The Church of Christ is fundamentally diaconal in character. It is a servant community patterned after the example of the Good Shepherd. “Diakonia,” the Greek word from which “deacon” is derived, means “service.” Thus, a deacon is ordained to a ministry of service. He is called to be a “person for others.” A deacon is called neither to be served nor to assume a reward or privileged position in the Church or society. Rather, he is called to give of himself to the poor, the hungry, the sick and the suffering; he is called to respond to the needs of the human family. His identity is that of a servant. A deacon brings healing to the wounded, hope for the desperate and freedom to those who are held bound. He is truly a minister called to personify the servant Church at the local level. He is called to serve as Jesus did. Like the Good Shepherd, he, too, must care for God’s people. He is called to the task of building God’s kingdom on earth.
It must be remembered, however, that not everyone called to service in the church is called to the sacrament of Holy Orders. There must be a need within the local church for an ordained minister of service. The pastor must perceive the need and the bishop must concur. Ultimately, the responsibility for issuing the call to ordained service in the sacrament of Holy Orders rests with the diocesan bishop.
Although the permanent diaconate dates back to apostolic times, its restoration provides new opportunities for service to the People of God.
There is an everpresent need for persons in contemporary society to hear the message of Christ and to experience the witness of service in his name. The challenge of building up the Kingdom of God in the marketplace of the modern world is greater today than ever before. Broadening its ministries to include the Permanent Diaconate, the Church sees that greater service can be provided to the local church and community. This is especially so in areas and among communities where persons ordained to public ministry are few in number.
The Permanent Diaconate is envisioned as a new opportunity whereby a mature man of faith may, by the laying on of hands, give a permanent visible witness to his response to the God who calls him to share in the ministry of Jesus Christ through Holy Orders. By his ordination, the deacon is publicly committed to service in the name of Jesus Christ, and the Church in turn makes a public commitment to him. Catholic tradition has always recognized the sacramental nature of the diaconate. Although the lay person can already exercise much of the ministry for which a deacon is ordained, what distinguishes a deacon from the lay person is his vocation to share in the ministry of Jesus Christ by the Sacrament of Holy Orders.