The Permanent Diaconate

Keeping in mind the example of Jesus, the Apostles
selected and ordained a number of men specifically for this service.

For
a number of centuries, deacons ministered in close co-operation with
the bishops of the Church, assisting at the Eucharist, preaching the
Gospel, and exercising a ministry of charity.

Francis of Assisi,
founder of the Franciscan Orders, is probably one of the best known
deacons, though many tend to assume that he was a priest. Gradually, in
the Western Church, the functions of deacons were absorbed into the
ministry of the priest, and the diaconate became a transitional order,
for those on the way to priesthood. The diaconate continued to exist as
a permanent ministry in the Eastern Churches, including those in full
communion with Rome.

Renewal
The Second Vatican
Council envisaged a renewal of ministry, both lay and ordained, in the
Church. The Council’s Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium,
explains that the lay faithful, by virtue of their Baptism, are
commissioned to an active apostolate and insists that “every
opportunity be given them so that, according to their abilities and the
needs of the times, they may zealously participate in the saving work
of the Church.”

The Second Vatican Council also proposed the
restoration of the diaconate as a “distinct ministry of service” to be
exercised “in communion with the bishop and his group of priests”. Many
of the functions which deacons perform can also be carried out by
members of the lay faithful. The restoration of the diaconate is not
intended in any sense to change that situation. The idea is that some
of those who already exercise these functions would be “strengthened
with the grace of diaconal ordination” and in that way would be
designated to be a visible public sign of the Christ the Servant in the
community of the Church.

What do Permanent Deacons Do?
The
first responsibility of the deacon is to be an effective visible sign
of Christ who came to serve rather than to be served. Although the
ministry of the deacon may be exercised on a part-time basis, he
remains at all times a deacon and he is called, in his life-style, to
reflect this.

The ministry of the deacon is an expression of his
being, as the documents say, an icon of Christ the servant. The areas
of ministry which may be entrusted to deacons fall under three general
headings, Altar, Word and Charity. They include:
Altar
• Assisting the priest at the celebration of the Eucharist
• Bringing the Eucharist to the sick at home and in hospitals
• The formation of altar servers and Ministers of the Eucharist
• Presiding at Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament
• The celebration of Baptism
• Celebrating marriages (with the appropriate delegation)
• Presiding at funerals
Word
• Proclaiming the Gospel at the Liturgy
• Preaching the homily
• Participating in sacramental preparation programmes
• The formation of Ministers of the Word
• Facilitating study of, and prayer with, the scriptures
Charity
• Facilitating the development of lay ministry
• Visiting the sick
• Visiting prisoners
• Visiting the bereaved
• Youth ministry, and the facilitation of peer-ministry among young people
• Promoting awareness of the social teaching of the Church
• The promotion of justice and human rights

A
permanent deacon is not a “lone ranger.” He receives his mission from
the Archbishop, and will be assigned to work as a member of a team,
normally under the leadership of a parish priest. He is called to
minister in close co-operation with priests and with members of the lay
faithful who are entrusted with various ministries.

Collaborative
ministry is already a reality in very many parishes, especially with
the development of Parish Pastoral Councils, baptism teams, bereavement
support groups etc. Deacons are not intended to replace lay ministers.
On the contrary, in many places, they play a key role in the
development and co-ordination of lay ministry. Neither are deacons
intended to be “mini-priests,” making up for a shortage of vocations.
The Vatican Council was quite clear that, alongside the diaconate, the
role of the ordained priesthood must continue to be fostered because
without the priest there is no Eucharist and without the Eucharist
there is no Church.

Who Is Eligible to Become a Deacon?
It
is the Archbishop who, in the name of the Church, calls a man to
ordination as deacon. Any decision to call a man to the order of deacon
must follow from a mature discernment. In other words, it is a decision
rooted in faith. The bishop needs to satisfy himself that a man, who
has already been called by God in the Sacrament of Baptism, is now
called by God to ordained ministry, as a further expression of his
baptismal vocation.

Candidates for the permanent diaconate may
be married or unmarried. The upper age limit for ordination is
sixty-five years of age.

Married Candidates:
The
Church is concerned that there should be no potential for conflict
between the responsibilities of ordained ministry and the need of a
couple in the early years of their married life to devote their time
and energy to maturing in their relationship and to caring for young
children. For that reason, a married man must have reached the age of
thirty-five before he can be ordained to the permanent diaconate. He
must also have the formal consent of his wife.

Unmarried Candidates:
Unmarried
candidates must have reached the age of twenty five before they can be
ordained as permanent deacons. In keeping with the tradition of the
Church, those who are ordained as single men make a solemn promise of
celibacy.

What Personal Qualities are Required?
A prospective candidate for the permanent diaconate must:
•    have a genuine sense of vocation to this calling.
•    be a baptized and confirmed man who is active in the practice of his Catholic faith.
•    be actively involved in the parish or charitable work and highly recommended by his parish priest and parishioners.

[if married…] have been married at least five years and living in a
stable and valid marriage, enjoying the full support of his wife who
will participate actively in the formation programme, and be willing to
remain celibate if his wife precedes him in death.
•    [if
single…] enjoy a stable, settled life, a history of healthy
relationships, and be able and willing to accept celibacy,
understanding the implications of this charism.
•    [if widowed…] have had at least two years to heal from the death of his wife.
•    possess the human, spiritual and intellectual capacity to participate fully in the formation programme.

possess natural gifts for ministry, demonstrate maturity and balance,
enjoy good physical and mental health with no condition which would
impede ministry and have no history of any significant compulsions or
addictions.
•    be free of all force or pressure in making his application.
•    be able to sustain an adequate standard of living for himself and, in so far as it is applicable, for his family.
•    be able to give the time required for study and service without detriment to his family.
•    be willing to be subject to the child protection vetting procedures as required by Our Children our Church.

not belong to any organisation or engage in any work or professional
activity that is, according to the norms of the Church and the prudent
judgement of the Archbishop, inconsistent with the diaconal ministry.
•    be free of all irregularities and impediments to Orders.

How do I know if I am Suited to the Permanent Diaconate?
Before
he is formally accepted as a candidate for the permanent diaconate an
aspirant is invited to participate in what is known as the propaedeutic period. During this period, which lasts approximately one year, he engages in a
process of discernment which is intended to help him to arrive at a
better understanding of himself and of ministry in the Church, so as to
be able to make an initial decision which is fully free and
unconditioned by personal interests or external pressures of any sort.

The propaedeutic period incorporates the formal application process and, as such, it
affords
the Archbishop the opportunity, together with his advisors, to arrive
at some initial evaluation of the aspirant as a potential candidate for
ordained ministry.

The focus of the propaedeutic period will be
on the vocation of the candidate and, in the event that he is married,
its implications for his family. Those who are accepted into the
propaedeutic period begin a year-long programme that focuses on
spiritual and human formation, and on what it means to be a deacon. The
programme includes five weekends focused on prayer, instruction and
reflection, two days of reflection, and a retreat. Because this is
essentially a time of discernment, the applicant’s wife, if he is
married, will be asked to take part in at least some of these events.

Weekend One: Focus on the Call to Ministry.
This weekend will focus on ministry in the Church, both in general and with specific reference to the Diaconate.
Weekend Two: Ministry and Marriage.
This
weekend will provide an opportunity to look at some of the implications
of ministry as a Permanent Deacon in relation to the candidate’s
marriage.
Weekend Three: Prayer and Spiritual Direction.
The
focus of this weekend will be on spiritual formation. Applicants will
be helped to explore various approaches to and supports for prayer, as
well as spiritual direction.
Weekend Four: Personal Awareness and Development.
The
focus of this weekend is to help the participants look at their
personal strengths and limitations as well as areas for continued human
formation.
Weekend Five: Interview.
The principal focus of this weekend will be the process of interview.

What Kind of Training is Provided?
Training
for ordained ministry is usually referred to as formation, because it
is more than just training for a job; it is about preparing for a way
of life. Following the propaedeutic period, candidates who are accepted
into the formation programme will begin a three year period of
preparation for ordained ministry, which includes academic study,
spiritual, human and pastoral formation.
The overall purpose of the
formation programme is to help each candidate to reach a mature
understanding of his faith, and to develop the personal and pastoral
skills which will enable him to share this faith with others through
the exercise of a ministry of charity which also has a significant
liturgical dimension.

Academic Formation
The
academic dimension of the programme will include the study of
Scripture, Dogmatic Theology (the faith of the Church), Moral Theology
(the implications of faith for relationship and for action), Liturgy
(how the Church prays as a community), Spirituality, Canon Law, and
Ecclesiastical History, as well as relevant elements of philosophy,.
Evaluation of the candidate from an academic point of view will take
into account his performance in the classroom context, the satisfactory
completion of regular assignments and the feedback from his tutor. The
fundamental courses at least will conclude with an examination and at
the end of the three years there will be a comprehensive examination.

Pastoral Formation
Among the elements included in the pastoral formation programme will be

The care of the poor and the work of justice (including familiarity
with and involvement in the work of the SVDP and other agencies which
give effect to the Church’s social concern).
•    The pastoral care of prisoners and their families.
•     The pastoral care of the sick at home and in hospital.
•    Participation in the communal prayer and the liturgical life of the community.

Participation in the building up of the community, through effective
and appropriate involvement in small groups, committees, movements and
voluntary bodies.
•    Proclamation of the word of God in various pastoral contexts.
•    The pastoral care of the bereaved.

While
there will be formal workshops, much of the pastoral formation
programme will take place in the parish, under the guidance and
direction of a named priest. It will be tailored to the individual, and
will take account of the stage of formation which he has reached, and
the ministries which he has received. Provision will be made for
structured reflection on pastoral action and experience.

Spiritual Formation
The
spiritual formation of the future deacon will be integrated with his
academic formation. It will take into account his previous experience
of spiritual life, and will seek to affirm and strengthen it. He will
be helped, through prayer, spiritual direction and practical experience
to deepen his relationship with Christ, and to develop a spirituality
which enables him to offer himself, as Christ did, in the service of
his brothers and sisters, especially those who are most vulnerable.

Human Formation
The
human formation element of the programme will include some scheduled
workshops, but much of it will take place in the context of working
together with other candidates, in pastoral placement, and in
reflecting on these experiences with his formation director.

The aim of this human formation is to help the candidate to develop the personal skills which will enable him to
•    balance the needs of his own family with the requirements of ministry.
•    develop and maintain appropriate pastoral relationships.
•    communicate and work constructively and effectively with others.

observe appropriate boundaries, and develop the kind of personal
discipline which will enable him to establish ministerial priorities,
and to care appropriately for his own well-being in body, mind and
spirit.

The director of diaconal formation has overall
responsibility for the formation programme, and it will be his
responsibility in the final analysis, taking account of the evaluation
of pastoral and academic tutors to make a recommendation to the
Archbishop regarding ordination and future ministry. While spiritual
direction is an integral element in the formation process, the
relationship of the candidate with his spiritual director is a
privileged one, and its confidentiality is fully respected.

How Would Diaconate Impinge on my Employment?
The
diaconate is an active ministry, not an honorary position. Being a
deacon involves a serious level of commitment, both at the stage of
preparation and after ordination.

As a general rule, deacons
exercise a voluntary, part-time ministry, and amount of time given to
this ministry will depend to some extent on the individual and family
circumstances of the deacon concerned. Some deacons, if they have taken
early retirement or reduced their work commitments, may be able to
offer a greater time commitment.

Deacons who exercise a
part-time ministry are entitled to work in their chosen career to
support themselves and their families. It is important, however, that
their employment is both practically and morally consistent with the
exercise of ordained ministry.

It may occasionally happen that,
alongside his voluntary service, the full-time employment of a deacon
is within some agency or service of the Church. Although he is, at all
times, a deacon, a distinction needs to be made between his employment
and his voluntary ministry, not least because he may be answerable to
different people in respect of each.

From the point of view of
remuneration, Canon law distinguishes between deacons who are asked to
exercise their ministry full-time, and those who have an income from
secular employment. “Married deacons who dedicate themselves full-time
to the ecclesiastical ministry deserve remuneration sufficient to
provide for themselves and their families. Those, however, who receive
remuneration by reason of a secular profession which they exercise or
have exercised, are to see to their own and to their families’ needs
from that income”.

Those who exercise a voluntary part-time
ministry would normally receive expenses related to the exercise of
their ministry, according to an agreed system. Once a deacon has been
ordained he will be insured against personal injury sustained in the
course of his ministry, and against claims made by third parties,
arising out of advice he has given, services which he has provided or
failed to provide etc.

How Do I Make an Application?
In
the first instance, a man who is considering the possibility of
offering himself for service as a deacon in the Archdiocese of Armagh,
should make contact with his parish priest.

Following initial
discussion at local level, contact may be made with the Diocesan
Director for the Permanent Diaconate. An arrangement will be made to
meet with him and, where applicable, with his wife, in order to explore
any questions he/they may have, and to decide whether it would be
appropriate for him to participate in the propaedeutic period.

Applications will be welcomed from
•    men who are living in the Archdiocese of Armagh, or

men who, though resident in a neighbouring diocese, are significantly
involved in some form of pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Armagh.

During
the initial enquiry stage, a recommendation will be sought from the
man’s parish priest, or from a priest who has responsibility for some
area of ministry in which the man is actively involved.

Anyone
wishing to participate in the propaedeutic programme which begins in
the Autumn, should make his initial enquiry no later than the end of
June of that year.

During the propaedeutic period every effort
will be made to accompany the aspirant on his journey of discernment,
and to help him to make a mature decision as to whether he should apply
to be accepted into the three year formation programme. Acceptance into
the propaedeutic programme is not, however, a guarantee of acceptance
into formation, or of eventual ordination to the permanent diaconate.

The Archdiocese of Armagh hopes to accept candidates for the Propadeutic Year beginning September 2009.

Prospective
applicants for the Permanent Diaconate may find it helpful to read:
The Permanent Diaconate: National Directory and Norms for Ireland,
which has been published by Veritas, and which is also available on the
web site: www.catholiccommunications.ie

For more information please contact:
Very Rev John Gates, PP, VF
Diocesan Director for The Permanent Diaconate
30 King Street
Magherafelt
Co Derry
BT45 6AS
Tel (028) 7963 2439
E-mail jgatesbrack@btconnect.com

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