In the Latin rite of the Catholic Church we have permanent Deacons. What do they do that a Priest would never do? I know they cannot say Mass and hear Confessions. There must be a good reason why we have men who are ordained but not allowed to say Mass or hear Confessions. Why do we even have Deacons?


2 Answers 2


What can Deacons do that a Priest woud never do?

The short answer is nothing, at least liturgically speaking. Permanent deacons are permitted to be married and have a family, whereas priests are generally celibate. A few permanent deacons go on to the priesthood after the death of their spouse.

However, permanent deacons are of great value to the Church.

For example, they run parishes in communities that do not have access to priests. In Canada, this becomes more and more true as one goes further north.

At mass, deacons read the Gospel and aid the priest in the distribution of Holy Communion.

In the Words of Pope Francis: “they are dedicated to the service of the poor, who carry within them the face of the suffering Christ.”

Deacons were instituted by the Apostles so as to help the poor and widows. Thus this would free up time for the Apostles so that they could be more dedicated to preaching the Gospel.

The name deacon (diakonos) means only minister or servant, and is employed in this sense both in the Septuagint (though only in the book of Esther, e.g. 2:2; 6:3) and in the New Testament (e.g. Matthew 20:28; Romans 15:25; Ephesians 3:7; etc.). But in Apostolic times the word began to acquire a more definite and technical meaning. Writing about 63 A.D. St. Paul addresses "all the saints who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons" (Philippians 1:1). A few years later (1 Timothy 3:8 sq.) he impresses upon Timothy that "deacons must be chaste, not double tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre, holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience." He directs further that they must "first be proved: and so let them minister, having no crime", and he adds that they should be the husbands of one wife: who rule well their children and their own houses. For they that have ministered well shall purchase to themselves a good degree, and much confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus." This passage is worthy of note, not only because it describes the qualities desirable in candidates for the diaconate, but also because it suggests that external administration and the handling of money were likely to form part of their functions.

Origin and early history of the diaconate

According to the constant tradition of the Catholic Church, the narrative of Acts 6:1-6, which serves to introduce the account of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, describes the first institution of the office of deacon. The Apostles, in order to meet the complaints of the Hellenistic Jews that, "their widows were neglected in the daily ministrations" (diakonia), called together

“the multitude of the disciples and said: It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve (diakonein) tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continuously to prayer, and to the ministry of the word (te diakonia tou logou). And the saying was liked by all the multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost”

(with six others who are named). These they placed "before the Apostles; and they, praying, imposed hands upon them."

Now, on the ground that the Seven are not expressly called deacons and that some of them (e.g. St. Stephen, and later Phillip (Acts 21:8) preached and ranked next to the Apostles, Protestant commentators have constantly raised objections against the identification of this choice of the Seven with the institution of the diaconate. But apart from the fact that the tradition among the Fathers is both unanimous and early — e.g. St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer., III, xii, 10 and IV, xv, 1) speaks of St. Stephen as the first deacon — the similarity between the functions of the Seven who served the tables and those of the early deacons is most striking. Compare, for example, both with the passage from the Acts with 1 Timothy 3:8 sq., quoted above, the following sentence from Hermas (Sim., IX, 26):

“They that have spots are the deacons that exercised their office ill and plundered the livelihood of widows and orphans and made gains for themselves from the ministrations they had received to perform.”

Or, again, St. Ignatius (Ep. ii to the Trallians):

“Those who are deacons of the mysteries of Jesus Christ must please all men in all ways. For they are not deacons of meats and drinks [only] but servants of the church of God.”

St. Clement of Rome (about A.D. 95) clearly describes the institution of deacons along with that of bishops as being the work of the Apostles themselves (Ep. Clem., xlii). Further, it should be noted that ancient tradition limited the number of deacons at Rome to seven (Eusebius, Church History VI.43), and that a canon of the council of Neo-Caesarea (325) prescribed the same restriction for all cities, however large, appealing directly to the Acts of the Apostles as a precedent. We seem, therefore, thoroughly justified in identifying the functions of the Seven with those of the deacons of whom we hear so much in the Apostolic Fathers and the early councils. Established primarily to relieve the bishops and presbyters of their more secular and invidious duties, notably in distributing the alms of the faithful, we need not do more than recall the large place occupied by the agapae, or love feasts, in the early worship of the Church, to understand how readily the duty of serving at tables may have passed into the privilege of serving at the altar. They became the natural intermediaries between the celebrant and the people. Inside the Church they made public announcements, marshaled the congregation, preserved order, and the like. Outside of it they were the bishop's deputies in secular matters, and especially in the relief of the poor. Their subordination and general duties of service seem to have been indicated by their standing during the public assemblies of the Church, while the bishops and priests were seated. It should be noticed that along with these functions probably went a large share in the instruction of catechumens and preparation of the altar services. Even in the Acts of the Apostles (8:38) the Sacrament of Baptism is administered by the deacon Phillip.

An attempt has recently been made, though regarded by many as somewhat fanciful, to trace the origin of the diaconate to the organization of those primitive Hellenistic Christian communities, which in the earliest age of the Church had all things in common, being supported by the alms of the faithful. For these it is contended that some steward (oeconomus) must have been appointed to administer their temporal affairs. (See Leder, Die Diakonen der Bischöfe und Presbyter, 1905). The full presentment of the subject is somewhat too intricate and confused to find place here. We must content ourselves with noting that less difficulty attends the same writer's theory of the derivation of the judicial and administrative functions of the archdeacon from the duties imposed upon one selected member of the diaconal college, who was called the bishop's deacon (diaconus episcopi) because to him was committed the temporal administration of funds and charities for which the bishop was primarily responsible. This led in time to a certain judicial and legal position and to the surveillance of the subordinate clergy. - Deacons

A great example for deacons can be found in the person of St. Lawrence who distributed alms to the poor, whom he called the riches of the Church.

St.Lawrence was thought to have been born on December 31, AD 225,2 in Valencia, or less probably, in Huesca, the town from which his parents came in the later region of Aragon that was then part of the Roman province of Hispania Tarraconensis. The martyrs Orentius (Modern Spanish: San Orencio) and Patientia (Modern Spanish: Santa Paciencia) are traditionally held to have been his parents.

Lawrence encountered the future Pope Sixtus II, who was of Greek origin and one of the most famous and highly esteemed teachers, in Caesaraugusta (today Zaragoza). Eventually, both left Spain for Rome. When Sixtus became the Pope in 257, he ordained Lawrence as a deacon, and though Lawrence was still young appointed him first among the seven deacons who served in the cathedral church. He is therefore called "archdeacon of Rome", a position of great trust that included the care of the treasury and riches of the Church and the distribution of alms to the indigent.

St. Lawrence is one of the patron saints of deacons.

As a personal note, I celebrate his feast day by praying for all deacons in the Church. If possible I have an outdoor barbecue in his honor. St. Lawrence was cooked to death on a gridiron on 10 August 258 in Rome.

Besides going to mass on his feast day, I listen to John Denver’s song "Rocky Mountain High", Which refers to his experience watching the Perseid meteor shower (also known the tears of St. Lawrence) as during a family camping trip in the mountains near Aspen, Colorado, with the chorus lyric, "I've seen it raining fire in the sky."

In August, watch this meteor shower named for a saint

In August, watch this meteor shower named for a saint


The diaconate is one of the orders of the sacrament of Holy Orders:

Minor orders:

  1. porter
  2. lector
  3. exorcist
  4. acolyte

Major orders:

  1. subdeacon
  2. deacon
  3. priest

Council of Trent session 23 ch. 2:

On the Seven Orders.

And whereas the ministry of so holy a priesthood is a divine thing; to the end that it might be exercised in a more worthy manner, and with greater veneration, it was suitable that, in the most well ordered settlement of the Church, there should be several and diverse orders of ministers to minister to the priesthood, by virtue of their office; orders so distributed as that those already marked with the clerical tonsure should ascend through the lesser to the greater orders. For the sacred Scriptures make open mention not only of priests, but also of deacons; and teach, in words the most weighty, what things are especially to be attended to in the Ordination thereof; and, from the very beginning of the Church, the names of the following orders, and the ministrations proper to each one of them, are known to have been in use; to wit, those of subdeacon, acolyth, exorcist, lector, and door-keeper; though these were not of equal rank; for the subdeaconship is classed amongst the greater orders by the Fathers and sacred Councils, wherein also we very often read of the other inferior orders.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent on Holy Orders describes the duties of the deacon:

The second degree of Sacred Orders is that of the deacons,15 whose functions are much more extensive and have always been regarded as more holy. His duty it is to be always at the side of the Bishop, guard him while he preaches, serve him and the priest during the celebration of the divine mysteries, as well as during the administration of the Sacraments, and to read the Gospel in the Sacrifice of the Mass. In former times he frequently warned the faithful to be attentive to the holy mysteries; he administered Our Lord’s Blood in those churches in which the custom existed that the faithful should receive the Eucharist under both species; and to him was entrusted the distribution of the Church’s goods, as well as the duty of providing for all that was necessary to each one’s sustenance. To the deacon also, as the eye of the Bishop, it belongs to see who they are in the city16 that lead a good and holy life, and who not; who are present at the Holy Sacrifice and sermons at appointed times, and who not; so that he may be able to give an account of all to the Bishop, and enable him to admonish and advise each one privately, or to rebuke and correct publicly, according as he may deem more profitable. He should also read out the list of the catechumens and present to the Bishop those who are to be admitted to orders. Finally in the absence of a Bishop or priest, he can explain the Gospel, but not from the pulpit, thus letting it be seen that this is not his proper office.17

The Apostle shows the great care that should be taken that no one unworthy of the diaconate be promoted to this order, when in his Epistle to Timothy (1 Tim. 3:8–10) he sets forth a deacon’s character, virtues and integrity. The same point is also gathered from the rites and solemn ceremonies which the Bishop employs when ordaining him. The Bishop uses more numerous and more solemn prayers at the ordination of a deacon than at that of a subdeacon, and he also adds other kinds of sacred vestments.18 Moreover, he imposes hands on him, just as we read the Apostles used to do when ordaining the first deacons. (Acts 6:6). Finally, he hands him the book of the Gospels, with these words: Receive the power to read the Gospel in the Church of God, both for the living and the dead, in the name of the Lord.

15. The word deacon is derived from the Greek διάκονος, minister.
16. The deacons, being in attendance on the Bishop, would naturally be found in the cities. Most churches in the first centuries had only seven deacons, even where the Christian community was large. At Rome Pope Fabian divided the city into seven regions, each of which had its deacon.
17. That deacons may preach is shown by the example of St. Stephen (Acts 5), St. Philip (Acts 8) and St. Vincent (Aug., Serm. 2. de Sancto Vincentio).
18. On the various ecclesiastical vestments see Summa Theol. Suppl. xl. 7.

  • 1
    There are no permanent married deacons in the old rite! At least not a a regular based occurrence!
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 4:42
  • 1
    @KenGraham technically that's a non-sequitur. Permanence is a matter of law and custom, not of the particular form of the rite used to ordain someone. While it is true that in the post-Tridentine period (until the mid-20th century), almost no one was ordained a deacon without being expected to be ordained a priest later, it didn't mean the diaconate didn't exist and there were exceptions. Cardinal Teodolfo Mertel died in 1899 as a deacon (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teodolfo_Mertel).
    – eques
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 15:32
  • 1
    It's also erroneous to refer to permanent deacons as though they are categorically distinct from transitional deacons.
    – eques
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 15:32
  • Deacons in the New Rite or either permanent (married) deacons or are transitional deacons. These terms are in standard usage with the vast majority of Catholics.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Dec 2, 2020 at 22:06

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