Church's service or diakonia toward the local Christian community as a sign or sacrament of the Lord Christ himself, who 'came not to be served but to serve.'" (NDPD, 3)
"…a living icon of Christ the Servant within the Church." (Ibid)
"…is linked with the missionary dimension of the Church: the missionary efforts of the deacon will embrace the ministry of WORD, the LITURGY, and works of CHARITY/JUSTICE which in turn, are carried into daily life." (Ibid)
Role and Function of the Deacon (NDPD, 27-30)
- He is a consecrated witness to service
- A cleric, ordained to diakonia - service to God's people in communion with the Bishop and his body of priests
- He is a collaborator with the bishop and the priests in the exercise of a ministry which is not of their own wisdom, but the Word of God - calling all to conversion and holiness. (The deacon is a listener, healer, unifier, a seer, and a visionary)
- He promotes and supports the apostolate of the laity - to evangelize the world
- Moving as he does, through the secular environment and structures - he fosters closeness between the ordained and lay activities in common service to the Kingdom of God
- Brings the presence of Christ and His Church into family, work, school, etc. in addition to the pastoral structures of the parish, diocese, and the greater Church
FOOTNOTE: 1 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, NATIONAL DIRECTORY for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States. Washington, D.C.: USCCB Publishing, 2004.