Q: Pope Saint John Paul II, addressing Permanent Deacons in Detroit during his Apostolic Journey to the United States, stated that Permanent Deacons “represent a great and visible sign of the working of the Holy Spirit.” Who is a Permanent Deacon?
A: The Second Vatican Council defined the (Permanent) Diaconate as “a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy.” The Permanent Deacon is an ordained member of the Church who has received the Sacrament of Holy Orders (as does a Bishop and Priest) and is deemed a cleric. As such, he is not a layman.
Q: What is the relationship of the Permanent Deacon within the Church’s hierarchy?
A: The Council stated that, “The sacrament of apostolic ministry comprises three degrees. Indeed, ‘the divinely instituted ecclesiastical ministry is exercised in different degrees by those who even from ancient times have been called bishops, priests and deacons.” (Lumen Gentium, 28) The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education states, “St. Ignatius of Antioch considers a Church without a bishop, priest or deacon, unthinkable. … the ministry of deacons is nothing other than ‘the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before time began and who appeared at the end of time.’ They are not deacons of food and drink but ministers of the Church of God.” (Norms, II.2.)
Q: Why did the Council reinstate the Permanent Diaconate?
A: For three reasons – 1) a desire to enrich the Church with the functions of the diaconate 2) the intention to strengthen with the grace of diaconal ordination those who already exercise many of the functions of the diaconate and 3) concern to provide regions, where there was a shortage of clergy, with sacred ministers.
Q: Are Permanent Deacons the “married clergy” of the Catholic Church?
A: Actually, the rule of clerical celibacy attaches to the deacon as well as the priest, only in a different way. Mature men in stable marriages are permitted to be ordained. In fact, Pope St. John Paul II told the Permanent Deacons that the fruitfulness of their ministries “has been made possible by the love and support and collaboration of your wives”. A wife’s consent and support is required before her husband’s ordination. Unmarried younger men also may be ordained as Permanent Deacons, though they must adhere to celibacy. Should, God forbid, a Deacon’s wife predecease him, he will remain celibate as he promises in writing before ordination.
Q: Once ordained, what are the responsibilities of a Permanent Deacon?
A: The Directory for … Permanent Deacons states, “The Sacrament of Holy Orders marks deacons “with an imprint (‘character’) which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the ‘deacon’ or servant of all.” Then it goes on, “For this level of Holy Orders, Christ calls and the Church asks the bishop to ordain deacons to be consecrated witnesses to service. In his post-synodal exhortation The Church in America, Pope John Paul II makes his own the words of the bishops of that gathering: “We see with joy how deacons ‘sustained by the grace of the Sacrament, in the ministry (diakonia) of the liturgy, of the word and of charity are at the service of the People of God, in communion with the Bishop and his priests.’” Once again, the Directory envisions a three-fold mission, or ministry of the Deacon; 1) assistance at the liturgies 2) proclamation of the Gospel, including preaching when appropriate and 3) the ministry of charity (such as prison ministry, food pantries, pregnancy centers and the like.) The deacon is the ordinary minister of the Sacrament of Baptism and of Holy Communion, particularly of the Chalice of the Precious Blood, he can assist at Holy Matrimony, administer sacramentals, give certain blessings and viaticum to the dying.
Q: Can’t laypeople do the ministries of charity?
A: Of course, and they are encouraged to do so. The Deacon brings with him the symbol of Christ the Servant, and grace of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the presence of the Church’s hierarchy to that ministry which is a real support, encouragement and spiritual empowerment for everyone involved in that ministry of service.
Q: How will new Permanent Deacons be chosen?
A: Ordination to the Diaconate is a vocation, that is, a calling from God, attested by the Church, to the Sacrament of Holy Orders. This is somewhat mystical. It begins with an inner witness, a sense of being called to a deeper, constant and abiding service to our Lord Christ, to His Church and to the world. This is usually obvious to others, the man’s pastor, certain spiritual companions, and, if married, his wife. The discernment (the discovery, comprehension, understanding) of this call is made by the illumination of the Holy Spirit to the man himself and to the Church through his Bishop, who calls the man to Orders. He is helped along the way by the intercession of the Blessed Mother and the saints, his family, his pastor and formators, and by the prayers and support of the People of God.
Q: Who is qualified to become a Deacon?
A: Requirements for application include that the man must be a Catholic who has received all the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion), he should be spiritually devoted and active in the Church. He should be at least 30 and no more than 62 years old, healthy, educated, financially stable, registered in a diocesan parish and, if married, in a mature, valid and stable marriage. Single applicants must be ready to contemplate lifelong celibacy.
Q: If a man senses he may have that call, where does he begin?
A: He begins by making the question a matter of prayer, perhaps with a retreat, a holy hour, a fast or some meaningful spiritual expression. He should make an appointment to sit down with his pastor and discuss it. His pastor, or another priest, may petition Bishop Gainer for an application. The applications will be made available beginning March 15 and must be completed no later than June 15, 2015. If his application is successful, he will enter the aspirancy year which is devoted to the discernment of his call. If after the first year his formators and the Bishop agree he is called, he will be admitted as a candidate to the four years of formation. God willing, the ordination would take place in the spring of 2020.
Q: What is the time line for this formation class?
A: 03/15/2015 – Applications available
03/16/2015-06/15/2015 Applications processed
06/15/2015 – 07/14/2015 – Interviews & Pastoral Visits
07/31/2015 – Acceptance Letters
08/21-23/2015 – Aspirants Retreat (St Francis Retreat House, Easton, PA)
09/15 – 08/16 – Aspirancy year
08/14-16/2016 – Retreat & Rite of Admission to Candidacy
09/16 – Initial Formation Year begins
09/17 – Second Year
09/18 – Third Year
09/19 – Fourth year
04/20 – 5/20 – Retreat & Ordination
Q: How can I learn more about this program?
A: Informational presentations will be held at the Diocesan Conference Center, 4800 Union Deposit Road, Harrisburg, PA 17111 on April 11 at 2 p.m. and April 15 at 7 p.m. For more information contact Father Paul CB Schenck, Acting Director of the Office for the Formation of Permanent Deacons: at firstname.lastname@example.org or (717) 657-4804 ext. 282.
Listen to an interview with Father Paul CB Schenck about the new Formation Class.