What is a Deacon?A Catholic Deacon is an ordained minister of the Roman Catholic Church. There are three groups of ordained ministers in the Catholic Church: Bishops, Presbyters (priests) and Deacons. Deacons are ordained as a sacramental sign to the Church and to the world of Christ, who came “ to serve not to be served.” The entire Church is called by Christ to serve, and the Deacon, in virtue of his ordination and through his ministries, is to be a servant in a servant-Church.(http://usccb.org/deacon/faqs.shtml)
What Do Deacons Do?All ordained Deacons are called to the functions of Word, Sacrament, and Charity. As ministers of the Word, Deacons proclaim the Gospel, preach and teach in the name of the Church. As ministers of the sacraments, deacons baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services. As ministers of charity, Deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others, then marshaling Church resources to meet those needs. Deacons are also dedicated to eliminating injustices or inequities that cause such needs.(http://www.usccb.org/deacon/faqs.shtml)
It began with the seven Deacons. The historical beginning of the Deacon ministry is recorded in Acts (6:1-6). At that time the number of disciples was growing fast. Friction developed between the Greek and Hebrew followers because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. So the twelve Apostles called together the community of disciples and said, “ It is not right for us to neglect the Word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit of Wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas, we shall devote ourselves to prayer and ministry of the Word.” The proposal was accepted by the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, also Phillip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parenas, and Nicholas of Antioch. They presented these men to the Apostiles, who prayed and laid hands on them. The term that was used to describe Stephan and the others selected was the Greek word “diacona,” which is translated as “servant” or “Minister.” As you can see, the early Deacons had a key role in the life of the Church. In fact, the first martyr was Saint Stephen. In Stephen’s preaching that Jesus was the Messiah, the Jews treated his proclamation as blasphemies against Moses and God. Eventually the Pharisaic zealots seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin on the charge of speaking against the Temple and the Law. Stephen proclaimed, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.” Without even going through the formality of condemning him to death, the zealots dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. For more information, see Acts 7:1-53 (Stephen’s Discourse), Acts 7:54-60 (Stephen’s Martyrdom), and Acts 8:26-40 (Phillp and the eunuch). The need for Deacons diminished as time passed with Catholicism becoming the official religion of Rome, and the huge increases of priests and religious. Consequently, the Diaconate as a distinct Sacrament of Orders essentially became inactive in the Latin Church for some 1000 years. The Diaconate essentially became more of a transitional step on the way to priesthood. However, the Eastern Rite Church continued the tradition of the permanent Diaconate. On June 18, 1967, the Second Vatican Council restored the permanent Diaconate (Apostalic Letter: Sacrum Diaonatus Ordinem) in the Latin Church. By this letter the Diaconate was restored to give depth to the ordained ministry and official Church presence in the business world.