THE PERMANENT DIACONATE
The last paragraph of no. 16 of Ad gentes recommends the re-establishment of the
deaconate as “a permanent state of life” in our Latin Rite. It never disappeared in some
other rites of the Catholic Church, but was long absent from our Roman Rite. The reasons
given by the Fathers of the Council for its re-establishment are basically two: to assure
that the works proper to deacons be fulfilled in our Latin rite, and to strengthen those who
do those works. The re-establishment of the permanent deaconate to our Latin Rite was
discussed in this paragraph and in no. 29 of the dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen
In no. 29 of Lumen gentium, the Council Fathers enumerated the works of the
deacon: service of the Liturgy, service of the Gospel and service of works of charity. They
are all services, for service is the nature of the deaconate. Its very name from the Greek
diakonos means “servant.”
Deacons do service of the Liturgy by helping the bishop or priest at Holy Mass and
other liturgical services, distributing Holy Communion, administering Baptism, bringing Holy
Viaticum to the dying, officiating at marriages and burying the dead.
Deacons exercise service of the Gospel in reading the Holy Scriptures to the
faithful, especially proclaiming the Gospel and sometimes preaching at Holy Mass,
instructing the faithful, exhorting them and leading them in prayer services.
The real specialty of deacons, however, is their service in works of charity. This
was the deacons’ original duty (cf. Acts 6:1-6).
In the same no. 29 of Lumen Gentium the Council Fathers stated that they were
restoring the deaconate to “a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy” of the Latin
Church in order to insure the fulfillment of all these functions of the deacon, “which are
extremely necessary for the life of the Church,” and “difficult to fulfill” under “the laws
and customs of the Latin Church in force today” (cf. ibid, paragraph 2).
In the last paragraph of no. 16 of Ad gentes the Council Fathers give reasons for
restoring the permanent deaconate from the missionary point of view. They agreed that it
would help men who are already doing the kind of work proper to deacons, such as
catechists, leaders of “scattered Christian communities in the name of the bishop or parish
priest,” or administrators of charitable works by binding them “more closely to the altar”
and making their work “more fruitful through the sacramental grace of the deaconate.”
Thus, in Lumen Gentium the Council Fathers called for the restoration of the
permanent deaconate for doctrinal reasons, i.e. in order that works in the Church proper to
the deacon be done today by deacons. In Ad gentes the Fathers asked for the restoration
of the deaconate for more practical reasons, i.e. in order to strengthen men already
engaged in deacon-like activities. The mission catechists come to mind here. They were and
are often the real “work horses” of the missions.