At a lower level of the hierarchy are to be found deacons, who receive the imposition of hands ‘not unto the priesthood, but unto the ministry.’ At an ordination to the diaconate only the bishop lays hands on the candidate, thus signifying the deacon’s special attachment to the bishop in the tasks of his “diakonia.”
Deacons share in Christ’s mission and grace in a special way. The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint (“character”) which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the “deacon” or servant of all. Among other tasks, it is the task of the deacon to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity.
Since the Second Vatican Council the Latin Church has restored the diaconate “as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy,” while the Churches of the East had always maintained it. This permanent diaconate, which can be conferred on married men, constitutes an important enrichment for the Church’s mission. Indeed it is appropriate and useful that men who carry out a truly diaconal ministry in the Church, whether in its liturgical and pastoral life or whether in its social and charitable works, should be “strengthened by the imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles. They would be more closely bound to the altar and their ministry would be made more fruitful through the sacramental grace of the diaconate.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1569-1571
“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.” Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America, no. 22 (citing Lumen Gentium, no. 29)
31. The deacon participates as an evangelizer and teacher in the Church’s mission of heralding the word. In the liturgy of the word, especially in the Eucharist or in those liturgies where he is the presiding minister, the deacon proclaims the Gospel. He may preach by virtue of ordination and in accord with the requirements of Canon Law. Other forms of the deacon’s participation in the Church’s ministry of the word include catechetical instruction; religious formation of candidates and families preparing for the reception of the sacraments; leadership roles in retreats, evangelization, and renewal programs; outreach to alienated Catholics; and counseling and spiritual direction, to the extent that he is properly trained. The deacon also strives to “transmit the word in [his] professional [life] either explicitly or merely by [his] active presence in places where public opinion is formed and ethical norms are applied.” (DMLPD 26) From the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States
33. For the deacon, as for all members of the Church, the liturgy is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fount from which all the Church’s power flows.” For the Church gathered at worship, moreover, the ministry of the deacon is a visible, grace-filled sign of the integral connection between sharing at the Lord’s Eucharistic table and serving the many hungers felt so keenly by all God’s children. In the deacon’s liturgical ministry, as in a mirror, the Church sees a reflection of her own diaconal character and is reminded of her mission to serve as Jesus did.
36. The deacon’s ministry, as Pope John Paul II has said, “is the Church’s service sacramentalized.” Therefore, the deacon’s service in the Church’s ministry of word and liturgy would be severely deficient if his exemplary witness and assistance in the Church’s ministry of charity and justice did not accompany it. Thus, Pope John Paul II affirms both: “This is at the very heart of the diaconate to which you have been called: to be a servant of the mysteries of Christ and, at one and the same time, to be a servant of your brothers and sisters. That these two dimensions are inseparably joined together in one reality shows the important nature of the ministry which is yours by ordination.” (The Heart of the Diaconate: Servants of the Mysteries of Christ and Servants of Your Brothers and Sisters, Address to Deacons of the United States, Detroit, 1987).
39. By ordination, the deacon, who sacramentalizes the Church’s service, is to exercise the Church’s diakonia. Therefore, “the diaconal ministries, distinguished above, are not to be separated; the deacon is ordained for them all, and no one should be ordained who is not prepared to undertake each in some way.” (PDG 43) … In preaching the word, he is involved in every kind of missionary outreach. In sanctifying God’s People through the liturgy, he infuses and elevates people with new meaning and with a Christian worldview. In bringing Christ’s reign into every stratum of society, the deacon develops a Christian conscience among all people of good will, motivating their service and commitment to the sanctity of human life.
The goal of human formation is a fuller development of one’s humanity, made in the image and likeness of God, to be in relationship with God and with one another. The capacity to relate to others is fundamental for a person called to be in service for the community. Growth in the understanding of the fullness of oneself (body, mind, heart, and spirit) focuses on these aspects: growing in virtue, developing moral conscience, maintaining physical wellbeing, nurturing healthy relationships and communication skills, exploring psychological competence, and studying arts, sciences, and politics of human life and society.
The spiritual formation is rooted likewise in being created in the image and likeness of God (Cf. Gen 1:26). A deacon’s spiritual formation respects God as the creator of all humanity, who desires intimacy in a real and personal way, evidenced in the miracle of the incarnation: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” (Jn 1:14). God relates to each of us, challenging us to be ever aware of God’s creative dialogue and relationship with us. “The Spiritual life is, therefore, dynamic and never static,” as our bishops remind us in the guiding document for diaconal formation (National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States). The first goal of spiritual formation is the establishment and nourishment of attitude, habits, and practices that will set the foundation for a lifetime of ongoing spiritual discipline.
“The intellectual dimension of formation must be designed to communicate a knowledge of the faith and church tradition that is ‘complete and serious’ so that each participant will be prepared to carry out his vital ministry.” (National Directory, 118). The theological coursework is predominately taught by the faculty of St. Mary’s Seminary & University, who have advanced degrees and experience in the various theological disciplines. The seminary faculty work closely with the Formation Team, to offer the breadth and depth of the Church’s theological knowledge over approximately 10 classes per semester. The formation team, along with a profession team of Archdiocesan deacons, assign, read, and evaluate the theological papers for each semester of candidacy. Courses include:
Pastoral Formation entails the development of skills and competencies that enable the deacon to serve their people well. The other aspects of formation in right balance compel us to practice the love and service of God and our neighbor. Deacons must be mindful and aware of the needs of those whom they serve, as well as keen awareness of the affect of ministry on oneself. Candidates enhance their pastoral skills by engaging in supervised ministry and gathering new insights on how to minister. Pastoral skills which must be demonstrated include:
The Aspirancy period is a year-long Discernment and Reflection period, required by the Church. Both the aspirant and the Church, represented by the Formation Team, enter into ongoing reflection. The year includes approximately 12 full day sessions at St. Mary’s Seminary & University and include presentations and discussions on Diaconal Ministry, Four Dimensions of Formation (Human, Spiritual, Intellectual, and Pastoral), overview of diversity of diaconal ministry both in parish and charitable outreach, understanding of the Catechism and teachings of the Church, dialogue with both deacon and wives, professional boundaries and the protection of children and youth, spiritual direction, and theological reflection. Diaconal formation is demanding, impacting the individual mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well as his wife and family. The candidate and wife must be ready to engage fully into formation and be open to growth. The aspirant engages in a social ministry and is encouraged to reflect on experiences over this year.
In the sacrament of marriage, husbands and wives commit to being an efficacious sign of the love of Christ for his Church. Healthy marriage provide opportunities and encouragement for ongoing growth and formation. Within formation for the diaconate, the wife maintains an integral role in the husband’s formation as partner helps to discern the impact on the Marriage and Family.
The expectation of the wives include to:
In addition, the wife is welcome to attend all theological classes during Candidacy.
The majority of costs associated with formation are assumed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, including the theological courses and retreats. Candidates should be prepared for the costs of books (which may be upwards of $250 per year), and liturgical expenses (Liturgy of the Hours, Liturgical Rites, Albs, Cincture, Stoles and Dalmatic), as well as the cost of spiritual direction, though parishes might assist with these costs. There are also various expenses occurred at ordination. If true needs exist, the Formation Team will assist with finding alternative funding.
For questions or more information, please contact the Division of Clergy Personnel.