Tag Archives: First Deacons

The First Deacons

May 8, 2020

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“The Call of St. Stephen.  Deacon.”

“The Call of St. Stephen. Deacon.” It is from St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Anoka, Minnesota. This window was designed by Father Michael Van Sloun in collaboration with Pickel Studios in Vero Beach, Florida.

This weekend we hear the account of the event traditionally regarded at the beginning of the office of deacon (Acts 6:1-7). Peter and the other apostles, eventually regarded as bishops, needed helpers or assistants, eventually known as deacons.

With the tremendous growth and expansion of the early Church (see Acts 2:41 and 4:4), the apostles’ workload had become excessive. The Church decided that the apostles should concentrate on prayer and the ministry of the word, and call others to assist them with table ministry and their many other responsibilities. There were seven in the first deacon class, Stephen, the head of the class, as well as Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch (Acts 6:5). Their special vocation was service.

The word “deacon” is derived from the Greek words diakonia, service, and diakonos, variously translated as servant, helper, attendant, or minister. Phil 1:1 acknowledges the evolving concept of diaconal ministry in the early Church, and 1 Tm 3:8-10,12-13 lists the necessary qualifications for the office of deacon once it had become more formally established.

The office of deacon is conferred by a bishop by the laying on of hands, and it is one of the three degrees of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The other two degrees are the presbyterate, priesthood, and the episcopate, bishop. The diaconate is a degree of service, while the presbyterate and the episcopate are degrees of priesthood. Deacons are ordained clergy who are not priests, and their special role is to assist priests.

A deacon assists the priest at Mass when he offers the invocations of the Penitential Act, proclaims the Gospel, preaches the homily occasionally, reads the petitions of the General Intercessions, receives the gifts, prepares the altar, assists with incensing, gives instructions regarding posture and movement, distributes Holy Communion, and dismisses the Assembly.

A deacon assists the priest outside of Mass when he administers the Sacrament of Baptism; brings Viaticum to the dying; presides for prayer services; officiates at wakes, funerals, and burial services; and witnesses marriages. Deacons can bless religious articles.

As ministers of service, there are many options for deacons to perform charitable good works: outreach to the poor; the visitation of the sick, either at home, in nursing homes, or in hospitals; the care of inmates in prisons and jails; the teaching of sacramental preparation and religious education classes; and various administrative duties; to name some of their important roles.

A permanent deacon must be at least thirty-five years of age, have completed his Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation), been installed as a Lector and an Acolyte, and completed a thorough formation program. If a candidate for the diaconate is married, he must receive the consent of his wife before he is eligible for ordination. Once ordained, if the deacon’s wife should die, the deacon is not eligible for remarriage.

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